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the second coming

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turning and turning in the widening gyre
the falcon cannot hear the falconer

The night that Sirius comes back is picturesque, beautiful and calm. There isn't a cloud in the sky and the stars are everywhere, the Milky Way a pale smear across the night sky. It smells like summer, grass and trees. The moon is waning, a quarter of silver, barely enough to light up the garden.

Of course he's sleeping when Sirius scratches at the door, in a deep and dreamless sleep. Being woken up in the middle of the night has never been welcome, not after the years of fighting Voldemort and then the sleeplessness he left behind in his wake. When each sound beyond the bedroom door could mean sudden death and a green flash, one tends to sleep lightly.

Remus never shook the habit. His wand is in his hand when he creeps down the stairs.

Old habits die hard but the scratch at the door sounded canine, and so Remus is only really afraid of being pleasantly surprised. The face on the other side of the door is only canine around the eyes, but Remus knows they're one and the same.

It's out of Remus' mouth before he can help himself, a reflex of years of keeping things light despite everything. "So, did the cat drag you in or are you just that unexcited to see me?"

Sirius is leaning on the door-frame -- in fact, he suspects that Sirius is relying heavily on the door-frame to keep him upright -- but he answers just as glibly, "You try traveling on all fours. I'm exhausted." A once over with his eyes, taking in the bright purple dressing gown and outstretched wand. "And you, you've grown into your role in things, from the looks of it."

There is enough moonlight to see that no one followed him, there are no threats in the garden. Wand drops. "I've grown into getting on without you."

"That must be why you look so dreadful."

Apparently, despite his appearance, Sirius is feeling the same as ever. Remus steps away from the doorway, silently inviting him in. "I was just trying to get into the spirit of things."

When he moves back into the little cottage, Sirius lets go of the door-frame and collapses. "Must be the only time I've ever had the last word," Remus mutters, as he struggles to keep him from falling head-first onto the wood and close the door all at once.

Laying him on the floor, it's obvious that Sirius is passed out, quite possibly for good, and that there will be no waking him. Remus glances around, then grabs a blanket from his sofa and spreads it out over the man. "You want to sleep on the floor?" he mutters, trying to arrange Sirius's limbs into a more comfortable position. "Who am I to stop you?"

~

Sirius is spread out on the sitting room floor like a corpse but his breathing is slow and regular even with Remus' ear up against his chest, and so Remus decides it's just a deep, deep sleep. Sirius appears to really need it, so Remus makes breakfast for them the Muggle way, water in the teapot and eggs cracked quietly in the pan.

He wants to wake Sirius up and ask him how he got here, ask him when the last time he ate was, the last time he slept. He wants to ask him what drove him out of Hogwarts, he wants to ask him how he got out of Hogwarts alive. He wants to let him sleep on the sitting room floor for the next hundred years, because then he'll be right here and safe and well rested, at least.

Remus used to get letters from Sirius sometimes, now that he was out and on the run. He never wrote back often. Didn't really know where to send them, he thinks, but sometimes he lets himself admit it's that he never knew what to say.

The last letter was three weeks ago and he burned it.

Remus has a house full of James' books and he already lives with enough ghosts. As soon as he read the letter, he knew it might be the last one he ever received, and he didn't want to have it around to re-read every day for the rest of his life. He'd grieved Sirius once before and the only thing that got him through it was the anger and the bitter taste behind his tongue that he just couldn't shake. He wasn't going to do it again, not when there was only sadness.

So, a flick of his wand and the letter was ash. Which isn't to say that he didn't memorize every word, even though he only let himself read it twice.

Dear Remus,

If things go the way I think they're going to go, you can have whatever's left in my vault and all my enemies. We mostly have the same enemies, though, so maybe you should just just take whatever's in my vault and go to South America. The tropical birds were lovely there. I wanted to send you feathers, but they wouldn't hold still. I wanted to send you a lot of things.

Since I'm the only reason you ever passed fifth year Divination, I'm guessing you've been reading the signs the way I have and you know where it's going to happen and when. Dumbledore says he's asked you to lie low and I can only hope you'll listen to him. I'm going because I have to look out for Harry, but if I muck things up, I'm counting on you to pick up where I left off.

I wish I could send you a Fobb's Decoder like the one I accidentally broke when we were fourth years. I've kept my eye out, I get around quite a bit, but I haven't seen anything like it. I guess they don't make them anymore.

Be well. And remember, life is short, so don't forget to whistle.

Sirius

~

Remus carelessly drops an egg on the floor, then makes it whole again with a wave of his wand. He does it once, twice, and Sirius finally wakes up on the fourteenth crack against the wood slats. Remus watches him open his eyes to the bright sunlight and Sirius groans, trying to straighten out on the harsh bed of the wood floor and finally managing to sit up.

He looks mostly the same as the last time Remus saw him. Mostly, he looks alive. "So, I suppose you're here because I'm being pulled out of retirement again," Remus says lightly. He goes back to cracking eggs in a bowl. You can never have too much breakfast in hell.

Sirius rubs his neck, sagging under his own weight, even though there doesn't seem to be much more to him than skin and bones. "You might have at least offered me a cup of tea, first."

"Tea?"

"Love some."

Remus hands him a cup of tea out of nowhere, conjured to order even after all these years. Milk, two sugars. "So what's the story?" he says.

Sirius shakes his head and swirls his tea cup. He sits down at the table and if Remus is being honest, it's more like he collapses in the chair from the effort of having stood up at all. "It's all gone to hell," he says and that, really, says it all.

So it's really dire, then, and so he says, "At least we're together. Even when it gets worse, now, it'll still be better." He smiles at the eggs.

Sirius slurps his tea and for a moment in the sunlight, Remus is fourteen, he's halfway through a bowl of porridge and five minutes until Divination. And then Sirius slams the tea cup down and says, "We'll be better, but what about them?"

Remus could wave a finger and the eggs would go from gooey liquid to steaming, but he likes having something to do with his hands. "When we're better," he says slowly, "it makes us more likely to care if the rest of them are better, don't you think?"

Sirius lays his head down on the table, traces patterns in the wood grain with his finger. "I," he pauses. His finger makes a long swoop and there's a scar there that Remus doesn't remember from before, like someone tried to cut the finger clear off and got impatient halfway through. Remus waits, doesn't ask. "I don't know," Sirius says finally.

Remus turns and really faces the ghost at his table for the first time since he sat down. "Do you think I cared what was going on out in the world when you were in there? You're here. Things will get better."

"Why?"

"Because they have to."

Sirius shovels food into his face. "That's optimistic. Heard the latest?"

Egg on his hands, he's stirring so hard, but Remus doesn't notice. "Tell me."


things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

Remus' house is small and worn around the edges and he's only had occasion to show anyone around three or four times. They get to end of the hall and Remus is ready to turn right around when Sirius says, "What's behind the painting?"

Remus looks back. It's a gothic castle in an ugly gild frame, he bought it at an old hag's fire sale. "The painting?" he says.

"Come, now. You love a hidden room behind a painting. And, really, that thing is hideous, if it's not a door, it ought to be a doormat." Sirius grins and for a second it's just like nothing's changed there at all. Too much, even.

"I don't usually show people that room."

Sirius' lips go tight and he turns toward the stairs. They're standing so close that Sirius' robes catch Remus' and it's easy for Remus to reach out, grab him by the shoulder. "No, I didn't." Remus pauses, takes a deep breath. "If anyone should see it, it should be you. They're your things."

"What?"

"The room," Remus says, "your things. Books, mostly, some of your old gadgets from school. They gave them to me, after. And James and Lily's, whatever was left . after. I've meant to go through and get them together for Harry, we can do now, if you like, get out what's yours --"

Sirius raises a hand, and then places it over Remus'. "I think, not today. I've had enough history for a little while."

"Of course," Remus says, and feels foolish, so very very foolish and there's not much to do but that, stand around and look at his empty house with its peeling wallpaper and ghosts hidden in the walls.

"So you live alone then?" Sirius says finally.

"Then, yes."

"Always been that way?" he asks.

Remus looks past him, back toward the painting. He'd bought it because it was so ugly, it was so his eyes wouldn't try to linger. "Basically. Nothing lingering. To put someone else in danger, it didn't seem fair," he says. "So I haven't. For years and years now."

"Since, do you mean?"

"Sirius, if someone tried to kill you when you were with me... there was at least a fair chance that they were just trying to kill you."

Sirius laughs. After a second, Remus does, too.

~

A letter comes for Sirius, borne on the leg of a brilliantly white snowy owl. Remus doesn't have to ask who it's from.

"Is something wrong?" he says, worried, because messages have rarely been good news before, there's no reason why they should start now. He's halfway to envisioning all sorts of torment and torture and worry and guilt, but Sirius is grinning as he reads the parchment. "What, what is it? What's wrong?"

"No, nothing really. He, sometimes I think he's just looking for fatherly advice."

"You never wanted children." Sirius outright laughed at him when he idly mentioned the idea of teaching, years ago when Remus still was suffering under the delusion that someone would hire him for something.

"Not like James did, no." Sirius finishes scanning the letter with a soft smile, and hands it over.

Remus holds the letter, avoiding the ink and not looking down. "So what do you say?"

Sirius grabs a quill, fresh sheet of parchment, to reply. Hedwig sits on their kitchen table to wait. "Whatever I think James would."

Hedwig makes frequent appearances over the next few weeks; Harry sounds lonely, between the lines. He asks a few questions about the plans set in motion and what he and Sirius know, trying to be subtle but not all that hard. Sirius answers with honesty for the both of them, that they have no idea of planning or execution. Harry is suspicious, and Remus suspects that he doesn't believe what Sirius tells him. But if that's what Harry thinks, he's careful not to say so.

It's tough to see Harry, not even sixteen and yet with a finer set of survival instincts than their generation ever had. Would James or Lily ever have been as suspicious, in fifth year? Would Sirius ever had assumed the worst so young? Reading over Harry's third note, a brief description of a dream with the comment "It's all right, you don't have to tell me" tagged on the end, Remus can't help but wince. The last year aged him more than was fair, just like the year before that and the one before that one, too.

Sirius leans over his shoulder while he's staring at the parchment. "He does sound older than fourteen sometimes, doesn't he," Sirius says. Remus can't answer.

~

Sirius wants to know, now Voldemort has his body back, what's going to be coming. So they order back issues of the Daily Prophet for the last three months, May and June and Remus collects up his few July issues. They read all morning and all afternoon and then again the next day, tapping any important bits with the tip of Remus' wand, illuminating the words as future pieces of a large and mostly unseen puzzle.

There are a lot of likely stories, things that need following up on, and Remus almost asks doubtfully whether knowing is going to do any good. Dumbledore is sure to know all of this, anyway. And then he remembers that not even Dumbledore is infallible, he just does better at everyone else at hiding it, and keeps reading.

"D'you want some scones?" Sirius says absently, as he chucks another paper on the floor.

Remus looks up in surprise. "Scones? I didn't know you knew how to make scones."

"Well, I just remembered. You know?" Sirius rubs the back of his head. "So much feels like it's missing still, but. I think I can manage it. Maybe even the Muggle way."

He could stand up, he could ask, he could offer consoling words. But, Sirius would back away, or shrug and put on a brave face -- or outright ignore the question -- or he'd roll his eyes. Remus bites his lip, and doesn't ask. Says, "Flour and all's in the pantry, third shelf."

"Ta," and Sirius smiles, looks all right again. It was the right thing to say.

As he's stirring flour and baking soda carefully and therefore not looking anywhere but the bowl, Sirius says, "Do you ever wonder what things would be like if Lily and James were still alive? What life would--"

And Remus cuts him off. "No."

"No?"

"I used to, when I was younger," Remus says, and drinks his tea, crumples up another page of newspaper. He debates about how much to say, but this is Sirius and if they can maybe talk about this now, later will be all right, later they won't have to. He adds, "But there's only so many times you can cry about it."

"Ah." Sirius shapes the batter on a dented tray, poking a few stubborn would-be scones with a finger. "Yes. Right. I, I don't, I keep wondering what it would be like."

"It's a bit pointless," Remus points out gently, and still has trouble swallowing. "I mean, it. You get used to it."

"Yes," and they sit, reading some more, joking once or twice about never having been this studious in school, but neither of them laughing.

~

They finish the papers in a few days, and Remus' kitchen looks like a disaster area, covered in paper and parchment. A small stack of likely articles, clipped out by magic, are resting on his draining board. The discarded pages are strewn around the floor and on every surface in the tiny room.

"There's nothing here!" Sirius bites out, and slams a hand on the table. "Nothing that we didn't know already." He stands up, too quickly, and his cup falls to the floor, shattering.

Remus is standing in the doorway, and he looks at Sirius a minute. Then he waves his wand, clearing away the debris and garbage, and goes over to put a hand on Sirius's shoulder.

"Sometimes," Remus says, "I can't believe that we were going to kill Peter."

"I." Sirius goes to get the Muggle mail, the slot clinking softly from his front room. "I'll get your mail. We can start on the Muggle papers next."

Remus lets him go.

It's almost easy to slip back into being what he used to be. Someone who knows how to handle Sirius, someone who knows exactly what has to be done to Peter. The years haven't melted away, that would be a lie. But Remus is dead sure he can remember the man he was and the things he had to do. And -- memory is fuzzier, but -- he's fairly sure those things were easy.

Remus allows himself one little moment of remembering things the way they were. He is who he is, and who those black, terrible years made him. Sirius, as well, is a composite of all his parts. They are both the same in so many place. Someone who can kill. Not someone who would enjoy it, but someone who can.

Eventually, Remus knows that Sirius is going to kill Peter. And he's going to stand by and watch. Killing Peter, it may not be easy. But it isn't going to be as difficult as Remus would like to admit.

"Nothing interesting today," Sirius says, coming in and scanning through The Guardian. "Manchester City won again."

Remus puts his thoughts away. They may be true but Sirius is engrossed in the sports scores, and they have work to do and a now to live in.


the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned

He suggested practicing hexes as a way, at first, to alleviate some of Sirius's quickly building tension. Pacing around the house, tapping fingers; they're all signs and easy ones to spot, even if he hadn't done the exact same thing a week before the N.E.W.T.S. and again most of the year before James died.

"This used to be easier, didn't it?" as Sirius tries, yet again, to counteract a hex with his eyes blindfolded and hands behind his back. "I remember this being easier."

"It was probably more fun, back in the day," Remus replies. And that is a sign of being old, definitely, reminiscing about school. He almost says it, almost says we must be getting old, but saying it makes it mostly true.

Sirius thickens the air around a particularly large butterfly. Its wings keep beating but slow and sticky, and, "Weren't we practicing all these same hexes about the same time that year?" comes out of Remus' mouth instead, offhand.

The first thing they both notice, looking at the time and the wrinkle between Sirius's eyebrows, the signs of intense concentration, is how seriously they're both taking it. There's no way to hide it and so Sirius lets the butterfly go, closes his eyes, gives it a ten seconds head start and then curses it again, thickening the air around its delicate wings ten feet from where it was last.

The change, then, is in all those little places where before, that was a joke and now it's a lead-in to pulling out all Remus' books from the attic, spell books and curse books and some of James's old library even, the darkest spells they used to know.

Remus might have told Harry he wasn't an expert at fighting Dementors, but it isn't exactly true and the Patronus Charm is what they're both itching to practice. The only way to truly test themselves, though, is a nightmare and a half, so they keep on with hexes and blocking, trading the wand back and forth between them. Sirius has so much to remind himself of.

A week of hexes, all of James' books, and it almost feels like James is back, helping them from over their shoulders. It should be off balancing, off putting, but instead it's comforting.

Remus doesn't like to think about why.

~

Life is bizarre with Sirius around. Bizarre and calm, which is exactly against the grain and unsettles Remus more than long silences and a raving psychotic. If Sirius was starkers it may be easier to deal with, but this relatively easy companionship is jarring him down to his teeth.

Summer passes by slowly, and they settle into some kind of routine already, one week, two weeks, eating and practicing. Two weeks with Sirius a fugitive and no word from Dumbledore.

"He just told you to wait?" as Sirius tightens the bindings on Remus' ankle. Invisible bonds, it's child's' play, but the real curses they need to practice would be a one-way trip back.

"Just wait," and Sirius lets him go. "So I am. Getting tired of my company yet?"

Remus reaches his hand out for the wand, instinctively, and Sirius relinquishes it. "Not at all. My skills are getting more of a workout now than they have in a year."

"You know," and Sirius sits down on the couch. "We don't have to practice these hexes. We've both known them since we were children."

"No, we don't." Remus stands up, gesturing. "All right. Ready?"

Sirius nods.

"Imperio."

~

The tricks get dirtier after that, Remus almost losing a hand and burning a hole in his floor. Fighting off control, all manner of nasty low-down tricks, dark magics that Remus spent his whole life fighting against and now they're pulling out in order to pass the time and not ask each other, "when."

Sirius loses it over the wand. Maybe it's one too many curses, one too many times when his will is sucked under by Remus' quiet "imperio". Maybe it was building and building and building and then finally goes "pop".

"I need my own wand," Sirius finally hisses, and without a backwards glance storms out of the house, paws clomping and echoing on Remus' wooden floor.

Remus looks down at his hand. He's clutching his old, reliable wand. Sirius doesn't have a wand. This is somehow important, in Sirius's mind; his dependence on Remus for something. His dependence on Remus for everything.

~

"What, you think you're just going to walk into Ollivanders' and pick out a new wand, happy as you please?"

And Sirius, who never took a "no" for anything, gets a determined glint in his eye.

That glint should spell 'danger' with a capital D, and it probably does, but Remus inhales sharply, chest pounding. It's a definite sign of the old Sirius, come back to shine his eyes through. Of course, it's also probably a sign of an intensely bad idea, but with that expression on Sirius's face at long last, Remus can't care.

Remus mentally upgrades the bad idea to worst idea when Sirius says, "Say, do you remember anything about brewing Polyjuice Potion?"

~

The full moon, two days away, also heralds a visit from Severus. "Your potion," he says, giving Remus the Wolfsbane potion in a foul smelling vial. "And I heard that you," and it's only a little venomous, "were requiring some Polyjuice Potion?"

Sirius takes the potion with a nod. No matter how much of a godsend it is to finally be able to correspond with Dumbledore directly, now that Sirius is here, it still spells an ever-ticking clock, counting down the days. Each step that brings them closer to the world again means they're closer to the alarm going off.

"A thousand things on my schedule daily, and Dumbledore has me brewing potions for you two," Snape says, folding his arms. "You'll forgive me if I don't stay."

"There's always a price to pay," Sirius says, as he Dissapparates.

Remus puts the Wolfsbane away on the counter, already pulling out a few of his hairs. "You're learning tricks from Barty Crouch."

~

"Perhaps," Sirius says desperately, after trying ten wands and blowing up three vases, "we should go with something a little different. Maybe."

Ollivander stands up straight, and narrows his eyes at Sirius for a long moment. In the reflection of the shop window, Remus winces. "Yes," he answers, finally. "Yes, maybe, something different." He rummages around, pulling out a dusty wand. "Something different for you, Lupin. Something, new. Try this, boy."

"Why this one?" Because Sirius is a little wary of picking anything up anymore, it's all blowing apart in his hands, and this time literally and he's getting tired of ducking.

"Try it, boy," and Ollivander's voice a little sharper. Sirius grabs it, and feels the overwhelming sensation of the wand's agreement. "Yes," and Ollivander stares, unblinking, at Sirius. "Yes. As I thought. A pure wand, ten inches, core of -- well, core of good intent. Yes." He stares a moment longer, then claps his hands. "Seven Galleons, m'boy, and you'd best be getting back before your little potion wears off."

Sirius hands him the money, and Apparates right out of the shop, wand clutched tightly and panting heavily, heart racing in fear and shock.


the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

The bed is nothing more than a pallet on the floor, the mattress limp like it's been stuffed with wet newspaper. Dirty sunlight filters through the windows, but if Remus closes his eyes, he can feel the heavy drape of velvet curtain surrounding a Gryffindor four poster bed.

They used to do this when they were barely older than children. They'd curse each other silent so that the noise wouldn't give them away. Remus thinks that if he opens his mouth now, no sound would come out at all. Old habits, like old troublemakers, they die hard.

Sirius runs one questioning finger down Remus' chest. Remus can feel the scar he first noticed the morning Sirius showed up on his kitchen floor raised up against his skin. And so that's what Remus can't tear his eyes away from, meters and meters of perfect skin and the red scar tissue stands out like a railroad track from here back to hell.

Sirius has scars. Remus should have known this, does know this. It's been thirteen years, he was in Azkaban, but it's more that he has scars that Remus doesn't recognize.

Sirius has scars. The long skinny line like a road map down his left thigh, a lash from the Whomping Willow when they were in their fifth year. Tough tissue where a claw tooth caught his left shoulder blade. But there are also faint scrapes like rows of fingernails on the back of his wrist that are foreign to Remus, he'd be afraid to ask about them even if he thought he could.

Their whole generation has scars, but Remus still feels like he's in bed with a stranger.

~

Remus wakes up to darkness and a dead owl between them on the bed. Truth be told, he's so grateful that the cold against his hip isn't Sirius, he can't feel much for the fallen bird.

Young and snowy white or black like parchment ink, the owl might have been an omen. Tired, old and gray, though, the owl is just one more thing Dumbledore pushed and pushed until there's nothing left, just to tell them that it's time.

Remus lies back with the parchment pressed across his heart. Five more minutes, three more hours, it wouldn't hurt to stay just like this for a little bit longer. But it won't make any difference, either, and so he turns and says, "It's time." Softly because one thing he's learned over these last weeks is that the boy who could sleep through a hurricane is gone and that this man on the run wakes up with a start when the leaves rustle.

Sirius sits up. "There's a dead owl on the bed. It's an omen, isn't it? Either that or this is a bloody awful dream."

"It's not an omen," Remus says. "If we believed in omens, we'd never leave the house."

"Might not be so bad," Sirius mutters, and Remus silently agrees. But then, Sirius says, "If I believed in omens, I wouldn't be able to look in the mirror," and it's loud enough to count.

They leave the owl and its message behind and start to feel around for their robes. Sirius stands up, a bed with a dead owl in between them and a sock in one hand and says, "Are we the good guys?"

Remus shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe. We fight for the good guys."

"Yes, but. Us. You and I." Sirius points between them. "Are we the good guys?"

Remus looks down at the pile of robes in his hands. The patch on the shoulder is getting frayed again. "I don't know."

"We're going to lose, you know," Sirius says, quickly like it's a dare, or a secret.

"Of course we are," Remus replies, because it's no secret, not if Sirius wants to say it out loud.

"Then why are we fighting?"

Remus looks up. He has a dead owl in his bed and a house full of ghosts that don't dance. He has a scar above his left eyebrow from the claw of a rat who wants him dead. "Because we're the good guys," he says, "We don't fight the fights we know we can win, we fight the fights that need fighting."

It's time.