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Lights Were Paling One by One

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And I would lay my head on your breast;
And you would murmur tender words,
Forgiving me, because you were dead
- W. B. Yeats

***

The thing about the afterlife, Sirius thinks, is that people have too many misconceptions about the whole idea. He has learned already that there is no white light at the end of the tunnel, no path to a higher entity that tells you of your fate. He’s only recently learned that not everyone remains in a holding cell either, subjected to a slow and cruel torture by a man named Gabriel who, after decades of helping wizards and witches find the easiest transition between life and death, still has yet to learn to keep his mouth shut.

There is still a waiting period, a time for the now-deceased to accept that they are dead, to sit and contemplate their life that has now passed. It’s not always cold cement and hard, wooden benches; it’s what you make of it, James says, what you first imagine death to be like when you’ve crossed that line between breathing oxygen and then redemption (after a while, feelings like guilt and sorrow are rarely ever felt; only love, anger, forgiveness).

Sirius isn’t sure where he would’ve found himself had he died naturally or through some other means rather than finding himself suspended in time beyond a veil, waiting for James to come and collect him, only to be disappointed when it’s Regulus there. Regulus with his innocence still intact and forgiveness in his eyes, in his heart, that Sirius was too blind to see until it was too late.

Perhaps he would have woken on a hard dirt floor, with the musty smell of wet stone and the reverberation of waves pounding into steel and rock echoing in his ears. It would have taken a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and his hands would have reflexively curved tightly over his ears in an attempt to drown out the sound of chains clanking and piercing screams – the dull thrum of life’s marrow being drained by misery and remorse.

It would be just his luck to spend the rest of his (after)life in a hell like Azkaban. Sirius thinks he might have laughed at the irony of it.

He whispers these fears to James when they’re sitting side-by-side on his couch, fingers clutching the necks of glass-bottled warm beer in the hours between sunset and sunrise. The alcohol acts like liquid courage, flows freely between them. He tells James about Azkaban – how life and happiness seemed to seep from the pores of the prisoners and into the waiting mouths of hungry Dementors. The guilt that had been gnawing at him since his imprisonment, the feelings of hopelessness that consumed him when it became apparent no one but himself and a traitorous rat knew the truth, begin to spill freely from his mouth in the form of fragmented sentences, half-choked nouns and verbs.

He says, “I was afraid I’d die a guilty man.”

James remains silent throughout, swallowing Sirius’s fears with every gulp of amber liquor. Before dawn, he wraps his fingers around Sirius’s wrist and draws him close, pressing his lips to the corner of Sirius’s mouth.

Sirius’s regrets are mapped in the trembling of his hands as they clutch desperately to thin cotton, in the stretchtwistpull of ligaments and muscle as his arms are pinned above his head. James leans over him now, his hair tickling his nose and Sirius huffs, laughter light and easy now that he can feel the alcohol coursing through his veins, can taste it sweet and heavy on James’s tongue.

It’s here, in the curve of James’s hand around his neck, the way he mouths apologies and reassurances along the planes of Sirius’s body, boundaries outlined in indigo ink and by years of desperation, Sirius finally knows what it feels like to be forgiven.

***

Sirius wakes far too early, considering he’d only gone to sleep a couple of hours before. There’s a crick in his neck and he’s alone on the couch. He winces as he sits up, rubs his neck tenderly and looks around his apartment through squinting eyes. James is sitting in the chair by the window, legs curled up beneath him and bare-chested. Sirius can see red marks marring his freckled alabaster skin and smirks slightly, knowing that he’s the one who made those.

“If I’m supposed to be dead, I sure as hell wish I didn’t have to feel these aches and pains,” Sirius mutters, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck.

“You’re an old man, now,” James says lightly, though Sirius knows there’s truth to the statement.

James is still twenty-one years old, will always be twenty-one.

Sirius looks down at his own body and feels something akin to shame. He can see the way the years have aged his body, his skin, his bones; every inch of him marked by grief and a lifetime without hope, without faith.

“Way to make a man feel like he’s young again.”

“I thought that was what last night was about,” James replies with a grin – all teeth and that little quirk of his upper lip - that makes Sirius really glad he’s still sitting down.
He has to remind himself that he’s thirty-six and not a teenage boy anymore and to stop relying on false hope. He has to remind himself that offhand comments about his sex life were common among the boys when they were younger, before, before he fell in love with James. James never seemed to have gotten the memo, though, that those comments got really old, really fast.

Sirius looks at James through a curtain of hair and pushes his fringe out of the way. “Do you…do you feel guilty about what we did last night?”

“I don’t feel guilt anymore,” James admits, staring at his hands, at the cracks in the ceiling, everywhere but Sirius’s face.

Sirius bites back the scathing comment lingering on the tip of the tongue, wishes James would just fucking look at him. He finds his tee-shirt hanging over the arm of the couch and slips it on, pulls on his jeans and buttons them as he stands up and walks over to the window, bracing his arms against the window frame. He stares out at the empty street below. The glass is cool against his forehead and the pane fogs up when he opens his mouth and snaps, “Do you feel regret, then?”

“Sirius…” James sighs. “You know…”

“Don’t,” he hisses, turning around and grabbing James by the shoulders, gripping tight. “I don’t want to hear your lies anymore, James. Don’t say this doesn’t mean anything to you.” He’s begging now, pleading for this boy, this man, who’s so old but still looks young, to stop playing with his heart. “I thought…I thought maybe things would be different…here.”

Sirius has never been eloquent with his words – that was Remus, with his Yeats and Shakespeare – and he finds himself faltering when James finally makes eye contact.

“Lily, she’s still my wife, Sirius. We exchanged vows, wedding rings.”

“But she doesn’t have your heart,” he spits out, shaking his head. “You exchanged vows that said ‘till death do us part’. You’re already dead, James. That means –”

James stands up and steps forward, placing a hand on his shoulder, brushing his lips against his cheek. “Stop. We can’t…we can’t keep doing this,” James whispers harshly in his ear. “I did it for you last night because you needed it.”

Sirius can feel himself stumble, but James has a tight hold on him, has always anchored him. “You didn’t feel anything last night?” Sirius looks him straight in the eye, can tell if he’s lying.

“No,” James replies.

He knows it’s not the truth.

Sirius pushes James away, resists the urge to punch him in the face. “You need to stop. Stop acting like this doesn’t mean anything, because I know, I can tell, James. I’ve known you for so fucking long that I can see right through your lies. You need to stop lying to me, to Lily. To yourself. Death, it doesn’t make this any easier to bear. Doesn’t make it any less painful and I don’t know if I can take it anymore.”

James collapses on the couch and buries his face in his hands. “I know,” he mumbles. “I’m sorry, Sirius. I’m so sorry. I can’t - ”

Sirius remembers hearing those apologies before – the kind that slip easily from the tongue. He remembers a burning ache and gasping for oxygen as James leaned above him, outlined by a hazy red-orange glow from the setting sun. James looked so beautiful then, on the verge of tumbling over the edge, fingernails leaving harsh red marks on Sirius’s already on fire skin.

James looks forlorn now, choking on feeble apologies, with his face shadowed in the dim grey light of early morning London and with the weight of unspoken promises and regret. Sirius doesn’t feel anything remotely like sympathy.

He pulls on yesterday’s socks and his trainers and tosses James his shirt when he hears a shuffling from the bedroom. He’s already out the door when he hears a bright ‘good morning’ from Lily and he shuts the door behind him.

***

The afterlife is nothing like he expected. In that holding cell with Gabriel, there were people there to talk to and the four walls that surrounded him gave him a certain sense of solidity and stability. The London of his youth is everything and nothing like the London he finds himself walking through. He finds comfort in the familiarity of the streets and the buildings, though certain places remind him of things he wishes he could have forgotten long ago. But he doesn’t come across a single soul. He finds it bizarre that a city such as London, though he has to remind himself that it’s not really London, can be so barren – like a wasteland, a dump for all the ghosts and skeletons of one’s past. It’s a bit more overwhelming than the actual dying part.

He finds a wooden bench in front of an old (deserted) antique shop. Everything is quiet, still, like the world is still asleep, blissfully unaware of everything – human tragedy, war, heartbreak. But to Sirius, it’s all so real, so personal, and it takes all his strength to suppress the anger that bubbles up – that threatens to pull Sirius apart, seam by seam, until he’s coming undone, unravelling.

But what did he expect to find here, in a place he didn’t even believe in at first? That things would honestly change? That James would no longer be that foolhardy, noble boy, who played carelessly with Sirius’s heart? It would have been a nice thought, if this afterlife could give him anything he wanted at no cost. But Sirius scoffs. There’s always a price for everything.

Sirius wearily rubs his eyes with the heel of his hands, stretching out the length of the bench and focuses on the silence, on finding comfort in the isolation.

He briefly wonders what James told Lily after he had left. What could he have possibly said?

“Look, Lily, I love you and everything, but Sirius and I had sex last night while you were asleep in the bedroom. How about a nice cup of tea, then?”

Sirius snorts and knows that in his heart, James simply told Lily that everything was fine, that Sirius was just trying to adjust, that they were working on making things as they had been.

Sirius can’t exactly figure out what ‘had been’ really is, can’t ever remember a time when he wasn’t kind of, sort of in love with James and James wasn’t trying to convince himself that he’s straight and that everything he does with Sirius is purely for sexual gratification.

Sirius closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and tries to expel his anger, to ease the tension in his body. He feels himself drifting off slightly. Though the bench is hard and uncomfortable, he’s nowhere near James and therefore doesn’t have the need to jump him or punch him, whichever feels convenient at the moment.

“Sirius?”

Sirius is startled by the sudden intrusion on his thoughts and nearly topples off the bench. “Fuck, Lily…where did you come from?” He struggles a bit to sit up, moves over to make room for Lily.

She smiles gently, a mother’s smile, and shrugs. “Shall I explain how a baby is created, then?”

“I see death hasn’t erased your sense of humour,” he replies dryly.

She sits down beside him and wraps an arm around his waist, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’ve missed you,” she admits quietly. “I think James will be a lot happier now that you’re here.”

Sirius thinks they’d both be happier if he had never shown up.

But he says, “I’ve missed you both too. It’s been…it’s been weird growing old without you.”

She says, “Life here slows. The days don’t pass by as quickly here. Your perception of time, it all changes. It feels like only yesterday I saw you standing on our porch with Peter beside you. I don’t remember much from that day, you know.” She looks up at him, her brow furrowed in thought. “It’s funny what your mind chooses to remember of moments you wish you could forget.”

Sirius wishes he didn’t understand what she was saying.

“I don’t…it’s like everything is such a blur, from the moment we did the spell up to the point that you both were leaving with such a weighty secret burdening your hearts. Then…time seemed to slow. I remember what sweater you were wearing, and the way you smelled when you hugged me goodbye. Is it strange?” she asks. Her fingers are now entwined with Sirius’s and she’s holding on tight, like she’s afraid to let him go again.

Sirius thinks he’s supposed to feel guilty at this point. Lily, she hadn’t always been this close to him. It was only when they found out that Voldemort was after them and the life of their son that Sirius began spending as much time as possible at the Potter household, discovering quickly why James had fallen in love with Lily so hard and fast. Lily, she had the temper of a red-head but she always thought before she acted. Her sense of humour was often times sardonic and scathing, but she was honest, and Sirius appreciated that about Lily. He thinks what really sealed the deal with James was Lily’s heart – and how big it is, how giving. She always seems to find the hidden beauty in everyone.

But now, here she is before him, admitting that she missed him and all he can think about is him and James on the couch last night while she was asleep in the next room.

He thinks he’s supposed to feel guilty, but he doesn't.

If she notices Sirius’s suddenly flushed face, she doesn’t say anything. Instead she asks, “How do you find yourself coping with this, then?”

“It’s weird,” he starts off slowly. “I don’t – where is everybody? I thought…I thought that there would be more people, more familiar faces. What happened to Regulus after he left me with you?”

Lily smiles, and it’s genuine, not at all condescending, and she doesn’t act surprised at his questions, as though she was expecting them to be brought up sooner or later. Probably sooner – because it’s not like Sirius wouldn’t ever notice the fact that they’re well…they’re alone, the three of them in his old flat.

“It’s a little difficult to understand at first,” Lily says, “because it sounds absolutely absurd – ”

“How absurd could it possibly be if we’re in the afterlife? The simple thought that something like this exists is absurd in and of itself,” Sirius butts in.

“That’s true,” Lily nods in acknowledgement, “in the case of non-believers.”

Sirius twists himself so he’s facing her side. “Were you always a believer?”

She looks down briefly, but when she looks up again, she looks directly at him. Honest, true. “Not always.”

“When did you…?”

“After we graduated from Hogwarts and we suddenly found ourselves faced with the threat of war, a very real threat, life began to seem a bit more important to me. Then,” her voice is soft, low, reminiscent, “when we found out that Voldemort was after us, after Harry, it seemed like death was very real and imminent. I began to hope, to pray that there was something more waiting for us. I just couldn’t imagine dying and then having that be the end of it. It was difficult for me to accept that.”

“Yeah,” Sirius murmurs, “I get that.”

She squeezes his hand and clears her throat. “But, back to your other questions.”

“Right. Right, so…other people? Because obviously we’re not the only people to have ever died.”

“Of course not. It’s just that we all, we all have our own lives here. The best way to understand it is that we live in different dimensions, or, cells, boxes. It’s all one place, but there are boundaries, borders that separate you from everyone else. It’s not impossible to see other people, but the thing with the afterlife is that it relies a lot on what you did while living. The connections you’ve made with the people you’ve met. So, say Remus dies in twenty, thirty years…it’s not like you can never see him again, but depending on the type of relationship you had with him during life, that is what decides the impact you’ll make on his life here. The fact, the fact that you’re here with me and James right now, says a lot about your relationship with James,” Lily says knowingly, her eyes bright and certain.

“Lily – ” Sirius begins, hesitates, has no idea what to say.

She untangles her fingers from his and rubs her hand up and down his bare arm, bringing comfort with her touch. “I’m not an idiot,” she whispers, resting her chin on his shoulder. “I’ve always known.”

“But…”

“We both have our secrets, Sirius.” She presses a chaste kiss to his jaw, before pulling him into a tight hug. “I don’t think I’ll always be here with you. Not forever.”

He casts a questioning glance in her direction, but she ignores him, looks down at her feet again and lets her hair fall, cascade around her face, like a fiery curtain, a shield against his inquisition.

“I’m not ready to let this go, not yet,” she says. “But eventually…” She looks up again, stares at the abandoned shop across the road. “Eventually I’ll just be another ghost of your past.”

She’s smiling again. Sirius thinks she’s just trying to make him feel safe with these harmless smiles, thinks there should be some poison, venom in her words. He finds none.

After a few pregnant pauses, she stands up and reaches for his hand. “C’mon, James will be wondering where we’ve gone off to,” she says, pulling him to his feet.

They walk back to the flat hand-in-hand. Sirius thinks if he wasn’t already sort of, kind of in love with James, he’d definitely want to spend the rest of his afterlife with Lily.

***

It’s awkward, when they first come back to the flat and James is waiting like a worried mother hen. He stands up, almost falls out of his chair, when the door opens. The room is thick and heavy with expectance and unspoken words, feelings. Sirius feels his stomach twisting in knots, but it’s not, it’s not like he’s angry with James anymore. He knows that with Lily’s permission, with her fucking blessing, James will have to give in eventually, will eventually admit the truth. One day. Sirius, he just can’t wait that long, is so tired of waiting for James to make the first move. And this worry that seems to exude from James is making him sick to his stomach because it’s still proof that James isn’t ready, not yet.

The only one who seems unaffected is Lily, who’s positively beaming. Sirius, he always said that James was the one who shined, who would shine so bright, even in death, because he was always loved. But here, he thinks that Lily – she could outshine them both.

“I could kiss you right now,” he says to her, suddenly. He isn’t sure why he says it, just knows that he really could kiss her right now, if only because she’s finally given him the one thing that had always been unattainable for him: hope.

She laughs, a sound that bubbles up and explodes once it slips past her lips and pulls Sirius close, kissing his cheek.

“Good man,” she whispers, holding him tightly, reassuringly. Sirius can now understand how she’s kept James grounded all these years.

James looks like they’ve both gone crazy, but at least he doesn’t look nervous anymore. Lily pulls away from Sirius, reaches for James and drags him to her for a kiss.

“Today is a good day,” she declares, resting her head in the crook of James’s neck. “A very good day.”

James looks at Sirius, searches for the anger from earlier, the hopelessness. But Sirius shrugs – an apology – knows they’ll sit down and talk later. Maybe the three of them, and work something out, make James understand that Lily knows, has always known that her husband’s heart was never hers to own.

But for now, Lily moves across the room lightly like an angel, an apparition, and she blows the dust from one of Sirius’s old records, slipping it on the phonograph. The first notes hit Sirius like a bullet, a train colliding with him head-on and leaving him to deal with the wreckage, the fragmented pieces of his past.

Lily toes off her shoes and slips her hands into his, casting a cautionary glance in James’s direction. “You’ll get your turn after,” she says airily.

James offers up a small smile and sighs in a way that lets Sirius know that he’s okay, that things will be okay between them eventually. Sirius closes his eyes and lets Lily lead.

***

They don’t talk about it. Lily says to wait until the moment is right, until the opportunity presents itself. Sirius is beginning to wonder if it ever will.

James doesn’t try to kiss him, tries to avoid touching him as much as possible after that first night. He sleeps in the bedroom with Lily and Sirius takes the couch – which isn’t all that uncomfortable as long as he sleeps on it the right way, or else he wakes to a sore neck. But then Lily will massage his neck for him, rub out the kinks and sores of old age and really, he doesn’t mind.

Sirius spends his days walking through the empty streets of London. Sometimes he finds a pretty flower and he’ll take it home to Lily, who puts it in a vase with no water, because hey, it’s the afterlife and if people don’t need sustenance to survive, why should nature?

Sirius thinks it all still takes a bit to get used to.

Lily has collected a nice bouquet to sit on their windowsill and whenever Sirius returns to the flat, he inhales deeply, taking in the slight fragrance the flowers give off. It’s refreshing and Sirius feels light again, free.

Their nights are spent listening to old records or sitting by the fireplace, laughing and reminiscing about their childhood. Sirius has forgotten some of the stories Lily and James tell him again. He doesn’t remember the last time he’s laughed this much or felt this young again, but the aches and pains become less frequent and he thinks, maybe, maybe he could someday look like he was twenty-one again.

He mentions this once to Lily and she smiles that god-awful knowing smile and says, “The afterlife, it’s surprising sometimes, you know?” and leaves it at that.

***

Here, Sirius loses track of time, of the days and months he’s spent following the same routine. Wake up, go out for a walk, come back to James reading the newspaper (the obituaries), Lily humming a song, listen to old records, talk by the fireplace, go to sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s a wonder they haven’t run out of things to say yet but Sirius worries if in a decade, an eternity, will they still have enough words to speak to each other? Would they even notice the silence?

***

It takes James four months (according to Sirius’s estimations, which aren’t exact because his memory isn’t what it used to be) to make another move.

The day is bright and clear when Sirius takes his first step outside for the morning. It’s refreshing after a period of cloudy or rainy days, though he doesn’t mind the rain because it’s cleansing. However, he also likes the sun. Things grow in the sun; they bloom and flourish, and maybe he’s thinking in metaphors, but metaphorically, he’s begun a new life.

He stays out longer today, finds the bench in front of the antique shop and relaxes, thankful for the small gift of warmth because it’s autumn now, and usually a bit cooler, crisper. His eyes are closed and there are patterns spinning behind his eyelids, fluttering against the red-orange backdrop. He hears the shuffle of feet approaching him, but he doesn’t open his eyes, knows that it’s only one of two people. When the bench creaks beneath the weight of the second person and Sirius actually does open his eyes, it isn’t who he expected.

Well, this is ironic, he thinks.

He says, “James.”

James is grinning sheepishly, fiddling with the cuff of his shirt. “Thought it was a nice day to join you,” he replies, answering Sirius’s unspoken question.

“There have been plenty of nice days to join me,” Sirius shoots back.

“Sirius, don’t do this.”

“You can’t even be in the same room with me alone anymore, James. What are we, fifteen again?”

“I can’t – I’m confused, Sirius. After a while, you lose certain emotions here, which I’m sure you’ve noticed, and I wish, I fucking wish confusion was one of them. But it isn’t and I just keep staying awake at night, wondering what I’m supposed to do.”

Sirius bites his lip, wonders if this is the moment Lily was talking about, if the opportunity has presented itself. But it doesn’t feel right; he remains quiet, lets James do the talking.

“I don’t want to lose you, Sirius,” James says. “But I don’t know if I can be the person you want me to be.”

He really just wants to tell James how much of an idiot he is and get it over with. He clenches his fists, feels the frustration pulsing, thrumming through muscle, straight to the bones of his knuckles. He stands up abruptly and paces, tries to tell himself that while punching James in the face would really feel good right now, it’s probably not the best choice of action.

“What sort of person do you think I want you to be?” Sirius asks. “Someone who cheats on his wife?”

Sirius can feel James stand up behind him, can feel his presence overwhelm him, overshadow him, like always.

“You’re too noble,” Sirius sneers, turning until he’s in James’s face, has a couple of inches on him though he still feels inadequate. He feels his stomach churn because Lily, she shouldn’t be dragged into this mess with these angry words. Sirius doesn’t feel guilty but he feels sorry for the things he’s saying. But he can’t stop himself, not when James is standing right there, and fuck, he really just wants to kiss him.

“Someone in this friendship has to be,” James snarls, pushes Sirius back up against the brick wall of the antique shop. Sirius thinks James is making a point to tell him he’s too old for this.

The frustration, it gives way to anger, blinding white and red beneath his eyelids and he relies on reflex, on tendons and muscle to pull his fist back and snap him forward, knuckles grazing James’s cheekbone.

So much for listening to his conscience.

James stumbles back and Sirius slumps slightly, feels the brick scrape harsh, rough, against his back.

James is clutching his face and glaring at Sirius. “What the fuck?”

“I’m so tired of your bullshit, James. Why can’t you just stop being an arrogant prick and get your head out of your ass?”

“I’m the one being arrogant? You presume too much. I just came here to talk, Sirius. Because this, this living forever thing? It’s not going to work if we can’t just…if you can’t just get over your stupid little crush on me.”

Sirius laughs, feels his body shake with hysterics. “Are you serious? Stupid little crush? James, if I remember correctly, you’re the one who came to me the night before your wedding. And my first night here, you came on to me then too. The only reason we’re having a problem here is because you can’t admit that maybe, just maybe you have a stupid little crush on me too.”

James’s face is bright red but Sirius can’t tell if it’s anger or embarrassment.

Sirius gives up. “You are an idiot,” he mutters, holds back the ‘liar’ threatening to slip out. He pushes himself off the wall and brushes past James as he makes his way back home.

James just lets him walk away, fingers still gently nursing his injured cheekbone, his bruised ego.

Chapter Text

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

***

Lily doesn’t say anything when Sirius storms back into the apartment, slamming the door shut behind him. She just looks up from the puzzle she’s doing and tries to hide a frown; Sirius catches her before she can school her face into something more encouraging.

“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.

***

The days pass by quietly. Sirius gets bored quickly with this existence. The repetitive motions he goes through each day start to become stifling, oppressive in a way that makes him want to scream and break out of this invisible box he’s been forced to live in.

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.

***

The darkness momentarily blinds him but Sirius has walked these streets so often that his feet know the path well. He’s headed to the bench in front of the old antiques shop and as his eyes adjust, picking up on the outlines of buildings and trees, he can’t really see why this would be so frightening. Nothing is jumping out in front of him from the alleyways and he doesn’t even feel apprehension; nothing but the tingling of electricity lingering heavy in the air, like the crackling energy that ripples through the sky before a thunderstorm.

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? Sirius!”

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.”

Home.

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.

***

Time still passes slowly and though the tension in the apartment has eased, Sirius still feels restless, feels like there are things left for him to discover and  to do.

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.

He looks…

“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.

***

He feels slightly apprehensive as he walks through the streets towards the park James had mentioned. It’s not that he doesn’t trust James, he can’t help but feel worried that maybe this won’t work at all; maybe his bond isn’t strong enough to pull him through those invisible boundaries into someone else’s life.

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.

***

Sirius doesn’t know how long it’s been when he opens his eyes again. The sky is still overcast so he can’t see where the sun is, can’t tell if this had been a good idea or not. His eyes flutter shut again and he groans, wondering why he listened to James in the first place; he knew it wouldn’t work. Feeling frustrated, he stands unsteadily on his feet, blinking a few times to clear the grogginess, and trudges back through the park. He stops when he remembers the flowers he had thought to pick for Lily but when he turns to find the orange, red, purple flowers he had seen, he’s met with blues, pinks and yellows.

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.”

“For what?”

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.”

“Surprised?”

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.

***

Lily is understandably angry with him when he returns to the apartment, hours later.

“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.”

Chapter Text

...left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason
- W. B. Yeats

***

Sirius stretches out the length of the couch as James fiddles with the phonograph. Lily looks up from the newest puzzle she’s doing and smiles; this is her favourite part of the day, the quietest part despite the fact that everything about this life seems silent, muted. She picks herself up off the floor with an ease and grace that Sirius envies. When she catches his eye, Sirius’s breath catches in his throat, and for a fleeting moment, he feels slightly resentful of Snape, for getting the opportunity to spend an eternity with this funny, intelligent, beautiful young woman who has become his closest friend.

He loves her, but he’s not in love with her. Sometimes it’s hard for him to understand the difference. But when he looks at James, he knows there’s no comparison to the ache in his heart, the fluttering in his stomach, the way James’s feather-light touches leave in its wake an electric current that makes him feel alive in this land of the dead.

Sirius is still holding her knowing gaze when James pulls her down to sit on his lap as he rests in the chair by the window and he leans his head on her shoulder. She sighs and turns her head, glancing longingly out the window. Sirius thinks that if she could, she’d feel guilty for leaving James. But at the same time, she knows that he’ll take care of James, that things will work themselves out eventually in a manner that makes everyone happy.

He offers her an encouraging smile when she catches him looking at her. She clasps James’s arms tightly, presses a kiss to his forehead and leans back to rest against his chest, closing her eyes to enjoy the music slowly filling the room.

Sirius throws an arm over his eyes, listens carefully to the way the notes seem to echo loudly in the silence of the room, makes him feel like he’s drowning in the steady thrum of the bass line, and thinks maybe he could live like this forever.

***

“Sirius,” Lily croons in his ear. “Wake up, sleepyhead.”

Sirius’s eyelids flutter open to see Lily leaning over him, a lazy grin plastered on her face.

“Why’d you wake me up?” he mumbles, closing his eyes again and turning over to burrow back under the covers.

He yelps when the blankets are suddenly gone and he’s sprawled on the couch wearing just boxers and a thin t-shirt. Lily’s laughing and James is standing behind her looking amused.

“Guess what today is,” Lily says in a particularly annoying sing-song voice.

“The day I kill you for waking me up?” Sirius mutters.

Lily snorts. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m already dead. There really isn’t much damage you could do.”

“I’m sure I could think of something,” Sirius teases, forcing himself to sit up, swinging his legs so they were now planted firmly on the floor.

“It’s been a year,” James interjects and Lily frowns a bit, obviously wanting to extend the light bantering with Sirius.

Sirius looks at them with a blank expression on his face. “A year since what?”

Lily looks between James and Sirius with a bemused expression. But she says exasperatedly, “Since you died,” as if it was obvious.

“You woke me up at the crack of dawn so we could celebrate my death day?” Sirius replies incredulously, though it shocks him that a year has already passed. He needs to remind himself that time passes differently here and is so easily lost; hours tick by like minutes and weeks seem like days.

“It’s nearly eleven o’clock…definitely not the crack of dawn. The afterlife has just made you lazy,” Lily laughs.

No, not lazy, just immune to the effects of time. But instead of saying so, he replies, “Neither of you find this morbid? And you never celebrated your death day.”

James shrugs. “It’s your first year here. After a while, it kind of loses significance. Or else you just want to forget about it completely. Just let Lily have her fun.”

Sirius groans but allows Lily to pull him up. She’s already walking back to the kitchen when she calls back, “Get dressed. We’re going to go to the park to enjoy the beautiful sunshine!”

***

In July they get the news that Mad Eye Moody has been killed.

The second war against Voldemort has become very real and Sirius begins to worry that soon, they’ll start receiving news that more and more of their friends, loved ones have been murdered. Voldemort has already taken so much from him that Sirius isn’t certain he could handle any more loss.

Sirius is not a religious man but he thinks that living in this afterlife, being given a second chance - that deserves some sort of faith. He prays before bed, begs and bargains to whatever higher entity there is that those closer ones are kept safe and protected.

***

“What do you think about the most?” James asks. He’s laying on the sidewalk right beside Sirius, cloud watching, legs bent at the knees and arms folded behind his head.

It has been a few months since the three had celebrated Sirius’s death day and in that short amount of time, Sirius has found that he’s quite content to spend the rest of eternity right where he is.

He understands that deep down, Lily doesn’t belong to them but thinking of the day that she will eventually leave them makes his heart feel heavy. The old Sirius, the one who was bitter because Lily stole James from him, no longer exists. He’s learned to love Lily, maybe not the same as James or Snape, but it’s enough to make him realise that her absence will hurt him just the same.

He works things out with James enough that they’re comfortable around one another and if he pretends hard enough, he can imagine that things are exactly as they were before their feelings got complicated. They don’t talk about what happened before.

James begins to accompany him on his daily walks and it becomes routine for them to stay out for hours, randomly asking questions; a chance for them to relearn one another.

“I’m thinking about how much I’ve learned to accept my fate here. How time goes by so fast. I feel like one day I’m going to fall asleep and wake up to find that Remus has died or something.”

“I’m holding on to the hope that Remus lives to a ripe old age,” James replies. “He deserves it. War shouldn’t take him away like it’s taken us.”

Sirius hums his assent. He misses Remus - misses curling up as Padfoot as Remus reads him poetry and staying up late to drink tea. He misses the rush of adrenaline when he’s out with the werewolf and the way Remus smells of musty old books and ink.

“I miss him,” he says aloud.

“Me too. You think you’ll be the one to collect him when the time comes?”

“Yes,” Sirius replies honestly, hopefully.

“But he won’t stay with us.”

“Maybe for a little while. He could, couldn’t he?”

James shrugs. “I think he should. We deserve that, at least – to be able to spend some time with him.”

“I got to spend more time with him than you,” Sirius points out.

“Not much,” James snorts, “considering you spent twelve years in Azkaban. He just got you back and then to have you die on him? That must have been quite the blow.”

“It’s not like I asked to die,” Sirius retorts.

“I didn’t say you did. I’m just saying…Remus is probably going to arrive with a heavier burden of guilt than you did. He’ll probably feel like there was so much more he could have done for you, to protect you. It’ll take some time for him to be able to let that go. It’s going to be tough.”

“I don’t blame him for anything.”

“You don’t have to. I mean, look at how guilty you felt for things that no one blamed you for.”

“We’ll help him,” Sirius asserts.

James smiles and looks up at Sirius through shadowed lashes and Sirius has to remember to breathe. “We’ll help him,” James agrees.

***

Each day James reads the obituaries, Sirius has to release a sigh of relief when he doesn’t hear any familiar names. He thinks that maybe someone’s listening to his prayers after all and can only continue to beg, hoping Remus, Harry…that they’re healthy and safe.

Faith is the only thing he has to hold onto now.

***

March brings with it overcast days and a lot of rain.

“I thought the saying was April showers brings May flowers,” Lily muses one day, sitting by the window and watching the drops pitter-patter against the glass.

“Honestly, why is there even a need for rain in the afterlife? It’s not like there’s anything here that requires watering,” Sirius says.

Lily giggles and turns to look at him. “You have a point. But you of all people should know that the afterlife has never really been normal, at least not in the sense that most people believe.”

“You and I could design one hell of an afterlife,” Sirius states as he flops down on the couch and stares at the cracks in the ceiling. His arm hangs lazily over the edge and he feels tired; the constant rain makes him feel drowsy since he’s cooped up inside the apartment all day.

“Hah, yes, let’s go around and take a poll: ‘before you arrived here, what did you believe the afterlife to be like?’ And then we could go and design it, taking everyone’s answers into consideration and making it just like they imagined it. Brilliant.”

“Oh, please. We never got any say in how we’ve been forced to live the rest of our life as the dead. Why should anyone else? Let’s me and you take over this whole joint,” Sirius replies with an easy grin.

Lily sighs dramatically. “Those poor people. Together we’d probably be worse than Gabriel, from what I’ve heard.”

Sirius snorts and he opens his mouth to respond but James interrupts him when he says, “Peter is dead.”

Sirius sits upright as Lily’s face sobers up immediately and her fingers seek out James’s, twining them together.

“Finally got what he deserves, that traitor,” James growls.

“He should’ve died seventeen years ago,” Sirius snarls. “At my hands.”

“We couldn’t have known,” Lily argues. “James, you’re so steadfast in your beliefs, in your honour, that you wouldn’t have believed any of your friends could betray you. Would you have wanted Sirius to have died as a murderer?” Lily asks, a frown marring her otherwise expressionless face.

“I still spent twelve years imprisoned for a crime I never had the chance to commit,” Sirius replies.

“A fate much more deserving of that rat than you,” James assures him.

Sirius shrugs. “Still doesn’t change what happened.”

“We can’t change what did happen,” Lily reminds them. “No matter how many times we go over what could have been, if we had stayed with Sirius, or used Remus instead. If the afterlife had allowed us, we would probably spend the rest of our lives guilty thinking of all the alternatives. And, if I’m allowed to be honest here, I’m sick of talking about it. I’m dead. I’ve accepted it and what’s done is done.”

“Well said, Lily,” Sirius murmurs, and despite the anger that makes him tremble, the frustration that makes him clench his fists, he knows that there isn’t anything they can do, nothing to erase the missteps and betrayals of their past.

***

Sirius sighs and bangs his forehead gently against the windowpane in a rhythmic fashion. Thump, thump, thump. He stares out at the gloomy London street below as the dark storm clouds blanket the sky and rain slashes angrily down the glass.

“I’m so bored,” he moans. “It’s been raining for days.”

Lily barely looks up from the book she has her nose stuck in and tosses a pillow at his head. “Some of us have better things to do than listen to you whine, Sirius. Go find something to do, or go outside in the rain!”

Sirius throws the pillow back at her and she fumbles with the book but quickly catches her place, glaring at him. “But I’ll get wet.”

“Yeah, that’s probably not the best idea,” James points out. “The apartment would smell like wet dog.”

Lily hides a smirk behind her book but James isn’t as careful to conceal the amusement on his face and Sirius throws himself from the chair beside the window to tackle James to the ground. Sirius has got James in a headlock but James manoeuvres himself so that he can knock Sirius to the ground, loosening his grip around James’s neck.

“That’s it, boys. Get all that pent-up aggression out,” Lily comments from the sidelines, laughing.

Sirius pins James to the floor and he struggles to maintain his position above him, but James still has more youth on his side and they soon end up in a tangle of limbs.

“Ow,” James hisses at he gets elbowed in the face.

“Sorry,” Sirius grunts, pulling his left leg from where it’s stuck behind James’s knee.

Lily is positively gleeful as she looks at their predicament. Sirius growls and winces as he feels a slight tug on his hair. “My hair is stuck on something. Ow, ow, ow. Lily, help us!”

“You should’ve thought of that before you got into a tussle,” she replies from her perch on the arm of the sofa, peering down at them with a taunting smile.

James sits up and Sirius whimpers, his hair caught in the zipper of James’s sweatshirt. “Hold still, Sirius,” James mumbles as he carefully pulls Sirius’s hair free from the teeth of the zipper. Sirius can feel James thread his fingers through his hair and he releases a sigh when he no longer feels the sharp tug of caught hair. James smiles down at him and ruffles his hair slightly.

Sirius rubs his head slightly, trying to ease the ache. He can’t help the slight pout that slips its way onto his face. Lily can’t contain her laughter anymore and tumbles backwards onto the couch, clutching her stomach as she laughs.

“It’s not funny,” he argues. “That really hurt.” But Lily doesn’t stop to listen to him, even James chuckles.

The apartment atmosphere, despite the weather outside, is bright and cheerful. Sirius is leaning his weight slightly on top of James, the both of them still sprawled on the floor, and James doesn’t move an inch to push him off or adjust their position. Lily catches his eye from behind James’s head and quirks an eyebrow. Sirius wishes he had that pillow he threw earlier within easy reach.

There’s a sudden knock on the front door and the three occupants look at each other in confusion. Lily shrugs but unfolds herself from the couch and looks through the peephole. Sirius’s eyes are solely concentrated on her back so he notices the slight shift as she stiffens. James nudges Sirius slightly: a silent request for Sirius to get off him so he can get up. Sirius pulls himself up and sits on the arm of the sofa.

“Lily?” James asks as he makes his way over to the door. “Are you going to answer it?”

Lily turns back to look at James, her face a mixed range of emotions. “It’s Peter,” she replies.

Sirius watches as James’s left fingers curl into a fist at his side and his right hand thrusts the deadbolt into the unlocked position, yanking open the door. Sirius stands up to place a comforting hand on Lily’s shoulder, both of them positioned behind James.

“What are you doing here?” James practically snarls.

Peter flinches backwards and Sirius can catch a glimpse of the rat over James’s shoulder. He looks old and beaten down; Sirius is certain the war has taken its toll on him, but he can’t even muster an ounce of pity. Wrinkles line his eyes and there are still years of filth and grime marking his mousy face. Sirius recognises the silver metal on Pettigrew’s right hand and curiously, he sees similar finger marks wrapped around his neck. Sirius raises an eyebrow.

“You were strangled to death?”

Peter squeaks and looks flustered at the sight of Sirius, who looks regal and composed now that he’s regained his youth. Pettigrew’s beady eyes anxiously peer down at the silver hand and back up again.

Sirius has to bite back a harsh laugh. “You were strangled by your own hand?”

“Got what you deserved,” James mutters under his breath, though Sirius is so close to his shoulder that he can hear every word. Sirius can’t say he doesn’t agree, though he finds it slightly ironic how the traitor’s own hand acted as his personal noose.

“What are you doing here?” James demands again. He’s getting impatient and he looks livid that Pettigrew has shown up on their doorstep.

Peter is trembling and he looks at James with pleading, watery eyes. “I – I came to ask for your forgiveness, James…and Lily,” he says, peering around James to look at the equally angry red-head. “You must understand,” he begs, “the power, the glory I was offered. I didn’t…I’ve always been your friend. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You always had the choice,” Sirius growls.

“That glory got you real far,” James taunts. “You killed your friends to live a life of servitude, of fear. Look at you,” he spits, “look at what you’ve become.”

“Pl…please, James.” He gets down on his knees in the doorframe and his whole frame is shaking.

Sirius knows that Pettigrew needs this absolution and he understands how much his body craves that release, how the muscles will feel taut with tension until everything finally snaps free. But he also knows how hot-headed James is, how rash and bitter he can be. James isn’t one to hold grudges, but Sirius can think of everything James was forced to lose because of his premature death and knows that forgiveness will not come.

But it’s not James who lays down the verdict. “You won’t get what you came for,” Lily says, her voice quiet but firm.

Peter looks up at her as she moves to stand beside James, who clasps her hand tightly in his own. “Lily, sweet Lily…you wouldn’t deny my peace, would you?” he whimpers, trying to claw at the hem of her robes.

She steps out of his reach and looks down at him with pity. “I’m sorry. But forgiveness is not given to those who don’t deserve it. You performed the ultimate act of betrayal by sacrificing the lives of your friends for your own personal benefit. You should be forced to live with that guilt forever.”

“I did live with that guilt. Every second that I walked on that earth, every breath of air I took that was no longer yours to take was another reminder of what I did. Believe me!” Peter cries, desperate now to ease the burning ache of shame.

“Believe you?” James asks in disbelief. “Why should we believe the person who was supposed to keep us hidden, keep us safe, but decided to betray us instead? Can you maybe see where I might have a problem trusting your word?”

“I saved your son’s life,” Peter hisses. “I could’ve killed him just before I died, but I didn’t. You owe me this peace.”

“They don’t owe you anything,” Sirius snaps. “You owed Harry your life. There’s nothing selfless about your death, nothing but binding magic, a debt paid. Don’t act like a martyr, Peter. You got what you deserved.”

“We won’t grant you our forgiveness,” James says, a sense of finality in the tone of his voice and Peter looks up at him, eyes wide with fear and pain.

“James – ” he starts, but James has had enough. The door slams shut, echoes loudly in the still, silent room and he slides the deadbolt back into place.

It makes it a little easier to be at peace with our demons if we’re not constantly feeling chained by them. Sirius is reminded of what Regulus has told him about the need to be forgiven, and he can’t imagine what Peter must feel like after being denied that absolution.

“What happens to him now?” he asks, breaking the tense silence.

James looks up at Sirius almost startled, as if he forgot that he was in the room, and he sighs. “Peter will spend an eternity battling with the weight of his guilt. He won’t get that freedom you felt after you spoke with Regulus. There is no peace for him in this afterlife.”

If Sirius wasn’t so angry that he spent twelve years imprisoned for a crime this man framed him for, he might have felt sorry. Neither James nor Lily look at all pleased for having to deny him of that happiness, but they don’t look particularly sorry either. Sirius isn’t sure what to do at this point, but he quickly gathers Lily in his arms, hugging her slight form as she trembles with anger.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I just…he took away my chance to watch Harry grow up. I never got to see him play Quidditch or fall in love. He doesn’t deserve my pity and he didn’t deserve my forgiveness.”

“He doesn’t,” James reassures her, wrapping an arm around the both of them, pressing them close for comfort. “He made his choices and now he must spend forever dealing with the consequences.”

“You made the right decision,” Sirius replies fiercely. “Your forgiveness was not his to take.”

“Even if you hadn’t said anything first, I never would have forgiven him,” James murmurs into her hair, pressing a light kiss there.

Lily slips out of Sirius’s embrace easily and seemingly melts right into James, burying her face into his chest. He’s giving her the security she needs and Sirius is all too familiar with the strength of the comfort found in James, how he acts as an anchor for those he loves. It’s for the briefest of moments that Sirius wonders how she can give this up for the arms of another man.

***

The first day of May brings clear skies and a dazzling sun – almost a stranger these days following the past two months of clouds and rain. Lily is positively ecstatic when she glances out the window to see a full bloom of flowers in varying colours that are bright and vivid against the grey backdrop of London. She’s practically bouncing on her feet as Sirius and James get ready for their walk.

“Do you want anything in particular?” Sirius asks as he ties his shoelaces.

The brilliant grin on Lily’s face momentarily outshines the sun and Sirius is taken back by the intensity. He smiles back at her. “Surprise me,” she says as she ushers them out the door.

Sirius inhales deeply when they take the first step out of the foyer and the air seems fresher, cleaner after the rain. It’s warm and Sirius chances a glance over at James, who seems just as excited about the weather as he is.

“I feel…invigorated,” James says as they meander down the road, a skip in his step.

“It’s so nice out,” Sirius sighs.

“We’ll probably find more of a variety if we went to the park.”

They walk in companionable silence, following the familiar roads towards the park.

“You think this war will be over soon?” Sirius asks, eyes flickering from grey building to grey building, trying to push away the feelings that gnaw at him, making this place seem like nothing more than a prison. “I think I’m going to get an ulcer from worrying so much.”

“Aside from the fact that it’s physically impossible for you to get an ulcer here, I hope the war is over soon.”

“I pray every night,” Sirius admits, “that Remus and Harry will make it out alive. Seems to be working so far.”

“You never were a man of faith,” James muses. “Has the afterlife changed you in that aspect?”

Sirius shrugs. “You could say so.”

Sirius sees the familiar wrought-iron gates marking the entrance of the park and quickens his pace. His senses are assaulted; the fresh, floral scent is strong and tickles his nose and the park itself is a rainbow of colours.

“It’s so beautiful this time of year,” James comments, his eyes roaming the park, taking in the sights greedily.

“Lily would enjoy this. She should have come with us.”

“She probably needs some alone time,” James snickers. “Being stuck with us for a couple of months, day in and day out with no break must wear on her nerves.”

“Well, we should pick her a beautiful bouquet to make it up to her.”

James murmurs in agreement and they scour the park for the brightest and prettiest flowers they can find. Afterwards, they walk together slowly through the park, enjoying each other’s presence.

“You know,” James says after a short pause, “I’m glad that we’re not bickering anymore. I like this.”

Sirius sighs and yes, he does like this companionship and being able to talk, but he doesn’t like the fact that there still seems to be a huge barricade between them – a bright red STOP sign that tells him they can’t take this friendship any further. He knows that eventually it will just be the two of them, just JamesandSirius, like it always had been, and that over time he’ll be able to chip away at the concrete that’s keeping them apart. But for now, he has to pretend he’s happy with the current arrangement, has to ignore the part of him that hates lying to James about their future with Lily. Another part of him wonders how stupid James really is and he tries to understand if James really does believe that they can live as a threesome for the rest of eternity. Or maybe he does understand and is living happily in denial, just like always.

“Sirius?” James interrupts Sirius’s internal musings.

“Hm?” Sirius replies half-heartedly, his head still not completely in the conversation.

“I asked if you were ready to head back home,” James says with an exasperated sigh. “You’ve got your head in the clouds today?”

“It’s a nice day out,” Sirius argues. “Perfect day to just…let your mind wander.”

If James is curious about what he had been thinking of, he doesn’t let it show. They leisurely walk back, enjoying as much of the sunshine as possible.

Lily greets them enthusiastically upon their return and gushes about the flowers. “The best yet,” she declares as she sets the bouquet on the windowsill. She curls up on the chair and rests her chin on her fist, sniffing the sweet, delicate fragrance slowly filling the room.

Lily deserves beautiful flowers every day for the rest of eternity and as Sirius watches her with fondness, he can’t stop the sense of loss that overwhelms him, knowing she’ll be ripped out of this perfect three-person life they’ve created.

He wonders if maybe Lily will no longer find the need for flowers once she’s left; if perhaps Snape will one day be enough, filling her world with light.

***

On the second day of May, Sirius wakes sometime in the early afternoon to the sound of hushed but urgent voices in the kitchen. He groans as he sits up and stretches before padding barefoot down the narrow hall, pushing past the swinging door. James and Lily are sitting side by side at the table, faces void of colour. Sirius feels his stomach twisting in knots at the sight and he’s already panicking.

“What?” he croaks. “What’s happened?”

James won’t look him in the eye when he tells him that the day they hoped would never come has indeed arrived. Sirius is on his knees before James even finishes the sentence. Lily comes to kneel beside him on the hard linoleum floor, small hands rubbing soothing circles on his back as she buries her face in the crook of his neck.

“Nymphadora was also killed. And Severus,” she murmurs, her lips brushing against his skin.

There goes his faith.

James and Sirius forego their daily walk and the three of them spend the day curled up on the couch together, entwined, needing the comfort only found in the familiarity of skin and soft, reassuring touches.

They spend most of the day in silence until Sirius asks, “If…if I’m the one to pick him up, when will I know?”

Lily presses a kiss to his brow, running her fingers through his hair as her other hand rests in the curve where James’s neck meets his shoulder. “You’ll get a letter tomorrow,” she reassures him, and Sirius finds hope in the tone of her voice, the way she’s so certain he’ll get to meet Remus at the gates to the afterlife.

“How will I know where to go?” He knows that he won’t be making his way back the way he came from his holding cell with Gabriel.

Lily smiles in that god-awful knowing manner and says, “You’ll just know.”

***

Sirius’s feet seem to know the direction in which he’s supposed to be heading and for that, he’s thankful. All he knows is that after a restless night, he felt extremely relieved when a thin white envelope addressed to him slipped under the door. He tries to forget the look on Lily’s face when she realised she wasn’t going to get a similarly marked letter. Though he knows that just because she didn’t receive a letter doesn’t mean she still won’t leave them. Her love for another doesn’t need written words to convey the sincerity and depth of her devotion, the look in her eyes is all Sirius needs to know that his time left with her is limited.

He stops when he’s suddenly face to face with a door. It’s funny how he didn’t notice the door at first as he was walking down this dead-end street, but then again, he’s learned that it’s best to not question the oddities of this life. He waits patiently at the door for a few moments before he realises that, oh hey, maybe he should knock.

He can hear the echo of his sharp knock through the panelled door and he taps his foot anxiously as he waits. He wonders if Remus is going through that same slightly panicked frenzy he went through when he thought James was on the other side of the door, but his thoughts don’t linger for too long on those days following his death as the door creaks open slightly.

The room on the other side is dark and Remus is shielding his eyes for a moment before he drops his arm. The two friends stare at each other for a long time, simply drinking in the sight of the other.

Sirius can definitely see how Remus has aged, how the war has worn him down. He looks weary and ragged but there’s a light in his eyes that was never there before. It makes him look almost younger despite the obvious signs of grief and tragedy lining his body.

“Remus,” Sirius breathes and he’s the first to move as he grips Remus roughly by the shoulders and pulls him into a tight hug. “I can’t believe you died on me.”

Remus chuckles darkly before pulling back to look Sirius up and down. “You look good, Sirius,” he comments. “Death suits you.”

Sirius grins cheekily. “Don’t worry, I’m sure in time you’ll look just as dashing as me.”

Remus steps out of the room and the door shuts behind them, leaving them standing in the middle of the street. “So…is this, is this heaven?” Remus asks, looking around. “I thought it’d be…er, a little bit whiter or…I don’t know, rolling green hills. Definitely not this.”

Sirius wraps his fingers around Remus’s wrist and tugs him back towards the main road and with a sweeping motion of his hand, declares, “This…is the afterlife.”

“This is London,” Remus responds as he recognises familiar buildings.

“It is. Though it’s not exactly the London of our youth. It’s more…isolated and weird things happen here. It’s difficult to explain, but as you can imagine, walking around the streets of London with little to no interactions outside of those you’re meant to spend the rest of eternity with can get pretty lonesome.”

Remus obviously looks confused and Sirius will have to do some explaining as he drops Remus off at his residence. When he received the letter, he was slightly disappointed that Remus was not to stay with them, but he knows that Remus has his own life to go home to and that it won’t be long until Remus winds up on their doorstep anyway, seeking their forgiveness.

Remus suddenly laughs and Sirius furrows his brow. “What’s so funny?”

Remus shakes his head. “I suppose it isn’t really funny. More ironic, I suppose. I was just reminded of something William Butler Yeats once wrote. He said, ‘This melancholy London – I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually.’ Fits, doesn’t it?” he chuckles again.

Of course Remus would find it appropriate to quote Yeats. Sirius wraps an arm around Remus’s shoulder and sighs. “Our resident poetry expert…what would we do without you?”

“Well, one of us had to be well-read,” Remus retorts. “We needed someone with a brain.”

“Ha, ha, funny,” Sirius mutters, as he drags Remus along.

He’s never been down this way before but he trusts that his body subconsciously knows where to go and he follows his instinct. He explains the basics about the afterlife to Remus the same way Lily sat down and told him everything she knew. Soon they’re standing in front of a brownstone building and Sirius knows this is their stop. The door is black, matching the trimming around the white-framed windows and the building itself looks old, but there’s an air to it that reminds Sirius of families and home. The door swings open and Nymphadora is waiting there with her father. Remus sighs in relief and throws himself into her arms.

Sirius looks at the two of them, his eyes widening in shock. Remus and Nymphadora? He opens his mouth to question them but he feels a tug behind his navel, similar to the way one is pulled into a Portkey, and his body is being thrown backwards, away from the emotional homecoming in front of him. He lands on his back with a grunt and he looks up to find himself right in front of his own building. He frowns because he has so many questions now to ask of Remus, but he knows he’ll get his answers eventually.

“What’s the matter?” Lily asks, immediately noticing the puzzled expression on his face as he enters the apartment.

“Remus and Nymphadora are together,” he says. “I just dropped him off and she was there waiting for him. I just…wow.” He has to sit down to wrap his mind around it.

Lily smiles. “Shouldn’t you be glad that he found someone to love him? He had been alone too long.”

“I am glad, believe me. It’s just…my cousin’s daughter.”

James laughs at the shock apparent in his tone. “How did he look? Was he okay with his death?”

“He looked…old, but young at the same time. It was weird. And there was never any questioning on his part about his death. I mean, we all have that transitory period where we have to learn to accept our death so, I guess it makes the whole entrance into this afterlife a bit more easier.” Sirius shrugs. “He was even joking about it a little. Plus, I explained the basic concepts of our world as I led him to Nymphadora so he understands most of it.”

“We’ll see him in a few days, I’m sure,” James says, knowing that it will be their words that will heal the wounds inflicted by remorse.

***

They’re expecting it, so when there is a knock on their door, there’s no hesitation when James flings the door open and practically drags Remus inside. Lily throws her arms around Remus and hugs him tightly, kissing his cheek. James looks exuberant when he wraps Remus into his own embrace. Remus’s own greetings are just as enthusiastic, though Sirius can see the way his guilt has already weighed him down, the wrinkles around his eyes evidence of anxiety and restlessness.

“Nymphadora, Remus? Really?” Sirius says, trying to take a lighter approach before they delve into the reason Remus is really here.

Remus grins sheepishly and he looks down at his feet. “It was her idea,” he says. “I just learned to love her along the way.”

“You got married?” Lily exclaims when she sees the wedding band on his finger, pulling his hand closer to her eye level for a thorough examination.

“Uh…yeah,” Remus admits. “We just had a son too.” At this, he looks saddened and Sirius feels that familiar ache of grief in his chest.

“I’m sorry, Remus,” Sirius says sympathetically. Lily and James both give Remus understanding looks and it’s not until this exact moment that Sirius realises how similar the three of them really are – sacrificing their lives in hopes of a better, happier future for their orphaned children.

“What’s his name?” Lily asks gently.

The smile on Remus’s face is nothing but proud when he replies, “Teddy Remus Lupin. Oh, he’s precious. Looks just like Dora, I swear.”

“When he grows up, he’ll be so proud of his parents,” Lily says, hugging Remus again and Remus nods in agreement.

“What about you two?” he says, obviously trying to push the attention away from him. “Look at you, you are as young and beautiful as ever.”

“You certainly know how to charm a lady,” Lily replies teasingly at the same time James jokes, “You like the young ones, eh, Remus?”

Remus shakes his head, laughing slightly, but Sirius can see that he’s anxious despite the amused exterior. Lily and James are both acutely aware of the tension as well and lead Remus over to the couch, sitting down on either side of him as Sirius plops down at his feet, resting his head against his knee.

“So,” Lily starts off and she’s no longer teasing, “how are you dealing with everything?”
Sirius admires the way she can get straight and to the point of things.

Remus looks as though he’s fumbling for words to speak and he shrugs. “I…fine, I guess? It’s easier with Dora here with me, but…” He pulls his lip between his teeth, thinking things through. “I mean, I’m surprisingly accepting of my death. I understand that there’s nothing I can do about it now but at the same time, I feel as though I’m being dragged under the surface of a body of water and I’m not allowed to breathe. It’s suffocating.”

“It’s the guilt,” Sirius tells him.

“Guilt?” Remus questions and then he sits back and looks thoughtful for a moment. “Yes,” he says, nodding, “I suppose I do feel guilty.” He looks anxiously around the room, like he’s unsure of where to start or how to release the tension that makes him feel like a rubber band about to snap.

“We’re here for you to talk to,” Lily reminds him. “Get it off your chest. It will help.”

Remus takes a deep breath and he’s suddenly spilling his guts, confessions falling from his lips like bile; ugly, acrid tasting words that are laced with regret and years of grief, betrayal. He starts apologising to Lily and James for his secrecy during the First War, making excuses for why they thought they couldn’t trust him with their secret, their lives. There are things Sirius had already forgiven Remus for that he brings up again, desperate now to try and erase the shame he’s feeling for not doing enough, never being enough.

Lily shuts him up when she growls angrily at him and smacks him upside the head. “Never say you aren’t good enough, Remus John Lupin. We don’t blame you for anything that happened, you must know that. Our deaths are not to be blamed on anyone else, except perhaps Peter, of course. Neither you nor Sirius can take any fault for what happened. James and I would never blame you for what happened.”

Sirius can see the tension slowly begin to loosen as Lily’s words offer Remus the reprieve he’s begging for. Sirius knows that there are three words that have the most powerful significance to anyone who’s experiencing the heavy burden of guilt. Those three words will be the salve on the gaping wounds left by suspicion and loss, the oxygen that Remus so desperately craves as the remorse continues to suffocate him.

In the background, Sirius can hear James intake a sharp breath and in the same instant, they both murmur, “I forgive you.”

Remus gasps, greedy for the air that is now untainted and only tastes of redemption, and his body slumps slightly as their forgiveness has freed him from the chains that had kept him tied down. He lets out a whoosh of breath and looks at the three of them amazed.

“What the hell was that?” he asks in bewilderment.

James, who has barely said anything outside of his absolution of Remus explains, “We all come to this afterlife burdened by our guilt. In order to live peacefully we must seek the forgiveness of those we wronged, or believed we wronged. We forgave you and now we’re offering you a life where you can breathe freely without feeling like you’re being held back by whatever sins you committed while you were alive.”

“All it takes is a simple declaration of forgiveness and everything just…disappears?” Remus asks in disbelief.

“You’ll find that this world will never cease to amaze you,” Lily admits. “It’s as simple as that. It’s too bad apologies don’t work that way in real life. Imagine how free we would feel. Our souls would be as light as a feather.”

“You really do forgive me, don’t you?” Remus asks worriedly. “You weren’t just you saying you forgive me so that I wouldn’t feel so miserable, was it?”

Lily laughs and shakes her head. “It doesn’t work that way. The people offering the forgiveness have to actually mean it and truly feel like they don’t blame that person for what they did or else it won’t work. If we didn’t mean it, you’d still feel like you were drowning.”

Remus sighs in relief and Sirius catches a glimpse of that twinkle in his eye again. Sirius can see how youthful Remus appears now, perhaps not in actual appearance yet, but in spirit. It’s that light that makes him glow with happiness and pride. Sirius smiles and for the first time since he stepped through his own doorway into the deserted streets of London, Sirius feels like he belongs somewhere, like he deserves a place reserved in the hearts of these three people surrounding him. It isn’t home quite yet, but he’s getting there; he’s almost whole.

***

The next few days pass by in a blur and much to Sirius’s surprise, Lily is still with them. He’s never really asked before how situations such as this occur so he feels uninformed, doesn’t know what to look for that will clue him in as to when she’s leaving. Or maybe she won’t leave at all, he wonders, maybe the confidence that she had, knowing that she wouldn’t spend forever with James was nothing but a false hope, a prayer.

But maybe Sirius held on tightly to that prayer too because it meant she was leaving James to him – another sacrifice that puts Lily on Sirius’s list of saints. He knows he’ll hate to see her go but at the same time, he’s ready to move on, to start the rest of forever.

It’s during one afternoon when they’re sprawled out on the floor listening to one of Sirius’s favourite records that he first notices it. It’s just a flicker in his peripheral vision, where he knows Lily is, but when he turns fully to look at her, there’s nothing there. Lily glances up from where her head is resting on her folded arms and her gaze conveys obvious confusion. What are you staring at? it asks. Sirius shakes his head, thinking perhaps that he’s imagining things, and loses himself to the music once more.

Sirius knows it’s not his imagination when it happens again and continues to occur sporadically over the course of three days. Whenever he tries to corner Lily to ask her about it, it’s like she simply fades away and he’s staring at an empty space, except when he turns around to look for her, she’s right there again as if nothing had happened.

James begins to notice too. Sirius watches when James tries to talk to Lily, to demand what’s going on, and he sees her flicker and fade and then reappear.

One night James has enough and he stalks off to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

“You know what’s happening,” Lily whispers before creeping silently towards the door and slipping in.

Sirius knows now that their time with Lily is nearing its end. He didn’t expect that this was how she would go; her body blurring around the edges, flickering in and out of their sight, like a phantom. But he shouldn’t be surprised, not considering where they are.

He hears James blow up at Lily and so he assumes that Lily has told him the truth, that she will be leaving him soon because her heart was never his to own. Sirius thinks James shouldn’t be this angry because it’s not like he ever gave up his heart to Lily either. Their argument is muted but he can tell by the inflection of the words that anger fuels at least James’s side of the conversation. He hears Lily’s soft voice, pleading, hopeful. James storms out of the bedroom then, his face red with fury and he doesn’t stop to say anything to Sirius as he flies out of the apartment in a fit of rage.
Sirius stands between the door and the bedroom and is at a loss for what to do. He knows he should go after James, try and quell his anger with useless words, but he can hear Lily sobbing, choking on too-late apologies.

It’s the first time in Sirius’s life that he ever chose a girl over James.

He sits down on the bed and pulls her into his lap, murmuring softly as he tries to console her, arms wrapped tightly around her hazy body. She still feels solid and that thought comforts Sirius slightly. Sirius loses track of the time and he doesn’t know how long they sit like this, the silence only interrupted by Lily’s hiccupping breaths and Sirius’s hushed attempts at calming her.

“I thought he’d understand,” she suddenly cries. “It’s not like he ever loved me fully, not with you around. But marrying me was the ‘proper’ thing to do. The right thing.” She says this almost bitterly and Sirius feels pity creeping up the base of his spine, making him clutch her tighter.

“But James does love you,” Sirius tells her reassuringly.

“Not like Severus,” she argues.

Sirius tries to stifle his own sob and presses a kiss to her temple. “No, maybe not. But it has always been enough to keep him by your side. To make him stay with you instead of being with me. And you love him too, so deeply that you would remain with him, that you would marry him though you loved another.”

Lily is silent, but she knows Sirius is right. He can’t deny that they had been happy once, but their love had never been whole, had never been singularly the other’s to hold. He can understand James’s anger, but he thinks that James should have seen this coming.

“I still think he’s acting irrational. He should know how happy he will be once I’m gone and then you’ll be free to live your life the way you should have been able to, together,” Lily sniffs, her hand brushing away stray tears.

“You should have known James would have reacted this way. He’s a stubborn fool. Let me go talk to him. You shouldn’t leave this way, with so many things left unsaid.”

Sheer panic is evident on Lily’s face when he says that. “James went outside?” she hisses.

Oh, oh. “Shit,” Sirius mutters. But then he shrugs. “Maybe he’ll cool down once he forgets about what happened.”

Lily glares at him. “That’s not funny, Sirius.”

“It’s not like he’ll permanently forget about what happened, but maybe he’ll be more reasonable about things.”

“Maybe,” Lily replies hopefully.

Sirius disentangles himself from her gently, smoothing her limp hair away from her flushed, wet cheeks. She reaches her hands and clasps them with his.

“Thank you,” she says earnestly. “You may not have realised it, but I have changed since you’ve arrived. You’ve helped me come to terms with my future. I’m scared to imagine what would happen to James had I left and he was left alone.”

He unfolds her hand and kisses her palm. Her fingers curve to cup his face and she smiles softly. This is her goodbye.

“You deserve this happiness.” This is his forgiveness.

The final threads holding her to this life begin to unravel and the tears spill forth freely again. She flickers more frequently now, like a light bulb that’s nearing its end, and though she’s always burned so bright, she’s fading now, eager to regain the missing pieces of her heart.

“Go, get James,” she urges him. “I want to be able to say goodbye.”

Sirius stumbles backwards and rushes out the door, hoping to find James before it’s too late.

It doesn’t take him long and for that he’s thankful. James must have been making his way back because Sirius bumps into him just around the corner.

“Sirius!” James exclaims relieved.

“Are you okay, James?” Sirius can’t remember how long it’s been, he can’t be sure how many minutes or hours of James’s memory have been momentarily erased.

“I’m fine,” James says hesitantly. “But I don’t know why I’m out here?”

“I think I should prepare you for what you’re going to remember once we step back into the light,” Sirius cautiously replies. “Up to what point do you remember?”

“I just remember that Lily’s been acting strange recently. It’s like…she’s disappearing or something.”

“Yes,” Sirius confirms, “Lily’s leaving.”

“But why?” And the tone reminds Sirius of a petulant child.

By now they’ve reached the flat and James quickens his pace to re-enter the light. Sirius puts a restraining hand on his shoulder. “You’re not going to like what you remember,” he says. “Try to rethink things with an open mind.”

James looks at him curiously, but shakes his hand off and rushes up the steps. He’s on his knees before Sirius even reaches the doorway, hands tugging angrily at his already tousled hair. The floor creaks beneath Sirius’s weight as he steps inside and closes the door behind him. James moves so fast that Sirius barely has time to blink and the next thing he knows, James is in his face, pushing him up against the wall.

You did this,” he roars. “You made her leave me so you could have me to yourself, you selfish asshole. This is your fault! Why can’t you just accept the fact that I don’t want you?”

It’s those words that tear open the scabs on his heart and he almost collapses; the grief a crippling reminder that James still isn’t his. But he’s hopeful that it’s the anger talking because he can still tell when James is lying and he sees no truth in these accusations.

“James, stop it,” Sirius grits out between his clenched teeth, trying to push James away. “You’re being unreasonable.”

I’m being unreasonable? You try learning that your wife is leaving you for someone else and then tell me how I should act.”

“James!” Lily shrieks as she worms her way in between James and Sirius until James finally has to let him go. Sirius slumps against the wall and looks at James balefully. But James still has reflexes reminiscent of a star Quidditch player and Sirius feels the punch before he actually sees James’s fist as it makes contact with his cheek.

Lily looks horrified and James is panting, rage still boiling in his veins as he dares Sirius to retaliate. “That was for last time,” he growls. But then his gaze falls on Lily, whose light is fading fast now, and the anger fizzles quickly. “Lily,” he sobs and he reaches for her, only to find his fingers capturing nothing but air.

Lily looks down in surprise and she knows now that it’s time to go. “James,” she says soothingly, and if she focuses hard enough she can still touch James. But it’s barely more than a whisper, a lover’s caress. “I’m sorry. We’ll both be happier this way, I promise you. You’ve never doubted me so believe me when I say that I still love you. But we both know that your heart doesn’t belong to me, not truly, just as mine is not yours. Please…James.”

There is a dull ache in Sirius’s chest and it begins to throb painfully at the sight of James, broken and quivering beneath his wife’s fingers. He looks defeated and his voice cracks when he says, “Just go, Lily.”

The final thread snaps. She smiles sadly and she says, “I love you, James,” before she disappears completely.

“James…” Sirius starts.

But James shakes his head. “Don’t,” he says and he staggers towards the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

Sirius recognises the slide of fabric against the wood and he can almost picture James sitting with his back against the door, head buried his hands. He wishes he had the words to make this okay, to make Lily’s departure less of a betrayal and more of an opportunity for them to get their happy ending just as Lily had predicted. But there’s nothing he can say, so instead, he walks over to the bedroom and sits just outside the door, his body an almost mirror-image of James’s.

***

Sirius is jolted awake when he finds himself falling backwards. He’s staring up at the darkened ceiling when James’s face comes into his view as he steps over Sirius’s body and collapses onto the couch wearily.

“At least one of us got some sleep,” James says bitterly.

Sirius scrambles to get up and he stands in front of James, unsure of what to do next. His mind plays out different scenarios but he’s pretty sure throwing himself on James right now is the least likely one of the bunch. He sighs and fidgets before James shoots him a glare and pats the seat next to him. Sirius sits immediately like an obedient dog. James cracks a slight smile at Sirius’s eagerness to please.

“James,” Sirius whispers and he looks into James’s hazel eyes, searching. Beneath the despair and grief, there is a faint glimmer of hope and Sirius is triumphant that time will grant them what they’ve been desperately seeking all these years.

James winds his fingers around Sirius’s forearm and pulls him closer, drawing him into a fierce embrace. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs, clinging hard enough to bruise.

Sirius isn’t exactly sure what he’s apologising for – the vicious words, the angry punch, or maybe for everything – but he holds onto James like he’s the only anchor he has to this world.

He brushes his lips against James’s cheek and he mumbles “I forgive you” to try and ease James’s distress.

James clutches him tighter, pressing a wet kiss to the pulse thrumming anxiously against the skin of his neck, and suddenly, it’s like the pieces fall together. Sirius feels a sense of utter completion here in this moment, a heightened awareness to the way James’s muscles strain to keep him close, the steady rhythm of James’s heartbeat.

His words of absolution finally offer James the freedom he had been struggling to grasp all along. James looks up at Sirius again and he doesn’t overlook the loss that’s evident in James’s expression.

“I’m going to miss her too,” he admits and he knows that Lily has become so ingrained in both of their lives that it will be impossible to ignore the subtle signs that she had been here all along, leading them up to this very moment.

“I don’t know if I can love you the way I love her,” James confesses, ashamed to look at Sirius though he still has his fingers twisted in Sirius’s shirt.

“You don’t have to,” Sirius reassures him.

He’s not asking for vows and a wedding ring; superficial declarations of love that mean nothing in this life (nothing more than a reminder of a broken marriage). All they need is time to relearn everything they had forgotten, rebuild what once was lost.

Here, where feelings such as guilt are non-existent, forgiveness is the ultimate act of faith and love is given time to blossom and flourish. Here, all they need is time to seek the highest path to happiness.

James smiles at him then, a beautiful careless grin, and Sirius thinks, yes, we have an eternity.