I used this story to practice “show, don’t tell.” But that doesn’t mean I didn’t make it a kick-ass tale. I fundamentally believe we don’t see what’s in the way of our own authenticity until we are shoved up against the wall and there’s no other choice but to look. That’s what this story is really about. Thanks, J.K. Rowling, for creating your world, and here’s a thumbed nose at all those who look down on fanfic. Hey–you want to practice writing out loud and get instant feedback, put beloved characters in situations people won’t like. (novella)
Shards of Glass
a fanfic novella
I do not own the rights to the characters of Lily and James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Albus Dumbledore, Peter Pettigrew, Rubeus Hagrid, or Arthur Weasley. The rights to these characters and most of the spells they use in this story, as well as the world they inhabit, are owned, fully and exclusively, but J.K. Rowling. I am not writing this story for monetary gain and I understand that I may not publish it for such. All Other Characters and some spells are mine.
This piece is written fully for my own practice at the craft of writing and the pure enjoyment of bringing a small part of J.K. Rowling’s wonderful world to life.
Author’s Note: It has always struck me, in canon, how Sirius was laughing when the Ministry agents Apperated around him. What could possibly be funny in such a situation? I concluded he must know something we don’t. In part, this story is an exploration of what Sirius knew, what he held in his heart at that moment.
My goal, from the first chapter, was to bring this arc back to canon. As you will see, at times that seems like it must be impossible…
After singing for almost an hour Lily backs out of their one and only bedroom. A tiny form snuggles between two pillows, his thumb in his mouth. She pulls the louvered doors to within an inch of closing and turns to face the living room.
Her eyes fly over the graying walls; the broken brick around the fireplace; the cold, grey ashes in the hearth, all that remains of the fire she and James built together last night. She moves to the small window and stands for a moment, her eyes closed, her arms straight out from her sides. The sunlight dances on her red hair and fills the air around her with white-hot sparks. Its warmth weaves through her and her fingers begin to thaw.
She opens her eyes and moves to the desk pressed against the wall next to the fireplace. Battered and scarred, it has been through a lot – first at James’s house and now at their own. She picks up the letter James left that morning before she woke up, opens it, and holds it the way she did her child earlier. Her heart seems determined to press through her ribs.
Back soon, love.Don’t know when, but it shouldn’t be too long. Love you. Kiss that boy.
She lays it back down, refolding it and placing the small silver paperweight on it. She presses it down harder and harder, her fingers turning white around it.
She turns and takes two steps to the faded plaid couch and allows her body to fall back on it. It shoots back several inches on the worn place on the rug and hits the small table behind it. The sound of glass shattering fills the small room.
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Lily presses her hands to her face and her breath whistles in and out behind her palms. She pushes herself up and trudges around the sofa. The vase from James is now spread across the floor like a small, sharp fan. The flower he picked last night lies crushed beneath one of the shards.
Lily’s bottom lip quivers. She takes a deep breath and moves to the tiny kitchen, which is really just an extension of the living room. Her wand lies on the counter next to the knife she used earlier to cut off the end of the flower. She laughs at that – using a knife – but the sound thrown back at her from the tile around the sink sounds tinny and sharp.
Someone pounds on the front door. She jumps and knocks the knife off the counter. Its path is sinuous as it heads handle over point to the floor. Her hand closes over her wand and her eyes flash to the bedroom.
Again someone’s fist pounds wood.
She walks through ice water to it, presses herself to the wall just to one side. She raises her wand and the tip moves in a slow square over the wood. A small window appears. She sees Sirius’s leather jacket and chest.
“What have we been talking about?” She does not like the quaver in her voice, but there it is.
“How much you love me?”
Her brows lower and she frowns, throwing open the door. “Sirius. Honestly.” Her voice is several notes higher than usual.
His long, black hair hangs in daggers around his face, dripping onto his jacket. He moves like a jungle cat through the doorway and closes it behind him.
“Everything is fine, Lily.”
She presses her fingertips to her lips and feels the hot spikes in her chest cool somewhat. “You’re soaking wet.”
“So it would seem. Get James to lift that Sunshine charm from your windows and you’d know why.”
Her eyes flit to the golden sunlight pouring in through the small windows. “Give me that.” She snaps her fingers and points and he removes his jacket. She takes it and drops it on the tile surrounding the front door.
“I could have done that.” His eyes move to the bedroom door. “Harry asleep?”
“Yes, finally.” She moves her foot over a broken tile. “He doesn’t like this apartment.”
When she looks back at him, Sirius is studying her. “It won’t be long, Lils.”
“Don’t call me that.” She lifts her wand. Sirius’s clothes and hair dry instantly.
He reaches into his back pocket and removes his own wand. “Reparo.” The small vase jumps together. He bends to pick it up and puts it back on the little table.
Sirius whirls around and crouches, his wand flashing from one window to the next.
“No, you…I’m sorry…you stepped on the flower.” She points.
“Lily, it’s a flower.” He laughs. She does not. His eyes travel her face.
She shuffles back to the couch and catches herself just in time, sitting on the edge of a cushion before leaning back.
“Is James with Moony?” He stands in front of her.
“No, he got called out early this morning.”
Sirius rubs his eyes. “I can’t stay long. I wanted to see if you were all right.” He stands still for a moment, then cups her chin, runs his thumb down her cheek.
His outline blurs and she blinks. She notices the tendrils of hair that frame his face. There are deep smudges beneath his eyes. “Have you slept at all recently?”
“Sure I have. Twenty minutes only three hours ago. Woke up with my cheek in my eggs. Haven’t slept so well in ages.” He smiles.
She smiles back. “Here.” She gets up and points to the couch. As he walks by her she catches his scent. Her eyes narrow and her wand snaps to the bedroom doors. “Muffliato!”
Sirius turns. “What?”
She puts her hands on his chest and shoves him onto the couch. It jerks backwards a few more inches and the vase slides off the edge of the little table, shattering once again.
“Whatthe hell do you—”
“Who did you say made eggs for you?” Lily’s eyes spit sparks.
“I didn’t. I made the eggs.” But the corner of his mouth turns up.
“God damn you, Sirius Black! God damn you!” She moves in front of him. “I am in this shithole all day, every day, don’t know a goddam thing that is going on, every sound echoes through my heart, you and James and Lupin and Peter creep in and out all day, sometimes no one comes back here for days…you are supposed to be helping us and instead you’re off shagging some whore!” She picks a book up off the floor and throws it at his head.
He catches it and slams it to the ground. “God damn you, Lily Potter! Do you believe for one second that your safety has left my mind? For even one second?”
“It is clear to me that you haven’t changed one bit since school, Sirius! Will you ever grow up? Who is it this time that is more important than your friends?”
Sirius stands up so fast the couch slams into the small table, sending it tumbling over. “Stop it, Lily. Stop it. I can’t handle…” He slams his eyes shut and when they open again they are darker. “I don’t need you to be a bitch right now. Is this why James stays away?”
She turns white. Her hand snakes up. “Mur – ”
Lily’s wand flies back over her head, hitting the window and falling to the floor.
Sirius advances on her, wand still raised. “Did you forget who I am? What I do for a living?”
She flies at him. Her fingers close around his throat and she pushes him off balance. He catches himself, drops his wand, and takes both her wrists in his hands. She twists herself free and loses her balance, falling backwards and slamming into the wall. He grabs her shoulders and pushes her to the floor. When they land he is across her belly.
She grabs his hair and pulls his head back.
His fingers find her wrists again and white hot pain pulses up her hands. She cries out and lets go. He pivots over her and his chest crushes her breasts, pinning her arms above her.
“I want,” she pants beneath him, “you,” his eyes bore holes into her own, “to leave. Now.”
He crushes his mouth against hers and she opens her own to receive him. She brings her knees up on either side of his hips and pushes herself up into him.
He releases her mouth. “What is it you want, Lily?”
She bites his lip and tastes blood.
He reaches down and unbuttons her pants, pushes them down to her knees. She frees one leg and wraps it around him. He rips open her shirt and releases her hands. She leaves them where they are. He pushes her bra up and his dark head covers her. His tongue burns fire through her blood.
He tears his shirt off over his head and unzips his fly.
She gasps as he enters her.
He stops, burying his face in her hair. “Lily,” he sobs, his voice broken. “Oh Lily…Merlin, I am so sorry…” He begins pulling away.
She presses herself against hard muscle and tight sinew, her hands running down the strained muscles in his back.
His black hair cascades around her, tendrils brushing her face as his mouth finds hers once again. “Give me your voice, Lily,” he whispers in her ear, “Let me hear you…your voice…please…”
“S-Sirius,” she gasps as he presses against her, “Sirius!” She arches and cries out, her eyes on his face.
Sirius’s eyes widen and he rears back, sucks air in through his nose. Lily’s head jerks to the left.
James’s face is frozen, his eyes wide, the knuckles of the hand holding his wand white.
Panting, Sirius pulls himself away from her and hunches inward.
James closes his eyes. “Cover yourself, Lily.”
She pushes herself up and curves in on herself, pulling up her jeans, tugging her bra down, bringing her shirt together the best she can. Her buttons are gone.
Sirius buttons his jeans and stands, retrieving his own wand, his breathing rough. “James…”
James grinds his teeth and then opens his eyes. “There is no further need for speech between us. I will tell Albus that it is necessary for us to have a different Secret Keeper.”
The tip of James’s wand makes a jagged motion and blood wells on Sirius’s chest.
“Jesus Christ! You…”His eyes fly from his chest to James’s face.
“Go, now, or I swear—” James’s breath whistles through his teeth. He makes a sound like a sob.
Sirius snatches his shirt from the floor and side-steps to the door. His boots crunch on the shards of the vase. He picks up his jacket and Lily can see his hand shaking. She hears the door open.
She buries her face in her hands and sobs.
Her body moves through the apartment. Surfaces shine, windows glisten, no dust rises from beneath her feet, countertops weep with drying cleanser. She squeezes the sponge out into the sink and holds her hands before her, the flesh wrinkled and pink, blisters raw. She grabs the broom and puts it in the space between the refrigerator and the wall.
The baby crawls behind her, giggling as he catches up, pulling on her wildly colored socks. She looks down and watches as the garish flowers open and close, open and close. “I’m glad you like them. What Peter was thinking, I’m sure I’ll never know.” Harry grabs the cloth and twists, giggling anew.
She presses her hands against the counter and winces. Her eyes stray to the door to the bedroom. Harry crawls toward the refrigerator, toward the few bristles of the broom still sticking out from its storage place. His fingers close on them and he pulls. The sound of the handle smacking the tile jerks Lily’s eyes away from the louvered doors. “Oh, baby. Did that scare you?”
But Harry just crawls toward the handle, moving his little body over, sitting down. He grabs the wood and looks up at her, smiling. “Up! Up!”
“Yes, you’ve seen your dad…” She stops. “Yes.” She looks back at the bedroom.
Harry continues to “fly” as she moves around the counter, steps into the silent room…
James’s dresser is ripped apart. A shirt and two pairs of socks hang from open drawers and the bottom drawer lies on the floor, its contents spilled across the rug. She crosses the small space and leans over, her hand hovering above the drawer. She sinks to her knees, gathering his scattered clothing, pressing it to her face. “It’s not…” she sobs “oh, James, please, I can’t—I know what you’re thinking, my love, it’s not—we haven’t—oh, Merlin!”She buries her face in his shirts and breathes his scent, gasping. Her hands shaking, she finally manages to set his clothing to rights, replacing the bottom drawer and closing the others.
She moves to her dresser, where the middle drawer stands open. Wiping tears on the hem of her shirt, she presses her lips together and shakes her head, yanking the wood away from the back of the drawer. A letter falls forward onto her sweaters. On the front is her name written in Sirius’s scrawl. She picks up the battered envelope and draws out the worn parchment within. First her fingers, then her whole hand, heat up; as she unfolds the parchment the tingling begins.
Oh, Lily, it is finally the new moon! Everything is in place – I have the ropes and the candles, all the things you said we would need. I’m going to bathe first, starting with my hair, then working my way down to each individual toe the way we talked about. I am going to think of you, of your hands on me, as if it was you bathing me. I will keep you constantly in my thoughts. You must do the same.
Lils, I will make it hurt as little as possible – that’s my job, and I know what I’m doing. I am eternally grateful to you for allowing me to be the first to take you in this way. I don’t deserve it. Merlin help us that James never finds out. I couldn’t live with myself, but there’s no stopping now.
Until tonight –
“Sirius, please…please…” She stumbles to the bin in the corner. The parchment hovers at the rim. Long minutes spin past her. Her fingers are frozen around the envelope. She shakes her hand, harder and harder, her fingers burning hotter and hotter. “Go, go, I want you to go! Go!” The veins in her neck stand out like cords but the letter is no nearer reaching the bottom of the bin than it was behind the false back of her drawer. She smashes her hand against the side of the bin. She feels the heat behind her eyes and refolds the parchment, replacing it in its worn envelope before stuffing it away once again in its hiding place.
She stumbles to the living room and collapses beneath the window. The dull grey clouds press all the air from her and she rests her forehead against the wall, tears spilling down her cheeks. Harry screeches from the kitchen. She rubs her palms over her face. “Coming, love!”
Her hands cut the banana without her knowledge. Harry grabs the pieces, squishing each one, mashing them into his mouth.
She sleep-walks to the desk, removing parchment and ink, pulling a quill from a small box on the corner.
You have to tell him. You have to! Please, dear Merlin, tell him, tell him, tell him! I know I cannot be released, but I beg of you, tell him of the first time! You must speak for me, I am on my knees, begging you, you must be the words that are in my heart, please, please, Sirius, oh Merlin we have made such a mistake
She crumples the parchment up and runs to the front door. She pounds on it, red smears from torn blisters streaking the paint as she slides to the floor. “Goddam it! An owl!”
Harry cries out from the kitchen.
“No, love, no, no, it’s all right, I’m all right.” She presses her bleeding hands to her shirt and moves back to the kitchen. Harry’s eyes are huge. She bends, smiling, and picks him up. “Sorry, dear. Dear one. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s nothing to do with you. Just mommy being silly, forgetting she’s a witch and all.”
Holding Harry with one arm, she picks up her wand with the other. She points it at the door. “Meet with James. Tell him of the first time. I beg you.” A silver doe explodes from the end and gallops through the wood.
“Pretty! Mommy!” Harry claps his hands.
She puts him down and he scoots back over to the broom. She picks up the paper towels and the cleanser and, stifling her sobs, turns back to the sparkling windows.
Light into Darkness, Darkness into Light
James slams the shot glass down on the bar and signals the bartender. “’Nother.” The smoke-filled air has made his voice rough.
The bartender slides over to him and puts his beefy hands down on either side of the glass. “Let yeh drink yer fill. Time for yeh t’ move on, mate.”
“My gall’ns no good ‘th you now?” James’s hand stops in midflight and drops back to the bartop.
“Go look at yerself.” He turns to the back bar, slamming bottles around.
“Know what I look like, fer chrissakes.”
Someone sits down next to him and folds his arms on the bar.
“Ah, fuck.” James lowers his forehead down inch by inch until it meets the resistance of his own crossed arms.
“You had to know I’d find you.”
“Lupin, go shit yerself.” His voice is buried between arm and wood.
Lupin sniffs. “Think you’ve already done that, mate. When’s the last time water crossed your skin?”
“Ah, fuck.” The stool next to him creaks and he feels a hand on his shoulder. He shrugs it off but it returns.
“Lily’s made herself sick with worry. Been crying all week.”
“Bully for her.”
The hand on his shoulder tightens. “Someone has to be there. Baby and all.”
James’s shoulders move. “Baby.” The muscles tighten and bunch under Remus’s hand. “Fuck me. Fuck me.”
Remus moves behind him and lifts. James slumps toward his stool but Remus’s hands are firm and James stands. He places his hands on the edge of the bar and takes a deep breath, shakes his head. “All fucked, it is. All bollixed. All bollixed.”
“Yeah. I know.”
James turns half-slitted eyes to his friend. “Y’agree?”
Lupin’s eyes travel the length of James. “Completely.”
“Aw, Lupin, s’not me.” James stumbles and crashes into Lupin.
He staggers but manages to hold himself and his friend upright. “From where I’m standing, it most definitely is you.” He pulls a few coins from his pocket and shuffles through them with one hand, dropping a few on the bar. “That cover it?”
The bartender moves over, wiping a glass and setting it down before picking up the coins. “’At’ll do. Get ‘im outta here.”
“Trying.” Lupin holds James up with one arm and picks up his jacket with the other. “Where is your duffle?”
James looks one way and then another. Remus holds him steady. “’S not here.” He looks another way. “Put it…here.” He points at two different places on the floor.
“Yes. Well. I suppose we can count it good and lost.” He maneuvers James through the dim bar, avoiding as many piles of peanut shells and pools of sputum and who knows whatall as he can. He is breathing through his mouth.
Once in the street he sticks out his wand hand. Instantly a triple-decker, violently purple bus explodes into space at the end of the street, careening down sidewalk and road until it stops in front of them. A young wizard pulls open the door and looks at the two men before him. “Need a lift?”
“Yes.” Lupin pushes James up the stairs.
The young man flares his nostrils and backs away. “G’on up to the third.” He jerks his thumb up as Lupin drops more coins into the box next to the driver.
“Insult,” James mutters, staggering forward.
“Insight,” Lupin grins at the young man, who moves further away.
Lupin half-pulls, half-pushes James up to the highest level and helps him collapse into one of the many armchairs lined up along the side of the bus. As he opens a window the bus rockets down the street and with the sound of a cannon they find themselves on the main street of a small village.
James is violently sick on the floor.
“Ah, fuck.” Lupin sighs.
James begins to roll over but stops, his eyes squeezed shut and his breath whistling through clenched teeth. He raises his hand and encounters his scalp, then moves his fingers through his hair, touching each spot as if it were made of glass.
The door opens and footsteps cross the floor. A weight shifts the bed and James groans. “Don’t. Move. The bed.”
The smell of what he sicked up the night before fills his nostrils and he gags.
“Not in my bed, you git!” Hands grab James’s head and pull.
James shrieks as his shoulders slide free of the comforting embrace of the covers. “You’re killing me,” he manages before vomiting on the floor.
“Dammit, James, drink this!”
James opens his eyes and takes in the yellowish-grey, smoking potion proffered in a glass. It takes him three tries to grab it. Remus helps him sit up and, taking a deep breath and holding it, he gulps it down. As he falls back against the pillow, warmth spreads through his stomach, his chest, his head, pushing the black fog that presses against his eyeballs out of his body. He breathes deeply as Lupin points his wand at the floor.
“Why the hell didn’t you give that to me last night?”
“I wanted you to feel what it was like to be a total and complete arse.” Lupin crosses his arms and glares down at his friend.
James wipes sweat off his forehead with his arm. “So why’d you give it to me now?”
“So you’d get the full impact of me calling you an arse.”
“I’m not an arse.”
“You are an arse who hasn’t been home in a week at a time when you are being hunted down by a wizard who would kill you only as a mercy. You are an arse who’s wife is frantic with worry…”
“Why? Should think someone else was there to hold her hand.” He rolls toward the wall.
“You are an arse who has a child and no longer has the luxury of behaving as if his pain is the central issue in the universe. You are an arse who—”
“Shut it, Lupin.” James’s hands shake as he pushes back the covers and throws his legs over the edge of the bed. “Where are my clothes?”
“Covered in sick. Shall I bring them to you?”
“Can I have some of your clothes?” His voice is exaggerated and slow.
“So you can Disapperate out of here before I have my say? No. You remain starkers.”
“You haven’t had your say?”
“Where is my wand?”
James stands, starkers or not. “Get out of my way.”
Neither man moves.
James’s face goes white. “Don’t say that name.” He shoves Lupin hard and moves toward the doorway.
“Merlin’s crack, James, do you think you’re the only one in pain here? The only one who feels anything?”
“I don’t give a fuck what they feel. In fact, now that you mention it,” he turns toward Lupin, who has followed him out into the hall, “from what I could tell, they were feeling pretty damn good the last time I saw them.” His eyes are flat and cold. He turns and enters the bathroom, slams the door, and locks it.
“Wow, that’s effective. I can’t do Alohomora, after all.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“No, mate, that’s your job, and I’d say you’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
There is a muffled sound and another curse. “I’m not the one shagging, Remus, or did you not notice? Did you not get the full fucking picture of just what went on in my flat? With my wife? And the bastard that dares call himself my friend?”
“Then somehow I am the one that made a mistake? I missed some subtle rule of etiquette that guides one when one finds one’s goddam best friend” there is the sound of breaking glass “in flagrante delicto with one’s wife?” more breaking glass and something metallic on tile “How, exactly, Mooney, am I the one that’s fucking something up here?”
“Are you going to break everything I own?”
A larger shattering. “Are you making jokes? Are you talking about your beastly potions to me through this door? Because I cannot believe that you care more about this” something heavy collides with the door and drops to the floor “than me!”
“You’re a prick, James. That’s what I’m saying. You are in my flat, breaking my things and feeling sorry for yourself and hacked off mightily at me for not sharing in your pity party. You think all this is about you. You aren’t thinking about anyone but yourself. Have you looked around lately? At what the fuck is going on in the world? Who do you know who isn’t on edge? Who do you know who is handling everything with exceeding grace? Who do you know who doesn’t look up at the sky, even if they can’t bear to, when they get home? Who?”
The door flies open. “You think I’m feeling sorry for myself here? What. The fuck. Do you know about it? About any of this? Nothing. Nothing. You, who won’t date anyone, who is so afraid of his…his…affliction” he spits the word at the man in front of him “he won’t even try? What do you have to say to me about any of this?”
Lupin narrows his eyes and James takes a step back. “What did you just say to me?” His voice is low but every word is a dagger finding its way home.
James steps toward him again. “I said, you prick, that you spend all your time in this goddam flat, living through the rest of us; if anyone is sorry for himself it’s you, sad and alone – you don’t know the first goddam thing about what I’m feeling!” He has continued walking toward Lupin and now stands only inches from him, his face red, the veins in his neck strained to the bursting point.
Lupin pulls back his lips and snarls. “Did you hear her make that sound you say she makes?”
Lupin’s head slams backwards and James rams his other fist into his ribs. Lupin bares his teeth and smashes his fist into James’s jaw. Teeth crash together and blood runs down James’s chin from his lip. Lupin’s eyes are molten gold and he raises his fists again. James comes at him, face wild, and Lupin draws in a sharp breath through his teeth. “No, no,” he whispers and he turns his head away from James. James’s next blow hits his shoulder.
James batters him back into the wall but Lupin only turns himself, offering arms and shoulders and back, but nothing more. James’s fists go wild, pounding flesh and plaster, indifferent to both. When Lupin hears the unmistakable sound of a sob, he intercepts James’s fist and twists him around, pushing him into the wall.
He holds him there, twisting his arm tight to keep him still. James is breathing hard and his muscles clench and then he shatters. Great sobs tear through him, scorching up his throat and into the tiny space of the hallway. Words flood out, a raging river of them pour from his soul, and Lupin holds him still, twisted face-first into the wall. At first the words are incoherent, but slowly Remus can understand a few, then a few more.
“We’re being hunted, Lupin, hunted down, like animals—did you,” James chokes and Lupin eases his hold, “did you know that? And that—th-that bitch—I’m risking my life to keep her—keep her safe she,” he is sliding down the wall now and Remus lets him descend, “she—she—with—goddam, Remus—Harry in the sodding bedroom!” He makes a noise like a dying animal and reaches the floor. Remus releases him. James curls into a ball, sobbing. Remus sits next to him and rests his arm on James’s shoulder.
The shadows on the wall do their slow crawl across the flat, leaving dark for light, and still James sobs, and still Remus sits, his arm James’s only connection to the fact that he has not, yet, died from the red-hot knives that have replaced his heart.
“I’m sorry I hit you.” It is full dark and only the quarter moon shows the dim outline of Remus, still seated beside him.
“I know. I’ve done worse to myself.” The ghost of a laugh.
James bangs his head against the wall and hisses. “I don’t – I don’t know what to do.”
“That is abundantly clear.”
“What would you do? Stay dead pissed for a week? Attack your friend? Cry like a little girl?”
Remus laces his fingers together and hangs his elbows on his knees. “Does it hurt?”
James looks at his swollen knuckles. “Yes. I think I broke my—”
“James. Does it hurt.”
James sucks air through his teeth. “Sweet Merlin, Remus…”
“Then yes, I’d cry. You could go insane, but how’d that work for you this week?”
James’s shoulders slump and his head falls forward until it rests on his knees. “What do I do now?” His voice is lost in the space between chest and legs, heart and feet.
“What do you want to do?”
James grinds his teeth and Remus lets him be.
Remus puts the sandwich on the floor where James still sits huddled against the wall. The stars have spun silently in the heavens and Orion has sunk beneath the horizon. He walks back to the kitchen and runs the water in the sink.
Black gives way to grey. James can make out the individual hairs on his thighs and the pattern of his interlaced fingers. He feels the nap of the rug where it has pressed against the flesh of buttocks and feet. He smells the sandwich, still sitting beside him on its flowered plate. He traces one flower with his eyes, each and every line and curve, and the yard sale where this set was purchased flashes sun-bright in his mind. The old lady, taking pity on Remus’s ragged clothing, covering the sticker with her hand as she quoted a price several sickles below what had been on it…
The corner of his mouth moves north before dropping back but the aborted smile does not reach his eyes.
Remus picks up the empty plate and leaves a pile of clothing next to the sleeping figure on the floor. His eyes travel the black bruise covering the curve of James’s jaw, the blood dried to chin and neck. He holds his wand out, but he does not speak. Again he traces the lines of hurt he has caused. And again. Tears glistening, he flicks his wand, and James’s skin is cleared of blood. Remus’s wand hovers, then sinks; the bruise remains.
He walks back to the tiny table in the kitchen and drops into the rickety chair. He picks up the quill, dips it into the ink, and writes a few more lines before signing his name and blotting it with his fist. He folds the letter and sets his seal in the hot wax dripped from a nearly burned-out candle. His old owl, left to him by his father, jumps from her perch and glides to him, gripping the back of his chair with her talons.
“My one luxury, you.” He runs his finger down her head and she hoots softly. “You can find Albus?” She holds out her leg and he ties the letter to it. He stands and opens the soot-streaked window and the owl flies out and away over the rooftops. He watches her, smaller and smaller, a dark spot swallowed by light.
James reaches for the covers. His hand gropes left and right, lower and lower, until it encounters the rug. He wakes with a start. The sun shines through the cracked windows and a small square of light spills over him, warming his left foot. He rises and rubs his eyes with one hand. They are gritty. He pulls on the clothes next to him and makes his way to the kitchen, where he drinks three glasses of water before Remus enters.
James lowers the glass into the sink.
They sit together in the living room, Lupin on the couch, James on the small armchair at right angles to it. His crossed legs are jammed against the arms of the chair and the knuckles of his hands are white where he grips the faded fabric. “I can’t go back.”
“Ah.” Lupin forms a steeple with his fingers and leans forward, his elbows on his knees.
“What would I possibly say to her?”
Lupin leaves the room and returns, tossing him a quill, a bottle of ink, and a stack of rolled-up parchment. He moves to the kitchen and stands at the sink until he hears scratching from the living room. Only then does he turn to the refrigerator and pull out ingredients for dinner.
Remus says I’m making this mean more than it does. He says I should consider the circumstances, the stress you’ve been under, we’ve all been under. He says everyone is going insane, all you have to do is look at the cover of the Daily Prophet to know that no one is acting normal. Death, torture, disappearances, fear, mistrust, this is our world and the best we can do is try to let ourselves slip as little as possible. As little as possible. Some slippage, then, he seems to count as OK. Yours, apparently. Sirius’s as well. Mine, no. No, my slippage is worse for him because of my disappearance. I know where you are. (Do I?) You do not.
I see you there, on the floor, I see him, I see his hands on either side of you and then you turn your face to me oh fuck fuck fuck I can’t close my eyes but to see you there – do you want this? For me to feel this? Is this something you want, to rip, to tear, to shred, until I am nothing but a shattered corpse? Is this because I leave you alone in that apartment? But what was I supposed to do, Lil? What the fuck else was I supposed to do? Do you think it was easy for me, leaving every day, leaving you, leaving Harry, for fuck’s sake Lily, did you think I was out partying it up while you sat there, fear eating your insides? Your eyes, Lily, your eyes haunt me, when I walk in they are twin caves, the dark circles telling me you haven’t slept but what the fuck else am I supposed to do? Tell me, woman, what it is you would have me do differently!
But this, Lily, this – I would never – how could you do it? Was this knife all you could find? Drive it as deeply into me as you could for leaving you alone? Goddam you, you bitch, I gave you everything, every last piece of me all the lights and darks the most hidden-away corners you do this? I didn’t think I would survive it the first time at school but I did I forgave you I forgave you my fault I forgave you you stupid stupid bitch
He drops the quill, gasping. His hands scrabble at his throat. “Remus!” He falls to his knees, choking. “Remus!”
Remus runs in, pulls James back to the chair. “Breathe, James.” He pushes James’s head between his knees. “Breathe, breathe…”
James chokes and gasps. “Can’t.”
Remus pounds him on the back and James gags, then presses his hands to his mouth. Remus can feel his muscles, tight as cords, beneath the thin shirt. James’s shoulders begin to shake again but no sound comes from him.
“James, it’s just me here.” He pries James’s hands away and pulls him back onto his knees.
James slumps forward and bashes his forehead against the coffee table. Remus wrestles him into a sitting position as James gnashes his teeth, groaning. “Goddam it, Remus, goddam her! Goddam her straight to the dementors! I hate her! I hate her! I hate her!” The litany goes on and on as James rocks back and forth. He is yelling, screaming, spittle flying from his mouth; he pounds the table, the floor around him.
At long last, the rocking slows, stops. James topples to his side, supine on the worn rug. “Sh-she did it once…before, y-you know.”
“Shagged him.” James sits up, his face a vivid scarlet. “At school. Shagged him for I don’t know how long. Maybe they’ve been at it this whole time.”
“She did.” James breathes. “Do you remember? That month he split from us? They were so secretive that month – I was such a bloody fool. And here I am again, the bloody fool.”
“What month are you talking about?”
“Do you remember that month in sixth year, when he – I don’t know – got sick of us for a little while? It was right after Christmas hols.”
Remus leans forward. “Yeah, I remember that. But what makes you think they were shagging?”
“Found a note.” He tries to laugh, but the sound is twisted and broken. “To her. From him. Found it shortly after we started dating. She still has the bloody thing. It’s a – a – well, you wouldn’t really call it a love letter.”
Remus tightens his hands into fists. “You never told me.”
“I didn’t tell anyone. Only she knew I knew. I never told the bastard I knew.”
“And what did she say about it?”
“Nothing, Remus. Bloody nothing. Wouldn’t tell me how many times, or when, or what it meant – nothing. Wouldn’t even open her mouth.”
“Sirius never told you? And neither did she? Why did you stay together?”
“Sirius has never said a word. I stayed with her because of the things she did say. That it would never, ever happen again. Begged me to forgive her. Told me she loved me.”
Remus is rigid next to James. “Jesus Christ.”
“Now you know.”
Silence suffocates them.
They eat dinner in silence. The food is ashes in their mouths. When they are done they take their plates to the sink. Remus raises his wand, then puts it on the counter. He turns on the water and plugs the sink. James takes a towel in his hands. They stand side by side, shoulders barely touching. Remus washes. James dries. Remus drains the sink. The towel hangs limp in James’s hands. His eyes burn holes in the drainboard. The bones in Remus’s hands gleam white where he grips the edge of the counter.
James wakes in the night with her name on his lips. He reaches, hands outstretched, before time catches up. His fingers curl inward on themselves. Open or closed, he cannot see her, and his body writhes in the darkness.
Remus pounds on the door and keeps pounding even when he hears the metallic clicking indicating its imminent opening, keeps his hand closed in a fist and smashes it into Sirius’s face.
“What the fuck, Lupin!” Sirius staggers back, his hands over his face.
“You prick! You self-centered, egotistical bastard!” Remus slams the door behind him.
Sirius backs away from him, one hand held outstretched, the other covering his nose, blood seeping from between his fingers. He stumbles over a chair.
“I know he knows! I was there, remember?” Sirius’s grey eyes flash.
Remus makes a slashing motion with his hand. “Not that, you arrogant fuck, before. At school.”
Sirius’s face turns ashen. “He – he knows what? She didn’t tell…couldn’t have…”
Remus moves like lightening and there is a sickening crunch as his fist once more finds Sirius’s face. His lips pull back, revealing sharp teeth. “What. The fuck. Is wrong with you?” The battery continues but Sirius’s hands do not form into fists. “Fight back, goddam you, fight me!” Remus growls and advances again, pushing Sirius until his back is to the wall. “Raise your fists, you sorry sack, fight me or so help me Merlin I may kill you…”
Sirius raises his face, bruises swelling on cheeks, lip split, blood dripping onto shirt.
“Fight, you—” Remus stares at Sirius. He closes his eyes and draws his fists to his chest. He chokes and presses his palms flat against himself. Now he is crying; his face falls to his hands. “What is wrong with you? How could you do that to him?”
Sirius sinks into a chair. “It was…it’s a long story. How did he find out?”
Lupin’s voice is ragged. “I’m not talking about you.”
“Lupin, how did he find out?”
Remus shudders. “He found some fucked up letter you wrote to her.”
“No, you stupid git, at school.”
Sirius’s hands lay limp beside him on the arms of the chair, two dead birds. “He’s known since then? Since then? He never said a word – I was his best man. He made me Harry’s godfather!”
“May that burn in you for the rest of your life.”
Sirius’s grey eyes find Remus’s golden ones.
Remus looks away first.
Sirius’s cuts are mended and the bruises fading quickly after Remus’s healing spells. Both men sit on the edges of their chairs. Remus’s foot taps a coda on the wooden floor. Every once in a while he presses his fingers to his forehead. Sirius stares at a ring on the coffee table left from a long-ago glass.
“Why did you do it?” Remus’s voice no longer flays Sirius alive.
He closes his eyes and runs the heels of his palms over his eyebrows. “What do you want me to say?”
“Damn it, Sirius, when are you going to grow up? Don’t ask me what I want to hear. What do you have to say?”
He jumps up and prowls the room. “I’ve fucked up, mate, and I can’t see my way clear of it. I’ve been in this flat since I left…left theirs and I can’t see…I can’t see anything at all. I walk down one path after another, they all end in nightmares. You don’t need to tell me I’ve fucked up. I can bloody well see that myself. There are no roads, no roads, Remus, no roads back from where I’ve gone.”
“Yes, but why? What could possibly possess you to…to…”
Sirius shakes his head and sits down again. “I’m no good, Remus. No bloody good. Never have been.”
“That’s not true, Sirius. And even if it was, it’s not a reason. What possessed you?”
Sirius’s head falls to the back of the couch. “She was so angry…then I was angry…she thought I had forgotten their danger.” He laughs. “Forgotten.” He presses his palms flat against the couch on either side of him.
Neither man moves. A clock ticks from the hall and Remus counts the seconds, one minute, two… “Had you just come from…”
“Remus, if you had seen what I saw, the way that family had been killed, slaughtered, the children…” Sirius turns his head and Remus looks at the floor. “I went to see Meliae after.”
Remus’s eyebrows rise. “You did?”
“Yes, Remus. I did. And I didn’t sleep all night long.” He smiles, but there is something wrong with his eyes. “And I saw her again right before I went to James’s apartment. Meliae…but Lily thought I wasn’t focused on helping them. She attacked me.”
Sirius pulls aside the collar of his shirt. Black bruises in the form of fingers trail across his skin.
“Lily did that?” Remus stands and moves to him, holding his collar open. “Lily?”
“Lily did that.” Sirius pushes Remus’s hands away.
Remus sits and runs his fingers down the wood of the arms of the chair. “You haven’t once asked how she is. Or James, for that matter.”
Sirius is to Remus in two paces, hands on either side of him, still-swollen face looming inches from his own. “Asked?” He speaks through his teeth. “Do I need to ask? What the fuck do you think is running through my mind at light speed every fucking second I’m awake?” He smashes his own hand against his head as if to dislodge something. “Remus, so help me, if I had a penseive I would give you the memory of James’s face, of Lily’s, from that moment. I would give them to you and be damned.” He shoves himself away and rises to his full height before walking away. But he cannot settle and moves from one spot to another, the muscle in his jaw clenching and unclenching, clenching and unclenching.
James sits in Remus’s tiny kitchen twirling a letter by its point on the table. It is addressed to Remus in his wife’s hand. The wax seal is, so far, still intact. A letter from Albus sits untouched.
He lets Lily’s letter fall and her writing slaps him in the face. He flicks it away and watches it fall to the floor. He lifts his foot but lets it drop back where it was. He bends over and picks it up again. He signals the owl, who flies over and lands on the back of the chair just as she had for Remus.
“Take this back.” He reaches for the owl’s leg but she hoots and jumps to the other side of the chair. He turns and reaches for her again. “Ouch!” He sucks his finger and the owl flies back to her perch over the refrigerator and turns her back to him. “Buzzard.”
He spins the letter again before dropping it on the table. He gets up and stalks to the living room.
“She sent me a message.”
Remus’s eyes widen.
“She wants me to talk to him. To tell him. About the first time.”
“She does? Isn’t that something she should do?”
Sirius pounds a hand against the wall. “It should be, shouldn’t it? But she can’t.”
“He’s her husband. She can’t hide behind you! This is ridiculous!”
“Remus, you would be right under any other circumstance. But I need you to trust me, believe what I’m saying. Please. I need you to get James, get him to agree to meet me. And I need you there with us. Even then, it’s going to be risky.”
Remus stares at Sirius. “Risky? You need me to arrange the meeting? Have you tried to reach him?”
Sirius turns and rips open his shirt. Buttons clatter on the coffee table. A bloody, jagged gash bleeds red against the pale flesh of his chest.
“What the bloody hell is that? It looks like a curse wound.”
“That’s what it is. A parting gift from the man you would have me contact.”
Remus’s face pales. “James cursed you?”
“And now I know why it was so bloody effective.” His shirt tails flutter behind him as he resumes pacing.
“Have you been to St. Mungo’s?”
“Remus, nothing can be done about healing curse wounds. And what of the awkward questions, such as ‘Who did this to you? Because we need to send them to Azkaban.’”
“But it’s not closing. It’s not healing. Something can be done. Come here.” He raises his wand.
“I’ve been seeing to it.”
Remus’s eyes have not left the slash on Sirius’s chest. “Not very bloody well; come here.”
Sirius leans against the wall and tries to draw his shirt together.
Remus lowers his wand. “You haven’t tried very hard to heal it, have you.”
Sirius turns his back to Remus and presses his forehead against the wall. “No, Remus. I haven’t tried very hard.”
Remus stands with his hand above the handle to the door to his flat. He is staring at the door as if he has never seen it before. He hears James moving within.
Still he stands, his hand suspended in space, half way between the man he has left and the man he will see when this door swings open.
He holds Albus’ letter in his hands like it may sprout fangs and attack him. The hair on the back of his neck is standing on end. James is directly behind him.
“Have you been writing to her?” James’s voice ricochets off the walls and stabs into him. “Have you been writing to her! Have you spilled every goddam word I’ve said here to her!”
He presses the letter to the table. “No, James. I have not. Albus knows you are here, knows you are safe. He has obviously visited her, which,” he turns to look at James, “if you were not being such a prat, I wouldn’t have to explain to you.” James shifts from one foot to the other but does not look away.
Remus turns back and slides a finger under the wax seal, breaking it open. “Go away, James.” He waits as footsteps trudge to the living room.
I understand your despair. But it is not that you must never be angry, or sad, or anything of the like. Instead, you must find these things separate from the beast within you and express them purely. Do not feel you have an insurmountable task – indeed, each of us has within us a beast with which we must wrestle. I myself have one which has informed many of my own decisions.
That you were able to stop yourself in the most recent episode with James is good progress. I know how hard you work and I have confidence in your ability, eventually, to gain the complete upper hand in this matter.
I must reiterate that I believe the risks of the new potion to be too great. Much more work is required before I would entrust you to such, my dear friend.
Hand shaking, he refolds the letter and tucks it into his coat pocket. He breaks the other seal and his eyes follow Lily’s beautiful, curving script.
Albus says he is with you. Is he? Is he safe? Oh dear Merlin, Remus, you hold my heart, my hope, in your hands, your selfless, gentle hands – I would wish a thousand times and a thousand times more for you not to be in the middle of this, but I see that is exactly where you are, and perhaps it is inevitable. Peter is useless in such instances – he never could handle discomfort of any kind.
Please, please, dear Remus, tell him I love him, when he can hear it, tell him I need him so very, very desperately, tell him [here a line is crossed out] ask him what I must do, Remus, tell him I will do anything, anything, anything he asks, anything.
The last word is so heavily underlined the parchment is torn. He reads it again. And again.
He folds the letter and places it on the table. There has not been a single sound from the living room. He knits his fingers together and leans his forehead against them. “How much do you wish to hurt her and Sirius? How much, James? How much will be enough?”
He hears James get up and walk back to the kitchen, stop behind him. “Hurt her? Hurt Sirius?”
“Yes, James. How much? Do you have a measurement, a length of time, perhaps, or an amount of blood you would like to see?”
“Excuse me. I thought you said how much would I like to hurt them.”
“That’s what I asked you, James.”
“I’m not the—Remus! I’m not the one who…what are you saying to me?”
James is now standing next to him. Remus can feel his eyes burning the top of his head. He keeps his forehead pressed to his fingers. “You asked me how many times a man must forgive. A thousand times, James, and a thousand times more, but you don’t need to forgive a second time, do you? Because you never forgave the first time.”
“Never forgave? He was my best man! He is the godfather of my child! I see him almost every single day of my life!”
“Did you always know you would tell him someday, what you knew about them during school? Have you just been waiting for the right moment?”
“I never told him! I told you I never—”
“That’s right, you told me. So I could go do your dirty work. You’re such a bloody coward, James.” There is a sudden motion next to him but Remus waves his hand. “Don’t hit me again. I will not allow it.”
James slams into the chair across the table from Remus. “I would never, ever…I didn’t even know where you were. I had no idea—”
“Yes, you did. How long have we known each other? How many times have I been in the position of go-between for you and Sirius? You knew I would go to him with this.”
“Remus, I swear to you—”
“Stop, James, just stop. I don’t have the energy. I’ve seen Sirius’s chest, you see.”
James’s mouth is open.
“I’ll tell you something and then you can think about what you want to say. It hasn’t healed. And it won’t, not ever, not really. For them to work, James, for a curse truly to work, you have to mean it; you have to throw every hatred you have of that person out with the curse. You couldn’t have come up with that much hatred in such a short time no matter what was going on between them when you walked in.”
James’s eyes are two burning coals in an otherwise white face. His breath whistles in and out of his teeth.
“Sirius hasn’t even really tried to heal it. It’s there, ripped open, and he keeps it that way.” Remus looks into James’s eyes. “You’ve got what you’ve always wanted. Lily is at your feet, begging for your forgiveness, for your love. Sirius is punishing himself more than you ever could. He is desperate to meet with you. Wants me to arrange it. You’ve got everything you ever dreamed of, and here you are, the ultimate victim, the holy martyr to their trespasses, holding all the cards and dealing none. You’re just a nice guy. You’re such a nice guy. Not a soul in the world can hold a thing against you. Congratulations. It is a master stroke.”
Remus rises and leaves the kitchen. James hears the front door open and close.
James stands with his hands pressed against the glass of the window in the living room. He has been standing like this for hours. He is afraid that if he moves his hands something in him will break and he will fall and he will never stop. So he holds onto the glass and the sun moves around him on its path through the sky. It is an illusion, though. The sun does not know, or care, that he is there, breathing in, breathing out. He watches as the shadow parts of him turn to light and the light parts turn to shadow.
And he holds on to the glass.
Tacitum Vivit sub Pectore Vulnus
A wound unuttered lives deep within the breast – Virgil
The café is crowded and the line to get food snakes out into the street. Remus holds two paper cups in his hands, and grimaces as the heat builds. He glances at his wand, shoved in his pocket, then at all the Muggles. He sighs and pushes his way through the crowd to the small table jammed against the back wall where he puts the cups down, shaking his hands. “Ouch.”
Lily does her facsimile of a smile. “Thanks.”
Remus pulls the chair back and drops his coat onto it before lowering himself into it. He looks at her closely – the tangled hair; the deep, hooded eyes; the raw skin where she has blown her nose again and again and again. “Where’s Harry?”
“With James’s mum. She’s over the moon about a whole afternoon with him. Don’t even think she heard me say goodbye.” The grimace that passes for a smile crosses her face again. “I think she was. You know. Shocked. By the apartment.”
“I think you are. You know. Shocked. By the apartment.” Remus covers her hands with his.
A car backfires outside and her hands fly to her chest, her eyes wild.
“I cast the charms outside.”
Lily lowers her hands. “Yeah. OK.”
Remus adds cream to his tea.
Lily stirs her own, her eyes on the red knit cap of the woman at the next table. “Thanks for coming.”
“Don’t say that like I’m doing you some huge favor you don’t deserve.”
She lowers her eyes. “Yeah.”
The sounds around them press down and Remus reaches for his wand, then stops, puts his hand flat on the table. “How do they put up with the noise and nothing to do about it?” He shakes his head.
“Listen, Lily, if I have to hear you say ‘yeah’ one more time, I’m going to go round the bend. We’ve known each other for years and I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. Where are you, Lil?”
“Tell me what James told you. What did he say?”
“I’m here to talk about you, not him.”
“But he’s staying with you, right?”
“Yes, Lily, he’s with me.”
“So what did he say? To you? Did he say he hated me? Did he say he would come back? What did he say?”
Remus puts his cup down on the table rather harder than necessary and winces as hot tea splashes onto his hand. “Lily, I am not going to talk about what James is saying with you. I didn’t talk about what you’ve been saying with him, about all the things we have been discussing over the last months, and I owe just as much respect to him as to you. You are, after all, two of my best friends.” He takes a napkin from the stack and dries his hand.
Lily presses her fingers to her eyelids. “You think I’m a stupid bitch, don’t you?”
“I don’t think you’re a bitch. I’ve never thought you were a bitch. I think you made a stupid decision.”
“I didn’t decide to sleep with him. It just happened. One second I’m trying to strangle him, the next second…”
Remus studies her face. “One thing, Lily. We’ve always, always been honest with one another. Always. And I want that to continue. And I’m not willing to sit here if you’re not going to hold up your end of the bargain.”
She jabs her stirrer to the bottom of her cup. “What, exactly, are you accusing me of lying about?”
“There was a moment when you could have chosen – decided, if you prefer – not to have one second follow the next.”
Lily’s cheeks flame and she ducks her head. Her shoulders shake and she brings her hands to her face.
Remus lifts his cup to his mouth and blows across the surface of the tea. He brings it to his lips and sips it. “Tell me why it happened.”
Lily slams her fists on the table. “James is gone all the time and I can’t stand it! He’s never around, and even when he is around, he isn’t!”
“Shut it. Even you can’t possibly believe that is the reason.”
“No. I don’t.” She molds her hands around her cup and stares at the table top. “Sirius was so upset—”
“Remus! Shut the bloody hell up for one second!” The woman with the red hat turns toward them. Lily crosses her eyes and sticks out her tongue. The woman’s head snaps back around.
“Shut it yourself. I know you’re stressed. We all are. But how could you so spectacularly drop the ball? This is completely out of character for you.”
Her hands land in her lap and lay there. “Yeah.”
“Yeah.” Remus blows across the top of his cup again.
“You’re right. It isn’t all him. It’s me, too. My brain is all messed up. I can’t think anymore. I just get so…” She is looking at the red cap again.
“So caught up in your shit.”
Lily rolls her eyes. “It’s not shit, Remus.”
“What is it then?”
“I don’t know. Stuff.”
She grins and this time it reaches her eyes. “You are maddening.”
“But loveable, all the same.”
“When are you going to allow someone to see that?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
She sighs. “I can’t relate to James lately. I raise our child, keep the house clean, wait for people to bring me food, do whatever it is I manage to do with myself every day and he walks in and out of the house. We never touch. We barely talk. When I ask him about his day he can’t even be bothered to answer.
“He has drifted so far away from me I can’t find him. He still loves Quidditch – he’ll listen to the Wireless for hours, to every match. He knows all the players, all the statistics. I’ve told him he’s obsessed but he doesn’t see it that way – he just scoffs and turns away. Honestly, Remus, there is nothing there for me to touch, nothing to hold on to.”
Remus’s eyebrows draw together and he frowns.
Lily sips her tea and then puts the cup on the table, lining it up precisely with the design on the surface. “In my saner moments, I try to look at the other things he’s doing.”
“Sunshine charms. Flowers. The effort he’s making to keep us alive.”
“Oh. Little things like that.”
“Remus, with all he’s doing, how can I possibly get mad at him for anything, ever?”
Remus looks at her over the top of his cup. “Lily, you’re a couple. It’s unrealistic to say you’ll never do anything to piss each other off.”
Lily sighs. “OK. I know that.”
Remus reaches into his pocket and pulls his wand half-way out. “Muffliato Specifico.”
“Remus!” Lily laughs out loud.
“Sorry – I just can’t stand to hear one more word about how that man is the only reason anything has ever gotten done in the entire history of the world as we know it.”
Lily laughs again and Remus grins. She puts her hand in her purse. “Taceo!” The wall of sound around them falls silent.
“Lily!” Remus mimics her falsetto. “Well, that is better.”
They smile at each other and then she puts her forehead in her hands. “He’s under so much stress – he walks in, when he walks in, and he takes Harry, I know it’s because he wants to give me a break, and I let him, because he’s right, and I know that all he wants to do is go to bed and sleep before he’s called out again.”
“That’s a lot of thinking. Have you said any of these things outside your head?”
“What would be the point? It’s obvious what’s going on.”
“You spend entirely too much time thinking about things.”
“Why else would he do these things? He’s such a good man – doesn’t everyone say so?”
“You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself.”
“I can’t tell you, when we first started dating, how often I heard ‘You’re so lucky. James is such a great guy.’ Even you said it!”
“James is a great guy.”
“But he’s a guy. Maybe that’s my point.”
“You want him to be a centaur, or a goblin?”
“Don’t be dense, Remus. I mean he’s just a guy. Not a man.” Lily’s hands move like squirrels. “I used to think it was so funny how none of you were ever serious, how all of you did nothing but joke around and act like gits. But now, Remus, I’m wondering if he’s forgotten how to talk at all. I have never been so alone – and so lonely – in my life. And there I go, complaining again.” She has been twirling a strand of hair around her finger and now it has tightened and turned her finger purple. She yanks it out.
Remus sees the glimmer of tears in her lower lashes. He hands her a paper napkin. “I will agree with your assessment, as I always have. James can have a hard time seeing what is going on for him in the emotion department. But you can’t say he doesn’t try. The sunshine charm, as you mentioned. That’s a man trying, regardless of the other selfishness.”
Lily turns her cup around and around. “It doesn’t…feel like that. It feels like he’s continually doing these things to tell me how good he is, how bad I am.”
Remus’s lips form a thin line. He glowers out the window and Lily bites her bottom lip. But when he turns back to her, whatever storm had swept through him is gone. “Part of your problem is that you are so black and white. Either he’s a total git or he’s trying the best he can. He can be a mixture of both, you know. Both things you said are true. Yes, it’s a problem that he doesn’t open up to you more. And yes, he is doing a tremendous amount under very trying circumstances. He loves you, Lily. Why else would he do it? Why are you using every action he makes to beat yourself up, telling yourself you’re not worthy?”
Remus’s face swims before her. “Well, I’m not, am I? And you don’t know the half of it.” She wipes her eyes with the heels of her hands.
“I do know the half of it.”
Her eyes widen. “You know? About…” Her face turns oddly red and she swallows. If she had not cast the Taceo spell he never would have heard her.
“I know. About during school.”
“James…? Or Sirius?”
Her face falls.
“Lily, what on earth possessed you?”
“Have you talked to Sirius? Has James?”
“Lily, Sirius said you asked him to talk to James. Why would you do that? Why are you not talking to James yourself?”
She fidgets, twisting her fingers together. “I…can’t, Remus. That’s all I can say. You have to trust me.”
“That’s what Sirius said. What the hell is going on?”
“Please, Remus, just—”
“Trust you.” He looks at her.
“James…James cursed him.”
Remus is motionless. “I know.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Is it healing?”
“What do you think?”
“Could you help him with it?”
Remus looks down. “He doesn’t want anyone to help him with it.”
Lily lowers her head onto her arms and sobs. “S-so you do th-think I’m a bitch.”
“I don’t think you’re a bitch, Lily. In fact, I think a lot of things I can’t tell you right now, but none of them involve you being ‘bad.’ Your hatred of James for doing nice things for you is a bit easier to explain. But Lily, you do deserve to have nice things done for you. It’s been years.”
“It doesn’t matter, does it?” She lifts her head and tears continue to pour down her cheeks. “It’s like everything he does is a tiny little dagger. He’s so fucking nice! He’s a nice guy! Why can’t he be a jackass or something? Why can’t he just yell or get pissed or…or react? Why does he have to act so fucking perfect? I hate him!” Her eyes fly wide and she slaps her hands over her mouth. She peels them back just as fast. “No! I don’t hate him!”
“First thought, best thought, Lily.”
“I love James!”
“I know you love James, Lily, no one is saying – or would even believe – that you didn’t. But what you just said points at that deeper thing you’re looking for.”
“Please, Remus, forget I said it.” Her eyes are still wide and her lips bloodless in her face.
“No, Lily, I won’t forget it, and you shouldn’t, either.”
“This didn’t happen because I hate him.”
“Well, you’re the one who said it. Is it true?”
She steeples her fingers and rests her forehead against them. “How could I know he would walk in right then?”
“You’re saying I wanted him to know, to hurt him.”
“I’m not. But shagging his best friend is about the biggest ‘fuck you’ I can think of. Even if he didn’t know. Take a moment. Look under this rock and study the things that squirm away from the light.”
Lily shifts in her seat. “I just wanted…I need something someone to hold on to. I needed that.”
“That’s a good start. Why do you need that?”
“I think everyone needs that. I don’t think that’s strange.”
“It’s not strange. But in this case, it has come out—strangely. Why?”
“I think…I’ve been angry. At James. For a long time.”
“Yes, we’ve established that.”
“Merlin, Remus. I’m in that apartment and it’s so cold there, everything is—it’s just so grey. I can’t stand it. No one tells me anything and every time there is even the slightest sound I want to scream…and I think I wanted to – needed to – have someone acknowledge that I’m still alive.”
“And that person is not James, but Sirius?”
“Sirius has always, always known I’m alive.”
“That’s just your stupid fantasy, Lily. Sirius knows every woman within a two-Apparation radius is alive.”
Lily’s face flushes. “It’s different. With me.”
Remus jerks forward. “You were getting somewhere, but that’s bullshit, Lily.” He jabs his finger into the table with each word. “Total bullshit. And it’s dangerous bullshit to boot.”
“What if it’s not?”
Remus leans back. “Lily, if this is the direction you’re going to travel, I’m getting up and I’m walking out. Right now.” He pushes himself away from the table and stands up.
She throws herself across the table and grabs his arm. Her eyes are two green holes in her face. “Remus, please. Please. Sit down.”
He stands for a moment longer, his face turned halfway to the door, then resumes his seat with a sigh.
She sits back and blows her nose again and wads the napkin into a tight ball.
Remus pushes the stack of napkins to her and she picks up another one. “Lily, you need to look at your pattern with men.”
“Do you want to figure something out or do you just want to lie to me and waste my time?”
“All right! OK! My pattern with men. What is it?” She crosses her arms.
“You don’t want Sirius. You just want. Period. When things get tough, this is what you do. You want someone, and it can be anyone, as long as it isn’t the person you’re currently with.”
“That’s not true!”
“It is, and if you’d slow down for one second you’d admit it. I’ve known you a long, long time. We were prefects together, in case you’ve forgotten, and you’ve talked to me about every boyfriend you’ve ever had. There is always one theme when the going gets tough. Someone else is always better, nicer, more together, whatever your current boyfriend isn’t.”
“But I – that’s not – ” Lily’s face pales.
Remus drags his hand down his face. “You were always poor at Occlumency.” Lily splutters and Remus raises his hand. “And even if you weren’t, you’ve been talking to me for years. I can’t help it if I’ve heard some of this before. You‘ve left a trail of wrecked men in your wake. It’s no wonder if some of them have talked to me, being as I’m such a close, personal friend of yours. You’ve done this before. Well, maybe not this”—he waves his hand—“but you’ve come close.”
Lily twists her fingers together. “Yes.”
“Yes what, Lily?” Remus’s eyes close.
“Yes. I did that. Do that. You’re right.”
Remus opens his eyes.
“I’ve been doing that with Sirius this past month, is that what you’re saying?”
“You sure don’t have to work as hard at that relationship as you do in your relationship with James. And Sirius is always willing to walk the line between acceptable and not acceptable, in terms of his interactions with women. I think you’ve gotten a lot of what you don’t get lately from James from Sirius. But it’s not real, Lily. He’s just doing what he does. Half the time I don’t even think he knows he’s doing it.”
“I know that. Well, some part of me knows that. And I’ve always been good about keeping away from that part of Sirius before.”
Remus raises his eyebrows.
“Remus, please. But now…is different, somehow.”
“Well, yes. Now is different, Lily. Everyone is falling apart. Not even that – shattering. I know you’re not out there as an Auror, and neither am I, although I am doing what I can, but I can’t tell you – what they are seeing, doing, Lily, it’s…well, it’s taking a huge toll on them.
“And on you. You’ve been upset for months now. Maybe your guard is down a little. Maybe you’ve done your own ‘something better’ thing by straying a little bit with how you interact with Sirius. I don’t think, for one second, that you planned what happened, but you sure didn’t spend any time making sure something like that couldn’t happen. This is not entirely Sirius’s fault.”
“I know that, Remus.”
“You would have been better served – and that’s an understatement – if you had poured that energy into James. Have you told him how hard it’s been for you when he’s so closed?”
“So he doesn’t really have any idea how you feel right now.”
“How could he not?”
“He’s a man, Lil. Sometimes we don’t get it.”
“Well, Remus, you’re a man, and you get it.” Her eyes blaze.
“Yes, and you’re talking to me, and have been for months.” He almost smiles but can’t quite pull it off.
She cannot take her fingers off one another. “Remus, why don’t you find someone you can talk to?” Her fingers dance together, apart, together. “Remus, why aren’t you…?”
Remus is completely still.
Lily looks straight at him. “Why don’t you date anyone?”
Remus sits for a long time, staring out the window.
Lily pries her fingers apart, flattening her hands on the table. “Remus, I want to know—”
“Don’t. Please, Lily. Just don’t.”
Lily tries to catch his eye but he is looking down. She releases a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. One of her hands reaches half-way across to him and she stares at it, fascinated, before it drops back to the table.
“Lily, if you truly want things to change, change yourself. You’ve tried to change him – it doesn’t work. It never works. You need to change what you do – you need to turn toward him when it gets tough, not away. Do you want to leave him, or drive him to leave you?”
Lily presses her fingers to her lips. “No.”
“Are you sure? Because you’ve very nearly done it.”
Once again she covers her face. “What have I done?”
“A very stupid thing that will take a long time to fix, if it can be fixed at all. However, you can no longer pretend that everything is OK. You can no longer just go on day after day, dying quietly under the scopes, keeping it all to yourself. You just stood up and cried ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”
“Muggle expression. It means you’ve got everyone’s attention and caused a panic.”
“I know what it means. But what about him? Why doesn’t he have to do anything? Why does it have to be me?”
“How do you know James isn’t equally shocked into action?”
“Because nothing shocks James into action!”
Remus pulls back. “Merlin, Lily, keep your shirt on. And believe me, James is shocked.”
Lily pushes her fingers into her hair. They catch and she yelps, pulling them free. “Good.”
Remus grabs her hand and turns it palm up. Torn scabs and raw skin meet his eyes. “Lily. What have you done to yourself?”
She pulls her hands from him. “I hurt them when I was cleaning the apartment.”
“Lily, are you a witch or not? Did someone snap your wand in half?”
She sighs. “No. I know all the charms. I…how can I explain it? There is nothing to do. And if you do it quickly, then there is nothing longer.”
Remus releases her hand and looks at the table.
She presses her palms against her forehead and sobs in earnest. “It’s not like I have a lot of people to talk to. Except you and S-Sirius.”
“Lily,” he leans forward, his hands pulling hers away from her face. “It’s all right to cry. Here.” He hands her his paper napkin.
She takes it and wipes her eyes, still crying.
“Lily, I know he’s been over there a lot lately. How far off the track did you go? What have you been talking about?”
Once again Lily buries her face in her hands. “Oh, Merlin, Remus!”
Remus rubs her arms. “Lily, just suck it up and tell me.”
Lily chokes, scrubbing her face with a napkin, which disintegrates. She throws it down and takes another, pressing the whole thing to her face.
“Lily, what do you talk about?”
“We talk – we talk – Remus!” She looks up, eyes pleading.
“S-school, and how it was, and how things have ch-changed—” She makes that odd choking sound again.
“School. And how it was. With all of us?”
“With just you two?”
“I see. I understand now. So what you’ve been telling me is, in part, total bollocks. You’ve been seducing him. This is the logical result of you consciously breaking a boundary with a past lover who is notoriously bad at keeping boundaries himself!” Remus slams his fists down on the table and Lily jumps. “Merlin,Lily, did you think at all?”
“Fuck you, Remus! Fuck you!” Lily’s eyes are red, her cheeks blotchy. “I am not lying to you! I never, ever, planned on shagging him! Ever! It just—”
“If you say ‘happened’ again I’m going to throw up.”
“What do you want me to say?” She looks wildly about, her breath quick and shallow.
The corner of Remus’s mouth curves upwards. “It’s astounding how many times I’ve heard that question in the past few days. And how little I ever want to hear it again. Is there no one”—he spreads his arms wide—“capable of taking responsibility for what they’ve done and looking at it?”
“I am taking responsibility for it! What have I been sitting here doing if not taking responsibility for it?” Lily’s eyes blaze and her hands are balled into fists.
“You’re starting, right now, to make excuses again. ‘I never, ever, planned on shagging him!’” Remus’s voice once more imitates hers. “Have you been shagging him since school?” Her hand is a blur but he catches her wrist a scant inch from his face. “Why must everyone strike those who are the least deserving of it?” He twists her wrist and she yelps. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply. When he opens them again he shoves her hand away.
“I hate you, Remus.” She rubs her wrist.
“I know. I suppose I would be a much better friend if I simply agreed that everyone else is to blame except for the person sitting in front of me and tried to help each of you exact revenge on the others. Except, of course,” he runs his hand through his graying hair, “that each of you has already pursued revenge much, much further than I would have thought possible.”
He stands then, and, picking up his cold tea, trudges out of the café.
The Ancient Magic of Salt
She walks directly to the door and knocks before she can turn around and run in the opposite direction.
It opens and she looks at the ground in front of her. “I don’t know why I’m here, but…”
“I don’t either.”
She steps through the door and he shies away from her. She hears the door click shut behind her before she can bring herself to raise her eyes. He stands before her, same long black hair, same grey eyes, but someone she has never, ever seen before.
“Lily, I don’t want you here. At all.” He moves back to the door and puts his hand on the doorknob.
“I know.” She stands still.
He turns the knob and opens the door.
She closes her eyes and breathes, then reaches over and pushes the door closed. “Sirius, I need to do, to say, some things.”
“Great. Say them to James. I don’t need to hear them.” His hand has not left the doorknob.
“Please, Sirius, this isn’t easy for me to do.”
“Lily, you saved my life once, and for that I am eternally grateful, and I hope you know that. I’m sorry for the things I said and did to you in your apartment. I can’t blame you for trying to strangle me. My head was…not in the right place. But I don’t think I want to see you for a while. Maybe never.”
“Sirius, Remus told me. About your chest.” She reaches out, touches his arm.
Sirius jerks backwards as if she has burned him. “Is there nothing the wolf will not tell you?” He slams the door open against the wall and stalks away from it.
“He cares for you, Sirius. Is that such an unforgivable thing? Will you just allow me to help you?” She is trembling, her face chalk-white. “S-Sirius,”
He puts out a hand toward her, his back still to her, as if warding off a blow too terrible to endure. “Please. I beg you. Stop talking. I do not. Want. To hear. Your voice.”
She clears her throat. “I will do what I came to do, say what I came to say, and you will not…”
He is to her in three paces, hands iron bands on her shoulders. She feels the wall as she crashes into it. “What do you want from me? Do you want my blood? My soul, Lily? Will you leave if I rip my guts out and give them to you with my own hands? Didn’t I do that once? Isn’t once enough?” His eyes are wide and his breath comes in spasms.
She can feel his hands shaking on her body. Sweat trickles down her sides and something quick and hot runs up her spine. She opens her mouth and a sound like a small bird fills the air between them. His eyes close and he pushes her hard into the wall again, turning away and raking his fingers thorough his hair. She shakes her head as if coming out of a trance and follows him into the living room, her hands out. “Sirius! For Merlin’s sake, Sirius, you’re frightening me!”
“So you follow me into the livingroom?” His eyes are wild and his hair flies about his face as he whirls first to the coffee table, then to the couch. “Should I shag you here? Or maybe over here? Do you want me to shag you up against the wall? Where, Lily? Choose!”
She whips her wand out of her purse. “Petrificus—”
But once again her wand goes flying and she turns to face the man who fights Dark wizards for a living. His wand is leveled at her heart and now his hands do not shake. “Right there, Lily.” The tip of his wand forms a circle and a spot on her chest, between her breasts, turns hot. “Right. There.”
She stumbles backwards away from him, still facing him, falling and catching herself on a chair, her eyes mesmerized by the tip of his wand. Her hands fly to her chest. She is shaking. “Sirius, you asked me not to talk, but I need to…you cannot walk around with an open wound for the rest of your life!”
Sirius drops his hand, his face ravaged. “Merlin, woman, go. Go. Can’t you just leave?”
She moves toward him and now it is he who stands mesmerized, his hands balled into fists at his side. “Oh Lily, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” and her mouth meets his own. She pulls open his shirt and pushes herself against him, pushing his back to the wall, her hands in his hair…
She pulls away, puzzled, looks down. She jumps back with a shriek, eyes flying over her shirt, red, blood, to his wand, still in his fist. He drops it and she screams.
“Shhh, Lily, shhhh, it’s not you, love, it’s not you, I wouldn’t, I couldn’t.” He runs his fingers over his chest, smearing red across his flesh. “Not yours. Mine.”
She breathes against him, touching him. “My f-fault. My bloody fault, this.” She slides toward the floor and he pulls her to him and she is crying now, her whole body shaking with the force of her sobs, and he holds her, crushes her to him, whispering into her hair, containing the pieces of her as she disintegrates in his arms.
Then she is chanting nonstop and he does not try to weave her speech into meaning but just keeps her pressed against him, the raw burning of her shirt on the ripped wound in his chest setting his teeth on edge.
She pushes him away and her chanting fills the space between them. Once again her eyes fasten on his chest. One hand reaches out, crosses the infinite chasm between them, dancing and weaving toward him. A finger touches the blood running down his chest. Then another, and another, and she is moving her hand purposefully over him until it is smeared with his blood, covered with it. She draws back; he follows her motion through the air, watches as she presses the hand to her forehead, her lips, as she rubs the blood into the valley between her breasts.
Her flesh is white-hot and his eyes burn. He stands rigid, throbbing in turn at head and chest. He looks down into her eyes, then follows her hand again; it moves lower, the hem of her skirt hugs her hips, her fingers disappear. He watches her face fall open like the flower of her name. His eyes drop and he watches as her fingers dip and slide, blood mixing with the salt of an ancient ocean. He is shaking, his breathing coming in short gasps.
After the last, devastating release, she withdraws her hand, brings it to his chest, draws it across the wound. He closes his eyes and sucks his breath in through his teeth; his lower lashes fill. His head falls back against the wall. She continues her motion, running her hand over and over, her scent filling him.
When she stops he is afraid to open his eyes. Fire burns through his flesh and he can feel it pass through his body, every cell outlined in light. Still she holds her hand to him and it is not until she lets him go completely that he dares look down.
The wound is angry and red. It always will be. But it has closed.
“Please. Please tell James. About the first time.” She turns and flees.
The sun streams in, forming a blinding white spot on the coffee table; it throws a perfect rectangle on the wall opposite the two men sitting there.
There are two glasses before them on the table, both filled nearly to the rim, ice melting and diluting the contents, rings bulbous beneath them from pooling condensation. A letter lays on the table nearly half-way between them, but nearer the one on the chair. Four eyes burn holes in the envelope, or would if concentration could be focused into fire.
A third man watches from a doorway, his arms crossed, his eyes jumping from one man to the other, his face a study in wariness and wayward, windswept hope. He shifts from one leg to the other and arches his back. Then he is still.
The man in the chair reaches out, takes the envelope in his fingers. The man on the couch pales but does not move.
“You wrote this. To her.”
The man on the couch nods.
“And it is true, what you wrote. What you did.”
The man on the couch presses his lips together and looks down. Nods.
“Why is she keeping it if this hasn’t been going on the whole time?” James throws the letter across the room.
Its flight is graceful and it sails through the air, coming to rest in the doorway at Remus’s feet. “James, where did this come from?”
“The fucking back of Lily’s drawer fell on my fucking hand when I was getting a sweater for my Mum and this is what came out!” He rounds on Sirius. “And when I walked in. You want me to believe that was only the second time. Not the twelfth or the thirty-second or the fucking one hundred and fortieth!” He is on his feet, his chest heaving, his fists clenched at his side.
Sirius flinches. “The second time.”
James paces a line on the rug like a caged animal. “And the first time. There is a reason.” The muscles of his back are iron bands.
“Yes. There was a reason.”
“A reason or a fucking excuse?” He reaches the wall and pounds his fists against it.
“Easy, James, easy.” Remus extends a hand but James shoves it away and continues pacing.
“A reason.” Deep lines etch Sirius’s mouth as he speaks.
“And the second time?”
“Yes, a reason.” Sirius’s eyes once again find the floor. “But no excuse.”
“So help me, if you lie to me, I will kill you.” James reaches for his wand and Remus is to him with one movement.
There is a flailing of limbs and Remus holds James’s wand. “I’ll not have that here, in my house. You’ll talk, but I’ll bloody well keep your wand in my pocket.”
Sirius has fallen back on the couch, his eyes wide. His hand is rubbing his chest. “I’ll talk, James, just sit the fuck down.”
Remus shoves James toward the chair and James, glaring at them both, takes his seat.
“The first time was a favor. To me.”
James snorts. “You were shagging half the school. They were lining up for you outside our fucking dorm. You didn’t need her favor.”
Sirius’s eyes flash. “Do you want to hear what I have to say or do you want to make sure you recount my past to me with every sentence I speak?”
“I haven’t made up my mind that I even want to be here, much less hear one goddamn word that leaves your mouth.” James is up and pacing again.
Sirius turns to Remus. “It won’t work. I was afraid this was a bad idea.”
“Leaving you two out in the world as loose cannons is a bad idea. Two fully-trained wizards, Aurors, on the same assignments, at each other’s throats, is a bad idea. Don’t think there hasn’t been talk. And you, James, are still on probation for disappearing for a week.”
James stops pacing and shoves his fists in his pockets. “A favor, then.” He narrows his eyes and looks out the window. A muscle in his jaw jumps.
“A favor. I needed…” Sirius puts his head in his hands. “Ah, fuck.” He rocks back and forth. “That letter, James, wasn’t a love letter.”
James snorts again. “You can say that again. You tied her up? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“You’ve go to shut up if…”
“…you want to hear this at all!” Both Remus and Sirius are standing.
James throws his hands in the air and sits down again. Sirius sits and Remus moves back to the doorway.
“I didn’t tie her up. Who do you think I am?”
James glares. “I know who you are. That’s why I asked the question.”
“James, do you really think Sirius would tie someone up?”
James narrows his eyes and Sirius picks at his sleeve.
Remus’s eyes shift to the couch. “Sirius?”
Sirius clears his throat. “I think…let’s get back to the…no, James, I did not tie her up. She used the rope to make a circle on the ground around where we…that letter was a set of instructions. Instructions that Lily and I created together.” His head shoots up. “This whole time…ever since…you’ve thought I tied her up?”
“Bugger what I thought, Sirius.”
“You’ve thought this whole time…”
“Bugger what I thought! Why the hell did you, as you seem to be implying in the vast empty wasteland that passes for your explaining so far, need to shag Lily?”
Sirius winces. “I’m not…we didn’t shag. I needed her because…because…” His head drops to his hands again. “because I needed her…her…I needed the blood of a virgin.”
James’s jaw drops. Remus’s shoulder slips off the edge of the doorway and he stumbles into the room.
“The blood of a virgin taken in a very, very specific way. A way Lily only trusted herself to do correctly.”
“Virgin’s blood is used in Dark magic. What. The fuck. Are you talking about?” James’s face is pinched and he is shaking. Remus stares at Sirius as if he has just murdered a child in front of them.
Sirius’s head remains in his hands. “It’s not just Dark magic that calls for such things. There are other, older…I ran into my father that winter hols, if you recall. I told you that. I told you about how he…he…the things he said to me. Said about me.”
“Make a connection fast or I’ll give James his wand back and move out of his way.” Remus’s voice is filled with gravel.
Sirius’s head jerks up. “But I didn’t tell you everything. That wasn’t all. I turned to leave and he…” He stands up so fast Remus jumps. He pulls his shirt up and turns around. A scar like a black spider sprawls on his back.
“So what? You got that when we were in the Forbidden Forest. Acromantula sting.”
He lowers his shirt and turns around. “That’s what I told you.” He sits down again.
“You spent the night in the infirmary!” Remus looks at James, who looks back at him.
“I spent the night in the Charms classroom.”
“Why would you lie about something like that?”
“He…he called me a filthy blood traitor, then he disowned me. Called all of you…well,” he runs his fingers through his hair. “That doesn’t matter. You never heard my father angry. His voice actually cuts your flesh; tiny cuts that accumulate slowly, then start to bleed. You’ve seen my house. It’s not like anyone can pretend my family aren’t Dark wizards. My father has a library. The books in there – most of them would land you in Azkaban for a lifetime, and that would be a lenient sentence. He had studied them his whole life. Could quote them to me, and did, when I misbehaved. Told me all the things he would do to me if I didn’t do what he wanted. Well, this time he did one of them. When I turned around, to leave, my father…cursed me.”
Remus sinks slowly to the floor.
“What was the curse?” James’s eyes are still hard.
“I didn’t know. I found a spot on my back that night. A small, black spot. The next morning it was bigger. And it kept growing. And with it came…as it got bigger…my mind was filled with thoughts, ideas. I couldn’t keep them out. At first, as they got stranger, I could tell that it wasn’t me. But as the spot grew, I couldn’t…couldn’t keep myself…I didn’t know they weren’t me anymore. I started to believe that I really thought those things, that they…that I…was thinking them. That I wanted to do them.”
He looks at Remus, then at James. Nothing reflects from the grey depths, as if that spot had sucked all the light from him.
Remus can barely open his mouth. “What were the thoughts?”
Sirius closes his eyes. “At first it was smaller things, like shoving someone or…or jinxing them, or stuff that I would ordinarily do, anyway, and then they got more…strange…actually hurting someone, or…”
“And then, then it was torturing, killing, raping…and by then, that was when I couldn’t…”
“Lily? You raped Lily?” The veins in James’s neck stand out like cords and he is half-way to his feet.
But Remus leaps up and pushes him back. “Not Lily. What you did to Severus.”
A sound like a groan rises from Sirius’s throat. “Yes.”
“Jesus.” Remus’s eyes are riveted to Sirius. James leans against Remus and he, too, cannot take his eyes off Sirius. “If you had done those other things, you would have been sent to Azkaban for life.”
Sirius’s face is grim. “Don’t think my father didn’t know that.” He looks out the window. “By then…by the time I led Severus…the spot looked almost as it does now.”
“But why didn’t you say something to us? Why didn’t you come to us?”
“Because…the thoughts…were centered on both of you. Others, too, but mostly on you. And I couldn’t keep myself from acting on them…”
“Don’t you remember that month? How I wasn’t around so much? How I acted?”
Remus nods. “You and Lily…” James tenses and Remus falls silent.
“The thoughts involved her, as well, but she noticed something was strange. She asked me over and over what was wrong. I wouldn’t – couldn’t – tell her. I think that was part of the curse as well. I tried again and again to say what was happening but when I tried to talk, the screaming in my head drowned out everything else. I was – rough with her. Shoved her. But she kept coming back, asking, always asking.”
“We stopped asking you…” Remus runs a hand down his face. “Sirius. We just let you drift away. How could we have done it?”
“Yeah. Well. We’re guys.” Sirius looks at the floor.
James falls back into the chair.
“Guys,” Remus looks at Sirius, “who should have known better. I should have known better.”
“Lily did. She finally jinxed me – full body-bind curse – and ripped off my shirt. I guess I was touching the spot more and more as it grew. Well, after that, she sort of took over. Checked out every book in the restricted section on curses.”
“I remember that. I thought she got extra work for Defense Against the Dark Arts. But why didn’t she tell us?”
Sirius’s face falls. “I told her not to. I made her swear to secrecy.”
“I don’t know. I don’t. It must have been the curse. When she found the curse in a book, she realized my father had changed it. Then she had to figure out what he had done.”
James rises and stumbles to the letter. He picks it up and shakes it at Sirius. “This letter isn’t filled with hate, with ideas of torture and murder and rape!”
Sirius eyes the letter as if it is a coiled snake. “There was still just a bit of me left. It took everything I had to write that letter. Every bit of will I had left went to helping Lily break the curse, to letting her know I was grateful. I pushed the letter into her bag during Charms. A few hours later, the curse grew again, and…I had no intention of going through with the counter-curse. I just wanted her to show up that night. The curse had won – I wanted to rape, torture, murder. I couldn’t wait to do them. I wanted to do them…to Lily.”
The letter drops from James’s hand.
“But she knew that. When she showed up that night, I tried to…” There is not a single sound anywhere, as if the entire world had stopped. “…I tried to use Immobilis. But she was too fast. She disarmed me and then she pointed her wand at me and said…something…and then there was a space, a tiny corner in my mind, where I could see her, hear her, where I could exist again. And she spoke to that tiny corner, and from that corner I was able to act, to do what I had to do.” He swallows.
“Make love to her.” James is as still as Remus has ever seen him.
“Yes. And she did something, before I took her, and while I was taking her, the whole time she was chanting and moving certain ways and making me move certain ways. And when I finally…she pulled away from me and took the blood that was on me, mixed with…” he eyes James “and she used that in the drawings that broke the curse. And the spot stopped growing. And the thoughts…the thoughts…I could tell they weren’t me.”
James is pale.
Remus looks ten years older. “Are the thoughts gone?”
Sirius swallows. “No. No, Remus, they are not gone. But I can tell when they come up. I have mapped them, studied them; I know they aren’t real.”
James slams a fist against the arm of the chair. “But when I found the letter…at school…she didn’t tell me this. Any of this. She allowed me to think that she had lied to me, that you had betrayed me, that…”
“I made her make an Unbreakable Vow, James. She can’t tell you, or anyone, what happened. If anyone…if anyone had found out what had happened to me, what Lily and I had done…but that’s why she still has the letter. She can’t get rid of it unless one of us breaks the Vow.” Sirius looks at the floor again.
“That’s why she asked you to talk to James.”
James shakes his head. “You can’t break a Vow! You die!”
“You can break a Vow.” Sirius rubs his face. “It’s – Dark magic. Well, not Dark, really, but…I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Remus narrows his eyes at Sirius and Sirius looks away.
James shakes his head. “But someone must pay – you can’t just break it.”
“Someone does pay. The breaker pays. It’s just…” Sirius eyes are dull. “The breaker has to sacrifice something worth more to them than…”
“The Vow knows what is most precious to you. You can’t go around it.”
Remus breathes in, his eyes on Sirius.
James pushes out his chin. “Are you going to do it?”
“James, shut it. You can’t ask him that.”
“I can, and I did. It’s my wife we’re talking about here. Her life is tied to this thing. What if she gets taken by the Death Eaters? You can’t think for one second they won’t find this and use its threat of death against her, against us, against everyone she loves!”
Sirius’s head jerks up, his eyes on fire. “Listen to you! Taken by Death Eaters! A hundred thousand to one chance, given your secret-keeper safety, and against that chance you’re asking for my freedom, everything I love?”
James looks down. Then he is on his feet, the letter in his hands. “Let’s just get rid of the evidence of it then. Get rid of it once and for all!”
He shreds it, tears each piece to tiny fragments. When they leave his hands the letter reforms. He throws it at Remus. “Burn it.“
“Incendio.” Blue flames shoot from the end of Remus’s wand and engulf the parchment. It burns and twists, nothing but a black remnant. Remus lowers his wand and once again the parchment reforms. “Incendio!” Red flames now. The creamy white parchment blinds him. “Incendio!” Gold. “Incendio!” Black. “Mother of us all.” He backs away from the letter. “Put it back, James. Put it back where you found it! The secret-keeper magic will keep it hidden.”
Sirius’s head falls back into his hands.
Remus looks daggers at James. “Why didn’t she tell Sirius you had found the letter?”
James slumps back in the chair. “I told her not to.”
“But Lily was a big girl. Why didn’t she just tell me without telling you?” Sirius goes pale. “You…you…did you make her take an Unbreakable?”
James’s face is grim. “I did not. I trust”—his eyes flick to Sirius—”-ed Lily more than that. When I found it, I was pretty upset.”
Remus clears his throat.
“Sod off, Remus! What do you want from me?”
“Were you just ‘pretty upset’ when I peeled you off the stool in that bar? I can only imagine what you must have felt back then.”
“Dammit, Remus, I am not going to talk about what you and I talked about in front of this git! I’m not going to do it!”
“Even though that’s exactly what he just did? It’s called being honest, James.”
“Honest and Sirius do not live in the same universe.”
Sirius eyes James. “James, why didn’t you tell me you had found the letter?”
James moves in his chair. “This little interview isn’t about me, Sirius, it’s about you. If you recall, there is another instance of you shagging my wife to explain.”
Remus pins James to the chair with his eyes. “James, why didn’t you tell Sirius what you had found out?”
“This isn’t about me! This has nothing to do with me! I’m not the one jumping at his own shadow on assignments! I’m not the one riding his bloody motorcycle all alone at night practically with a bloody target painted on my chest! I’m not the one drinking every night! And I’m not the only one on probation!”
Remus’s head snaps to Sirius. “What’s he talking about?”
Sirius squirms. “I – I might have accidently used one of the Unforgivable Curses.”
“Might have!” James’s eyes bug. “Accidentally? How do you ‘accidently’ use Crucio?”
“Crucio? Who the bloody hell did you use that on?”
“I thought it was a Death Eater – thought I had him cornered. He turned at me, wand pointed directly at my – my chest, I thought…well, bugger what I thought. I was wrong.”
“Who was it?”
“Jesus Bloody Christ, Sirius. Peter? How could you make such a mistake?”
“Someone sent an anonymous tip. Didn’t want to bring out the entire Ministry, in case it was fake, which, of course, it was. Nasty bit of work, though, for someone to set Peter up like that. Me, too. Scared the hell out of each other.”
“You got an anonymous tip about a Death Eater and you went alone?”
Sirius waves his hand towards James. “This git was nowhere to be found.”
James bristles. “Don’t you lay this at my feet! This is just another bad decision in a series of bad decisions!”
“James, he has a point, although” Remus turns back to Sirius, “why you didn’t bring someone else is a question to be explored. I can’t believe they only put you on probation. Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
Sirius sighs. “Yeah, that’s my biggest problem right now. I’m on probation.” He rolls his eyes.
“That’s not what I mean. When have you ever been so bloody stupid as to use an Unforgivable?”
“Apparently, a week and three days ago.”
“This is no time to be so bloody daft.”
“You haven’t been out there. You don’t know what it’s like.”
“I’m out there, Sirius,” Remus growls. “I just don’t have the protection from the Ministry and the Auror office that you do. I’m out there. On my own.”
The two men glare at one another.
James slams his hands down on the arms of his chair. “If we can all think for a moment here, we are here to talk to Sirius about how spectacularly he has failed at keeping his cock in his pants!”
Remus’s eyebrows lower and he pulls his lips back in a silent snarl. “This is not a punishment session for Sirius, James. This is an opportunity, one you had bloody well better take, to talk about what has happened. Sirius came here ready to talk, regardless of how hard he knew it was going to be.”
“Bully for fucking Sirius! I don’t see that I particularly owe him anything. In fact, if anyone owes anyone anything, I think it’s Sirius. As far as I’m concerned, the harder this conversation is for him, the better.” James’s labored breathing fills the room.
Remus narrows his eyes. “As you wish, James. As you bloody wish. But this isn’t going anywhere. Sirius shagged your wife, James. Twice. Once you walked in. You saw your wife, the only woman you have ever loved. . . “
James’s eyes go wide. “Stop.”
“. . .with someone else, doing something that is the most intimate thing two people can do.”
“And you saw her enjoying it.”
“Stop!” James slides to the floor. His hands cover his face and as Remus watches his shoulders begin to shake. A low moan fills the space like smoke and then James is sobbing.
Remus glances at the couch.
Sirius is deathly pale and his fists are jammed into the cushion on either side of his body. “Merlin, Remus, was that…necessary?”
“Shut the fuck up, Sirius! You bloody tool! I don’t need you feeling sorry for me!”
“I don’t, James, but no matter what’s happened, I don’t like to see you…”
“Easy for you to say!” James’s head flies up. “Fucking easy for you to say! ‘No matter what’s happened.’ You haven’t lived with what I’ve lived with for so fucking long!”
“You have no idea what I’ve lived with! And if I didn’t know what you were living with, who the hell’s fault is that?” Sirius is on his feet, his hair falling around his face, his eyes twin dark stars. “No one Imperiused you and forced you not to talk to me! No one forced you to hold this in all these years! You bloody bastard! If you’ve suffered in silence, it’s your own bloody fault!”
“Fuck you, Sirius! I didn’t want to talk to you about it! I didn’t want you to feel better! Because you fucking had everything! You had every girl you ever wanted, you were rich” –James stands up, his face livid– “you led us around by the fucking nose – ‘James, I’m bored. James, I’m hungry. James, let’s go hex someone.’ You had everything and you weren’t getting Lily, too! I wanted you to burn with it! I wanted it to stab you through the heart every single day for the rest of your goddamn miserable life!”
Remus is holding James back. Sirius’s eyes are wide and he sinks back onto the couch.
“And now, now you’ve done it again, you unbelievably fucked-up bastard!”
Sirius cannot look away from the man raging before him.
Remus holds James tighter. James tries to throw him off but Remus sticks to him, mirroring his movements, until both men are panting.
“Let go!” James twists once more and Remus’s hold breaks. James picks up his glass and fires it at Sirius. It shatters against his chest. James grabs his coat and yanks his wand from Remus’s pocket. “Don’t. Fucking. Follow me.”
Remus flinches as the door slams. Sirius sits where he fell, his hands empty before him, his eyes a wasteland.
James flies low over the field. The cold night air frosts his face and hands. His fingers claw the broom, cramped into one shape after so many hours of flying. He rockets skyward, throwing himself against the wind, his fingers creaking with effort to hold on. They begin to slip and he laughs, high and wild.
The cottage below is hidden from sight by the trees surrounding it and the ravine within which it sits, but he can feel its presence. No beautifully muted lit windows, to be sure, but she wouldn’t want them. Or need them. The Muggles have a saying – Guilding the…he shoves his broom down.
He hits ground hard and rolls over and over. He comes to rest near an ash tree whose branches reach skeleton fingers to the sky, trapping the moon. His mouth fills with the taste of copper and iron and when he reaches up to touch his face, he pulls back fingers black in the wan moonlight.
He stands and drags the broom behind him, slipping down the side of the ravine, laughing when he slides and small avalanches of rocks clatter out from under his feet. The door opens before he is half-way down and, although he can still see the cottage, he stumbles into what feels like a brick wall. A sticky brick wall – when he tries to move, he finds he cannot, regardless of how much blood is now running down his chin.
“Who’s about?” Her voice is sharp.
“It’s me, Meliae. James Potter.”
The door opens wider and the curvaceous outline of a woman forms in the golden light now spilling forth on the ground before him. He hears her breathe out and something hot and sharp envelops him, then dissipates. “James Potter.”
“Can I come in or do you expect me to stand out here all bloody night?”
“Can you debate while I warm up at your fire?”
The door closes but the brick wall disappears. James falls the rest of the way down the ravine. He lays still for a moment, looking up at the stars, then stands. He takes a half-step forward, stops, takes a half-step back. “It’s bloody cold out here, Meliae!”
The door flies open again but no figure fills it. “Come in, then, ass.”
“Such a welcome.” But he mutters it under his breath as he approaches the door and the warmth promised within.
The door slams behind him as soon as he crosses the threshold and he startles. “Dammit, Meliae, there’s no call for that.” He drops his broom on the floor but immediately bends to pick it up, placing it in the corner next to the door. The warmth promised sneaks through his clothes. A tidy fire burns in a hearth built of stone. A small sofa and wooden rocking chair sit on either side of a low table covered with dried branches, which form the beginnings of a basket. Gingham curtains hang on the windows and pictures of various plants and trees hang on the walls. A thick rug lies from couch to hearth.
A slender woman enters the room. “I’ll thank you for such a small nicety.” Her voice slices through him as she points to his broom. “You’re a sight.” She snaps her fingers and his nose resets itself. The blood vanishes from his face, hands, and clothes.
“Look, I need your help, so maybe we can just suck it up for a bit.” He runs his fingers through his hair but before they reach the end of his skull he feels…he yelps. Live serpents twine about his ears, hissing into the air around him. “Meliae!”
She flicks her fingers, her mouth curving into a smile. “Welcome, James, to my humble abode.” She bows with a flourish and sweeps her hand to a small table just visible through a doorway to the right of the hearth. Bright copper cauldrons of several sizes and silver pans dangle from a metal circle hanging from the ceiling and the same gingham curtains adorn the windows of the small kitchen. Another fire burns in the cast iron stove and as James moves past her, his eyes on her, he catches the scent of something brewing.
He sits in a chair and runs his fingers over the aged wood of the table, burnished to a deep luster. Two cups sit before him. He frowns. “Expecting somebody?”
Meliae sweeps in behind him and gathers the cups. “That would be none of your business.” She deposits them in the sink and turns to face him, her hands resting on the edge of the counter.
James’s eyes travel her length, from her long, blonde hair to her tiny feet, and finally rest on her strange, orange eyes. “I really do need your help.”
“And I really haven’t decided whether or not I’m willing to give it.”
James blows out a breath. “I know we haven’t exactly – gotten along – since we…”
“If that’s what you can call open hatred.”
“I don’t hate you, Meliae. I never have. Well, not really. But you made it difficult not to when Lily came along.”
“Well. What a heart-warming disclosure. Really, it’s amazing to me the women weren’t lined up to marry you, given your gift for conversation and your ability to reveal yourself to such depths.”
James’s face pales. “Can you just…can you keep it reigned in for a bit?”
Meliae crosses her arms and rolls her orange eyes. “Make this quick.” She gestures to the cups in the sink.
“Sirius…” He presses his lips together in a firm line. “I walked in. On Sirius and Lily. Together.”
“Oh, you didn’t.” Her mouth twitches.
James stands, knocking his chair over backwards. He moves toward the door but Meliae scampers around him, blocking his path.
“Stop where you are. Sit down.”
“I can’t play cat and mouse. Not tonight.”
She moves her eyes over him. “No. You can’t.” She points back to the kitchen. “But you have come here and destroyed my peace and leaving so quickly will not restore it. As you know, the price must be paid before you can walk through that door.”
James towers over her but turns back to the kitchen. She follows him and waves her hands. A kettle jumps onto the stove and water flies from a bucket into it. She nods her head at a cabinet and it opens. She flicks her fingers and several glass jars full of different dried plants jump down onto the counter.
“I think, in this case…” One jar jumps back and another takes its place. She sticks out her tongue and her brow furrows. “No, no, not quite…” One more jar flies back up to the cupboard. She turns to James. “No speaking of it until you have had tea.”
James eyes the jars on the counter. “What kind of tea?”
Meliae smiles but her eyes are hard. “That is not of your asking.” She pushes her hair back, revealing small, pointed ears. She hums to herself while the water heats. She pulls one teacup out of the sink and puts it on the counter, filling it with different amounts from each jar. When the water boils she picks up the copper kettle without a mitt and pours water directly into the cup.
The steam rises in curls and wisps and…James narrows his eyes. “Are those arrows?”
“Why are you making me a tea that sends out spears?”
“Because you are in a battle.”
“Everyone knows that. I’m in hiding. I don’t think steam spears are going to help me.”
“In violence this man is born, in violence this boy will die. Some need such a transition.” She sighs.
“Well, that’s comforting. I’m so glad I came.”
“For someone who says they need my help…”
“OK, OK, I’ll stop.” He throws up his hands.
She turns to him and her eyes meet his. “I can’t do everything, you know. I can clear the path, but it is you who must walk down it.”
“The path you came crazy here to clear.”
“I didn’t come here to…whatever you said. I came here to get you to help me teach Sirius a lesson.”
She narrows her eyes.
Electricity crackles up his spine and explodes through the top of his head; his fingertips tingle. He notices, not for the first time, that her pupils are slitted like a cat’s.
“I’ll not be teaching anyone a lesson who’s not in my kitchen.”
“You have to be just as upset as I am! He’s your lover! And he shagged another woman!” His hands jerk and he pales.
She is completely still. “You can’t know everything, James. There are many roads and not all reach the destinations you wish them to reach. Walk them in the dark or in the light. Sirius walks in the light and there will come a time when darkness will cover him completely and he will need to grasp whatever light he can. But that is between Sirius and me. You are nothing but a blundering idiot, following every thread in the fabric and tracing it back to yourself. You are in the dark and you take it for light. In the light you have more of a chance of getting somewhere.” She hisses the last words and a deep, blood red pulses through her hair, from roots to tips, before fading away.
James jumps. “I – I’m sorry, Meliae. I didn’t mean to…”
“Did. Can’t help it. It’s your fucking nature.”
His breath catches in his throat and his head drops to his chest. “Lately Sirius is shagging every beautiful woman he can.”
She turns and glares at him. “I’d say I know Sirius better than you.” She crosses her arms. “Besides, I could have said the same of you all those years ago.”
He blinks and she is sixteen. His face turns warm. “Yes. Well. That was a…bad time in my life.”
“I see. And Sirius is just bad.”
“Well, look at what he’s done!”
“Well, look at what you did! Then there was her. That’s the end.”
“I’m not here to talk about that. Are you going to help me or are you going to throw your useless word puzzles at me all evening? I’m here to talk about Sirius, your boyfriend, and Lily, my wife.”
“Those words, James, are old and hold nothing. There are fresh words for you and you cannot catch them. This is why you have come. I can see them, swimming, swimming, but you are guiding the flow away and they cannot reach the shore. Bright fish are needy. Better to be brown and dull. But you never do listen.”
James’s eyebrows have disappeared in his fringe. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
She places the teacup before him. “Drink your tea.”
He sips slowly. The leaves swirl against his lips and he swears some of them move of their own accord.
When he has finished she whisks his cup away and settles across from him, a bright bird perched on its favourite branch. “Tell me your words.”
He leans back in his chair. His blood pounds in his ears and he can’t seem to bring her into focus. “I’ll not talk when you’ve bewitched me somehow.”
She leans forward. “Talk.”
James pushes himself away from the table but the chair doesn’t move. He pushes himself away. The chair stays where it is. “M-Meliae.”
She smiles. “Yes, that’s who I am. Who are you?”
“And who were you?”
“I was…walking…and then there was a door…”
“Good. Keep going.”
“I opened the door…”
“There is a jacket…on the floor…and a vase…and my flower…but it’s crushed…I can’t see it and the vase is broken…”
“You make everything personal. Move on.”
“And I hear something…and I turn…and Lily…my Lily…”
“She is not yours.”
James writhes in his seat. “Is…is mine…and Sirius…and Sirius is there…and the vase is broken…and I move my wand…but they don’t hear me…their ears are closed…and he is above and she is below him…and she makes that sound…my sound…and I say his name…and then he is bleeding…”
“Why is he bleeding?”
“I…I…I did that…”
“You did what?”
“I…did that…and then he leaves…”
“What did you do to him?”
Meliae crushes the cup between her hands. Shards drop to the table top. “You cursed him. These are the old words. Why did you do that? Say the new words.” She picks one up and, walking around the table, moves her fingers in a complicated dance. The shard hovers above his foot, forming a red spot on his shoe. His groans grow in intensity and she slams it into his foot.
Tears flood down James’s face and his mouth is stretched wide but no sound issues forth.
She nods her head, heading back to her chair. She picks up another shard and, with one swift motion, buries it in the back of James’s hand.
His mouth opens wide but still no sound. He twists his hand back and forth and she slams her own hand against the shard again, driving it through until, when she flips his hand over, its sharp point glows white and red in his palm.
He throws himself into the back of the chair and groans. He falls, his body flailing. His other hand gropes for the shards but cannot find them.
Meliae spins a third shard in her fingers. “New words.”
James twists on the floor and his hands find his throat, glazing it with blood. “I can’t let it go! It’s there the letter and him and her and it’s grown behind my eyes and I can’t see around it! And I see them on the floor behind my eyelids I can’t get away! It is killing me and I swallow my tongue and smile, and smile, and smile and I’m the nice guy that gets hurt, always me, always me! Oh Merlin why does it hurt so much? How can I make it stop?”
“Boy.” Meliae moves like smoke and then she is kneeling above him. “You speak the shiny fish.” She drives the third shard into his chest.
“I go out and I close my eyes and I come home and I cannot open my eyes here behind my eyes it lives and its fangs are in her and she bleeds and I know that and I can’t stop it and it hurts her I don’t move toward her I move away, always away, leaving her there, and I can’t stop it stop it stop it! Stop it stop it! She is reaching for me and I am turning away, away, always away!”
James is screaming now and Meliae kneels on his chest, presses his shoulders to the floor. “This shadow in me! This shadow knows how to hurt them and I don’t want to hurt them but then I’m doing it, it’s happening, and I can’t stop it!” He grinds his teeth. “It goes on and on and on and on!”
His blood is slippery on the floor and Meliae’s eyes follow it as it pools beneath his body. She moves closer to his face, her eyes slits, her lips pressed together. She pushes the shard in his chest once, hard.
“I rip and tear and they bleed but it’s me that bleeds, me that hurts, and I can’t stop doing it! And they pay for my fear, my sorrow, my anger, my pain, they pay for me, and I don’t know how to pay for myself! Sirius my friend, my friend, you are hurt and I am hurt and why can’t I bring us together?”
She sits up. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven.” She turns and yanks the shard from his foot and throws it backwards over her shoulder.
“Lily! I am dying, Lily, dying, help me, help me, I can’t go on like this, I can’t do it, Lily my love! I am so, so sorry! Lily, I love you please, please, help me, help me, help me stop this hardening, stop this man who is not me, help me find my way back, back to you, back to me, back to the man I want to be!“
“One, two, three, three, three.” She yanks the shard from his hand and throws it forward into the living room.
“I need help, I need help, I can’t do this myself, it isn’t working, not working, not working, I am going to go crazy, crazy, crazy.” His body convulses, his face a white rictus, and she presses down against his chest, blood welling from between her hands. “It’s in me, in my chest, this crazy, this rage, I am so angry, all the time, at everything, everyone, I can’t do it, do it, do it, I need Lily, I need Remus, I need Sirius, I need Peter, I need Albus, I need, I need, I need, I need not to be so afraid, so afraid, so afraid!” His body bucks and twists beneath her hands.
Her eyes bore into his and his screams turn to shrieks. She presses his throat and the sound solidifies, pushes against the walls until they bow outward. The cabinet doors fly open and the glass jars shatter. The cauldrons and pans crash to the floor.
“One.” She takes the shard from his chest and swallows it.
James stills instantly. His eyes close and his breathing evens out.
Meliae runs her hands over his body and the wounds close. “Man.” Her fingers trace his face, his cheekbones, the curve of his lips, down his throat, across his chest, her eyes focused, as if memorizing him.
She rises and waves her hands at the jars, the cauldrons and pans. They reassemble themselves. She sighs and rubs her back, looks at James, then heads through the doorway to the tiny bedroom beyond.
Love Is a Kind of Knowing
The bowl is in flight when she turns, and it is only at the last possible second that she manages to flip her wand. The bowl freezes in space but the contents splatter across the floor. Chubby hands wave and clap and the baby laughs, eyes wide.
“You think that’s pretty funny, do you?” Her mouth curves upwards. “I guess you do, given how many times a day you do it.” She scoops the bowl into her hands and points her wand at the floor. Mashed peaches fly in glops to the trash.
“Well, there’s no better way to tell you’re done than when you start playing with your food.” She unlatches the tray and lifts Harry out, hooking him on her hip and turning towards the counter.
A sound in the corridor outside the flat turns the baby’s head. “Dadadadadadada?”
Lily presses her lips together and leans against the counter. “No, darling, Daddy is away; he’s working. He’ll be back as soon as he can.” Her voice chimes and shimmers but her eyes fill.
The door opens silently and she hits the floor. The tile is cruel to her knees. She shoves the baby behind her and her wand is a dagger in space. “Impedimentia!”
Another wave and the door slams shut. “What do you see in a Boggart?”
He does not move. She slices the air with the tip of her wand and his face is freed. “A full moon. What did you last say to me?”
She lowers her wand and picks up the baby, who has been clutching her feet. “If I recall, I told you to fuck off.” She flicks her wand.
Remus falls forward and catches himself on the small table behind the couch. “It was ‘I hate you,’ not ‘fuck off.’”
“Yeah. Well. I was angry.”
“Lots of that going around.”
She turns to the bags still on the counter. She waves her wand and the cans and jars fly upwards to join their mates in the cabinets. “I suppose you’d like to berate me again for my inability to – what was it? Take responsibility for myself?” The cabinet doors slam shut.
Remus stands still in the tiny entryway, holding his jacket. “No, Lily.” He sighs. “No. Look. I’m sorry I got so angry. I said some things – well, they were unacceptable. I’m sorry. And I miss you. And really, I truly do love you. I know you’re hurting about all of this. Can you forgive me?”
She turns to him. “Oh, God, Remus. Of course.” She moves around the counter and takes his hands in hers. “Remus, why are you still friends with me at all?”
“Oh, I suppose I like to know at least one person who doesn’t think his wand is an extension of his manhood.”
She smiles. “You hungry?”
“I’m making stir-fry because it’s easy and you’re welcome to as much of it as you can eat.”
He walks around the counter into the kitchen, dropping his jacket on the couch. He picks up and puts down, in turn, five bok choy, two cans of water chestnuts, a big bunch of green onion, a whole bag of mushrooms, garlic, ginger, a dozen eggs. He glances at the stove where he sees the larger of the two woks. “You weren’t kidding about eating as much as I want.”
Lily’s hands shake as she points her wand at the paper bags, which fold and stow themselves under the sink. She picks Harry up and hands him to Remus.
He takes him, holding him far above him, laughing as the tiny fists whirl and squeals echo off the walls. He tucks Harry onto his hip and chubby fingers pull his long, golden hair. “Ouch! When did he start doing this?” He untangles his hair and holds Harry away from him, a look of mock sternness on his face.
“When didn’t he do that? Honestly. Men. Don’t notice a thing.” She takes out a knife and begins chopping the bok choy.
Remus holds the baby out to her. “You’re going to lose a finger any second.”
She lets the knife fall, where it clatters on the countertop. She buries her face in her hands.
Remus sets Harry on the floor where he scoots over to the couch, pulling Remus’s jacket down on top of himself.
Remus presses his hands to Lily’s shoulders.
She turns to him and he wraps his arms around her and holds her while she sobs. “R-Remus, he hasn’t been home. Never while I’ve been here. I leave Harry with James’s mum to go out with you or Albus and when I get back, he’s been here to see Harry and he’s taken something, or moved something, but there’s never even a note. And I k-keep hoping”– she waves a hand at the ingredients — “that he’ll walk through the door, but he d-doesn’t and I’m th-thinking he never w-will.”
He kisses the top of her head.
“I c-can’t keep going on, being a single parent, and I know that you’ve been here lots of nights but a b-baby needs his f-father.”
“And a wife needs her husband.”
Remus’s jacket makes its way into the kitchen, where it begins crawling up his leg. Remus picks the bundle up, swinging it back and forth.
A muffled shriek comes from his arms. “M! M! M!”
Remus smiles. “The word is ‘more,’ imp.” He swings Harry again before handing him to his mother.
Lily takes the baby to the living room and cuddles him, bringing his head down to nurse. Remus tumbles the mushrooms into a sieve and rinses them in the sink. Lily stands up slowly and tiptoes to the bedroom. She returns and pulls the doors almost shut. “Muffliato.”
She joins him at the kitchen counter. “I’m no wife, Remus, you pointed that out perfectly clearly at the café.”
“That’s not what I pointed out.”
She spins away from him and presses her palms on the counter. “I’ve thought a lot about what you said.” She stands so still he can follow the weave of the sweater she is wearing. “I see that I – that I –” the weave blurs and she turns once again to him. “Remus, I can see what you’re saying. All of it. But what difference does that make? Nothing is going to make any difference here at all. I could tell James everything I see, but how could that possibly erase”—she points and moves her hand, as if scrubbing something filthy—“what occurred right there? On that floor?”
“Nothing will erase what happened. Nothing. But that isn’t the question here. You won’t be able to avoid this and stuff your emotions down around it the way you can when he doesn’t talk to you or any of the other things you listed out to me. The fact is, you painted yourself into a tight little corner and you are going to have to wade right into the center of it if you want to get through it. The operative word being through.”
“It sounds like you’re saying I need to make myself miserable!”
Remus does not break eye contact. “How do you feel right now?”
Tears trace silver tracks down her cheeks, and he brings her to him again and holds her tight. “There is just so much to talk about, Remus, so much. And I can’t do it. Not like you think.”
“I know about the Vow.”
She breaks away from him, her face ashen.
“Sirius told us yesterday.”
“James and I.”
Her face is suffused with light. “James? He told James?”
Remus smoothes her hair away from her face. “Another thing for me to apologize to you for. And yes, James knows. About the first time.”
Lily grabs Remus’s hands. “And he understands?”
Remus looks down. “There is a lot between James and Sirius at the moment. I don’t think James understands much right now.”
Lily’s face falls.
“But that doesn’t mean he won’t. I think he needs time.”
Lily pulls her hands free and turns away. “How much time? How much longer is he going to be gone? Remus, I don’t think I can do this much longer…where is he?”
“Well, he’s safe.”
“But where? ”
Remus shifts his weight. “I don’t know, really, but he’s…”
“You don’t know? He’s out there on his own? ”
Remus sighs. “When is James ever on his own these days?”
“Does Albus still have the Trace on him?”
She slumps. “Oh thank Merlin.”
Remus picks up the knife and makes short work of the vegetables.
“Where did you learn to chop so well?”
“Oh, sometimes you don’t want everything going so quickly.” His voice is light but she can see his muscles bunch under his shirt.
“Remus, how much time do you spend alone?”
He checks the heat of the oil before throwing everything into the wok. He pours rice into a pot, adds water, and turns on another burner. For a time there is only the sound of vegetables frying and water boiling.
She moves next to him, leaning against him. “Remus…”
Remus moves to one of the cupboards and pulls out two plates and two forks. Lily sighs and sets two placemats on the small table in the space between the living room and the kitchen that has carved the name “dining room” for itself only by virtue of the fact that the table sits in it and is not, technically, in either of the other two spaces. Remus dishes up food and carries the plates to the table.
Lily sinks down opposite him. “You can’t avoid my questions forever.”
Remus tastes his and picks up the salt. “Lily, why do you want to know these things? So you can feel sorry for me? So you can, Merlin forbid, try to fix me up with someone?”
“None of the above. You carry a particularly heavy heart and I get the feeling there aren’t that many people you can talk to about it. If I had to guess, given your past performances, you’ve spent the better part of the last weeks talking to James and Sirius about James and Sirius.”
Remus smiles and raises his hands, palms toward her. “Guilty as charged.”
“It’s not funny, Remus.”
He chews and swallows. “Lily, if I wanted to talk about it, don’t you think I would? Especially with you?”
“But who do you talk to?”
He crams more food into his mouth.
“You will, eventually, have to swallow.” She crosses her arms.
His jaw moves slower and slower.
Lily settles in and leans forward. “The witch I saw you with last month. What became of her?”
“No, nothing like that. She’s the wife of someone James works with. Just ran into her.”
Lily frowns. “I didn’t recognize her.”
“Yes, well, with the spell damage…”
They both sit, forks resting on plates.
Lily shakes her head. “What of the other women I’ve seen you with?”
“What other women?”
“Well, there was…didn’t I see you with…Remus, have you dated anyone since school?”
Remus shifts in his chair. “No.”
Remus presses his rice down with the tines of his fork. The white grains crowd together before giving up their outlines and blurring into one another. “I’m not so…good at relationships.”
Lily scoffs. “You are one of the most articulate men I know. You are able to have a conversation, you can…”
“That’s not what I mean.” His eyes have not left his plate and his rice is now all one piece.
“What do you mean, then?”
“I’m not good at the things that go along with a relationship.” Remus shifts again. He lays his fork down across the plate. “I’m a werewolf, Lily.”
“Yes, Remus, I know that.”
“You do but you don’t. Not really. You don’t know what it feels like, inside. What goes through my head.”
“It can’t be so very different from what goes through everyone else’s head. You are, after all, still human.”
The ghost of a smile crosses his face. “Yes, I’m still human. Or at least, part human. But I am also part Dark creature. And that part…well, it’s not always so nice.”
“I know what it was like for you during school. I remember James telling me about being with you during the full moon.”
“That was James. And that was when I was fully transformed. No, Lily, it isn’t just during those times that I can be dangerous. Even when I’m…even when the moon is new there is still a part of me that is Dark. And that part gets harder to control the more out of control I am.”
Lily tilts her head. “Is that why you never drink with us?”
“So when you drink, you get more…what?”
Her eyes widen. “And when you get angry or…or when…”
“Any strong emotion makes it harder to be, as you put it, human.”
“And what happens when you’re attracted…”
Remus stands and picks up his plate. “Are you finished?”
She pushes her plate to him and he stacks them, placing the forks on top. “What happens when you’re attracted to someone?”
Remus sighs. “I think you remember the girl I dated seventh year.”
“Perhaps you remember we broke up rather suddenly.”
“Well, she transferred to Beauxbatons. Wasn’t much to be done.”
“Yes. It was a good story, no? Albus thought of it”
“Yes. Because no one could know the real reason.” He turns, plates balanced on one hand. A fork clatters to the tiles.
Lily picks it up and puts it back on the plate, then puts both hands on his shoulders. “What happened?”
“We were kissing, fooling around, the way kids do. Merlin, Lily, we were just kids!”
She smoothes her hands over his shoulders.
“I – pushed myself too far.”
He walks to the sink and puts the plates in. “I bit her.”
“Well, everyone can be rough sometimes. Sometimes you want to…”
“Lily, I bit her. Hard.”
“Remus, it had to be an accident.”
“Yes, it was. Mine. For ever even trying. But it wasn’t an accident that it happened.” He walks back to the table, picks up the glasses.
Lily trails after him. “Remus, I know you. I know you wouldn’t deliberately hurt anyone. You can’t use one little incident to keep yourself from ever being happy.”
He puts the glasses in the sink and presses his palms against the edge. “Lily, when are you going to stop making excuses for me? I bit her. I tore her throat open. She nearly bled to death. Albus himself did the Memory charm to keep me out of Azkaban.”
Her eyes are huge. “She nearly bled. . . Azkaban?”
“And then I realized that some things weren’t in the cards for me. Ever.” He turns to face her. “Do you know how hard it is to try and look at every thought in your head, every action, and try to figure out where it’s coming from? Try to figure out if you’re about to do it again, hurt someone you love, because there is this thing in you? It’s every second, Lily – every second of every day, for the rest of my life. There is no time to relax, to sit back, to just close my eyes. I do that and a girl is torn apart – a friend wears a bruise of my making – I squeeze your wrist too hard – any number of a countless number of ‘little slips,’ or big ones, and I have one more memory I cannot bear.
“So you can imagine how hard it is for me to keep hearing you ask me to do something I know I can never, ever do. Do you think I don’t want to be with someone? Do you think I’m never attracted to anyone? Because I am. I am. And it’s my own personal hell to keep them safe by leaving them alone.”
“Remus, I never…”
“I know, you never knew. Well, now you know.” He runs his hands down his face.
“Remus, they are working on potions at the Ministry for werewolves. James spoke of it recently. Didn’t he tell you?”
“Of course he did. In fact, they asked me – Severus asked me – if I wished to be a…how did he put it?” He looks up at the ceiling. “Ah yes. A ‘test subject.’ I said no.” His eyes trail down to the sink.
“But why? What if it works?”
“What if it doesn’t?”
Lily frowns, then looks down. “Oh.”
“I had changed my mind, though. After a few…more experiences. Some despair mixed in.” He moves to his coat and takes out Dumbledore’s crumpled letter, handing it to Lily.
She opens it and reads. The letter falls to her side. “Oh, Remus.”
Remus turns on the water and plugs the sink. He stands still and watches the level rise.
Lily touches his hand and raises her wand.
He pushes it aside. He points his wand at the rising water and soap dribbles out. Bubbles form and he slides his hands into them.
“Thank you. For staying here with me so often.”
“Oh. You’re welcome.”
“Will you keep doing it?”
He washes a fork, scrubbing it over and over with a sponge.
“Remus, I need help. I need you to stay with Harry tomorrow while Albus takes me to the market.”
His eyes travel to the cabinets, filled with food she has just put away. “Lily…I’d understand if…”
“Can I count on you or not?”
He looks down at the fork in his hand, the corners of his mouth turning up, the tines swimming in his vision.
She takes a towel from a drawer and stands next to him, awaiting the first clean dish.
A light moving up and down; someone walking. Clouds cover the moon and it is too dark to see.
James rears upwards and throws his hands out in front of him. His heart presses upwards into his throat and he pushes himself backwards until he is pressed against the trunk of a tree. He scrabbles through his clothing and his hand blooms with his wand. He points it at the light. His breath whistles between clenched teeth.
His fingers ache around the wooden shaft.
“James? Are you there?”
He brings his legs under him but stays crouched. “Who’s there?”
A dog, bright and silver, bounds over the grass.
“That proves nothing. Anyone can learn to do another Patronus.”
“You threw a glass at me yesterday.”
James lowers his wand. “Sirius.”
“Tell me what you found.”
James closes his eyes. “Your letter. Lumos.”
Sirius walks down the sides of the depression in which James sits, into the circle of light, his wand pointed down. “No mistakes. No accidents.” He stops and puts his wand in his pocket. “No intentionals, either.”
James lays his wand on the ground. “How’d you find me?”
Sirius sits down across from him. “Meliae sent me a bird.”
“No. She called a bird down and whispered her message. It came and told me where to find you.”
“Why’d she send it to you? Why not Remus? Or Lily?”
Sirius shrugs. “Guess she thinks you and I have the most to talk about.”
“She is very. Very. Strange.”
“Can’t expect less from a Nymph.”
“How old do you think she is?”
“I don’t know, but she’s told me some amazing stories about the wizards that lived in Greece at its height. And she showed me the horse she pained at Lascaux.”
“I know.” Sirius frowns. “You never should have messed with her the way you did.”
“Yeah. Well. I didn’t know, did I?” James raises his wand and mutters, reinforcing the spells around the space they occupy. “Last thing I remember she told me to drink my tea.” He lowers his wand again so the light falls on Sirius, who looks down.
“When have you ever not done what she asks you to do?”
“Never. She’s strange, but she knows what she’s doing.”
“What are you doing with her?”
Sirius rubs his eyes. “Working. She’s helping me. With some spell work.”
“What kind of spell work requires that you work with a goddess?”
“The kind that only a goddess knows how to do.”
James rubs his chest. “Sirius, what are you doing?”
“James, please, just let me be. I’ll tell you, I swear, someday soon.”
James nods and rubs his chest again. “I want you to know something.” Sirius looks up. “You are my best mate.” Sirius nods. “And I have resented you for a long, long time.”
“I gathered that.”
“Shut up, git. I’m trying to talk to you. I understand, now, why you slept with Lily the first time. And I want to understand why you did it the second time. I want to-” he takes a deep breath-“hear what you have to say.”
Sirius sits still for a long time, his face turned to the trees that surround them. “I have always…loved Lily. Not in the way you do, but in the way you love something bright and shining, because it’s bright and shining and it makes your own darkness a bit easier to bear.
“When you and I are out there, we’re in a battle or we’re investigating a scene of Dark magic – it’s hard for me to keep myself clean of it. That curse never left me entirely – I don’t think you can ever truly eradicate them. I can feel it building in me, crowding me, filling the corners of my soul with something twisted. But I can think of her then, of her and Harry, I can think of them and I feel…cleaner. There’s something beautiful in this world. There’s something other than death and fear and piss and blood.”
He sighs and pulls his knees to his chest. “James, you didn’t go on the Ambruson call. When we got there the Dark Mark was still in the sky. There were so many curses and jinxes around that house it took us three hours to get in. James, they…they…” Sirius covers his face with his hands. “They had killed the parents. But they didn’t kill the children. They left the children there, trapped in the house, with their dead parents. James, they were…” Sirius groans. “They were only three and five. Three and five.”
James is across the grass in two steps, his hands finding Sirius’s shoulders, feeling the muscles bunched and shaking under his touch. He sits down and Sirius falls into him, sobbing. James holds him tight.
“And I couldn’t – couldn’t get them to…to stop crying, James, they wouldn’t stop c-crying,” Sirius’s voice is muffled against James’s shirt, “and I wondered, I wondered if that was all they would do, f-for the rest of their lives, this crying,” he presses his head hard against James’s chest. “I held onto them so tightly, so tightly, their little arms were j-just hanging there, and the littlest one kept asking for his mum, kept p-pointing to the room where their parents lay, and telling me sh-she was sleeping and he couldn’t…couldn’t wake her up!” Sirius’s body spasms. James locks his arms around him, allows Sirius to pour his soul into the night.
“Merlin, James, I don’t know if I h-have it in me, if I can do this much longer…I can’t keep everything straight in my head. It all just s-swirls around and around and sometimes I’m with you and…and Lily…and I feel that black s-smoke from what we’ve seen in my head and I c-can’t p-push it away, James.” He is holding onto the front of James’s shirt now, pulling his face close. “How do you push smoke away? How?”
James looks deep into grey eyes, deep into the lined face and feels the clutching fingers, the shirt dragging against his shoulders. “I know.” It is all he can do to keep breathing himself. “I know because it’s the same for me. Sometimes I can’t go home – I have to walk around, or I Apparate somewhere far away, just walk through the woods, a town, wherever I find myself. And then I hate myself, for leaving, for leaving her alone in that apartment, with our child, not knowing where I am or when – or if – I’ll be back. But I can’t go there with this” he swipes a hand down his front, then toward the darkness around them “on me. I don’t want that near her, near our child. I’m away from them more than I should be.
“And she’s feeling that – I know she is. I can feel it in her when I take her in my arms. She’s just a shell; just a small, frail thing – no one can come to visit, really visit; she’s all alone – it kills me to see her, look in her eyes, see the questions that she keeps to herself, which I couldn’t answer, anyway – how can I even tell her about my day?
“Sometimes I just lie, lie my ass off, tell her any stupid things I can think of on the spot so she doesn’t worry more; is that right? Is that what I should be doing? And I don’t have anyone to ask, there’s no one who can tell me if I’m doing this right or wrong, and who am I going to talk to about all this?” The clouds hunch their shoulders and rain finds its way down to the two men on the ground. James pulls away from Sirius but Sirius’s hands find his shoulders and he hangs on the way James did earlier.
“Me, James, talk to me. Talk to me. I’m here, I’m seeing the same things you are, we can’t – we can’t go on the way we have been. We can’t. We’re finding our way, down this path, and this path is filled with holes and darkness and who knows what else and you’re trying to hold all this away from your family and you can’t hold it all inside. It’s killing you. It’s got to be – it sure as hell is killing me. It’s trial and error, mate, and learning, and moving forward with whatever light you can find.”
James’s head falls down, his chin touches his chest. In the light you have more of a chance…“Sirius, why didn’t you ever say this to me before?”
Sirius runs his fingers through his hair. “Merlin, James, I thought you would think I was daft. Or weak. It seemed like you were keeping it together so well, that somehow you were able to deal with it; I didn’t want to tell you I was cracking up. I didn’t think you’d…”
“I’ve spent a long time proving to everyone that I wouldn’t understand. I’ve spent a long time being perfect, being above reproach, being a bloody fool. I’m not perfect, Sirius. Not even by half. And I’m not able to deal with it. Not anymore. Maybe I never was.”
“James, what happened? What happened to us? How did we get here?”
James closes his eyes. “I stopped talking to you about certain things. Back in school. I shut the door to a little room in my soul and when I wasn’t looking, that little room grew into a castle. And all the things I used to stuff in that room took over and then I couldn’t find the door to let them out. And I stood on one side of the castle and I made damn sure you were on the other side.”
“But why? Because of the letter?”
James breathes. “No, Sirius, that door and that little room were already formed before I ever found the letter. If they hadn’t been, I would have talked to you then. No, I used the letter to prove to myself that my decision to shut you out was the right one. Even though I knew you would never betray me, never do something like that without a reason, I talked myself into believing that you had, that you would.”
“Did you hate me that much? Do you…do you hate me now?” Sirius’s voice cracks.
“No. I don’t hate you. I haven’t ever hated you. You had…you were so…I wanted everything, back then. And I couldn’t have it because of you. You had everything. At least, that’s what I thought. I wasn’t paying attention to the right things. I thought…if I had known how to be a real friend, I would have known about your curse. I would have pounded it out of you the way she did. You would not have had to go through that alone.
“No, I don’t hate you. I hate myself. But I’m very good at redirecting that hate outward. Just ask Lily. Or Remus. Or yourself.”
They sit in silence, the sound of rain on leaves filling the space around them.
“James, I don’t think…I don’t think I can be an Auror anymore.”
“I don’t think I can, either. At least, I can’t do it alone anymore. I can do it, if you’re there with me. If I know we can talk, like this. Can you do that? Can we?”
Sirius wipes his face on his sleeve and nods.
“Sirius, I – I’m sorry. About this” he points to Sirius’s chest “about it all. I wanted to kill you. I wanted to rip your heart out of your chest. But I’ve wanted to do that to every person I’ve run into lately…I’ve wanted to rip and shred and tear people up. There is so much in me that I can’t hold it in anymore. You were…you were convenient. After what happened, I could hurt you and everybody would understand. No one would question me. I could hurt you and Lily and not have to think about myself, about what was going on inside of me.” James gasps. “That’s why, isn’t it, Sirius. That’s why it happened. Because there was too much in you and you couldn’t stand it anymore. And in one more second it was going to fall down and it wasn’t going to get back up. You wanted to touch something, something not dirty, something that shines and doesn’t rip your heart straight out of your chest…and she is that. She is beautiful, and she is real and there. Is that why?”
“. . . yes.” Sirius’s voice is barely audible. “It wasn’t her, James. It’s not her. I just wanted…”
James nods. “. . . to be whole.” He presses his hands to his forehead. “I did the same thing you did. I let it get too big and hurt the ones I love the most. We aren’t so different.”
“James, I’m so…”
“I know you are, Sirius.”
“Let me say it? Please?”
“I’m so fucking sorry, James. I’m so. Fucking. Sorry. I don’t want anything, ever, to c-come between us.” He is crying again. “Ever again, James. You are m-my best mate, James, my b-best mate, I can’t, I don’t want to – fuck, I am so, so s-s-sorry!” Sirius presses his face into his hands.
James takes Sirius’s hands away from his face, looks him in the eye. “Nothing will. Ever again. It won’t be the way it has been.”
The rain falls harder, soaking body and clothes, dripping from the branches of the trees surrounding them. The two men huddle together, clothing drenched, backs turned against the darkness.
Sirius falls to his knees and vomits into the porcelain bowl.
He wipes his eyes. “What the hell was in that tea?”
Meliae spins the cup in the air in front of her. “Stuff.”
He heaves again. Veins stand out in his neck.
She claps her hands and the cup vanishes. “Going to get a whole lot worse than that.”
He pants. “This is payment for something I did, isn’t it.”
She kneels beside him, brushing his hair back from his face. “It doesn’t work that way, love.”
He nods. “Know that.” He reaches for the bowl again.
“You think you do.” She pulls him up to sitting. “It’s going to take you somewhere. I can’t come with you. Don’t allow yourself…” She kisses his brow. “Just make sure you come back to me, love.”
Sirius convulses, his eyes rolling back into his head, and his last conscious action is to scream.
There are three moons. Sirius looks from one to the next to the next. The ground beneath him is warm.
A footfall behind him.
He whirls, reaching for his wand. His pockets are empty. The back of his neck prickles.
“You come alone.”
“Who are you?”
“You do not ask here.”
Sirius squints, but the moons are small and throw little light. “If I can’t ask questions, how am I…”
Something cold takes his hand.
He jerks back.
The cold thing returns and he cannot pull away. “Follow.”
He is drawn forward, down a slope, to three trees. In the shadow the darkness is complete. He stumbles and more cold hands pull him upright. He shies away from them and they disappear.
“Who sent you?”
There is a sound like a breeze through bare branches. “How do you know such as her?”
“She’s my…I’m her…we…” Something moves through his mind.
“You are him.”
Sirius’s teeth chatter.
“You wish to be relieved of something.”
“You say I can’t ask questions, but I don’t know who you are, and I’m not going to…”
“We have Seen you. You have made a Vow. You wish my sister to break it.”
He wraps his arms around himself. “Who the hell are you?”
The clearing fills with hissing.
“I’m…sorry…I…” Something flutters against him and he jumps back. “Please, I…I can’t see you…”
“He is only a man, sister.”
“And a human, at that.”
“He is a pretty mortal, is he not?”
“Sister. . .”
Light flares. He shades his eyes. There are three shrouded figures. One moves toward him, its hand outstretched.
Sirius shudders. “Oh, no, no, no…”
But the hand is covered in flesh. “You have been Sent. We see it. She wishes my sister to undo your Vow.”
He takes a step back. “Who…who are you? How can you break an Unbreakable Vow?”
She brings her hand down and it disappears into the sleeve of her shroud. “Impermanence rules your world. There is no unbreakable.”
“No, there is…if I break it, I die.”
“You die. You are born. You die. You are born. World without end.”
Sirius stares at her.
Another one of them moves forward. “She has told you the price.”
He jumps. “Yes.”
“And you agree to it?”
“I have…caused much harm. I wish to make amends.”
“Humans always wish so. They do not understand the way of things.”
The third one bows her head over a loom and points to a thread. “What occurs occurs. What does not occur does not. It is not in this lifetime that you will amend what you have done.”
Sirius staggers back. “You are…you are Clotho.” He spins, pointing to the other two women. “And you are Lachesis. So you must be…” His hand falls to his side.
One corner of the third woman’s mouth curls up, but it is not a smile. “Atropos.”
He falls to his knees. “Oh, my god.”
Atropos brings forth the loom. She snips a thread. “Impermanence.”
Lachesis takes a thread and pulls to its end. She takes a length from her pocket and weaves it in. “Impermanence.”
Clotho draws forth the raw material at the end of the loom and rubs it between her fingers until it forms a thread. She adds it to the cloth. “Impermanence.”
Atropos shakes her head. “You do not. You cannot.”
Lachesis guides him to the loom. “This.” She points to a patch of the cloth.
He squints. “This?”
She points. “Here.”
He looks closer and gasps. “That’s…that’s me, that’s Lily…that’s my – my father!” He looks at her, ashen.
She points to a patch further back from the first one. “Here.”
He bows over the cloth. “I…don’t understand. Who is that?”
“Tell what you see.”
“I see a…man…and a child. I see the child pulling a…a…pig? A pig. I see another man, at the crossroads…he’s got a…” He jerks upright, whirling toward the woman next to him. “He’s got a dagger! He’s waiting for them! Help them! Help the child!”
She gestures again. “Here.”
Sirius follows her finger. “The…the man with the dagger…he’s killed the man. He’s…he’s killed the…” He closes his eyes. “Why are you showing me this?” He presses his hands to his face.
Clotho touches his shoulder. She points. “Follow.”
Sirius wipes his eyes. “The same thread?”
He bends once again to the fabric, following the thread. “There’s a new thread…woven in here…” He reaches to touch the cloth.
Atropos stays his hand. “It is not for you, the touching of the threads.”
“After the splice, there’s a…it’s…” He squints, then stands. “I don’t understand.”
Lachesis leans over the cloth. “This is the life of the daggersman. This is your life.”
“But I’m…he’s woven into…” His face pales. “I’m the…I was the man with the…?” His voice is a whisper.
“Impermanence. No beginning, no end. What one does, another answers. But one, or another – it is the illusion of separation. There is no one. There is no other.”
Sirius is shaking again. “So I’m…the curse…I’m paying for what I…he…did before me…”
Atropos shakes her head. “There is no ‘I.’ There is no ‘he.’” She touches the mass of raw material at the end of the loom used to make every thread in the fabric. “There only…is.Look.” She touches the cloth again.
“The…child was buried…” He jerks his head away. “Please, please, no more!”
Atropos digs her nails into his neck and shoves him back down. “Look!”
Sirius’s shirt clings to him, soaked in sweat. “He…it’s spliced again…now there’s a mom, singing to her baby…she’s happy…”
Atropos releases him.
“I…I don’t understand…”
There is a sound like thunder. Clotho bows. “Themis.”
A fourth woman floats into the clearing. She is wreathed in clouds and in her hair are the stars of the heavens. She smiles. “Balance.”
Sirius’s eyes are wide. He sways toward her.
Themis points to the cloth. “All must balance. One action is heavy, another action must be light. No beginning, no end.”
Sirius takes a step toward her. “I don’t pay…I…balance? For the man?”
She nods, her eyes full of light. “This thread is heavy. This thread must be light.” She reaches out, touching Sirius’s forehead. “This thread hurts…this thread must be hurt. The thread is thick, the thread is thin. It is neither. It is both. Balance.” She takes his hand in hers. It is smooth, warm.
“The child who died…became the happy mom. And it’s the same with my life…it is not…for me…it is for the balance of the threads.”
Her smile is bright. She pulls Sirius to her.
He feels her body, warm, against his, and the breath of cloud against his back.
Atropos pulls him back. “He is a human.”
Themis’s eyes change. The stars merge and swirl, and lightning strikes the ground outside the circle of trees. She pulls Sirius closer and wraps her arms around him.
Atropos points to the cloth. “Here.”
Themis looks at the cloth, at Atropos. “He will do this?”
“He will. It is why he has come.”
“He has agreed? And to this?” She points further up the thread.
Atropos swirls her cloak about the loom. “He will do this.”
Themis smiles again, but it is feral. “To ask them – there is a cost for your knowledge of the cloth. There is no creation without destruction.” She holds him tighter. Her hair is wild about his face and he cannot breathe.
Lachesis laughs. “He belongs to Meliae.” She runs her finger down a thread, from the fresh threads down to where the cloth disappears in the mist.
Themis’s face is thunder. “Meliaeis not of us now.”
Clotho shakes her head. “She walks his ground. But her heart is planted here. She will come for him, if you take him.”
Sirius tries to turn his head. “She said…to come back…to her.” He gasps.
Lachesis nods. “He understands. He does not understand. Impermanence.”
Themis loosens her grip and drifts away. “Balance. One thread must weigh too much, another must weigh less.” And she is gone.
Sirius turns to the three women. “What the hell is going on here?”
Atropos loosens a thread, pulls a strand loose. “It is done, human man. You may return.”
“It’s done? You…”
“I have intervened. You have agreed to the price.” Atropos comes close. Her fingers trace his cheek. “It is done.”
He awakens in Meliae’s arms. He stares up at her for a long time.
She runs her fingers through his hair. “You came back to me.”
“Was that real?”
He shudders against her. “Jesus, Meliae. That was…terrifying. One of them almost kept me.”
She smiles and it sends shivers up his spine. “Clotho.”
“No, someone named Themis.”
Meliae’s eyes narrow. “Really, now.” Her fingers tighten on his arms.
Sirius shifts. “But she didn’t. They made her let me go.”
She laughs. “No one makes us do anything. She must have Seen.”
She brushes his hair back again. “What did you learn?”
Sirius sits up. “Seen what?”
He raises his hands in front of him. “You know I hate it when you go feral on me.”
She grins. “No, you don’t.”
“You’re looking at me like you didn’t eat lunch.”
“You’ve been gone a long time.”
He turns and looks outside. “It’s only been a few hours.”
“It’s been five days.”
“Time is…different there.”
He jumps to his feet. “I’ve got to go! I was supposed to be at the Ministry…”
She takes his hand and pulls. “No you don’t.”
“Really…I have to go…I’ve got a meeting about my probation…I can’t just skive off.”
Her hair flashes black, then returns to blonde.
He allows her to pull him down. “You’re a scary woman.”
“Only if you don’t do what I say.” She grins and her teeth sparkle in the last light of day.
He doesn’t grin. “Just like me.”
“Tell me. What you learned.” She leans against his shoulder and turns her face up to him.
He bends down and kisses her. Then he looks up, over her shoulder, squinting. “It’s…hard to remember. Like a dream.”
“They’ll take pieces of it back.” She winds her arms around him.
“They showed me…a thread. Where a little child dies. And then…that thread goes on. And that little child is—I don’t know how to describe it. Someone else. A mom. A happy mom. It made me think of all I’ve seen, the death, the horrible, horrible things I’ve…”
She smiles. “They have helped you with the weight of your thread.”
“They did that on purpose?”
“They do nothing without the wisdom of its doing.” She snuggled into his warm body. “Sirius…please…weave me their story. Tell me of my home.”
His heart stops, then starts again. “Your…home.” His arm finds its way around her shoulders. “We – none of us – know our fates. Know why what happens happens. Just that it…happens for a reason. And it may not even have anything to do with…” He swipes a hand down his body. “This life.”
She smiles, her orange eyes soft. “Yes, my love.”
He is quiet for a long time. “Nothing…matters.”
She kisses away his tears. “Everything matters.”
Harry sleeps soundly in the bed. Lily stares at him, his smooth cheeks, his tiny fingers, his black hair sticking up at all angles. She watches his chest rise and fall. She reaches out, running a finger down that impossibly perfect curve of cheek and chin. His mouth turns toward her, his lips moving in dream nursing, and she smiles, tears crowding her lower lashes. She touches the back of his neck, noting the slight dampness. He is always so warm. She brings the sheet down.
She moves away from him, trailing fingers down the comforter. Her hand rests on the corner of the bed. James’s side.
She whirls to her dresser. Yanks the middle drawer open. Pries out the false wooden back. It is there. She holds the small panel, bringing it to her nose. The wood is smooth in her hands and she smells the pine forests which surrounded her town when she was growing up. Before magic. Before James. Before Harry. There was that one time when she saw a fox down by the creek…
Before all of this.
She opens her eyes and pulls the envelope from its hiding place. She waits for the heat, the tingling, to flood through her hand. She tilts her head, looking at the envelope, at her hand. She shakes it, then loosens her fingers…she tightens them again and pads from the bedroom, pulling the door almost shut behind her.
She sits on the floor beneath the window. The letter weighs her hand down until it is resting on the rug. She has read every book, talked to every person she knows. Even Dumbledore said he could not help her, that it was up to Sirius. Her brain runs madly down every path she can think of, one after another; each one worn down to dust; each ending in the same place. Death. She looks at the door to the bedroom. Her fingers crush the envelope. But they are not hot. Not tingling.
She stumbles to the kitchen. The wood goes easily into the bin. The letter…
She stands for a long time, the letter in the space between heart and bin, a space filled with lies and torment and grief. The parchment is heavy and her hand shakes as always and she does not want to feel her fingers around it but there they are, as always. “There’s nothing to be done. Nothing. Nothing.” She feels her eyes burn. She shakes her hand again. “Why doesn’t it tingle?”
She lets go.
The letter falls.
The letter falls.
She stands motionless, her fingers outstretched, empty.
Then she is on her knees, sobbing, shoving it down with the false back, pushing it down as far as it will go, not daring to touch it again in case it once more becomes part of her flesh.
“Sirius, what have you done?”
There Is A Magic Only Women Can Do
James pauses just in front of the door. His eyes are red and smudged with dark circles and his cheeks are covered in stubble. “Thanks for letting me stay, mate.”
Remus leans against the wall. “’Course.”
“I know I just said it, but I’m…I’m sorry I made you deal with Sirius.”
“And…I’m glad you’re my friend. Really. I want you to hear me say that as often as possible.”
Remus’s eyes narrow. “Who the hell are you and what have you done with my friend James?”
The corner of James’s mouth twitches. “That’s so cliché, Moony.”
He sighs. “Yeah.”
James runs his fingers over the handle. “I’m scared.”
“We all are.”
James winces. “What if…I’ve been gone too long?”
“Then you’ll have to deal with the repercussions.” He looks down. “Remember what you know before you walk in.”
“I’ll have to take responsibility, you mean.”
Remus nods again.
James’s fingers close around the handle. “I can do that.”
James stumbles down the hallway.
There is the door. He stops and leans against the wall. His breath catches in his throat. He presses his hand to his chest.
Then he is standing in front of the door and his hand is out, out, out, toward it, and the space between his hand and the handle closes and then it is smooth and cold in his palm.
He turns his head and he hears them beyond this door, two bodies at rest and in motion, two bodies moving through space. She is singing. He closes his eyes and the tune floats through him. Colors burst from behind his eyelids and he hums along, barely audible, his voice bucking and cracking. He holds the handle and his heart beats through his chest.
He lifts his hand. He rests his forehead against the door and wraps his arms around himself.
You’ve got what you’ve always wanted. They are at your feet, begging for your forgiveness, for your love.
He tucks his chin down against his chest and shivers.
How much do you wish to hurt her and Sirius? How much, James? How much will be enough? Do you have a measurement, a length of time, perhaps, or an amount of blood you would like to see?
The sobs come and he lets them, working only to keep them quiet so as not to frighten her.
I could hurt you and Lily and not have to think about myself, about what was going on inside of me. I could hurt you…and Lily…
Tears drip from his chin onto his jacket. “I…need you , Lily…” His hand shoots out and the door swings open and his eyes follow the woman with the child on her hip and he feels her heart beating in his own chest and his feet carry him toward her and there is nothing and then there is the something of her turning.
Then there are her feet flying and the impact of soft on hard and the baby’s hands in his hair and he buries his face in her, her scent of flowers twisting in his head and body, pulling him toward her and away from the darkness of wood and mind, of self and death.
There are her tears, then, and his, and the baby laughing and pulling, and his arms are full and he cannot imagine them empty ever, ever again.
“Lily. Oh, Lily. I’m home.”
James and Lily – and Sirius, Meliae, Arthur, Remus, Dumbledore, Representatives of the Auror Department, and Teacups
James’s mum’s hand is on the handle. She eyes Lily. “I’ll take him home and he can spend the night with us.” Harry pats her cheeks with his hands. She looks away from Lily and kisses them. “Sweet boy.” She pulls the door closed behind her.
Lily looks at James. “I guess it was inevitable sh-she would know.” Her voice quakes.
“She doesn’t know. Well, she doesn’t know the details. She knows I was…gone for a long time. She doesn’t know why, exactly.”
She closes her eyes and opens them again. “Thank you, James.”
He shrugs and moves to the living room. His stride shortens as he passes…then he is in the chair by the fireplace.
Lily hasn’t moved from her place by the little table behind the sofa. She wrings her hands. “James…”
“Lily, sit down.” He runs a hand down his face. “Please. Sit down.”
She stumbles around the couch and sits, leaning forward over her knees. “James…”
He holds up a hand. “Not yet.” His eyes find hers and hold. “I can’t live in this flat. You understand that.”
She nods, a tear stealing down her cheek.
“Albus has found another place for us.”
She nods again.
He pushes his fingers through his hair. “I don’t want to have this conversation. It would be so much easier to leave. Or to go on, pretend like I had forgiven you on the surface, and hate you every day.”
“Oh my God.” She buries her face in her hands.
A shiver runs up his spine. “But that wouldn’t be honest. Lily.” He looks over at her. “Lily, can you look at me for a second?”
She turns her face up, streaked with tears.
He takes his wand from his pocket and points it at the floor by her feet. A box of tissue appears. “It wouldn’t be honest because that’s not how I feel.”
Her hands fumble over the box. “It’s not?”
“No. I don’t hate you. But you have to understand how easy that would be. No one would blame me.” He laughs, a short bark. “Except my closest friends.”
“E-easy? To hate me?”
“Easy. The easy way out. For me. It’s easy to hate you, to hate Sirius, for what happened. But I’ve learned that when every finger I have is pointing out, and none are pointing back at me, well…that’s a problem.” He sighs. “And you have to know that there is a part of me that hates you anyway.”
She trembles. “I deserve that.”
“You don’t, though. Not really.” The ghost of a smile crosses his face. “At least, not entirely.” He turns away from her and stares out the window. “Talk. Please.”
Lily crumples her tissue and reaches for another one. “James, I…I betrayed you. I did. I did that. And I have to…to see that, to see that I let my mind get out of hand, that I s-stupidly did something I can never, ever t-take back.” Her tears flow again. “And I know, now, how it happened, and why, and that’s important for me to know, but it’s n-not what is important f-for you…”
“It is important for me. I want to know what the fuck…”
Lily makes a sound like a squeak.
He closes his eyes and breathes in. “I want to know how – and why – this happened.”
She pushes a tissue against her eyes.
“And I want you to look at me…” He shakes his head and unclenches his hands. “Please look at me while you’re telling me.”
“You’re scaring me, James.”
“I don’t think I can do better than I’m doing.”
“When you walked in, the way you held me, the way you sounded…”
“I want you to keep in mind that that’s how I really feel about you. But right now, I have to get through this. I need you to…let me be the way I am.” His knuckles are white around the arms of the chair. “And know that I’m trying with every fiber of my being to practice another way.”
Her eyes are huge. “All-all right, James, I’ll…”
“Just talk. Please.”
“I…this…” She looks around her, takes another tissue, then looks back at James. “I have a habit of…of dreaming. I dream of…when things get difficult, I don’t look at what’s going on. I…dream of other times, other places, other…” She shuts her mouth.
“Other men.” He shuts his eyes. “Jesus Christ.”
Her hand is out before he finishes. “No! Not like that! Not…for real. Just like…daydreaming. And I know it’s not real. I know my dreams aren’t – couldn’t be – reality. I know that.”
“This one was as real as it could fucking get.”
“James, please, I’m trying…”
“Sorry.” He speaks through his teeth.
“I know your job is…hard.”
He laughs, but it is without humor.
“Insane. Brutal. Harrowing. What other words can I use?”
“And when you started…drifting…at first, I understood. I knew that you were having a…that what you were doing was…” She shakes her head. “I’ve never gone through anything like what you’re going through on a daily basis. I couldn’t do it. And at first, I understood your withdrawal. But…” She takes another tissue. “As the months wore on, and then a year went by, I…I forgot. Over time. I forgot and I just started looking at how far away you were. And I didn’t…oh, God, James, I didn’t try to draw you back! I got angry, especially when we had to move to this…this…” She waves her hand around. “And I was here, by myself, every sound making me jump out of my skin, and you, gone, God knows where, and I…I couldn’t do it. By myself. And so I dreamed.”
His face is ashen. “You thought you were here alone?”
She levels her gaze at him. “I am here alone.”
“Jesus Christ, Lily, there has been someone from the Auror department outside our flat every single second I’ve been away. Every single…”
She is frozen. “Out…side? Outside? Why not in here with me?” She is on her feet. “What the fuck good does it do me to have someone outside?”
He stares at her. “They can’t…come in, Lily. They can’t know the Secret Keeper.”
Her eyes are wild. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be in here with a child when you know you’re being hunted down like an animal?”
“Of course I…”
“You don’t! You don’t have the first clue what that’s like! Death Eaters, Voldemort, God knows who else …”
“Jesus, Lily, calm…”
“And they don’t want to kill me, James! They would kill me only by accident! Do you have any idea what that’s like?”
His eyes are dead. “I know…what that’s like. I’ve seen it. In the…aftermath.”
She advances on him. “So I dream, James, I dream. I dream to keep from slowly. Going. Insane.”
They stand a foot apart. Lily’s labored breathing fills the space between them.
Then her face crumples and she slides to the floor. She buries her face in her hands. “And…and it got out of h-hand. I can s-see that. I was running so fast from…from my f-fear I ran into…I just…”
One of James’s hands hovers over her, just at the top of her head, before he draws it back again. “I…understand.”
She turns her face up to him. “You do?”
His mouth twists. “I do.” He moves to the couch and sits down. “It’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Only not…” He stops, his eyes still haunted.
She crawls across the floor to sit at his feet.
James knits his fingers together and when his knuckles turn white, he shoves them between his knees. “Thank you. For telling me…what you…”
“If I could, James, if I could take a knife and cut it out of me, I would!”
“I know that.”
She presses another tissue to her eyes. “But I c-can’t…” Her voice is buried in her arms. “I can only s-say that it won’t happen again. Ever.”
He looks at her for a long time. “How can you be sure?”
She uncurls and looks him directly in the eye. “Because I love you, James. I love you more than I can ever tell you. And I can’t – I won’t – I don’t want these dreams. I want you, James! You’re what I’ve always wanted! You can’t know…how it’s been for me…since you left.”
He shifts on the couch. “I know how it’s been. It’s…been the same for me.”
He closes his eyes. “Lily…” He shakes his head, opening them again. “Hold on.” He presses his fingers to his eyes. “Just…let me…” His mouth twists. “I want to scream at you, to tear you to shreds. But I don’t want to…to do that, either. I…wait a bit, will you?” He buries his head in his hands.
Lily leans toward him, her hands gripped in her lap.
His head comes up, his eyes closed. “I’ve never been so…I thought I was going to die, when I left here. This has been the worst time of my life.” He opens them again. “I’ve never been…” He looks out the window. “I’ve never been so alone in my life. Not just these past weeks.” He drags his eyes back to her face. “I’ve been lonely and afraid and sad and full of rage…Jesus, Lily. I’ve been awful. For a long time.” His eyes fill. “That first time…”
“No, let me, let me say this. That first time, I…I built a…a wall, between us, and I’ve been holding you…away…from me.” He shakes his head again. “No, it’s more than that. I’ve been…the ‘good guy,’ and anything you did wrong…not wrong. Just…anything I did was OK because you had…” He grimaces. “I’ve never really forgiven you. For that first time.”
“James, I couldn’t…”
“I know. I know, now. But I didn’t know then, and I didn’t…I don’t know that it would have mattered. I used that with you like I used it with Sirius, to make goddamn sure you never…got too close. I don’t…know how to have anyone close. Except, you got close anyway, because I lo…” He shivers. “I can’t say it. Not yet.”
She pulls another tissue from the box.
“I want to…to be close. To you. I do. But…” His gaze shifts out the window again. He forces himself back. “I…need help. I need you to help me, Lily.”
Her eyebrows are lost in her fringe.
“It’s…I’ve been worse since I became an Auror. I can’t…I don’t want to tell you about my life. What can I tell you? How the latest murders looked first-hand? What the widow screamed as they cast the spells to keep her from…” He closes his eyes again. “These memories, Lily. These and a thousand more. They’re burned in me. I can’t turn them off.”
“Then don’t. Don’t! Play them, every one of them, James. Play them out to me. Please!” Her hands are raised, a supplication. “Please, James, don’t keep me out, don’t push me out of your life!”
He reaches down. His hand stops just shy of her face.
She brings it all the way, pushes her cheek against it.
He trails his palm over her face, catching her tears. “I wouldn’t do that to you. I won’t give you the nightmares that live in me. But please…” He cups her chin, brings her face up. “Can you…help me walk the ravages? Can you help me…feel? And not go insane?”
Her body shakes with the force of her sobs. “Y-Yes, James, please, G-God, let me h-help you!” She buries her face in his hand, clutching it to her.
He is on his knees next to her, drawing her to him, crushing her in his embrace. “God, I…” His breathing is labored. “I love you, woman. I’ve never seen it as clearly as when I walked through that door…”
She laughs through her tears. “Th-the second time.”
He breathes into her hair. “Both.”
She tightens her arms around him. “How can two people l-live in the midst of so much pain?”
“We work at it. Every day. Together.” He runs his hand down her back. “And you won’t be alone another second. I’ll see to that.” The hand tightens into a fist.
Remus walks through the door and stands against the back wall. Men mill about the small space, keeping a distance from the white-haired man behind the desk.
Albus Dumbledore signs his name with a flourish and looks up. “Thank you all for coming on such short notice.”
A man near the front nods his head.
“You may wonder why this meeting is here, and not at Hogwarts.”
Low murmurs fill the room. Dumbledore takes the opportunity of their distraction to look at Remus. Remus’s head dips once. Dumbledore looks back at the men.
“Well, it’s because what I have to say has nothing to do with the school. Instead, it has to do with what I have just signed.” He holds the parchment aloft.
“This is an order for a man’s appearance in front of the Wizengamot. An order from the Auror’s office. I have signed the order because I have agreed to represent this man in his case. Do any of you know what I am talking about?”
A man toward the center of the group takes a step forward. “Sirius Black.”
Another round of murmurs breaks out.
Dumbledore raises a hand. The room falls silent. “That is correct. Sirius Black has been called before the Wizengamot for using an Unforgivable curse.”
Eyes harden and arms cross. “He didn’t show up for his initial…reinstatement interview.”
“He was unTraceable for five days.”
“Seems a bit suspicious, yeh ask me.”
Dumbledore turns to the wall behind him. “And that is exactly why I’ve gathered a room full of top Aurors.” He draws his wand and, with a few motions, sketches out a meadow with three trees in it. In the sky fly three moons. He turns and, while glancing through the crowd, finds Remus.
Remus’s eyes are wide, but he dips his head again.
The man in the center of the group narrows his eyes. “What the hell is that? Three moons?”
“Does anyone recognize this scene?”
The men crowd even closer, eyeing the drawing. One squints.
Heads shake around the room.
“Ah.” Dumbledore folds his hands together and puts them on the desk. “I see. Well, it is a scene from a dream and I was hoping perhaps it had some meaning that one of you could decipher. But, alas.”
“You brought us here to see if we could figure out your dream?” The man in the center shakes his head.
“No, I brought you here to ask you if any of you believe Sirius went invisible out of malicious intent.”
Heads swivel and eyes meet. The man in the middle fidgets. “Begging your forgiveness, Professor Dumbledore…”
“Albus. Please.” His eyes twinkle.
“. . . Professor Albus, but we…I know you’ve been out there a bit, yeh?”
“Just Albus. And yes, I have…been out there a bit.”
“So you know it’s like…it can be like fighting your own shadow. We’ve lost three Aurors this week alone. Good ones.” Heads bow. “We can’t afford to have one of our own flittin’ about, unaccounted for. Especially one’s gone off to meet a suspected Death Eater. Alone. Then attacked an innocent bystander. We’ve got to know we can trust each other.” Heads nod. “Any one of us slip up like that, we tell. We don’t…disappear. We got to know we’re all on the same side. Begging your pardon.”
“No apologies necessary. So it is the strangeness of the disappearance, the timing of it, and the solitary meeting, not necessarily the use of the Curse, that has brought this on.” Dumbledore holds the parchment aloft again.
The man in the center nods. “Yeh. That’s about it.”
“Then fear no more. I can account for the whereabouts of Sirius Black.”
Remus raises his eyebrows.
“You see, Sirius was on a mission. For me.”
“Begging your pardon…Albus…but it’s pretty easy for you to say that, innit?”
Dumbledore grins. “Good man! The exact thought I would have were I in your position. Will you tell me your name?”
“Gringe Winabout, sir. Albus. Second Deputy of the Auror Department.”
“Ah, Gringe. Knew your mother. Wonderful woman.” He beams. “Made an unforgettable scone, as I recall.
Gringe blushes. “That she did, Pr…Albus, and I’ll be thanking you for remembering her so.”
“Yes, indeed. Raised a bright lad, didn’t she.”
“Oh, don’t know about that.” He shuffles his feet, grinning, his cheeks pinking.
Remus’s head swivels to the door. Dumbledore eyes him. Remus turns to him and nods.
Dumbledore looks at Gringe. “But back to business. You wish to know Sirius’s mission, do you not?”
Fifteen pairs of eyes focus on him.
Dumbledore scoots his chair out from the desk. “Well, you can ask him yourself. He’s just outside the door.”
Fifteen pairs of eyes turn at once. Remus steps to the side. The door swings open.
Sirius enters with Meliae, whose eyes are a violent shade of blue. Fifteen men instinctively shift as far away from her as possible.
“Albus.” Sirius nods his head.
“Sirius.” Dumbledore indicates two vacated chairs. “Meliae.”
“Dumbledore.” Meliae grins.
Sirius and Meliae move through the crowd and sit down.
“I say…who is she?”
Sirius leans forward, but doesn’t turn around. “She’s my girlfriend.”
Several pairs of eyes appraise. Several other heads nod. “Of course – always the ones no one else could even dream of. . .”
Gringe frowns. “Why is she here? This is a matter between…”
Meliae grins and raises her hand.
Sirius puts his hand on it, bringing it down to her side, then reaches into his pocket and takes out three stones. “Here they are.”
Gringe’s eyes refocus and he leans forward, but makes no move to come closer. “What’re they?”
Sirius flourishes his wand while Meliae waves a hand by her side. The skin of the stones peels back.
A collective ahhhhh fills the room.
“This was his mission. He thought the suspected Death Eater was dealing in them. There have been rumors that the Death Eaters have been breeding them for use in the war. Sirius had to travel to Romania to meet up with Arthur…”
The door bangs open and everyone jumps. Meliae growls.
“Sorry! Sorry! Am I late?”
“Just in time, Arthur. Please. Take my seat.” Dumbledore moves aside.
Arthur shifts through the crowd and, shaking Dumbledore’s hand, sits.
Gringe looks from Arthur to Sirius and back. “Yeh were in Romania…with Sirius…gathering dragon eggs?”
“Beauties, aren’t they? Oh, they’ll be lovely when they’re hatched.” He looks up. “I mean, in the wild. I’m not…I wouldn’t!” He laughs, glancing around. “Now we can see if the Death Eaters are interested.” He rubs his hands together.
Gringe moves forward. “Albus, yeh sent Sirius to Romania after he performed an Unforgivable, when he had an appointment with the Department, to get…dragon eggs with Arthur Weasley?”
“I did mention you were a bright lad.”
“So yeh sent…” Gringe’s eyes slide to Arthur.
“Time was of the essence. The meeting had been set. They were the only two men I could trust.”
Gringe looks around the room. “The only two men?”
“Well, one.” Dumbledore looks at Arthur. “The Death Eaters know Sirius.”
Sirius nods. “Not a one of them is going to traffic in illegal dragon eggs with me.”
Dumbledore puts a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “But not all of them are as familiar with Arthur.”
Gringe looks at Arthur. “So why didn’t Arthur get the eggs himself?”
Sirius grins. “Would you give dragon eggs to him?”
Arthur smiles. “Exactly. I could sell them, but I couldn’t buy them. Needed the…Black credibility.”
Several men nod.
Sirius nods. “Happy to oblige.”
Gringe takes his wand from his pocket. “Yeh don’t mind if I…” He nods at the eggs.
Dumbledore smiles. “Of course not.”
Gringe mutters under his breath as several colors of light shoot from his wand and surround the eggs.
Meliae’s hand falls to the side of her chair and her fingers flutter.
Gringe stops muttering and shrugs. “Strange story, Albus.”
“Indeed. But I think you’ll agree if the rumor is true, we should know about it.”
Fifteen men shudder.
Gringe holds out his hand. “Give me the summons. I’ll take care of it. We’ll handle this…in house.” He turns to Sirius. “I expect yeh to do better. If this happens again, there will be consequences. Yeh understand this.”
Sirius’s eyes are glued to the drawing on the wall.
“Sirius?” Gringe’s voice is sharp.
Sirius blinks and stands, facing Gringe. “Yes, sir.”
“And if yeh have any more…missions with Albus, yeh’ll brief the Department thoroughly before they commence.”
Sirius glances at Dumbledore.
Dumbledore nods. “Of course he will.”
“Everything seems to be in order, then.” Gringe turns on his heel and exits.
The men file out. Several come up to shake Sirius’s hand, mutter words of encouragement. A few let their eyes slide over Meliae. She grins, her teeth glistening, and they freeze, then turn, dazed.
When they are gone, Remus closes the door behind them. He takes out his wand and taps the doorknob. “They can’t hear us now.”
Meliae shakes her head and her eyes are orange again. Red and black course through her hair before it returns to blonde.
Arthur gapes at Meliae. “Who are…”
Sirius steps between them. “Need to know basis, Weasley.”
Dumbledore points at the drawing on the wall. “Sirius?”
Sirius nods. “How did you…”
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkle. “I’d say you’ve had an extraordinary experience.”
Sirius shivers. “That’s one way to describe it.”
Remus picks up the eggs. “What the hell are these?”
“They’re my teacups.” Meliae waves a hand and the eggs melt and reform into teacups.
“Interesting.” Remus fingers them. “It was a close thing.”
Dumbledore nods. “I wasn’t at all sure they weren’t going to haul the lot of us in.”
Meliae laughs. “Not a chance.”
“Oh?” Dumbledore’s eyebrows rise.
She stretches and turns her orange cat-eyes on him. “Humans. So easy.” She crosses her arms.
Arthur peers around Sirius’s shoulder. “Humans?”
“Need to know, Weasley.”
“I need to know.”
Dumbledore bows. “I thank you for your assistance, Meliae.”
She pauses, then bows back.
“I would be honored if you would send my best to your…sisters.”
Her gaze holds steady. “Of course. They remember you fondly.”
Sirius’s head whips back to Dumbledore. “You…you…?”
Dumbledore grins. “I’m sure they do. I’ve never been so terrified in my life.”
“That’s partly why it’s such a fond memory.”
Dumbledore’s laughter fills the room. Then his face sobers. “Sirius, this type of thing – such a lack of attention – cannot happen again. Your involvement in the Order…” He peers over the edge of his glasses.
Sirius nods. “It won’t.”
Dumbledore looks at Meliae. “I would respectfully request…”
She waves her hand. “Nothing that is done cannot be undone. Nothing that is undone cannot be done.”
Arthur gapes. “What in the…”
She looks him up and down. “Hmmm.”
Sirius takes her arm. “No, you don’t.”
She giggles and takes his hand. “One is enough.”
He sighs. “I hope so.”
Dumbledore turns to Remus. “James has put in to go into hiding with Lily.”
Remus nods. “He doesn’t want to leave her alone anymore.”
Dumbledore closes his eyes. “So it is.”
Meliae turns to him. “You Saw.”
He opens his eyes. “I Saw a few things. Much more was left unrevealed.”
“And you will not interfere with this thread?”
Sirius looks at her.
Dumbledore shakes his head. “I will not. With any thread.” He brings a hand to his chest and long moments pass. Finally he looks at her again. “I understand that you cannot take a side.”
“There are no sides. There only is.”
Dumbledore sighs. “And yet, so few understand that.”
Sirius’s eyes fly from Dumbledore to Meliae and back. “What did you See?”
He turns to Sirius. “A thread ends. It goes on.”
Sirius nods. “Yes, I know this. But…”
Meliae takes his hand. “This thread is light. This one must be dark.”
“I understand, but what does—”
Dumbledore stands. “We move forward, Sirius. It is all we can do.”
Meliae smoothes her other hand down Sirius’s back and he stills. He draws a deep breath. “I…understand.”
Arthur throws up his hands. “Will anyone, ever, tell me what’s going on?”
May the Circle Be Unbroken
“That’s twenty more for me, el zippo for you.” Remus grins and Sirius growls. “Game’s a bit off tonight, Padfoot.” He pulls the darts from the board and adjusts his score.
Sirius takes one of his darts and eyes it. “You sure these aren’t bewitched?”
“No. But I’m sure you’re about as jumpy as a cat in a rocking chair factory.” He laughs.
“A what? Moony, where you come up with this shite, I’ll never know.” But he grins.
Remus takes careful aim. “Hey, Sirius.” He lets fly and crows when it lands in the bullseye.
Sirius scowls. “And you’re not even really paying attention.” He throws his own, which embeds itself in the wall. “Ahhhhhhhhhh.”
“Mates! Yer grub’s ready!”
Remus’s hand jerks and his dart goes wide, landing beside Sirius’s.
“At last! Justice! I’m going to pay the cook to call out every time you throw!” Sirius does a little dance and Remus clouts him over the head.
Remus returns to their table as Sirius wends his way through the crowded pub, two plates held above his head. He sits down and puts the plates down, then picks them up and switches them. “You always like it so bloody rare.”
“And you always like it like a bicycle tire.” Remus grins as hecuts into his steak.
“A chap likes to know there’s a good distance between when the thing was on the hoof and when it’s landing in his stomach.” He cuts a huge piece and shoves it in his mouth, his cheeks bulging.
“Merlin’s pants, Sirius, is that how you get all the women?” He makes a face.
Sirius chews. And chews. And chews.
“Yup, that’s why they love you, that.” Remus spears a green bean.
Sirius swallows. “Speaking of women…”
“…which we were not…”
“But we should be, because there are some fine ones over there…”
Remus shakes his head. “But we’re not, because we’re eating, and you look like a wolf when you eat, which I cannot get over the irony of…”
“Aw, come on, Moony. Give it a try.”
Remus stabs another bean and stares at his plate. “You know why that’s a bad idea.”
“Listen. Nothing’s a bad idea anymore.” He jabs his fork at the crowd. “Look at everyone. Out on a Friday night, a bit of nosh, some grog; you have to look for the good where you can.” He cuts another huge bite of steak.
“Just so we’re clear, if you choke, I’m not saving you.”
Sirius grins. “That’s what friends are for.” He shoves the piece in.
Remus smiles. “Like a fucking hippogriff, you are.”
Two women squeeze past their table. “’Scuse us! Sorry – place is packed, innit?”
Sirius waves his hand, but his cheeks still bulge.
“Yeah.” Remus pulls his chair in further to let them pass.
Sirius swallows. “Idiot! Why didn’t you invite them to join us?”
Remus takes an exaggerated breath. “You knowwhy I don’t date.”
“Who says you have to date? Just hang out! Play darts!”
“I am! With you!”
“Are you intentionally idiotic tonight?”
“Maybe.” Remus reaches for the salt. “But say I play darts with them. Then there’s that awkward moment where I’m supposed to ask for a date, and I don’t, and she’s insulted.”
“Why do you expect she’s going to expect? That’s a lot of expecting.” Sirius shoves six green beans into his mouth.
“Because that’s what you always do with women. And if you do, and I don’t, then it’s pretty awkward, yeah?”
“Well, I don’t have to. I don’t even really want to tonight.”
Remus stares at him. “Am I hearing you correctly?”
Sirius shifts in his seat. “I don’t always want to.”
“I don’t! Sometimes it’s nice just to…” He stares over Remus’s shoulder.
“To what? Is this to do with Meliae?”
“No.” He saws at his steak again.
“Has she taken you off the market?”
Sirius takes another huge bite.
“You will, eventually, have to swallow.” Remus cracks up.
“’At’s not ‘at ‘unny.”
Remus wipes his eyes. “Oh, but it is.”
Sirius swallows. “She’s a goddess. No man’s been lucky enough to be taken off the market by a goddess.” His cheeks flame.
“Am I seeing this?” Remus leans across the table. “Are you blushing?”
Sirius bats his hand away. “Shut it, Remus.”
“Hey! I’m happy for you. Just…be careful.” He grins. “I’d hate to see you turned into a toad.”
“She wouldn’t…” He looks thoughtful. “She might.”
Remus cuts another bite of steak. “Anyway, let’s just you and me play darts tonight, yeah?”
Remus’s eyes don’t leave his steak. “Yes?”
“Have you evershagged anyone?”
Remus’s knife slips off his steak and grinds against his plate.
Sirius winces. “Ugh. That noise.”
Remus rolls his eyes. “Don’t you think I would have told you?”
“Not necessarily. I got taken to task once by the…Mrs….by…”
“Do you mean Lily?”
“God, Remus, is it ever going to…” Sirius twists the front of his shirt.
He looks up, his eyes haunted. “Get better? Any better? Or is it always going to be this black hole…”
Remus frowns. “It takes time, Sirius. It…” He looks over Sirius’s shoulder. “It takes time.”
“I don’t have…” Sirius bends over his steak and his knife is a blur.
“You don’t have time? Sirius, what else have you got?”
He bears down on the meat on his plate.
“Sirius, what else…”
“She was mad at me for making you deal with my problems without helping you deal with yours.”
Remus eyes Sirius’s knife, now cutting the bite into tiny, tiny pieces. “Sirius, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Remus, please, I can’t…”
“Here’s what I know. You did something. I don’t know what it was, but I know it involved Meliae in her…more usual capacity. Dumbledore knows what it is and it involves other goddesses and somewhere with three trees and three moons. I know the letter is gone.”
“Lily threw it away.”
Sirius can’t get any air.
“Which is supposed to be impossible. And now you say you have no time. It’s not like you not to tell me the minutiae of everything going on in your life.”
Sirius’s knife clatters on his plate. “And isn’t that not fair? That I make you carry my burdens right along with me, if I carry them at all? Haven’t I used you as a pack horse long enough?”
“You have never seen that friends can help carry a burden without it being unfair.”
“I see that! I see it! But if you knew you were going to…” He stops and his eyes fill.
“Die? I know I’m going to die, Sirius.” He leans forward, his eyes intent. “Is that what’s going to happen to you?”
“I don’t know! I don’t bloody know! It says…she says…they…” His eyes are wild.
Remus reaches across, his hand falling on Sirius’s arm. “It’s OK. Calm down.”
“It’s not OK!”
“What is ‘it’?”
“It takes something, Remus, and I don’t know what it is, or when it’s going to happen!”
“What takes something?”
Sirius waves a hand around. “It! They! The cloth! I don’t know!”
Remus frowns. Then the color drains from his face. “Cloth? The…Fates? That’s who you saw?”
Sirius nods, twisting his shirt again.
“Well, not quite, but close.”
They sit together, the sounds swirling round them, leaving them behind.
Remus taps his fork on his plate. “That nosy little…”
Sirius jumps. “What…”
“Lily. Talking about me behind my back like that.” He looks at Sirius. “Some friend.”
Sirius gives the ghost of a grin and when Remus grins back, Sirius’s grin warms. “You know she loves you more than…well, a lot. She was off on a tear on me, and that came up as a lovely little side-note.”
“Well. That’s what I like to be. A side-note.”
Sirius cuts into his steak again. “You’re impossible.”
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
“Don’t brag about that! It’s sad!”
“Trying to be compassionate about my position isn’t fitting for you, Sirius.”
Sirius leans forward. “Are you saying I’m not compassionate?”
“Let’s just say it’s not the kind of thing I hang around for, hoping it’ll come up.”
“You say that, knowing what I’m living with? What I did for Lily?”
Remus hangs his head. “Oh, shit, Sirius. I take it all back. Fuck. You should punch my lights out.”
“Maybe I will.” He leans back, a huge grin on his face. “Right after I get you laid.”
Remus rolls his eyes. “Now I recognize you again.”
Sirius scouts the crowd. “How about the witch…”
“What, tonight?” He shakes his head. “No way, Sirius. No fucking way.”
“Aw, come on, mate.”
“Are you doing this for me, or for you?”
Sirius is looking through the crowd again. “For you, Remus.”
Remus sighs. “And how do we make sure I don’t end up killing the poor lass?”
Sirius sobers. “It’s half-way through the moon’s cycle. You’re at your strongest.”
“That’s no guarantee.”
Sirius fingers his fork. “How’s it been going, then?”
“I want to know, Remus. Really.”
Remus looks at him, then runs a hand through his hair. “Well, to be honest, not great. It’s like this great bloody beast in me and it’s all mixed up with my thoughts, my feelings, and I have a damned hard time sometimes figuring out if it’s me, or if the person in front of me really deserves to die.” He half-laughs.
Sirius’s gaze lowers to the table. “It’s the same for me. These thoughts – it’s like I have a feeling, and then there are these thoughts that run into my head, and if I follow the thoughts, I’m…fucked.”
Remus looks at Sirius. “But you said once you’d figured those thoughts out.”
Sirius sighs. “I know what I said. And it’s much easier than it was. But I don’t think I’ll ever totally figure them out. Lily ended the growth of the curse, but it still changes its influence from time to time, and I have to re-learn its edges.”
Remus’s brows draw together. “Yeah. That’s it exactly. I think I’ve got something down, then something else comes up. I’ve been practicing ignoring my thoughts, just trying to feel the feeling. It doesn’t get so big, then.”
“Really? How do you do that?”
“Well, I just notice when my thoughts go crazy. And then I try to fuzz out my mind.” He frowns. “No, that’s not really it – I notice my thoughts going crazy, and I…” He grins. “I look at the wall.”
Sirius, who had been leaning over the table, leans back. “You look at the wall. This is what you say to me.”
“No – I mean, yes, I look at the wall, and I realize I’m…wherever I am. I’m not…the thoughts aren’t real.”
“And then what?”
“And then, nothing. Then it’s just a feeling. Not attached to anything.”
“And then what?”
“And then it’s either there, or not, but I can get moving again, because the feeling is just…it’s just a habit. It doesn’t have anything to do with what’s really going on around me.”
“But…it doesn’t work when you’re with a…”
“It doesn’t always work, period.” Remus looks down. “So I’m afraid to try. If I can’t get out of the thoughts…”
Sirius puts a hand on Remus’s shoulder. “I didn’t realize…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…you should punch my lights out.”
Remus gives a wan smile. “So we’re even, is what you’re saying.”
Sirius touches his back. “I think…I think I’ll try your strategy.” He hunches over his plate. “You know James is going into hiding with Lily and Harry.”
“Yes, I know that.”
“I’m still an Auror.”
Remus’s hand pauses over his plate, his fork piled with green beans. “You are.”
“He and I were going to…I mean, because of what we do…”
“Spit it out, Sirius.”
“We were going to talk…to each other…about what we were seeing. You know. On the job.” He stuffs a bite of steak into his mouth.
Remus’s fork sinks to his plate. “Oh. I see. And now you can’t…”
Sirius chews and swallows. “Well, I still can, but it’s more – it’s going to be different.”
“Yes, it will be different for you without having James there.”
“Yeah. So I want to…I wondered if you’d be willing to…”
“We can keep talking like this. If it’s helpful to you.”
Sirius reaches over and touches Remus’s shoulder, then lets his hand drop. “Thanks, Remus. I…we can keep talking like this if it’s helpful to you, too.”
Remus smiles. “What’s gotten into you?”
“You’re my friend.” Sirius looks at him. “I value that.”
Remus’s eyes are bright. “I do, too, Sirius. I do, too.”
A few months later
Sirius sits in the small square of sunlight that pours in through the window in his kitchen. Cars rumble by below his second-story flat and the crash and bang of the garbage truck echoes up from the alleyway behind. His breakfast dishes sit unwashed in the sink and the egg container and bread still lean together on the counter. A cup of tea steams in front of him but his eyes are on the clouds outside.
A clock ticks on the wall and Sirius taps the fingers of one hand in time to it, adding little extra beats, his fingers dancing on the table top.
He is smiling.
He holds a photo in the other hand. On it a tiny boy zooms into and out of the frame on a toy broomstick.
In a short time Remus will knock on his door and they will go out, maybe Apparate to Diagon Alley and kick it around, maybe head down to a pub. Then he’ll think about some dinner and ask Remus if he wants to join him.
He sees a spot way up there, moving against the cloud he is watching…it swoops closer and closer. His fingers still. His heart jumps into his throat. He gets up, putting the photo on the table. He presses a finger to it, touching the tiny figure, then turns back to the owl.
He reaches up to open the window and the huge snowy bird flaps in, landing on the back of his chair.
“Something for me?” He takes the remnants of bacon from his plate and feeds them to the owl. It clicks its beak in thanks and holds out its leg. Sirius unties the letter with fumbling fingers and the owl launches itself back through the window.
He turns the letter over and sees her script on the front. He sinks into his chair, his lips moving in silent supplication. He slides a finger under the wax seal.
Dear Sirius –
I know I just wrote you to thank you for Harry’s birthday present, but I wanted to thank you for something else, and it didn’t fit in with that letter.
He closes his eyes and rubs a shaking hand down his cheek, then looks down again.
I threw the letter away. I mean, I was able to throw it away. It was a while ago now, back when everything looked much darker, but I didn’t know how to talk to you about it then, so I’m doing it now.
I don’t know what you did, but James and Remus are tight-lipped and all I know is that when I let go of the letter, it fell away from me and stayed away.
You’re still alive. I guess I’ll never understand how you did it. But I wanted to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this gift.
It’s still sometimes rough for us, but we’ve been talking to each other on a different level than ever before. Something shattered between us, something that was old and no longer useful. It was in the way and we couldn’t even see it. But there is no creation without pain, so I guess that’s just part of the territory.
I meant it when I said you should come see James more often. No one else can take the place in his life that you hold. And continue to hold. He is struggling with our confinement, now that he can only work on the bits and pieces others bring. This cottage is beautiful, but I think he finds it a beautiful prison.
Love to you, my friend –
He reads it over and over, each and every word, skipping none. He looks up and lets it fall to the table. He smiles and his eyes shine. He takes up the picture and puts it in the middle of the first letter and folds it up, pressing the creases to sharpen them, moving his hand over the surface once more.
The smile falters.
Someone does pay. The breaker pays. The Vow knows what is most precious to you.
“What is most precious…” He looks again out the window.
Hands descend on his shoulders and he jumps. “Meliae!”
She giggles. “Sorry, love.” Her hands slide around his neck, then descend to his chest. “Can’t help it. It’s my fucking nature.”
“It doesn’t have to be.” But he takes her hands in his.
She leans down and, pushing aside his hair with her nose, kisses the back of his neck. “Busy?”
She noses up through his hair. “Mmmm?”
“Meliae…how long? Do I have?”
She stops. “I can’t say.”
“What’s going to happen?”
“Can you give me a hint? I’m going mental here, jumping at my shadow, just waiting…”
She stands upright and pulls him around in his chair, cradling his head to her chest. “Don’t wait.”
He snakes his arms around her waist. “That is not a whole hell of a lot of help.” His voice is muffled.
“Sirius, it will come. But you will know neither the day nor the hour.”
“You’re going to quote scripture at me?”
“I knew the person who said that. It applies directly to you, now.”
“How can I live my life when every second I expect…”
“Sirius, everyone dies.”
He explodes out of his chair. “I’m going to die?”
She rolls her eyes. “Everyone dies.”
She clucks her tongue. “You’re being difficult.”
“I’m waiting to lose what’s most important to me, every single second of every single day, you say I’m going to die,and you say I’m being difficult?”
She puts her hands on her hips. “Fine. All mortals die, Sirius. I’m trying to make a point. But they don’t wander through their days, scared of their own shadows, just…waiting to die.”
“Only because they haven’t done something like what I’ve done!”
“Only because they can’t face the reality of their own mortality. They would live differently, if they did. Like you are.” She moves to him and runs her fingers up his arm to his throat, then pushes him back until he is pressed against the wall. She leans forward, licking him on the soft spot that throbs in time with his heart.
He lets his head fall back against the wall. “You’re going to seduce me in the same sentence you remind me of my mortality?”
She presses herself against him. “Mmmm. Mortal male.”
“Merlin, you’re sick, I tell you.”
She slips her finger into her mouth, then skips it up his neck.
He groans. “S-Stop that.”
Her tongue follows the same path.
Her teeth close over his earlobe. “I know.”
“Dammit, can you…”
Her hands wander him.
He trembles. “Why do you always do this when I’m feeling terrible?”
“It’s when you’re actually feeling something that I find you the most beautiful.” She runs her hands up under his shirt.
His hands form fists, but her butterfly touch loosens them and he wraps them around her shoulders. His lips find hers and for a moment, time spins out around them, leaving them behind.
He pulls back. “I’m in love with you, you know.”
She smiles. “And I have loved you for a thousand thousand lifetimes. Don’t be frightened, my love. This thread ends, this thread continues.” Her hands follow the hard curve of his ribs.
“Please. No threads right now.” His breathing is erratic. “Will you…stay with me? Tonight? Please?”
“I would stay with you every night of your existence if I could.”
“And why can’t you?”
Her hands drift lower. “It is not the way of things.”
“God, Meliae, I’m being peeled alive…”
“It is a gift, this peeling.”
“You are a gift. To me.” His head comes down and his hands cup her breasts.
She groans into his mouth and the time for talking is done.
It isn’t until the next morning, when he stumbles into the bathroom, that he realizes the curse scar is gone.
Recompense. For All My Crimes of Self-Defense.
(from Mirror in the Bathroom by English Beat)
Crack! Crack! Crack!
Lily drops the knife.
Before she can get her hand on it, James is there. He deposits it on the counter and wraps his arms around her.
She leans her head against his chest.
“Breathe, Lily. It’s OK.” He smoothes the hair away from her temple and kisses that soft spot.
The door opens and Remus, Peter, and Sirius spill into the entryway. Peter and Remus are laughing and Sirius is doing what looks like laughing, but his eyes dart around the space until they rest on James and Lily and his laugh hollows.
James grins and moves forward. “Gits.” He slaps Peter on the back and moves to Remus, who pulls him into a hug. He turns to Sirius, his arms out. Sirius steps into them and what looks like a shiver passes down his spine.
There is a fumbling of jackets and hooks.
James looks behind them. “Where’s Meliae?”
“She’ll…she’s a bit late.” Sirius turns and looks into the night. “She said she’d meet me at my flat, but…”
Peter giggles. “She gives me the willies.”
Remus moves into the little living room. “If she didn’t, I’d question whether you were alive.” He looks around. “Hmm. New arrangement. Lily, you’ve done a great job of it. This cottage suits you.”
She leans against the wall. “Th-thanks, Remus.”
Remus takes in her pale face and is at her side. “Hey, Lil. Breathe.”
The ghost of a smile crosses her lips. “That’s what James said.”
Peter trips over the edge of the rug into the room. “Lily! Hi! What smells so good in the kitchen?”
“Hi, Peter. It’s just stir-fry.”
Remus pulls her hands up, his eyes on her fingers. “Ah. That’s good. Or did James cut up the veg?”
She giggles and pulls her hands free, then moves out to Peter, giving Remus’s arm a last squeeze. “Peter.” She hugs him and gives him a quick peck on the cheek. “Where have you been? It feels like ages since I’ve seen you.”
“Oh, been busy, you know?” He wipes his forehead. “There’s lots to do, Lily.”
“Don’t I know it.” She turns to Sirius, who has entered with James. “S-Sirius.”
James pulls Sirius forward. Sirius raises his arms and lowers them and Lily takes a step back. James glances at Remus. Remus shrugs.
Peter pulls a bottle of wine from his jacket pocket. “I brought this!” He looks at the label. “It’s supposed to be good. I don’t know. They said at the pub. But you…you never know.” He hands it to Lily.
Remus sees it shake in her hand and reaches for it. “I’ll open it. Thanks, Peter.”
Lily takes it back from Remus. “That’s great, Peter. Thanks.” She retreats to the kitchen.
James and Sirius glance at each other and James sighs, then sits on the couch. “Have a seat. Or are we going to stand around all night?”
Remus laughs. “Not me.” He falls next to James.
Sirius sits in a chair and Peter looks around, then sits in the other chair.
There’s a knock at the door.
Sirius’s eyes light up and James grins. “The goddess descends.” He gets up and opens the door.
“James.” Her voice rings through the entry way.
“Meliae. Thanks for coming tonight.”
“Yeah.” She looks him up and down. “You don’t look pale, I’ll give you that.”
James’s grin freezes.
She pushes past him into the living room and stops as her eyes find Peter. She smiles, showing all her teeth.
“Not busy tonight?” Her voice trills.
“Took time off for your friends?”
“Yes. It’s nice to be here.” His hands twist in his lap.
“I’m sure it is.” She looks around and her eyes light up as she gets to Remus. “Ah! Now it’s a pleasure.” She takes his hands in hers and squeezes.
Remus’s grin is warm. “Hello, Meliae.” He holds her hands close to his chest. “It’s a pleasure to see you, too.”
“And you mean it. That’s the nice part.” She leans in and kisses his cheek. “Remus. May good things happen to you for many lifetimes.”
He laughs. “That would be nice.”
She releases him and turns to Sirius. She glides to him, her body liquid, and he reaches for her. She presses her forehead against his and he holds on to her.
Remus clears his throat and Peter blushes.
Sirius pulls away. “S-Sorry.”
James laughs. “Why? Because a beautiful, powerful…woman…loves you?”
Remus pulls Peter to his feet. “Let’s go help the Missus.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” Meliae puts a hand on Remus’s chest. “Let the,” she eyes James, “‘women’ take care of that.” Her laugh trails behind her as she disappears into the kitchen.
“Is she safe in there?”
Sirius looks at James. “When is she ever ‘safe’?”
Lily startles as Meliae appears at her elbow. “Oh! Oh. Hi, Meliae.” She moves down to make room.
Meliae eyes the knife. “How ‘bout I do that?”
“No one trusts me with a knife.”
“Yeah, well, can you tell why?” She waves her fingers and the knife morphs into a snake.
Lily drops it with a squeak. “And that’s less dangerous?”
Meliae flicks her hand and the snake disappears. “Right now, yes.” Reaching for the wine, she uncorks it and looks around.
Lily takes two wine glasses from a cabinet.
Meliae pours a generous portion in each glass. “Looks like a good night for getting smashed.” She lofts her glass, tips it toward Lily, and drinks it down. She studies the last drops at the bottom of her glass, then looks at Lily. “He’s right. It’s a good year.”
Lily avoids her eyes. “Meliae…”
“I was wondering…”
“This isn’t the first time you and I have seen each other since…”
“Stop saying that!”
“Then say something! I’m getting old here. Well, you are.”
Lily sets her jaw. “You haven’t ever said anything. To me. About what happened.”
Meliae studies her face. “Do you want me to?”
“I imagine you have something to say.”
“Not before you drink up.”
Lily brings her glass to her lips but puts it down again. “I want to remember what you’re going to say.”
Meliae grins. “You’re so much smarter than they are.”
Lily tries to grin.
Meliae lounges against the counter. “So you want me to be angry with you for sleeping with Sirius.”
“I don’t see how you can’t be.”
Lily purses her lips.
“I’m not. Sirius…” Meliae looks up, over Lily’s shoulder. “Sirius has been with thousands of women. And…”
“Yes. Oh. I see.” She stops for a moment, her eyes still far away. “Over the lifetimes. I can’t always get to him right away, so he has time to do what he wants.” She pours herself more wine. “When you have a love like ours, a few other women, well…” She swirls the wine in her glass.
“Oh my God. If I had to stand back and watch…” Her eyes close. She opens them again. “How…long have you been together?”
“Since the beginning.”
“Of the beginning.”
Lily ponders her wine, still untouched. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.” Meliae grins.
“Is he always a…a…a mortal?”
“And you’re always…you.”
“Got that right, sister.” Meliae smirks.
“So he doesn’t…he can’t live forev…” She clears her throat. “Doesn’t…doesn’t it kill you? When you remember…and you come to him…and he doesn’t?”
“Memory. A tricky thing.” She swirls her wine again. “Here is a mind, memories in it, and then…” She takes a sip. “It goes into another container. And that container…well, it doesn’t know where the wine came from. But it knows it’s there.”
“But not consciously.”
“Better. Deep down, he recognizes me. He always does. Haven’t you ever met anyone you felt so close to, right off, and you can’t explain it?”
Lily looks down and nods.
“That’s what I’m talking about. If you saw the threads…” Her eyes glow. “Something is stored there. Forever. It never goes away.”
“Are James and I…have we been together? For a long time?”
Meliae’s eyes snap back. “Can’t tell.” She downs her wine.
“You don’t know, or you won’t tell me?”
Meliae laughs. “So much smarter than they are.”
“You must…miss him. During those times.”
Meliae’s eyes flash black and she lowers her glass to the counter. “There are…lifetimes…when I miss Sirius.”
She takes Meliae’s hands in hers. “Oh, Meliae, why wait at all, any lifetime?”
Meliae allows her to hold them for a moment, then takes them away. “Sometimes he’s not ready yet. Sometimes…I have to watch him. Live a life. Or two. Or a dozen.”
“Have to? What do you mean?”
“This thread is heavy. This thread must be light.”
“So you have to regulate? You can never act freely? Then why…”
“There is no why. There only is.” Red streaks through her hair.
Lily takes a step back.
She smoothes her hair. “Not mad at you.” Something unreadable crosses her face and she bows her head. “My sisters weave. My other sisters and I balance. We have no…will. It is the will of the Cloth.”
“The will of the…so you, a goddess, have no choice? No freedom?”
“Do we…do mortals have…?”
“You have choice. You have no freedom.”
“How is choice not freedom?”
“Every choice follows the rules. There is no freedom from that.”
“The rules of cause and effect. Every choice – a cause and an effect. Choice is only the illusion of freedom.”
Lily stares into her wine. “Oh.”
“You see, do you not?”
“Yes. It’s like a tree – I choose this branch instead of that one and I follow it and not the other, but the branches…they’re all already there.”
Meliae grins. “So much smarter than they are.”
She swallows. “Why…why did you date James in school?”
Meliae wiggles her fingers and the knife reappears. Her hands blur as she chops the rest of the vegetables. “There.”
Lily twists her fingers together. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
“You needed a push.”
“I…I needed a push?”
“Yes. You needed to see that, some day, someone was going to say ‘yes.’ You needed to see how that felt to you.”
Lily’s jaw drops. “So you do meddle!”
“How is that not meddling?”
“As I said, I do not follow my will.”
“You didn’t want to be with him? At the time?”
She stares at Lily. “Everything is interdependent. There is no ‘want.’ There is only the Cloth.”
“So even being with Sirius is only to balance the cloth?”
“Everything – everything, Lily – is to balance the Cloth.”
“Then why do you hate James so much now?”
“I don’t hate him.”
“Well, you sure act like you do.”
She laughs, flashing her teeth. “He is with you. It is Woven. There cannot be an alternative for him.”
“Otherwise…he would…want you. Forever.” Lily presses her hands to her glass to keep them from shaking. “Merlin, Meliae, what man doesn’t?”
She appraises Lily, then molds a hand to Lily’s cheek. “You are a good woman. A good wife. And a good mother. I cannot be any of those things.” She reaches for the wine and refills her glass.
Lily blushes. “I’d better see that everyone gets some.” She pulls more glasses down and fills them, arranging them on a tray, then rearranging them.
“Lily, just go out there.”
“Yes. I know.” She moves one glass over.
“It’s hardest the first time.”
“And then it gets easier.”
Lily traces the edge of a glass. “The waiting. For Sirius. Each time.”
Meliae goes completely still.
“You love him, regardless of whether or not it ‘balances the cloth.’”
“It eats you alive. I can see that, now.”
She looks down and nods again.
Lily watches Meliae reach for her glass and notices her hand shaking. “Meliae…how can you stand to be out of the room, away from him, for one moment?”
Lily reaches out and crooks a finger through one of Meliae’s. “That’s…very human of you.”
Meliae’s eyes widen and a soft smile plays at the corners of her mouth. Then she shakes her head and pulls away. “You don’t have much time. Stop wasting it.”
Lily lets her go. “We’ve still got until midnight or so. Harry is at James’s mum’s.”
“Mm hm.” Meliae reaches over and rubs her fingers together over one of the glasses. “Make sure Peter gets that one.”
Lily stares at her. “What did you do to it?”
Meliae laughs. “Oh, nothing. But it’ll be important. Later.”
“Later. With a big orange cat.”
“Thank you. For…”
Lily smiles. “Yes. For everything.”
“Thank you, too.” Meliae peeks through her lashes. “Lily.”
The men are crowded together over a chart on the coffee table when they reenter.
“It’ll be the Chudley Cannons this year. Look at their line-up!” James smacks his hand on the table.
“Bollocks. It’ll be the Irish. No way to factor out Gridley O’Callaghan.” Sirius nods.
Peter looks at Remus. “Don’t you think…oh!” He scurries over to the women and reaches for the tray.
“Not a chance. Take this one and go sit.” Meliae floats the glass to Peter and turns to the others. “Wine!”
Hands come up but heads stay down.
“Typical.” Lily distributes the glasses and sits on the couch. She presses her foot under James’s thigh and he reaches down, rubbing it as he continues arguing with Remus and Sirius.
Sirius takes a swallow and stops, looking at his glass. “Good stuff, Peter. Where’d you get it?”
“Leaky Cauldron.” Peter glows.
“Mmm. He’s got that cellar he’s so secretive about. This from that?”
“Yes! He took me down there and let me see! It’s amazing – he has so many bottles, and some of them just centuries old, and…”
Sirius makes a face. “I don’t want any centuries-old wine, thanks all the same.”
“No! Not wine. Other stuff. Firewhisky and such. Some of it is burning right there in the bottle!”
“Oh.” Sirius takes another drink and turns back to Remus and James, then lifts his head again. “What’s the occasion?”
Peter sinks off the chair onto his knees and scuffles over to the table. Remus budges over. “It’s…I don’t know. I felt like…it’s been so long since all of us have gotten together. All at once.”
There is a pause in the conversation.
“And I thought it was so nice, that I would…bring something special.” His voice is quieter and quieter.
Remus looks at James. James looks at Sirius.
Sirius glances at Lily and then takes another drink. “Guess you’re right.”
“It’s been so hard, since…since…”
Sirius finishes his wine and puts the glass on the table rather harder than necessary. “Spit it, Wormtail.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake. Since I fairly spectacularly broke all my best friends’ trust.” Sirius slumps over the table.
Lily is frozen and James’s hand is tight around her foot.
Meliae takes another sip. “Well, that’s made it interesting, love.”
Remus clears his throat. “Anybody have anything else they’d like to say?”
James’s hand comes off Lily’s foot and finds his glass. He downs half his wine.
“I’m…I’m really uncomfortable and I wish to hell I wasn’t.” Lily buries herself in her glass.
Sirius blows out a breath. “Well, that’s hit the nail on the head.”
James downs the other half. “Could break a board on my shoulders, I guess.”
Remus leans back on his hands. “I’m all for not pretending this is an ordinary evening, but we can’t spend it jumping at shadows.”
James is fingering the Quidditch sheet. “All right. Let’s just go around the room and everyone say whatever…whatever it is you want to say.” He looks at Remus.
Remus looks at Lily.
Lily looks at Sirius.
Sirius looks at the ceiling.
“I want everything to be like it was!”
Meliae eyes Peter. “Interesting.”
Peter’s face is a new shade of crimson. “I…I mean…I think Sirius was s-stupid, and Lily too, but I think they were stressed out and…and…pressure can…do…strange things.”
Meliae’s eyes don’t leave his face.
James is rolling the edge of the base of his glass on the table. “I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I don’t know what to say with both of you in the room. I think I need time to get used to being around…you both again.”
“No shiny fish there. Nice work.” They all turn to look at Meliae, who opens her eyes wide. “Just an expression.”
Sirius closes his eyes. “It’s like there’s an electric fence in here and I keep running into it.”
“Yup.” Remus sits forward again. “I’m watching the three of you wearing the most godawful leering grins and it’s horrible.”
Sirius slams his fists on the table. “So is that it, then? It’s ruined? It’s just over?”
Lily rolls her eyes. “Merlin’s pants, Sirius. Stop being so dramatic.”
Remus grins. “That’s the old Lily right there.”
Meliae fills Lily’s glass with wine again. “And you thought I was kidding about the wine.” She hands Remus the bottle.
He pours himself another glass. “Hmm. This should be almost empty.”
“Should be, shouldn’t it.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. Just made sure it wouldn’t be empty.”
Remus looks at his glass. “How is this going to help? Getting us all drunk isn’t going to solve this problem. It’s going to make it worse, because we’ll all just be running from what we need to look at.”
She narrows her eyes and leans forward.
Remus leans back. “All right, Meliae, all right. No need to frighten the mortals.” He picks up his glass and takes a sip. His eyes light up. “What is this?” He takes a bigger drink.
“It’s wine. But it’s…taken at the right time. In the right way. With the right people.”
Sirius tips his head. “That sounds like Socrates.”
“Great old wizard, he was.” Meliae beams.
Remus takes a deep breath. “À votre santé, my friends.” He downs the drink in three swallows.
“Well, I’ve never known you to be wrong, love.” Sirius tips his glass at Meliae and follows suit.
James looks at Sirius, then at Lily. “Here’s to…whatever happens next.” He hesitates. “Meliae…”
“It’s not tea, James.”
“Ah.” He eyes it one more time before downing it.
Lily’s fingers tremble, but she brings the cup to her lips and drinks.
Peter looks at his glass like it is filled with blood. “I…”
Meliae’s eyes flash. “Drink it.”
Red pulses through her hair. “Drink.”
His gaze scurries around the room, then flashes out the window before turning back to her. “What did you do to it?”
She has followed every motion of his eyes. “You drink that. Or I’ll make your insides your outsides.”
Sirius puts a hand on her thigh. “Jesus, Meliae. Cut Peter a break. He’s not used to–”
She wipes his hand off and stands up, advancing on Peter. Her fingers curl into claws and her face changes shape.
Remus’s hand is half-way to his mouth, Sirius is reaching out to Meliae, Lily is pressed back against the pillows of the couch, and James is moving in front of her when everyone freezes in place.
“Drink it, mortal, or I shall change fully into what I am and scorch your eyes from your head.”
Peter is frantic, scuttling away from her into a corner under the window.
“They are out there. They are watching you.”
“I…I know! I know! I don’t…I can’t…!”
She raises her arm and two huge flashes of light fill the front yard. Death Eaters scream and stagger about, blinded.
Peter hiccups and tears pour down his face. “Meliae…please…help me…” He reaches a hand out to her.
“There is no help. There only is. You will follow your thread. It is Woven.”
“Oh, God, Meliae, what am I going to do?”
“You will do as you have chosen to do. One thread is heavy. Another is light.”
“Please…p-please…what does that mean?”
She brings her arms to her sides and closes her eyes. Her face shifts back, but her hair is black. When she opens her eyes they glow black as well. “It means what it means.” She floats his glass over to him.
He yanks it out of the air, spilling some on the carpet. He sucks it down then gasps for air. “What is it, Meliae? What is it going to do to me?”
She smiles, but it is like nothing he has ever seen before. “There is no place for you here tonight. You will make your excuses and you will leave.”
“But…these are my friends…I love…”
Her eyes and hair swirl from black to red. Sparks fill the air around her. “Do not speak of love.” Her smile widens and her sharp teeth glint in the light. “It is a word beyond your ken.”
He drops the glass on the floor and it shatters.
She waves a hand and it reforms. “You will leave here. You will not sully what transpires in this home tonight.” Another move of her hand and he is back in his chair. “And you will speak of this to no one. I will know if it is otherwise.” Her eyes and hair return to normal.
“Y-Yes, Meliae, I – I – I’ll go, yes, all right, that’s what – that’s what you want – that’s what…”
She raises her hand and Sirius’s leap concludes. He takes her by the arms and pulls her to his chest. She molds herself to him, her eyes still on Peter.
James moves fully in front of Lily and holds her behind him. Remus covers his mouth, his eyes huge.
“Sorry! Sorry. Didn’t mean to get scary.” Meliae looks at Remus and grins. “I’ll just sit down, then.” She breaks Sirius’s hold without even trying and flounces back to the couch.
“Jesus, love. Really.” Sirius sinks down next to her and takes her hand. “Don’t do that.” His is shaking.
“Sorry. Sorry.” She kisses his cheek.
“W-Well,” Peter stands. “I – I have to go.”
There is a tumult of refusal.
“No, no, really, I have to…” His eyes flit to Meliae and away. “I have a busy day, tomorrow, there are lots of things…” He flies to the entryway and grabs his jacket.
They follow him and the entryway fills with goodbyes. Only Meliae stays away, her eyes never leaving Peter’s face.
After the door closes, they drift back to the living room, each one quiet.
“That was weird.” Remus rubs his jaw.
“No really.” Lily shakes her head. “He’s been coming and going at weird times a lot lately.”
“Yeah.” Sirius is thoughtful. “It’s true.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Did you see the look on Peter’s face when Meliae stood up?” He giggles again.
Sirius snickers. “He looked like he had suddenly found himself on a hippogriff!” He laughs out loud.
“One that hasn’t eaten in a while!” James howls with laughter.
“No, he looked like he did that one time when we told him he had to find a date for Winter Dance by the end of the day!” Remus doubles over.
Lily smiles over at Meliae as the men trade jokes and laughter. “This thread is. . . light? Right now?”
Meliae smiles back and fills Lily’s glass. “Smarter, you are. Now think of the next joke.”
How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down
(from Blowin’ in the Wind, by Bob Dylan)
When he arrives on the scene, it is crawling with Muggles. “What the…” He shoves through the little gate and freezes.
“Sirius!” Hagrid calls him from the shade of a huge tree.
“Hagrid, what’s going…”
“’S alright, Sirius, really, jus’ go home.”
“I went to check on Peter…he wasn’t there, and I’m…” He takes another step forward. “Why are all these Muggles…” His eyes reach the roof. All the color drains from his face.
Sirius pushes past him. “No, no, no, no, no…”
Hagrid grabs his arm and holds him back. “Go home.”
“What the fuck!”
“’S He Who Must Not Be Named, ‘m sure of it.” He wipes his face on his sleeve. “God almighty.”
“What happened? What the fuck happened? Where are Lily and James? Where is Harry?” He turns to Hagrid. “Where are they?”
Hagrid pulls his coat back. “Got ‘Arry.”
Sirius stumbles to Hagrid’s side. “You’ve got…but where are…” His eyes wrench back to the cottage. “They’re…” He turns back to Hagrid. “They’re not…”
Hagrid pulls him in tight. Sirius shakes against him. “Sirius, they…”
Sirius sobs into Hagrid’s massive chest. “This – this is it, isn’t it? It’s this. Oh, God, oh, God, not this, not this, not this this…it’s supposed to be me! Me! Me!” His voice is a scream at the end.
“What’re yeh on abou’?”
Sirius wrenches himself away. He stands his ground for a moment, then turns to Hagrid, his face set. “Give Harry to me, Hagrid. I’m his godfather. I’ll look after him.”
“I’ve got ‘im, Sirius. Takin’ ‘im to Dumbledore. Said Harry was ter go ter his aunt an’ uncle’s.”
He reaches out, his hands still shaking. “That’s insane. I’m more his family than those…please, Hagrid…let me take him.”
“Now, yer in no shape ter do anythin’ about anythin’, Sirius. Yeh…”
Sirius is pressing his hands to his eyes. “Hagrid, please, please give Harry to me, please…”
“I got me orders, Sirius, an’ I’m gonna follow ‘em.” He wraps his coat back around the tiny figure.
“I’m t-trying very h-hard here not to…to…” He fists his hair.
“Got my orders from Dumbledore.”
Sirius drops his hands from his head. “Dumbledore?”
“Yeh. Great man, Dumbledore. He knows wha’ he’s doin’.”
“Yeah…yeah…” Sirius’s eyes stray back to the ruined cottage. His hand presses in on his chest, his eyes sweeping from foundation to twisted, blackened rooftop. “How? How? How? How?” He chants in time to the desperate beating of his own heart. “It isn’t possible…it’s not possible…who could possibly…” And then there is a single soft click in his brain…
Hagrid pulls Sirius back to his side in a crushing hug. “Yeh find yer mates, Sirius. Yeh need ‘em.”
“My mates. Yeah.” Sirius nods, his eyes dead. “Take the bike. I won’t be needing it anymore.”
The explosion blinds him.
Sound washes over him. His eyes are closed but he feels them, both of them, just there, behind him, and he is sure that if he turns, he will see them. He almost does turn. But he stops.
He opens his eyes. The street is destroyed. He should run. A part of him is running already, fleeing over broken concrete, lifeless bodies…
A bird overhead slows its flight, then stops, suspended in midair. Everything is silent.
Sirius looks around.
She is there, sitting on a letterbox.
“It should have been me. It should have been me! I’m the one that broke the Vow!”
Her orange eyes sweep him, foot to head. “We must, each of us, balance. There is no way around it. It is the law of this realm.”
“They paid for my decision!”
“That is not a weight you must carry. That, and this – these are someone else’s threads.”
“It’s my fault they’re dead!”
She hops down, walks through an electric pole. “There are always more threads. There is the thread of your debt, and there is the thread of James’s decisions, and the thread of Peter’s; the threads of these lives, and all lives, cross. There is no you. There is no them. You do not truly know what occurred. You do not know the final accounting of anyone involved.”
“Meliae, if there was ever a time to speak clearly, now is that time.”
She smiles. “I speak as clearly as I can.”
He breathes, in and out, shaking. “Meliae, help me…”
She reaches him, curls her arms around his waist. “My love, do not fear. I love you.”
“Will you be there?”
“I will. When you see the veil.”
“What veil, Meliae? What are you talking about?”
“I can say no more. This is the thread you must follow.”
Sirius shakes his head. “I don’t know if I can…”
“You are a good man, Sirius.”
“A good man. How does that…help me? Right now?”
“It is an accomplishment, to be a man. Not a child. Do not undervalue what you have done these past months.”
She pulls away. “A friend of mine once said, ‘He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.’ Whatever comes, you cannot know it, but it will be beautiful…like shards of glass in the sun.”The bird resumes its flight overhead; the noise of the street crashes in.
She is gone.
“I love…you…more than…” He presses his hand to his chest. He can feel them, he can feel Meliae, he can feel everyone, everything, all these shattered pieces, in his heart.
A wizard Apperates in front of him. Magical Law Enforcement agents Apperate around him.
He straightens himself, throwing his shoulders back, his grey eyes flashing. “It will be…beautiful.”
They move toward him, wands out, pointing straight at his heart.
He throws his arms out from his sides, his face turned to the sun, laughing.
I want to thank (down on my knees, hands pressed together in supplication) Abigail, my faithful beta/editor, who has been with me through thick and thin, and has helped to shape this story with invaluable feedback, support, and humor. I would have gone completely round the bend had it not been for her.