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The Waking Years

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It was March, near mid-month already, and he was driving through the golden patchwork of the late winter fields with bread and apples in the backseat when he understood that he would have to leave. The realization broke on him the way most things had lately when they’d been knocking around his subconscious for a while, like a whisper or a shadow lingering in a slant of sunlight, the wind and the trees whispering, hurry, hurry, hurry. Before the chain of cause and effect could split atoms across every ganglion synapse in his head he knew there’d be an owl from Dumbledore waiting for him at the cottage at the end of the narrow gravel lane, which until now had been home.

Pulling into the driveway he thought of the last time he’d done this—the shitty flat in Budapest, June or July of ‘89, going on four years ago now. There’d been a Muggle man, there for a while; then he’d left and there’d been no one. He’d stayed put here at the ass-end of nowhere in the middle of Devonshire longer than he’d stayed in one place since he was a child in Cornwall, longer even, he realized, than the delirious three years he and Sirius had lived together in London. A shiver went through him, the way his mother used to say it did when someone was walking on your grave, and at the back of his neck he could feel the thin hair standing up as if from static, as if something had ahold of him. Indeed something did have ahold of him, the same something that had had ahold of him since the first of September 1971, or maybe before: he could not remember feeling this since the something walked free among the living, since Remus was dreaming of him and waking up beside him and coming home to him every night, since they left each other, since the day they met on the fucking Hogwarts Express, when Remus had known with a suddenness vibrant and clear and death that he was meant to be in that seat, in that compartment, because something was about to happen. It was the way Sirius used to make him feel: in-between, unquiet, like he was waiting on the edge of something, like he needed to move. Like every step he’d taken since the day he could walk and talk had been to bring himself closer to Sirius, and thus to himself.

What was that quote, he was thinking, leaning on the back door that wouldn’t unlock unless he put his whole weight against it and twisted the loose doorknob just so, that one about the other residing in your head not as a separate being but as another part of your consciousness, inseparable as your very soul? Wuthering Heights, or maybe it was My Antonia. He’d written a paper on it in fifth or sixth year but couldn’t really recall the specifics anymore, only that he still left the crossword half-finished in the mornings and reached for the sugar when he made coffee even though he’d never taken any himself. On the mornings after the full moon, unslept and chewed up, head throbbing with the migraine strumming through every twinge and tendon, he understood he’d been looking for something. Muscle memory still took him to the kitchen window on the deepest and darkest of nights, waiting. Just waiting.

Do you ever think of me, he wondered, sitting in the windowsill and ignoring the envelope under the front door, watching the sun go down in the west. Some days it still defied comprehension, thinking of it all, thinking of Sirius in Azkaban. Everything Remus had ever loved cracked open raw and bleeding for infernal teeth to tear out for eternities. Years ago he’d done some furious, pot-fueled research into oneiromancy, had even made a few attempts, but he’d never found Sirius. The closest he’d come to anything at all was waking up in the trailer in Montana where he was doing freelance research into terramancy with a suffocating certainty that he’d left something behind in England, the thought of it itching in his throat, demanding as another beating heart, like someone was waiting for him still, like he’d left the oven on way back in Camden in 1981; he woke up gasping through his nightmare sweat, had panic attacks driving to the grocery store, got lightheaded at work. It was weeks before he could shake the feeling. Whatever he’d been dreaming of before he woke he could never remember, and he never tried again.

Through the crack in the window he could smell smoke on the southerly winds, salt, loam, coming rain. The season was about to turn again; something, Remus knew, was about to happen.

The spring he was twenty-one the aloe plant he’d kept on the coffee table in the flat had died suddenly despite all his diligence watering it only at sparse intervals and casting half-assed climate spells gleaned from third year Herbology to mimic the desert heat it never knew. Even at the time he’d thought it disappointingly portentous and said as much to Sirius, who’d told him it was only a cheap farmers market plant that had outlived its life expectancy several times over by now; it didn’t mean anything, he’d said, not meeting Remus’s eyes, as though Sirius himself couldn’t read the signs just as clearly as Remus did, like milk spilled in tea. By summer Remus had left and the two of them were no longer speaking. By that autumn—well.

I don’t understand, Remus had said to him on the last night, voice scraped reedy-thin, about two or three in the morning. Then he’d Apparated away without ever finishing the sentence.

Soon, said the last golden threads of sunlight over the shorn farmland, soon soon soon. For the first time since the strange and bleary autumn of the year previous he could hear a nightbird singing its mournful sunset song as the first stars tore out of the cold sky, yearning and yearning. Inside him, somewhere down deep, a quiet hum shivered through him the way his magic sometimes did when it rubbed up against the right memories, the feeling of it like foxfire, a bell to signal awakening: across the stained time-warped floorboards the light shifted across the dust and the dark walls, over the warm shades and shadows of everything that was his. Against his face the needle-chill of the nighttime breeze felt like fingers sliding across his cheekbones and his neck and his burgeoning blood. Beckoning, he knew.

When they were very young, seventeen, or by then Sirius would’ve been eighteen—just before nearly a year of strange, feverish flirting that had taken on a knife-glint of sexual tension broke when Remus kissed him on the full-moon night in the Shrieking Shack, naked, clammy with fear, Sirius’s arms around him, the change already shaking through vertebrae, marrow, vein-lines—they’d been standing around outside in the cold, sharing a cigarette after curfew with the brittle January night getting in the threadbare fabric of Remus’s old coat, which wouldn’t zip properly anymore. Sirius had pressed close to him, and then closer, until Remus could smell lavender and coffee on him, could see the snowflakes in his hair; he’d kept his eyes on Remus’s as he took the cigarette out of his mouth and pressed it into Remus’s, long fingers shockingly cold against his lips. Between them Remus could feel—impossibly—something spreading thick as honey, warm, holy, beyond language, older and more powerful than magic, something he could reach into, a flame he could shape with his hand. They were so close, he remembered thinking; they were so close. It would be so easy to blame it on the wind.

Where are you now, came the thought that was not entirely his own, its whisper the grating of a key in a very old lock. After all this goddamn time—where are you?

At last the night turned too cold where he sat in the windowsill and he turned to shut the window, the last draught through the screen bringing with it like a scent or a sound the ghost of memory, time, place, all-saying, all-knowing, a song he knew like the moon or the red beating of his own blood moving through his body, sung in a beloved unvoice across years and years, across miles and dreams and death.

Remus stood and pulled the curtains. There was much to do.