Actions

Work Header

not reached the stars

Work Text:

I'm glad he's in Azkaban, Remus thinks. I'm glad I'm glad I'm glad I'm glad.

The night James and Lily die he is in Le Havre, tucked in a four-poster with Emmeline Vance under a canopy of silken vines. When they take Sirius, still laughing, across the corpses into custody, he is splashing water onto his face, brushing his hair, dragging Emmeline out of bed and down the street to their contact’s house. His mum went to school with Madame Bonnaire, who knows absolutely everyone and treats Remus rather more gently than her three sons. She gives him coffee, and croissants, and cause for mourning and celebration. His head swims and he has to sit down and he salts his coffee liberally with tears, curled into her arm, with Luc and Serge patting him tentatively and Emmeline frantically trying to Floo-call home for news of her parents. Emmeline lives in Godric’s Hollow herself, three houses down from James and Lily.

After he dries his tears and obediently gulps down his breakfast, he goes back to their shared room and begins packing. The sensitive things first, papers and maps and dossiers: no point throwing anything away, and not his decision in any case thank Merlin. Then his clothes, folding up and the shoes walking themselves into his trunk, scarves chucked in anyhow and the travelling cloak swathed over the whole lot, the closed trunk shrinking to the size of a portmanteau. He’s been living in France three months, now, left in August just after Harry turned one, on the heels of a blistering row with Sirius. The sooner he returns the better, Sirius has no idea what to do with a baby. Sirius hasn’t… Sirius hasn’t written, not on his arms at least.

Remus is stripped down to his boxers and trying very hard not to panic—there are ways to kill, to hurt, without leaving a mark, he’s seen enough victims of Avada Kedavra to know that, too well, too well—when Emmeline throws the door open and bursts in, red-faced like she’s run all this way, like she’s too anxious to Apparate. It takes her five minutes to be able to speak.

They took Sirius from the street across the strait and into the towers, no trial, no day in court, nothing needed for such obvious crime, such laughing confession. Remus doesn’t want to believe it at first, can’t bear to. Those last months he and Sirius had spoken only to fight, the flat filled with vicious repartee and cold silence, Sirius shrinking every day into the cold, aristocratic boy he had met on the Hogwarts Express at all of eleven, and Remus himself shrinking further back, to the five-year-old newly-bitten boy who had lashed out at everyone hoping for proof of love. But Sirius is a good dog, even if he has learnt how to be a good man late and not too well, and James had held his leash such long years that betrayal seems impossible. But his parents who had done so longer and earlier, must have thought the same. Every betrayal is a return to some more ancient loyalty, and Remus was only the last of the men to whom Sirius had sworn his heart, or not the last, not the last, if Voldemort was there, if Voldemort is dead.

He comes back with the reports while Emmeline is rolling up their safe-house, putting away their false identities, dismantling their networks, content to linger a week with her parents safe, with Remus’ world shattered thrice over. Diagon is still lit up, like Halloween has flown into Christmas with no breaks, everyone celebrating and all the boarded-up shops decked out and freshly stocked. People he knows stop him to shake his hand or embrace him, Mr. Luminaire forces a Butterbeer on him and tells him his job’s still waiting. When he gets past, down Diagon and up Phroog, and into their building, Sirius’ solicitor is standing in the lobby with a tight smile, waiting to hand him the keys to the flat and inform him that Sirius transferred ownership a fortnight back. The flat is spotless, Spikenspan cleaning-witches spells on every surface and a discreet card with the date of cleaning stuck in the letter-box, the pantry full and a cooling charm keeping the bread and vegetables fresh. He thunks his suitcase down in his room, sets the reports in their file neatly on his emptied desk, and goes into Sirius’ room.

At midnight, when he’s dragged Sirius’ trunk out and thrown all his clothes in, his boots, his leather jacket, his most formal dress-robes, his manuals of motorbike maintenance, sent in two shrinking charms to make room, and is hunting for his cookbooks, his knives, his handwritten notes on haute cuisine, Remus’ chest burns. The skin over his ribcage splits, spits out a little blood, leaves a stinging line of pain, vanishes. Another appears, then another, and Remus watching himself in the bathroom mirror, bared to the waist to spare his clothing, watches as Azkaban claims Sirius for one of hers. At one, when the marks have all disappeared, and he’s sitting on the bed staring at Sirius’ Beater’s bat, a line appears on his arm, then a word, then entire lines in a dusty black like they’re being written in charcoal, or dirt,

Moony are you alive I wont ask anything else just tell me if youre alive

Remus sits watching till the marks fade, takes a bath and weeps into the water, dresses in creased pyjamas and goes to bed. In the morning he goes to Moody’s house and hands over the reports, has lunch in the Griffin’s Head and goes in to the Library to work out a new schedule with Mr. Luminaire. There’s work to be done, both at his job and still for the Order, the last tatters of war trailing on bloodied ground. The hunt for the Lestranges eats into his spare hours; he goes to bed exhausted and wakes with lines of blood drying down his thighs, over his chest. Sirius says nothing more, nothing new.

On Christmas Eve the ragged remnants of the Order gather to remind each other that they have survived and to remember those who haven’t. Too many gone, too many lost, but the alcohol is passable and the food is good and nobody treats him like a stranger or a leper or a curiosity, and he goes home replete with contentment. On Christmas Day the Tonkses descend on him en masse and drag him off to eat with them in their new home and admire Dora’s attempts at flying. The next day he goes back to work, shelves books, works overtime, works till he’s too tired to do more than thinking about writing Sirius a letter, a manuscript, a very Iliad of woes on his skin.

On the 5th of January, Sirius writes, this time in blood welling up

            Happy Anniversary Moony Bellatrix said youre alive

After that, silence for weeks, months. In July Remus sends Harry a toy for his birthday by Muggle post, and goes to see his Mum, whose talent for gardening age has not withered. He sits down in the dirt among the flowers and lets her sink a hand into his hair, stroke till he is nearly asleep from the bliss of it. Nobody has touched him beyond hearty handshakes since the war. Nine full moons spent ravaging his own flesh. Nine months sleeping alone in what used to be Sirius’ room, used to be their flat. Nine months of being surrounded by his ghosts dead and living, all invisible alike.

 

In August he goes to France again, sits in Le Havre a week letting Madame Bonnaire fill him up with food and gossip, and then goes east and south, to Paris and Dijon and Lyon and Geneva and Genoa and Milan and Verona and Venice and Zagreb and Zadar and Split and Sarajevo and Skopje and Thessaloniki and Alexandroupoli and Sarkoy and Silivri into Istanbul, staying nowhere longer than two months, teaching English at Muggle schools and dealing with magical pests in exchange for chains at the full, passing through the roiling underbelly of the wizarding world. The magic changes as he goes east, becomes less restrained, less hidden, mingles more easily with the Muggles until his second day in Istanbul a girl he could have sworn is a Muggle asks for his help in dealing with a djinn and pays him in food and three days’ lodgings and a new network of contacts all the way down to Lahore.

He doesn’t make as quick use of them as he ought. Istanbul is old—in its bones older than London is by a good few thousand years—and every stone in it echoes down to other stones deep-set in the earth, thrumming with magic. People have lived in Istanbul before it knew it was a city, and stared across land and across water at each other and worked magic to draw closer, worked copper into amulets and stored hope in them, twisted it into wire and drawn it into wands and willed the world into becoming. It has had many names, many lives—some before remembered names—and it takes Remus into its arms easy as anything, draws him in till the air, the earth, the water are familiar to him, speaking will to will, magic to magic. He stays his usual two months, then three, then six, furnishes his rooms in Fener with rugs and sets up his books and buys more, sleeps amid silk cushions and wakes with the muezzins calling the faithful to salat al-fajr, works in the Edirnekapı Halk Kütüphanesi and walks in Balat Park and picnics in Belgrad Forest, marvels at the Hagia Sophia and sends spices home to Molly and Andromeda from the Egyptian Bazar, eats fish in Kumkapi and  döner kebabs in Tsarshi. On the fulls he goes down into the Yarimburgaz Caves and brushes growling shoulders with strangers in the night. He lives, breathes deep for the first time since the war, for the first time in years, and thinks I could stay here forever.

On Halloween he wakes deep in the night with blood pouring from his arm, washes it off to find a perfect set of teeth set into the tender skin of his wrist, scoring deep.

When they were practicing to become Animagi, James had told him, they were stuck in partial transformation half the time. He had had a tail for a week, Sirius claws protruding from his foot, Peter a patch of fur on his belly. The teeth are canine, the flesh, he thinks, the flesh human. A dog couldn't set teeth and hold, hold, hold against pain so long. Three years since James and Lily died.

The next day he spends packing, sorts through his things and gives away whatever he can’t carry, folds his books into his shirts and stuffs socks and hankies into his shoes and goes to the Library to resign and to Alya Yilmaz, who glowers at him a full five minutes before sighing and saying unflattering things about foreigners and why is she so stupid, and wrapping him up in an embrace. By evening his rooms are bare again, two changes of clothing laid out on the bed, all the finery folded away, his trunk waiting to be strapped down and shrunk.

He waits up all night for signs of violence that never come. The bite-mark over his wrist stays, deep and angry, and it is difficult to use the hand. The left hand, the left arm, where they brand the Dark Mark.

In the morning he goes round to the Consulate in Tsharshi and takes Morgan Bulstrode out for lunch and stuffs her full of döner kebab, hamsi, and beer. Over her third beer she says, “Look, Lupin, you didn’t have to do this. What do you want, papers? You know we can’t get you any of that, you have to go to Ankara.”

“No, I know,” he says, takes a bite of the kebab and chases it with a gulp of beer. “I’m going to Ankara tomorrow. I don’t know whether I’m going home, or just further out, yet. That’s what I need you for. Can you tell me if Sirius Black’s dead?”

Morgan stares at him till he flushes a dull red, ears burning, and then a while longer. She was a Ravenclaw in school, Head Girl when he was a titchy second-year, and has unconditionally and marginally-illegally helped him find his feet in Istanbul, found him a place to stay and recommended him to the Library. “He’s not dead. Not yet. He tried to kill himself two days ago, but they caught him in time. He’s going to be under constant guard now, I should think.”

“I’m not planning a rescue mission,” he tells her, halting, miserable. The way she’s looking at him, the way it’s going to get worse. “I think he should rot in prison till he dies. I just...”

He shoves the sleeve of his jubba up over his elbow, unbuttons his cuff and rolls it carefully down over his wrist, still inflamed, still tender to the touch, and sets his arm on the table.

 “When you go to the Embassy,” Morgan tells him, “ask for Rowan Porlock. Now cover up and eat your lunch.”

 

From Ankara he goes on east, travelling slower now, staying longer in each city he visits. His parents had been fond of travel, and much of France and bits of Germany, the northern reaches of Italy were half-familiar to him from long summers spent trailing in his father’s antiquing wake or watching his mother invade kitchens and gardens and learn tricks of the trade. Just after Hogwarts James and Sirius had decided on a Grand Tour and dragged him and Peter unresisting along: in Thessaloniki he had found the tavern James had set up camp in, in Geneva felt Peter’s ghost beside him as he watched spring burst into flower, in Venice propositioned the gondolier because he looked so like Sirius in the half-light of the setting sun. Of his friends, of his family, none have stepped foot in Asia, it is new ground, clean of memory and of haunting. He savours every day of it, lingers months over harsh mountains and steppes and the wild beauty of magic, the elegance of the scrolls of it, the ley-lines curving around minarets and carving mountains into homes clinging to air, easing the everyday war of life, cushioning it. He teaches English, and English ways of magic, and gets pulled in for piece-work by Embassies and Consulates, and smuggles people and weapons and opium often and once gold, and lets the weight of war become a habitual loss, pulling at his heart as his scars pull at his skin, predict foul weather, help him pick associates he need not trust.

Owls find him in Kirsehir and Kayseri and Sivas and Erzincan and Erzurum and Agri and Khoy and Tabriz and Zanjan and Saveh and Kashan and Mehriz and Anar and Mahan and Jiroft and Zahedan and Taftan and Dalbandin and Nushki and Quetta and Bhakkar and Samundri and Faisalabad and Lahore and Islamabad and Peshawar and Kabul and Kunduz and Taleqan and Fayzabad and tell him news of Dora starting school and becoming a prefect and leaving school and becoming a trainee with MLE. Other owls come in the beginning, flood his first year in Asia as they had his years in Europe, but the distance grows too far for their wings, for the quills and hearts of the writers. Andromeda persists, finds him in every city he chooses, finds him in the mountains and on disputed land, among refugees and immigrants and vagrants, brings him a scrap of England, a bit of home, the reassurance of being held safe in memory.  

Sirius finds him everywhere, three years’ silence washed away by blood. At first, while he’s still in Turkey and his first few months in Iran his skin blooms words scrawled in rust and blood and he thinks Sirius must be trying to kill himself, but slower this time, iron pressing poison into flesh, into blood.

moony tell me something about harry he must be so big now I mi

and

do you remember the time we got the cutlery to sing christmas carols

and

Moony we were happy weren’t we we didn’t always fight we were happy

and

one time I did something and my cousin shes here with me I cant remember her name she tried to flay me do you remember that spell that was popular when we were in school

and

the rats Moony the rats there are so many rats none of them the right rat how will I know the rat thats real

and

in 107 there was outright war between the elves and goblins we do not know why the elves lost or where they then went

and

Moony theres a girl in the next cell and at food rounds some of the humans go into her cell and theyve stopped coming into mine but I wish they still would because it hurts and shes so little

and

on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to a partridge in a pear tree on the second day Moony did I ever let you eat my heart

and

Harry must be so big by now he must be how many years has it been Moony I cant tell anymore but he must be oh he must be seven or eight does he look like James are his eyes still green Moony Moony I know you blame me I blame me but tell me tell me tell me

and

his name is Harry his name is Harry his name is Harry his name is Harry his name is Harry his name is Harry his name is Harry

and

is your name really Moony and why am I writing to you and you never write back are you dead are you dead are you real or did I make you up I don’t remember did you like me are you real are you alive

and

Remus Lupin Remus Lupin Moony my Moony Lupin RJ John Lupin Lupin Lupin Lupin Moony Moony Moony Moony Moony Moony Moony Moony

and

Hullo my name is Sirius Black can you read this who are you

and then, finally, mercifully, while he is still in Tabriz, silence, words cut off again by some restraint whose mechanisms Remus has no way of scrutinising; even the clawing dries up while he is in Saveh, the flow of blood going the way of the words. Silence, silence, his body bearing only his own scars, the marks left by a hard life and by the full moon which grows harder every passing year.

He holes up in the Jebal Buruz his last full in Jiroft and comes out of it running with a Balochi pack, stays with them through Zahedan and crosses into Pakistan at the Kuh-i-Taftan, Aadil and Baasim laughing and saying he’s the only legal thing they’re taking across the border. It’s a young pack, men his age and a little younger, brothers and cousins, come out to Iran on a raid and running back, and as pleased to have him as anything they might sell at market for high price, and as unwilling to turn him loose.

It is the first pack Remus has had, all wolves and men who know him bone and blood and are eager to pick his brains. He lives with them for a year in the end, instead of the three months he had thought to, running the length of Balochistan with them, and finally, finally, taking Aadil’s face in his hands on his first day in Dalbandin and kissing him deep and thorough and hungry and realising the next morning that Aadil is nothing, nothing, nothing, like Sirius, is thin and wiry and has a nose slightly too big for his oval face and almond-slanted eyes and coarse beautiful curls and that he still wants him, loves him, and is happy to be loving him, a sweet shallow sort of feeling nothing like the scarred knot of his heart when he thinks of Sirius, even now, still, always. He’s going on thirty, now, and hasn’t the energy for the sort of love that harrowed his late teens and early twenties, wants life easy and a lover who has to accept only a bit of his heart and rest content. Aadil is all smiles that morning, that month, the rest of that year, throwing comfort and contacts at Remus, finding him legal work and good lodgings and telling him what to eat and how much to pay for everything he buys and boring his pack with love-songs that Remus can’t understand till Baasim leads a coup against him. He trails after them to Nushki, and then on to Quetta, where he’s taken into a quietly elegant house in the Suleiman Mountains, at the eaves of the Hazratganji-Chiltan National Park, and introduced to Aadil’s aunt who runs the whole concern. Naaz Khatun runs eyes over him and shakes her head and subjects him to an interrogation of the sort Dumbledore would have been proud of and then shrugs and sends him off with Baasim and keeps Aadil on for further questioning.

He stays in Quetta for months that feel like weeks, teaching English at the Islamia High School and going home to Aadil’s flat in the Shahrah-e-Liaqat, dines on pulao and khadi kebab, goes to football games with Baasim, and restaurants with Aadil, and to carpet factories with Naaz Khatun. Aadil presents him a carpet for his thirty-first birthday, and presses him down on it and makes love to him till the muezzins call for salat al-fajr and they curse and untangle themselves and Aadil curses again when he forgets to heat up the water before splashing it on his face.

In April Aadil prepares to head out again to Iran, and Remus goes the other way, to Bhakkar on the banks of the Indus, and on through the Punjab to Lahore and north into Afghanistan, to Kabul and then further north and west. He has some idea of going to India through the Wakhan Corridor, too many years as a child gobbling Kipling books acting on him, pulling him like a magnet north. Meanwhile Afghanistan is beautiful, beautiful, the skies open above him, a great blue bowl pressing down against the mountain peaks, the people enchanting, attractive beyond all sense.

His years of smuggling have earned him enough money to take a little house on the outskirts of Fayzabad and read, arrange his notes in some order and work some of it into a travelogue. Aadil comes down for his thirty-second birthday, bearing carpets and post that a very confused owl had dropped on his head in Quetta. Andromeda, telling him how Dora is doing, and disbursing gossip; a black-edged letter from his solicitor, telling him his Mum’s died.

 

He gets home in April, delayed by bureaucratic wrangling and the crushing pressure of his own grief that left him prostrate a sennight in Fayzabad while Aadil rushed around trying to get transport and pack his papers and his flat and by the necessity of taking shelter for the three days of the full. His mother is buried by then, and Madame Bonnaire comes with him from Le Havre to pay her respects and bid farewell.

He intends to pack up the house and sell or give away much of what it contains and leave again, but his father had been born in that house and died in it, and his mother had spent four decades of her life in it, and Remus had grown up in it and longed for it all his years in school. He goes through it with some care and finds he cannot countenance selling any of it, or giving it away, or moving it from the place it has occupied these long decades. Even with the exchange rate he has enough money to live on for a little while, and he needs very little, after all. There’s his mother’s kitchen garden in the back, his books and artefacts commingling comfortably with his father’s, the writing desk his mother had given his father for their fifteenth anniversary, shackles in the cellar that he can reinforce. He can live as well, write as well, in Kent as in Fayzabad, and with a lot less stilted translation involved in every conversation.

Andromeda visits him in the summer, sends him an early invitation for Christmas, warns and cajoles him not to leave again. He goes to London, quite early in July, to speak to his solicitor about the rent from the flat which has been collecting steadily for the last decade and—though he’d only ever set it at a nominal amount—has amounted to enough that he can live on it for years yet, even without a job. He wants to send Harry a birthday present, but the boy doesn’t know him from Adam and he hasn’t bothered to learn much of his life. Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived: Remus is the only Englishman who knows nothing of him beyond the first several months of his life, and he finds himself reluctant to remedy that. He has stumbled onto peace in his travels and wants desperately to retain what scraps of it he can.

He doesn’t go up to London after that, nor to Hogsmeade, stays in his parents’ house and writes out his travels and sends them to Warlock! for consideration, spends Christmas with the Tonkses and stays up the night talking to Dora, who hates her name with an amusing intensity, plans out his garden for the impending spring.

In March he turns thirty-three and Andromeda and Dora bring him a gigantic chocolate cake and rifle through his belongings and ask for stories and share their own: Dora’s of being both the best and worst at stealthy operations and the haplessness of her batch of Auror hopefuls, Andromeda’s of the trials of being an entrepreneur and the wife of a civil servant and a disgraced Black all at once. When they turn hopeful eyes to him he tells them, and is surprised to find that he can tell them, about living in Istanbul, about eating Kadayıf Dolmasi in Erzurum, about the caravanserai in Kayseri and its medieval castle still standing, about the Elburz mountains and the lofty city of Taleqan, about smuggling men and guns and swords and carpets from Iran to Pakistan, about running with his own kind and rejoicing in it. He does not tell them about the gondolier in Venice, about the men he had chosen for a night or a week, about Aadil, who he had hoped to love in an easy fashion for years on end. To Andromeda he will forever be hovering at the lip of twenty, as Dora is now, and to Dora he cannot disclose these things with any great ease.

In May Sirius writes

I am Sirius Black I am Sirius Black I am Sirius Black I am Sirius Black I am Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black Sirius Black

up the length of Remus’ left arm and down his leg, in smooth, bloody calligraphy and, as the month dies, writes again, on his palm, on his arm, on every scrap of skin he might conceivably reach

hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at Hogwarts hes at