And time and the world are ever in flight;
And love is less kind than the gray twilight,
And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.
- W. B. Yeats
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” he admits sullenly, collapsing on the couch beside her.
She wraps an arm around his shoulders and pulls him closer to her, brushing her lips across his forehead. “It’ll work out in the end,” she reassures him, mumbling in his hair. “James is just as stubborn as ever.”
“It’s too bad the afterlife doesn’t offer some sort of reprieve from our worst personality flaws,” Sirius mutters in reply. Lily snorts in a very un-ladylike manner.
“He’ll come around.” She makes an attempt at reassurance again, at making him wish for more of that happier future she keeps predicting.
“I’m tired of waiting.”
Lily sighs, squeezes him tighter. “The afterlife is all about waiting. You should know that by now.”
“I’m starting to think that things between me and James will never be right. That things will never end up like they're supposed to.”
She smiles gently and turns her attention back to the half-finished puzzle on the table. She doesn’t look at him, but she says softly, “Have a little faith.”
Sirius laughs out loud at that. He’s spent a lifetime without faith and he’s not quite sure he can muster enough strength to start believing now.
His attitude makes the apartment atmosphere even more tense than usual. James becomes agitated easier, quicker to snap, so Sirius takes to spending more time out of the apartment. He feels bad about leaving Lily behind to deal with James’s teenage outbursts, but he makes sure to return to the apartment before night falls, slipping into the easy comfort of Lily’s presence.
He follows this pattern for a week until he begins to wonder why it is he’s never strayed outside the apartment at night. He mentions this to Lily and she shrugs, saying, “In all the time we’ve been here, we haven’t either. We’ve just never thought of it before, going out in the dark.”
“We should go outside some day,” Sirius murmurs, staring out the window at the ink dark sky, “just to see what we’re missing out on.”
James looks up from the crossword he’s doing, his fingers tapping out secret messages that Sirius wishes he could decode on his bent knee, and he says, “I don’t think so.”
Sirius narrows his eyes. “Why not? Afraid of the dark?” he retorts.
“I didn’t realize I was invited,” James replies coolly. “I was simply saying that there’s no way you’re dragging my wife outside with you.”
Lily’s face darkens and Sirius, he really doesn’t want to be here because he knows when an argument is about to brew, can feel the tension building, threatening to burst until all three of them are at each other’s throats.
“James,” Lily growls and she’s finally had enough. “The both of you are acting like a bunch of jealous, hormonal teenagers. I suggest you grow up, make amends, patch up your friendship, do whatever it is that’ll make you both happy, and soon. That is, unless you’d rather face the rest of eternity alone.”
James’s eyes widen and he stares at Lily blankly. “But you’d be with me, wouldn’t you?” he asks, confusion evident in the furrowing of his brow. “I wouldn’t be alone. And surely Sirius would be able to stay with someone else – Remus, maybe, when it’s his time.”
Sirius stiffens as the words flow freely from James’s mouth. At first, he can’t really understand how easily James can give him up in place of Lily – because it really seems as though he’s genuine in these remarks and that he’d be able to survive forever without seeing Sirius again – but then again, Sirius muses, this wouldn’t be the first time he’s lost to Lily. The makeshift stitches that close those wounds still threaten to rip, still make him gasp for air in the middle of the night in an attempt to fill the hollowness of his chest. It is funny how before, James’s words just made him angry and desperate, but now they leave him empty and aching.
It’s obvious by Lily’s gaping mouth that she really hadn’t expected James to pick up on the slip in her speech. That she isn’t ready to tell him he can expect her to depart, maybe not now, maybe not ten years from now, but eventually. Sirius has spent so much time observing the both of them that he picks up on subtle movements – like James’s fingers beginning to twitch and the trembling of Lily’s bottom lip (he’s sure if she were still alive, a faint blush would begin to creep up the back of her neck) – and he knows that perhaps it isn’t the best time to stick around if he’d prefer not to watch the beginning of a full-blown war.
So he pulls himself off the couch and yanks the door open, already feeling the electricity running like a current through muscle and bone in a futile attempt to keep him inside.
“Where are you going?” Lily asks, pausing briefly in her stare-down with James to glance up at him and then panicking as understanding dawns in her eyes.
If he were anywhere else but in this fucked-up world of an afterlife, he’d feel guilty as he shut the door behind him without a word. But he doesn’t.
He stumbles his way to the bench, his toes catching on some cracks in the pavement that he could have easily missed had he seen them in the day, and finally feels the familiar wood running below his searching fingers. He sits down with a huff and fumes silently to himself, thinking back on how immature James has been acting and how he’d go insane if he didn’t have Lily. He can’t see now how he could have ever hated this woman who’s given him so much already, who’s trying to give him the life he’s always wanted in search of her own happily ever after ending.
He sits on the bench silently and he loses track of time – funny how he still tries to count time in minutes and seconds when they no longer have any meaning, after all, he has an eternity lined up in centuries before him, and that thought alone scares him. What could he possibly do for centuries in this empty, lonely London? Would he be able to spend that much time with someone, with James? Those thoughts about running out of things to say creep back into his mind and he trembles, wondering how everyone else deals with these terrors when thinking of forever.
He closes his eyes and tries to even out his breathing, making a conscious effort to not think of these new revelations. Instead, he digs through his memories and tries to relive the happier moments he had spent with James when he wasn’t being a rash, hot-headed, barely-out-of-his-teens jerk. He thinks back to the day they first met, when they took an impromptu swim in the lake and James had to save his sorry behind because he didn’t know how to swim. Consequently, that led to swimming lessons at the Potters’ during the summer months and though he didn’t realise it then, Sirius sees now how that summer cemented their friendship, sees how much trust he had to have put into James. He knows now that James has always carried Sirius’s life, curled safely in the palm of his hand, and he wishes James would put that same trust in him. But he smiles softly, a barely there curve of his lips, and he knows they have an eternity to build on that trust, an eternity to redefine their feelings for one another, if only James would let him.
When his eyes finally flutter open - minutes or hours later, Sirius can’t be sure - he’s still met with complete and suffocating darkness. He stands up stiffly and looks around. He’s in front of the antique shop, but he can’t quite understand how it is he came to be standing here.
He stumbles his way back towards his apartment and tries to remember the last thing he did. His brain is a haze of muddled thoughts trying to swim through the waves of confusion. He remembers arguing with James earlier that day and giving Lily a new bouquet of flowers after his walk. James doing the crossword and Lily getting tired of the constant bickering and then…then…
He can’t remember. It’s just – blank.
Sirius falters slightly when he hears his name being called and he takes a moment to regain his bearings.
“Lily?” he calls back, and sighs in relief when a black mass begins running towards him.
They collide and Sirius almost topples backwards as Lily throws her arms around his neck.
“Oh, Sirius, we were so worried about you. When you didn’t come back after a couple of hours we decided to go look for you. Don’t you ever do that to us again!” she scolds.
She loosens her arms slightly, only to peer into his eyes and glare at him.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbles, “I didn’t realise how long it had been.” Then he hesitates. “Did you say we?”
“James is only doing what he thinks is best, Sirius. You know what a stubborn fool he can be. Don’t think his aggravation means he doesn’t care about you at all. He did come out into the dark to look for you. If something had happened to you out here…” She shudders and Sirius wraps his arms around her tighter.
“Lily – ” he starts and pauses, doesn’t know how to word this so he doesn’t sound like a complete lunatic. “- you said that I had been gone for a couple of hours. When exactly did I come here? I don’t…I don’t remember.”
Lily frowns and brushes hair from his face, taking a closer look at his face. “Are you all right? What do you mean you don’t remember?”
“I don’t remember coming outside at all…I remember when we were discussing coming outside at night and you getting angry with James, but after that it’s just…nothing.”
Lily looks momentarily stunned. Sirius steps out of her embrace and shrugs.
“Weird, huh? It’s not like I’m drunk or anything…”
“Lily? Sirius?” James’s voice interrupts him, calling to them from somewhere in the shadows.
“We’re by the antiques shop,” Lily calls back.
Sirius briefly wonders if it’s as easy for Lily and James to find their way in the dark as it was for him. He hears shuffling and finally a black figure emerges from one of the side alleys. He hears a sigh of relief.
“There you two are,” James says as he finally stops a few feet away. “I was worried. Are you okay, Sirius?”
And Sirius, he can tell that James is genuine but he can’t be sure if it’s his own doing or at the persistence of Lily that he’s acting civil. But Sirius replies anyway, “Fine, James. I’m sorry I worried the both of you.”
Lily shivers suddenly as the electric charge in the atmosphere seems to intensify. “Let’s go home,” she says, turning to walk back towards the apartment. “This gives me the creeps.”
Sirius still doesn’t think of it quite as fondly; there are no roots to tie him down yet, no memories to make the loss of such a place leave a gaping hole in his chest except those few moments when he actually felt young again. He’s glad that Lily feels connected to the apartment, like it belongs to her, and he hopes that wherever she goes in the future, she’ll always remember this home, remember him.
He’s sure that his opinion will change, in time; if things turn out the way Lily thinks they will and they all get their happily-ever-after. Lily turns to smile at him then, her hands firmly encased in both his and James’s, and Sirius smiles back, though he can’t help but wonder who it is that makes Lily happier than she is now.
They make it to the apartment in no time and Lily releases a sigh of relief as they step into the golden glow cast from the light of the landing. As soon as Sirius steps through the doorway of the apartment, he’s suddenly on his knees as the weight of his lost memory comes rushing back to him in one quick moment.
“Sirius?” Lily exclaims alarmed, on her knees in an instant, shaking his shoulders slightly. James kneels down as well and gazes at him with concern.
“This is so fucking bizarre,” Sirius replies, blowing out a shaky breath.
“What happened? Are you okay?” James questions.
Sirius shakes his head, tries to sift through the thoughts running rampant in his mind. “I just…it’s like I never forgot anything. It’s all…come back to me, so sudden.” He’s frustrated and confused and nothing about this afterlife makes sense to him.
Lily sits back on her haunches and her eyes are bright with understanding. Sirius thinks Lily’s always been far too perceptive. “Perhaps that energy – did you notice it? – it was as though…”
“It was like your memories were being sucked right from your subconscious,” James mutters.
“But neither of you experienced any sort of memory loss,” Sirius points out.
“We weren’t outside for nearly as long as you were,” Lily reminds him.
“But it came back. Why did it come back?” Sirius questions. “If the dark steals our memories from us, why give it back to us once we’ve returned to the light?”
Lily shrugs. “I can’t explain everything that goes on here, can I now?”
“You could certainly try,” James replies with a laugh.
Sirius thinks there are some aspects of this world that no one will ever understand.
One day, he can’t be sure how long it’s been since he had ventured outside at night, he passes through a narrow hall leading to the kitchen and he catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror, stopping short at what he sees. The reflection staring back at him shocks him and he reaches a hand forward, fingertips dancing across the reflective glass. Then his hand moves of its own accord to his face, running across smooth skin.
“Sirius?” James stops – not as though he’d have a choice considering the width of the hallway only allows for one person to walk through – and looks at him with a questioning glance.
“James. James, look at me,” Sirius murmurs, tearing his gaze away from the mirror. “I look young again.”
“Not quite as young as me,” James retorts back, but he says it with a smile and he rests his hand on Sirius’s shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.
“Lily hinted that something like this might happen,” Sirius replies, turning back to the mirror and smiling at the bright and youthful face staring back at him.
“We don’t really understand why it happens,” James says, “but you’re not the only person we’ve seen this happen to. My parents…I mean, they weren’t young, but my father did die before my mother and she…when they were reunited, she looked like she wasn’t a day older than him. It was nice to see them that way, to see them happy.”
“Did you see them a lot?”
James shrugs. “When Lily and I first arrived we did. But now, we don’t feel like we need to. It was just a sense of closure for us, finality. It helped pass the time.”
Sirius is silent for a moment, contemplative. “How – ” he pauses to gather his thoughts, “ – how do you go visit other people? Lily said it was possible, though she said it relied a lot on your relationship with people.”
“Is there someone you want to visit?” James asks.
“I don’t know,” Sirius answers half-heartedly. “I just feel like I need to get out. I feel trapped here and…” he trails off, suddenly afraid he’s let on to too much of how he’s feeling.
James coughs slightly, but he nods his head in understanding. “Let’s get out in the open and we’ll talk, hm?”
They end up sitting side by side on the sofa and though he tries not to, Sirius can’t help but think back to that first night he spent here.
“Do you know the park? The one around the corner from the music shop?” Sirius grunts and James takes this as confirmation before continuing. “Okay, well, you have to go there. There’s a white tree, it sits by the far end of the park, by the gated entrance. Just…just sit there and think about the person you want to see. Depending on your ‘connection’ to that person, you’ll either have to sit there for a few minutes or a few hours. It’s not really that hard. Just after a while, you lose your desire to see other people. That’s the only reason people don’t do it more often.”
Sirius leans back against the couch and lets it all sink in. That’s probably the most he’s heard James speak since he’s arrived and he says as much. James laughs and gives Sirius an affectionate punch. Sirius smiles and though he knows they’re still far away from where he wished they were, it’s better than nothing.
The sky is overcast but there is no sign of rain and Sirius doesn’t know why he’s so grateful. He thinks that maybe he’d find it humorous because doesn’t it always rain during the climatic moments in horribly, clichéd movies? He bites back a laugh as he reaches the park and this is the first time he’s been here, though he’s passed it on his numerous walks, and it’s nothing unexpected. He walks slowly, spots some beautiful flowers that he can’t name and thinks that he’ll have to grab some on his way back, an apology to Lily for leaving without saying a word. He knows she’ll be worried when she wakes to find him gone, but maybe James will be smart enough to catch on, to know that he’ll be back, once he’s found his closure.
He finds the white tree easily enough – it stands out against the grey backdrop of London – though if he has to admit it, the entire park, with its green grass and brilliantly coloured flowers, is a welcome change. He nurses his bottom lip between his teeth as he collapses against the tree, revelling in the feel of the cool grass against what skin he has exposed. He rests his head against the rough bark, closes his eyes and hopes, thinks maybe.
He swivels on the spot, his eyes sweeping the park for any sight of the flowers he had originally seen and wonders…
He exits the park quickly and heads in the opposite direction of the apartment. He knows these streets, knows they lead him to a place that’s only brought him disappointment and imprisonment in the past. But this time, today, he hopes he’ll find his path to forgiveness and freedom.
His feet stop before a familiar house and he wonders if it still looks the same inside. He doesn’t have to wonder for long because his feet are already on the steps and his fist is already raised to knock before he even has time to take one breath. He raps on the door sharply and fidgets, waits impatiently until the door swings open and he exhales a breath he didn’t realise he was holding.
“Sirius? What are you doing here?”
Sirius swallows reflexively, stares at the young boy in front of him and feels unfamiliar emotions threatening to overcome him. His mouth opens and closes a few times but he can’t force the words he so desperately wants to say.
“Come inside,” Regulus offers, opening the door further to allow his brother entrance.
Sirius stumbles into the house and is taken aback by how bright it is. Even during the time of the Order’s occupation, the house had still held its dark décor and sinister atmosphere. But here, here it feels somewhat like home.
Regulus stands awkwardly in the middle of the room, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. “What are you doing here?” he repeats.
“When you came to pick me up,” Sirius starts, “you have to understand how confused I was and how strange this place is. I just…I wish I had taken the time to speak to you then, to tell you how sorry I am.”
Sirius shrugs. “Everything. Throwing you out that night before you were killed, running away from home and leaving you…I didn’t mean to make you so bitter. I didn’t always hate you. I just, you know I couldn’t live there – here – any longer.”
Regulus closes the distance between them and pulls Sirius into a brief hug. “I don’t blame you for any of that Sirius. I can understand why you turned me away. After all, we were fighting on separate sides of a war. Come on, let’s sit down somewhere.”
Sirius’s hands flutter helplessly as his side but he follows Regulus to the parlour, sitting on one of the old, stiff couches.
“Still,” he says, “I feel a lot better now that I’ve apologised and let you know…how I felt. I just…it was hard for me. You were so young when you joined Voldemort’s ranks and I thought maybe, maybe if I had been a better big brother, if I hadn’t run away at the same age you went off and joined an army that it could’ve been prevented.”
“You blame yourself for me joining Voldemort’s army?” Regulus laughs. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard of. You know how proud father was and mother – finally, her youngest son would make something of himself, would prove that their first son was nothing but a distant, horrible memory. But Sirius, you don’t…you don’t understand what I did, what I died for. It’s…something I wish I had been able to explain to you for so long. You don’t see how nice it is to finally be able to explain myself…”
Sirius furrows his brow and replies, “What do you mean? You were killed by Death Eaters trying to get out of the army.”
Regulus is shaking his head before Sirius even finishes. “That’s what the letter you were sent told you. It was the easiest way to break my death to you – I knew you wouldn’t feel bad about anything if you thought it was my own foolishness that got me killed. Of course, it was my own foolishness,” Regulus mumbles, “but I didn’t try to do anything stupid like get out of Voldemort’s ranks. Even I knew that was hopeless. No, no I did something much worse.”
Sirius is silent and patient as he waits for Regulus to tell him his story. He listens with rapt attention as Regulus tells him about the Horcruxes and his stomach does an uneven flop as he thinks of what Harry must do to put an end to the second war, how dangerous it must be. He can’t bear to think of being there to collect Harry any time soon. But he pushes those thoughts aside for a moment as Regulus tells him about the locket and the cave and how Kreacher played an important role in this fatal mission.
“I knew about the prophecy,” Regulus admits. “I tried to tell you about it, but you wouldn’t listen. I just, I wanted to give them a chance to be able to live. I thought that maybe I could end this once and for all.”
Sirius feels a swelling pride erupt within him as he finally understands what Regulus had done, what he had sacrificed for him and his makeshift family, despite abandoning his real family.
“Regulus,” he murmurs softly, unable to look into his brother’s eyes. “I – thank you. You might not have saved us all but you…” he trails off and he can’t express his gratitude without choking up. He can’t feel guilty about pushing Regulus away, but he’s still upset with himself, still angry that he couldn’t be the big brother he was supposed to be. “Thank you,” he whispers again and this time, he’s the one to grab Regulus’s shirt and pull him into a hug.
Regulus grins and it’s hard for Sirius not to see their similarities – in the way his hair falls gracefully into his face and he smiles like he means it, teeth bright in the artificial light. He feels an aching in his chest that reminds him of a life he might have had if he listened to Regulus in the first place, if he had trusted Regulus like Regulus trusted him.
“Don’t beat yourself up over this,” Regulus chides him, and Sirius thinks it’s funny that he’s being reprimanded by his younger brother. “I could have tried harder to prove myself to you. It’s as much my fault as it is yours.”
“Should we split the burden of our guilt then?” Sirius asks, though he feels better now, like a weight has been lifted and he can breathe freely now.
Regulus shakes his head and laughs. “It’s not like you can feel guilt anymore anyway.”
“That’s true.” Sirius pauses momentarily. “Why do you think that is, anyway? That certain feelings get taken away from us? Kind of like the memories we lose in the night – though those can come back and these feelings can’t.”
Regulus quirks an eyebrow. “You went outside at night?”
“I didn’t know any better.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t. I haven’t been able to find anyone to explain the memory loss to me, but the feelings – I have my own theory about that.”
He doesn’t continue but looks at Sirius expectedly. “Are you asking for my permission or are you going to tell me?” Sirius retorts.
Regulus looks at his brother fondly before continuing. “I’ve found that when we first arrive in the afterlife, there is one thing and one thing only that our souls crave more than food, oxygen – necessities we needed to survive when we were alive – and that’s forgiveness. We all do things in our lifetime that warrant guilt, things that linger and haunt us even years later. In order to live peacefully in this afterlife, to be able to survive forever without driving ourselves insane, we all just want to feel absolved of our sins.”
Sirius has a hard time believing this is Regulus speaking to him. His younger brother, always-eighteen, explaining the afterlife to him in a manner that reminds him of Lily. But he pushes that thought aside for now.
Instead, he asks, “So in order to be able to live forever without feeling weighed down by our guilt, we just don’t feel that emotion anymore?”
Regulus shrugs. “That’s just the way I’ve interpreted it, you know. It makes it a little easier to be at peace with our demons if we’re not constantly feeling chained by them.”
“Makes sense, I guess. I just…I felt like there was this tug-of-war going on inside me and there was something that kept telling me that I should go see you. I was getting so agitated and I felt like I was trapped, you know? Is that…do you think that’s why I had to see you? So I could stop feeling like I had abandoned you, that I had let you down…”
Regulus's fingers are curled tightly into the sleeve of his shirt and he looks at Sirius with a fierce emotion in his eyes. “You came here to ask for my forgiveness, Sirius. Though I feel as though you haven’t done anything that I didn’t deserve, I’m giving you this. I’m forgiving you.”
Something in Sirius snaps, like the tension of that tug-of-war rope, stretched too thin and finally breaking, and he exhales noisily, closing his eyes as a sense of tranquillity passes through him.
“Feel better?” Regulus questions.
Sirius gives him a quick smile and mumbles, “Like I’ve finally been absolved.”
“As you should be.”
“You know, you remind me an awful lot of Lily,” Sirius mutters suddenly, looking at Regulus through narrowed eyes.
Regulus laughed loudly, carelessly; the mood becoming lighter, less morose. “Really? She’s a sweet girl,” Regulus shrugs, “but I mean, we certainly don’t look anything alike.”
Sirius rolls his eyes. “Just the way that you’re both know-it-alls about the afterlife. You’re far too insightful for your own good.”
“Someone in the family had to have that talent and it obviously wasn’t going to be you. You can be rather obtuse sometimes.” His tone is teasing.
“How do you know Lily enough to know she’s a ‘sweet girl’?” Sirius suddenly asks.
“Everyone who knew her saw how kind she was, how accepting.”
“The way you said it, though,” Sirius argues, “it was like you knew her personally.”
“Or not as obtuse as I believed,” Regulus replies, raising an eyebrow. “I wasn’t…friends with her, but I was friends with a very good friend of hers. I saw the way they interacted despite the fact that there were certain social restrictions that said they shouldn’t.”
Sirius looks at Regulus blankly. Then as if a light bulb has gone off in his head and there’s a sign screaming the answer at him, he breathes out the one name he never thought he’d have said under the circumstances, “Snape.”
Sirius thinks about it, relives memories of their years at Hogwarts and remembers James’s irrational anger towards Severus. “Not really,” he admits.
“She loved him, you know,” Regulus says.
“She still loves him,” Sirius replies evenly, surely and everything falls into place now. He knows now who will give Lily her happily-ever-after.
“No note, nothing! After that stunt you pulled the other night…” she rants as his offered flowers rest meekly in her clenched fingers.
Sirius wraps his arms around her thin waist and gives her a reassuring squeeze. “’m sorry, Lils. Really. This was something I needed to do on my own.”
He can feel the anger leaking out of her as her body relaxes slightly into his embrace. “You could have at least told me where you were going,” she mumbles into his shirt. “James wouldn’t tell me anything.”
He pushes her away enough to look her in the eyes. “I just needed some closure. I didn’t want to make you worry enough about where I was going.” He slips his fingers into hers, easing open her fist and pulls out a vibrant red flower from the bunch. The stem snaps easily and he sneaks it behind her ear. “A pretty flower for a pretty girl?” he attempts with an easy grin.
Lily shakes her head but laughs, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. “I’m going to miss you,” she sighs. “I never thought…you’re such a very dear friend to me, Sirius.”
He knows now the man who has her heart, the one who’s always had her heart, but it’s not the time to make this confession, especially not since he can hear James making his way down the narrow hall from the kitchen. Instead, he hugs her tightly again and says, “Love you too, Lils.”