After Sirius Black wakes up on the floor, five years after his death, and the first thing he says is “Harry,” desperation pushing the words past his lips before his brain has caught up with his mouth—
After he realizes that he certainly isn’t in the Department of Mysteries any longer, surroundings settling into a fairly ordinary looking Muggle flat around him, after the shriek and the sound of breaking china, after he’d jerked up onto his elbows to face the blonde girl standing in the doorway to the kitchen, a cereal bowl in pieces at her feet—
After the girl pulls a wooden stake from seemingly nowhere, and is on him in a heartbeat, pointy edge grazing the skin of his chest, all the while yelling for Will to get in here, now, please—
A girl with red hair stumbles into the living room in her pajamas, spots Sirius, who has just realized that he is naked, that his limbs are trembling with shock and cold, that for all his strength, he can’t move the blonde girl one inch away. Her eyes widen, and she says Oh, crap, I thought that was a dream.
It was the third Sunday in a row Remus had taken the tube down from Grimmauld Place to central London, and he didn’t much care for it. Not that he minded London itself—it was where he’d spent most of his adult life, after all. But the heart of tourist London, decked out for the holidays, glittering with fairy lights and spotted with pine boughs, the gleam of the ice rink at Somerset House, the hateful chill, the £6 mulled wine specials, the bloody tourists—it was a bit difficult to bear, when Remus was unemployed and heartsick.
But bear it he did, because all of his contacts had told him the same thing—if he wanted to find the Phasmatis Silentum, the best place for it was the book market under Waterloo Bridge, on a Sunday afternoon. It had been three weeks since the Department of Mysteries, and there was only one book that could help him.
There were four or five rows of folding tables set up under the Bridge, on the cobblestones of the South Bank in front of the BFI, all piled as high as possible with books—paperbacks, bestsellers, John Grisham novels, battered copies of The Lord of The Rings, Doctor Who spinoffs, political tell-alls, hand-drawn zines, yellowing Milton collectables. Remus had seen them all, probably pawed through them all in the course of the last two Sundays. He’d spent most of his time among the leather bound hardbacks without titles, but most of those were meant for tourists, and contained little better than vapid Victorian gossip. He thumbed through them all nonetheless, hoping that maybe one of them was the Silentum, charmed to appear meaningless to the careless observer, but none of them melted into the right words while he held them.
Nevertheless, he was back, coat too thin against the harsh wind off the Thames, gloves stripped off and shoved in a pocket, weighing as many books as he could in his bare hands. He shuddered at a particularly cold gust, and reached for the next promising book in his row, only for another hand to pick it up first, although Remus’ fingers were inches away.
“Sorry,” the hand’s owner said in a mild American accent, and Remus looked up. A tourist, by the look of him—young, dirty rucksack slung over one shoulder, sheepskin jacket, ginger hair. Merlin, but Remus hated tourists. “You can have it.” He held the book out.
“Thanks,” Remus said, and when he went to take it, their fingers brushed. They both inhaled sharply, and Remus struggled against the sudden flood of information the touch gave him: the kid was sad, exhausted, vaguely bitter, close to his Change. On second glance, he was pale—too pale, dark shadows under his eyes, a familiar tightness around his mouth. The wind must be numbing Remus’ sense of smell, or he’d have known it sooner. Werewolf.
“Well,” the kid said, blinking. “That was unexpected.”
“Don’t mind me,” Remus managed. “I’m just looking for a book.”
“That’s cool,” the kid said, nodding seriously. “I’m into books.”
Remus gave him a tired smile. “I’m afraid I’m looking for a particular book.”
“Maybe I’ve seen it,” the kid suggested.
“I doubt it,” Remus said gently.
“Yeah,” the kid said after a pause. “That’s a possibility too, I guess.” He wandered away, and Remus kept checking the books, but his concentration was shattered.
His awareness of the kid was painfully focused, because he kept moving into and away from Remus’ field of vision. He disappeared briefly as he walked up the South Bank, towards the Eye, reappearing as he headed to the National Theatre, vanishing into the café directly opposite the book market, where he bought a coffee. He stopped, finally, at the railing overlooking the river, only he didn’t even pretend to be looking out at London, leaning back on his elbows, looking at Remus.
An hour later, and the Silentum had not appeared. Remus replaced the last book on the table and tipped his head down to his chest, feeling himself sway slightly with fatigue. He’d been so sure.
“Hey,” the kid said, suddenly there, one hand cupping Remus’ elbow, supporting him. “You okay, man?”
“Fine,” Remus said hoarsely, blinking away the cobwebs at the corner of his vision. “I’m fine. I’m sorry.”
“Seriously, though, when was the last time you ate anything?” the kid looked concerned. Remus wondered distantly what he’d felt through the touch transfer. Nothing good, probably.
“I’m fine,” Remus repeated, but the kid shook his head.
“You’re about five minutes from passing out. Come sit with me for half an hour so you don’t end up dragged to the hospital.”
“I can manage,” Remus tried, but his head was still uncannily light.
“Nope. Come on, old man,” the kid said, and there was something about his voice—calm, determined—that reminded Remus of the long dead, which was the only reason he could think of that he agreed to be led away.
You weren’t in heaven, were you? the redhead, who is called Willow, asks him anxiously. Please, please tell me you were at least in some kind of hell dimension.
I don’t even remember dying, Sirius tells her. Dying. He’d died.
It turns out Willow Rosenberg, twenty two year old American witch, had raised Sirius from the grave in her sleep.
No, not really, she protests, while they wait for Willow’s friend Xander to bring clothes for Sirius to wear. You weren’t really dead, it’s just that you were beyond the Veil, which is, apparently, uh, more permeable than was previously assumed.
So he was only mostly dead? Buffy cracks, giving Sirius a not entirely hostile look. He resettles his blanket around his shoulders. Blonde, steely eyed, apparently part demon, with long golden legs and a stubborn mouth. Fifteen years ago, she would have been exactly his type. Now she reminded him of nothing more than his niece. His niece who he still didn’t know for sure was alive.
Yeah! Willow agrees, enthusiastically. And also, it probably wasn’t totally in my sleep.
Buffy shrugs, getting up to grab something from the kitchenette. I just thought I was the prophetic dreamgirl, Will.
Well, it wasn’t a prophecy, Willow says. It was more like a—memory. Uh, well, someone else’s memory. Specifically, um. Oz’s memory.
Whoa, Buffy says, and tossed Sirius a blue box. Been a long time since I heard that name. To Sirius, she adds—Eat the Pop Tarts. They’re good for you.
I know, Willow says. It was an old memory, though, I think. He was here. In London, I mean. Talking to this other werewolf. And by the end of the dream, I just—knew what to do.
What was the other werewolf’s name? Sirius demands. He may be stuck in a Muggle flat, without clothes, his wand, Floo powder, or maybe even his magic at all—he’d tried becoming Padfoot, and it hadn’t worked—and Willow might be the strangest witch he’s ever met, who does not own a wand and has no idea how to contact the Ministry of Magic—bloody Americans—but he needs, he needs to know what had happened. To Harry, to Remus, to the Order, to the tattered remnants of his family.
Um, it began with an R, I think, Willow says apologetically. He only said it one time, and I was a little preoccupied with Oz. He’s my ex, you know, and it’s kind of hard not to give those your full attention.
Remus, Sirius says unquestioningly, his blood quickening. It was Remus.
Twenty minutes later, Remus found himself in an EAT café, underneath the Royal Festival Hall, hot coffee in his hands, the kid sprawled out in his chair, not looking at Remus, but watching the other customers curiously.
“You know, I was really expecting more tweed,” the kid remarked casually, and Remus raised his eyebrows. “Some bowties. Elbow patches.”
“Just stepped off the plane, then, have you?” Remus asked.
“More or less.” The kid smiled. “American werewolf in London, it’s a little tripsome. I’m Oz, by the way. Unless you want me to answer to ‘hey you,’, which is, admittedly, also an option.”
Oz raised his eyebrows. “Were your parents psychic?”
Remus gives an unwilling laugh into his coffee. “Unfortunately, no. Just unlucky.”
“You were young when you got bit, huh?” Oz’s voice was mildly sympathetic. “My cousin Geordie got turned when he was eight.”
Remus raised his eyebrows. “And what about you?”
“Oh, I was seventeen. Geordie didn’t like being tickled.”
“Young,” Remus said, and he means it. Is this what the rest of his life will be like? Tired, alone, being rescued by children with old faces?
How did he look?
Uh, she hesitates. He looked kind of tired? But overall okay, she finishes hastily, casting an uncomfortable glance at Buffy. Just, you know, maybe a little sad. I mean, obviously he missed you.
How long ago was this, Sirius rasps.
She bites her lip. Five years, she says reluctantly. At least.
Oh, Merlin, he whispers.
“So, I figure I should tell you something,” Oz said finally. “Well, probably two things.”
Remus waited. He knew there had to be a catch.
“There was this girl,” Oz tells him, smiling faintly. “She was really important to me. The most important thing in my life, for a long time. I thought she was it, you know?”
Remus closed his eyes briefly, although it didn’t help. He could still see Harry’s face, drawn and anguished, one wild half step away from blaming Remus for not getting there sooner, before settling on blaming himself. “I know.”
“And then,” Oz continued carefully, “Due to some—circumstances—beyond our control, I ended up having to, uh.” He paused, jaw clenching briefly. “Leave. For a while.”
Sirius had left for a while. At the time, Remus had thought it was forever.
“And after that—the Changes, well. They got a lot harder. I mean, normally they’re bad, but you know that—how you sometimes, uh. Hurt yourself, because you can’t get out.”
“I know,” Remus murmured.
“But this was different,” Oz said. “It was like the wolf was dying. I’d change, and then I wouldn’t be able to move, the whole night. And when I’d wake up—it would carry over? I was insanely tired, all the time. Not depressed. Like, my-bones-are-made-of-adamantium-and-I-don’t-have-healing powers, tired. Heavy.”
“I know,” Remus repeated, because he did. He’d gone through the same thing the first time Sirius left, when James and Peter had died, or so he thought, when Harry was whisked away where Remus couldn’t reach him. He thought the wolf might simply have been heartbroken.
“If I hadn’t had people to get my back—” Oz broke off. “You have people, right?”
Arthur and Molly, who had been afraid of Sirius, despite everything they knew. Albus, who Remus was trying very hard not to blame. Nymphadora, who teared up whenever Remus walked into a room. Harry. “Yes,” said Remus. “I have people.”
“That’s good,” Oz said. “There’s actually a cure, though.”
Willow is talking into a tiny plastic box that she has pressed to her ear. Yeah, I know! she exclaimed. And I think—okay, you know Luna, my contact from the Blackfriars coven, right? Also, oh my god, sidenote—do you have any idea how extensive the magical community is here? It’s fascinating! They have their own system of government, and, and money, and their own disgusting British candy, Giles, it’s incredible! Okay, no, you’re right, that’s off track. Anyway, Luna! Well, she totally gave me this artifact for when I was looking for a way to find Los Angeles after it got whisked off our plane, because she thought it might help with the spell. It was this little scrap of this mystical Veil, which should have been helpful because, you know, veils, all about the liminality. Except this particular Veil only lead to, you know, afterlife dimensions, and I’ve been meaning to return it to her forever but I’ve been forgetting, so it’s just been sitting on my dresser. Anyway, I have no idea what could have triggered the vision, but apparently it was strong enough to affect my magic, and I kinda…raised Sirius Black from the dead. Well, he was the last person to pass through the Veil, I guess. No, this isn’t like the Will-Be-Done spell, I’m a powerful Wicca now, Giles, this was something serious! Yeah, okay, resurrection spells are serious. But I mean, like. Something affecting my brain, before I woke up. Mindrape? There’s mindrape now? Have I been mindraped in my sleep? Giles, I don’t want to have been mindraped.
Mindrape? Who was mindraped? A new voice asks from the door, and Sirius whirls to see a man with an eyepatch at the door, a bundle of clothes in his arms.
Give me those, he demands, and the newcomer—Xander, Buffy called him—raises both eyebrows. Sirius reaches for them impatiently.
No need to get grabby, Xander protests, but hands them over. Sirius doesn’t bother any longer with modesty, but drops the blanket and yanks on the trousers.
Ahh! Doctor, my eye!
I’m not complaining, Buffy remarks from the couch.
Sirius has finished dressing. Xander failed to bring him shoes, and the shirt is hideously Hawaiian, but it can’t be helped. He is ready now. He moves for the door, and suddenly Buffy is there.
Whoa, there, cowboy. Where do you think you’re going?
Home, he snaps, and she shakes her head.
Nuh uh. Sorry, pal, your story sounds tragic, but you were dead an hour ago, which means you’re our responsibility. I’m not going to let you go tearing off alone in the middle of the night by yourself before we’ve even figured out if you came back right or not.
Get out of my way, he says with as much calm as he can muster. Or I swear I’ll kill you.
Not really making your case there, buddy, Xander offers from where he has wisely stepped aside.
Come with me, then, he snarls. I don’t care what you do, but I—am—going, right now, to see if my family is still alive.
Will? Buffy asks, not breaking eye contact.
It’ll, uh, probably be a while, Buff, Willow says from behind them. Take him if you want, I really don’t think he’s dangerous. Um, probably. I’m just trying to figure out if this is permanent or not.
Okay, Buffy says, nodding once. Where do you want to go?
Remus waited while Oz explained about the cure, a mixture of Tibetan herbs and an incantation, without really listening.
“And why do I get the feeling that you don’t really give a crap?” Oz asked finally, a line appearing between his eyebrows. “I mean. It’s bad, I know—but it doesn’t have to kill you.”
“I’m not dead,” Remus said. “I am very much not dead. I’m also not interested. Thank you for the coffee.”
“Wait,” Oz said, impassive. “You might be interested in this.” He reached into his rucksack. “I picked this up earlier today, for a friend. The same girl I was telling you about, actually.” He pulls out a book, and in a flickering heartbeat Remus sees it change from a worn copy of the London A-Z into the Silentum. “Now, like I was telling you. I love this girl,” Oz says in a hard voice. “The book goes to her. But if you needed to look through it. Take a picture or two, maybe. Well, that sounds reasonable to me. What do you think?”
“I think you’ve figured out by now that I’m desperate,” Remus said, soft and deliberate. “Our situations are less comparable than you think. The person most important to me is dead. What’s to stop me from taking the book from you?”
Oz looked at him. “You could,” he admitted. “But you won’t.”
“You don’t know that.”
“The way you smell,” Oz said easily. “One of those werewolf things I thought I’d never get used to, but is actually pretty useful.” His brow furrows. “Even if it does still gross me out.”
Remus took the book. He could memorize quickly, if he had to.
Grimmauld Place is empty. The door still opens for Sirius—it probably always will—but no one is inside, not even Kreacher. From the look of it, no one has been there for years. The portrait of his mother starts screaming, muffled under a black drape.
You lived here? Xander asks. Geez, I thought my homelife sucked. And I used to live in my parents’ basement.
Sirius ignores him, but strides to the fireplace. Yes, thank Merlin, there is still some Floo powder left in the jar on the mantelpiece, next to his lighter.
Don’t follow me, he warns the other two, bending down to set the wood alight. The Muggle won’t surivive it, and I have no idea what the security restrictions on part demon girls are.
What are you talking about, follow you? Buffy demands. And what are you doing making a fire? I thought we were finding your family!
I am, Sirius says, and throws a handful of the Floo powder into the fire. Hogwarts, he says, The Headmaster’s Office, and vanishes.
The spell he needed was there. It was also entirely useless.
He thought about Harry, the nephew he might have had, the son he might have had, the student he loved, quietly and fiercely, Harry who had lost so much, Harry who thought that—that it was all his fault, who hated Remus for having some part of Sirius that he didn’t share. He thought about Harry, white and shaking, the questions Remus would never be able to answer.
He thought about going on, about doing this again, going on without Sirius again, and how he hadn’t been strong enough to do it properly the first time, he couldn’t possibly do this twice.
The spell could only be performed by a witch or wizard who had killed in cold blood, who had literally flayed their victim’s skin from bone.
He thought about Sirius. Sirius’ sharp, thin smile. His beautiful long hair, the feel of it under Remus’ fingers, his ravaged face, his shoulders—thin, so thin, under Remus’ hands, Sirius fetid and trembling with exhaustion, in his arms, Sirius who loved Harry like he was his own son, Sirius who had feared for his soul for thirteen years, Sirius at fourteen, golden and sarcastic and already so vicious when hurt, Sirius betraying him, Sirius doubting him, Sirius kissing him, the fragile architecture of Sirius’ skull under Remus’ hands, black dog packmate/brother/friend/kin under the light of the moon.
He memorized the words of the spell, and told himself he would not use it.
He stumbles out of the fireplace in Dumbledore’s office, only it is not Dumbledore’s office anymore. He knows, because the first thing he sees is Dumbledore’s portrait on the wall, twinkling at him.
My dear boy, he begins, but Sirius cuts him off.
Harry, he says desperately, Please, please, just tell me if Harry is alive.
Very much so, Dumbledore tells him, and something in Sirius unclenches, and he can breathe again.
So we won the war, he says in the wash of relief. He’s safe?
Quite safe, Dumbledore assures him.
Dumbledore does not reply, because Buffy is tumbling out of the fireplace, coughing and covered in soot.
Holy shit! she exclaims, looking around the room with wide eyes. I mean. Seriously. Holy shit!
Dumbledore is twinkling more madly than ever. Buffy Summers, I believe, he says. The one girl in all the world.
Uh, not so much, not anymore, Buffy says. Also, holy cannoli, batman, a talking portrait!
Please, professor, Sirius begs.
Ah, yes, Dumbledore says, smiling. Remus Lupin is—
Here, a rough voice says.
Sirius whirls around, and Remus is at the door to the little round office, in his nightclothes, wand outstretched. He is older. There is a new scar on his face, right across the bridge of his nose. It is very similar to the last time he saw Remus, after a long absence.
Moony, he whispers.
Remus’ wand-arm does not waver. I don’t know what kind of cruel prank this is, he says quietly. But you will both explain what you are doing in the Headmistress’ office, immediately.
Moony, it’s me, Sirius says brokenly, reaching out.
The wand twitches in his direction. Don’t take one more step, Remus says in a low, furious voice. I am not inclined to show you in particular any mercy.
Do you not get cell reception in here? Buffy asks at Sirius’ side. He had nearly forgotten about her. She is holding another small plastic box. Because Will can definitely explain this better than me.
Answer the question, Remus snaps. Tell me how you got into this school.
Because it’s me, Sirius repeats. I’m a member of the Order, my signature is coded into Dumbledore’s floo network.
And, uh, I’m a Slayer, Buffy says, shrugging. The rules don’t always apply to me. She blinks. I mean that in a totally nonthreatening way, of course. We come in peace. Kind. I actually came to make sure he didn’t start craving brains, she said, jerking her thumb at Sirius.
The last thing I remember, Sirius says, desperately, We were at the Department of Mysteries, rescuing Harry. Bella hit me with something. I woke up in her flat an hour ago, I swear.
That’s common knowledge, Remus says derisively.
When we were seventeen you caught me jerking off over Keith Richards, Sirius tries. You have a freckle behind your left knee, just between the tendons. We made the Marauder’s Map, you, me, Prongs, and a vile little traitor. You snogged Narcissa Malfoy behind the Quidditch pitch when we were fourteen. You bought these fucking ugly beatles mugs for our first flat, and then you never used them. After Harry was born, you and me and James all cried.
Pensieve records, Remus says, but his voice is shaking.
Have you ever put any of that in a Pensieve? Sirius asks. Do you think I would have ever put that in a Pensieve?
You are not Sirius Black, Remus says, as though it is the one thing he knows. Because Sirius Black is dead.
I used to be, Sirius tells him hoarsely, only now I’m not.
He can see the moment when Remus believes him.
“Take it,” Remus finally said. “Although you should know. If your friend wants it to raise the dead. You would be better off not giving it to her.”
Oz studied him. “Is that so?”
“In fact,” Remus said, and almost laughs. “In fact, I would burn it.”
Later, after Buffy tries to kill Peeves, after Minerva strides up the stairs in a tartan nightgown, demanding to know what her Defense Professor, a resurrected war hero, and a part-demon are doing in her office at three in the morning, after Dumbledore’s portrait starts benignly hinting that Buffy still has a sacred destiny and Buffy starts less than benignly hinting that canvas burns, and she comes equipped with zippo, after Willow and a stunned man in tweed are brought through the fireplace, after Minerva makes tea, after Sirius presses a clumsy kiss to Remus’ scarred forehead, after Remus starts shaking in his arms and says not again—not again—I can never do that again, Padfoot—
After all that, Willow asks Remus about the werewolf named Oz.
I honestly have no idea, Remus says, with a viselike grip on Sirius’ wrist, as though he’ll try to run if he doesn’t keep hold. That was the last I saw of him.
He never gave you any book, though, Will, Buffy points out.
No, Willow says. It was, uh. It was that summer after you died. I asked everyone I could think of for help, and I, I just never heard back from Oz. I was. I was pretty mad at the time.
He did the right thing, Remus tells her, but draws Sirius closer.
Same old Oz, says Buffy, after an uncomfortable pause. Still trying to protect you.
Not that I guess it made much difference in the end, Willow says softly.
Let’s not go down that road, Buffy tells her. Bad road.
Bad bad road, Willow agrees.
So, this is a, a magical school, you say? the man in tweed asks Minerva. He polishes his glasses. In a castle in Scotland. I’ve actually been looking into this kind of thing myself.
I want to see Harry, Sirius says quietly, so only Remus can hear him.
All right, Remus says. In the morning?
In the morning, Sirius agrees.
There are still unanswered questions, Minerva interjects. Such as which Legilimens could have planted Mr. Osborne’s memory in Miss Rosenberg’s mind.
As I might have mentioned, Dumbledore’s portrait tells them kindly, that is where Miss Summers comes in—
Stoppit, stoppit, Buffy says, holding up one hand. No more prophecies! I am not the Chosen One.
I mean, the last I heard, Oz was in Thailand, Willow muses. But, uh. I don’t know. Maybe it’s finally time to track him down?
Soon, Sirius will need to hear the list of the dead. Soon, he will see his godson, and hear about all the brave, horrible, amazing things he has had to do to keep the Wizarding World safe. Soon he will peel every piece of clothing off of Moony’s body, and ask for an explanation of every single scar. Soon, he will dare to broach the question Willow couldn’t answer earlier, about permanency. Soon, he hopes he will tell her he is grateful.
For now, he leans one shoulder into Remus’ side. The war is over, and he is alive.
Oz leaves Remus by the cluster of shops on the South Bank, and heads across a small pedestrian bridge, underneath the vast white London Eye.
Near the middle of the bridge, there’s an old man playing the djembe. He’s pretty rockin’, actually. Oz stops to listen for a few minutes, nodding his head, and drops a few pound coins in the guy’s hat when he finishes.
“Hey, can I borrow your lighter?” Oz asks when he’s done, and the guy nods, handing it over.
Oz smiles at him, then unzips his backpack, pulling out the Phantasmis Silentum, holding it in his hands for a minute.
Willow had sounded so desperate on the phone. “Oz, she. She’s trapped in some kind of, of hell dimension, and she’s counting on me to get her out. Please. I’ll do anything.”
He flips the book open to the page that had made Remus turn white. He looks at the illustration, then snaps the book shut.
“This one’s for you, Will,” he murmurs, and presses a quick kiss to the cover. He flicks the lighter open, ignoring all the people suddenly yelling at him. When the book is damaged enough that it should be unreadable, before the fire touches his fingers, he drops it over the side, into the Thames.
He hands the lighter back to the old guy, and keeps walking.
There’s still time.