Who can invent for us a cartography of autonomy?
Who can draw a map that includes our own desires?
On days when he eats breakfast, Remus likes to fix it in the small downstairs kitchen, the kitchen that belonged to the servants back when there were servants. The stove is reliable, and the space is comfortingly claustrophobic. In the narrow corridors between the linoleum counters Remus is free to move in small ways; almost like not having to move at all.
The map is folded open always on the counter, and Remus's footprints fade in and out of the same space. Black melting into parchment and blooming Black again, over and over and over.
"James," comes Sirius's peaceful rumble out of the darkness, "you are my best friend in all the world and no one will ever take up as much space as you in my heart; but you roll like my grandmother."
"Why don't you shut your fucking mouth," says James. "Who pays for your drug binges, I’d like to know." He inhales, and orange light flares in his eye sockets and the hollows of his cheeks. He closes his eyes for a moment and then opens his mouth, silently, and smoke spills and tumbles lazily from his lips. He grins, and hiccups, and covers his mouth with the back of one hand as he passes the joint to Remus. His and Sirius's eyes flick to each other, and they share a brief, inexplicable smile. Remus chokes and sputters, and feels walled out.
He likes--in theory--the smell of butter frying, and the hiss and pop of sausages, and in practice he likes the way the pilot light flickers like wings crossing. What he cannot afford he imagines, because this is the way Remus Lupin lives his life, because he cannot afford very much.
Mornings when the electricity is out he eats slices of cheap white bread, the crusts ripped off, the spongy dough rolled into pills, and listens to the traffic rumble the plaster from the old walls. One day, he thinks, I’m going to do those over. One day when I’m not busy.
Moony will you pass that here please, thank you kindly; yes--
James, stuffing chocolate into his mouth, eyes behind the sheen of his glasses intent and dark. He says, “Sirius, I don’t like it this way” and Sirius says absently “That’s not what you said last night,” and then, "what?”
“This, with the walls.” He gestures at them with his wand, tracing the edges that Peter has inked in so lovingly. “They don’t stay still, d’you see--we can’t just block them out like this, it’s not the Muggle underground.”
“Well, so they’ll shift,” says Sirius, but he is scanning the page, he is seeing what James sees, chewing on his lower lip. “Oh,” a little gasp, and “oh bollocks,” he says, shooting a sharp glance up at James. “That’s what you mean.”
James nods, and Sirius throws his hands up in exaggerated despair and says “Well, that’s torn it. Now what?”
“What,” says Peter, “what?” and Remus is grateful to him for asking the stupid question.
“The walls,” says James, but without Sirius’s automatic, scornful Shut up Peter gaze; it is one of James’s host of small kindnesses, that he never questions, and he never pauses. “See how we’ve done them-—like muggle architecture? That won’t cut it. Blocks, big bricks of solid mass like this, they can’t move, if you follow me, and the Hogwarts walls have got to be able to-—fuck. I’m not saying this right. Listen. Do you see how we’ve got to get every little banner to follow every single person, right, that’s the whole point; so we can’t just put a you-shaped blot on the map and say, This Space is Peter Pettigrew, because you won’t always be there, wherever we put you. We have to write the whole spell in.”
“Unless we put the blot in the kitchens,” says Sirius, and snickers unkindly.
“Yeah,” says Peter.
“All right,” says Sirius, cutting in, his hand curled easily over James’s knuckles, “well, the walls of Hogwarts, they’re like people. They get…whims. They’re not just filled-in spaces; they’re not just places where emptiness isn’t. You have to build the walls with something that isn’t just mass. See?”
“no,” says Peter.
“Words,” says Remus suddenly, with that tight filling-in at the bottom of his throat that comes always when he finds himself speaking without thinking first. Sirius and James look up at him in surprise, their movements twinned, their shoulders idly resting together. “We could do it--the walls written out, right?"
"Explain yourself," says James, exchanging a brief glance with Sirius.
"Well," Remus struggles a little, groping for the words that dance along the edges of what he understands and what he can make them understand. "Er. When wizards build something using magic, there are going to be traces--right?--traces left in the stone, of what they did. It's like...using Priori Incantatem, sort of, on the stone. You could find the whole history of its being built, right there. You wouldn't have to limit it to Hogwarts, even," suddenly it occurs to him, "if you used that sort of--base vocabulary, you could take it anywhere, anywhere that's been built with magic--"
"Moony!" says Sirius impatiently. "Stop having ideas for a minute and talk like a person."
"Sorry, right," and Remus retreats slightly into himself, considers, and tries again. "All right. If we could...if we could trace those magics, the ones the architects used to built the place...then we could find the secret names for those walls, the names for any stones that've been animated by magic. Er. It's like the Mason's Word, sort of. Except it doesn't call stone into life, it just...numbers and tracks the lives that are already there. D'you see?" And he's getting more keyed up about this the more he understands it, he can feel his voice climbing, going childishly high and wavering with excitement. "D'you get it? We'd just have to write down those words, the words to spell so many walls into life in the first place--that's what I mean, base vocabulary, the spells that must be traced right into the stone. It's just like how in the tracking spell we have for all the people, there's a base vocabulary that says, all right, find things that are breathing and have two legs and this kind of a brain. But with this the things we'd want the map to search for wouldn't be breath, or thinking--it'd be something different. So we could just sense those things, and let the map place them on its own, using your spell--just using words. See what I mean?"
“Words?” and Peter sounds utterly helpless.
“Words,” breathes Sirius, a slow smile breaking over his face, and his gray eyes dart to James. “He’s right, isn’t he? Isn’t that how you'd do it?”
“You’d have to…” says James slowly, and then the smile growing on his face gradual and bright as summer. “Moony—-you, you-—he’s a genius!” to Sirius. “This one is a genius! We should listen to him more often, instead of disregarding his advice and stealing his clothes.” He slings his arm around Remus's shoulder and kisses him soundly, joyfully atop the head, rumpling his hair.
“so we ought,” says Sirius softly. His eyes are on Remus, somewhere between the corner of his mouth and the curve of his cheek, and Remus ducks his head quickly. “But then,” says Sirius in his usual clear, mocking way, “then I would never have any clean laundry.”
Nights he teaches an Adult-Onset Squib Orientation Course, in an old brick building that is silent and echoing in the halls but buzzes in the back of his teeth, where the ceilings are striped with fluorescent lights that flicker and drape the faces of his students into skeletons. His students are terrified and they are lost and when he tells them, There are ways to live in this world without magic, but first you must accept that there is no magic for you, now, not anymore, and it’s hard, yes, but you have to know this and work within the walls of it--when he tells them this their lost eyes sink black into their skulls, and their clothes seem to empty, their helpless small bodies wilting and dwindling.
They make him tired, or the droning whine of the bulbs makes him tired, and he goes back to Grimmauld Place tired and falls asleep in all his clothes on the creaking sofa. There is a room for him upstairs, but the room is full of unexpected hollow space. It seems to grow every time he goes into it, like a blank dark mouth to swallow up the great spidery house.
Remus has heard of haunted houses being full of the dead; he thinks it is strange that anyone could find this terrible.
What, Wormtail, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you--
"I said it's hard to be us," says Peter again, in one of his moments of strange, unsettling wisdom. They are at one of the round tables in the common room, doing their Herbology homework, which means Peter is staring silently at his paper, and when Remus now and then says something, Peter scratches it down. Outside the window Sirius and James swoop periodically, throwing a Quaffle back and forth. They will write this essay at four-thirty tomorrow morning in fifteen minutes and do as well as Remus.
"What," Remus says, and coughs, and starts again. "What do you mean?"
"I mean it's hard to be us." Peter is staring at the plant that he and Remus are sketching and detailing, but he isn't really seeing it. "Not because it's so bad, you know, our being who we are; just because it means we aren't a Them."
"They're just a different sort of friends," says Remus mildly. "It doesn't make us not important." He looks down at his rows and rows of neat writing.
"Oh," and Peter sounds bitter, a strange thing coming from the amiable little bundle of nothing that is Peter-- "oh, right then, there you go, I guess it won't bother me anymore."
"We could be a Them," offers Remus, but he doesn't really mean it.
"You can't make that happen." Peter folds and refolds his parchment when he gets unhappy, until flakes start to fall off the edges and his words wear at the corners, blur with nervous sweat and finally lose all integrity. “I’ve tried.”
“See the little serrations on the leaves,” says Remus abruptly, drawing a sharp line on his parchment to start a new paragraph, “those are what distinguish it from the rest of the family Erisae.”
“right,” says Peter softly.
Remus has read plenty of novels in his lifetime. Big, fat ones, Muggle and magic alike, and all of them full of love and death and noble sacrifice, some of them quiet, some of them thunderous and agonizing. He’s read about lovers crippled by death, sobbing for weeks on the floor; and about men who dwindle, go dark behind the eyes, who stop feeling altogether.
He wonders if they ever got round to explaining the everyday weirdness of loss, or if he ever paid attention: the way things get quiet, and bright, and far away, and how everything is slightly out of focus, mis-timed--except when they aren't, sometimes, some things that make no sense. The enormity of his hands, up close, and the sharp lines on his fingers; and the sense, not that time is moving slower, but that he is somehow more strangely, distantly aware of every second that goes by. Every movement in his chest and stomach exhaling, inhaling. The soft muscles on his eyelids contracting. The shallow, rucked pattern on the sofa, tiny blue cross-stitch hairs rough against his cheek and huge close to the eye.
"You got taller than me!" yelps Sirius with the horrified outrage of one personally insulted. He is circling Remus with Padfoot's narrow intensity, looking thoroughly scandalised. Next to them the train whistles; families crowd about them, knocking their ankles with carts and suitcases. "Prongs, he's taller than me!"
"hardly," says Remus, "maybe an inch--who knows, you could still grow more."
Sirius stops, regards him openmouthed for amoment, and then turns to James. "And he sounds like your Da! Christ, Prongs, I feel like I don't even know him anymore--"
"Yes, well, puberty has worked wonders for all of us," says James pleasantly, "except for Pete of course." (Peter opens his mouth to protest, then looks down at himself, sighs, and closes it again.) "Shall we discuss all the hair we have in new and exciting places, or can we maybe get on the train first and not discuss this in front of my entire family?"
"All right, all right, you don't have to get shirty about it, I was just making observations," sulkily. Sirius folds his arms, glares for a few moments, and then, mercurial as air, whirls to whisper something in James's ear. James's mouth makes an "o," and he cackles and smacks Sirius on the arm, and Sirius grins lasciviously at him, hair tumbling over his eyes.
"You realize this--your Height Problem--this means our friendship is over," says Sirius on the train. James is dozing against the window, Peter down the hall talking with some Hufflepuff girl. The train rattles and sways, and the light falls across Sirius's face, which at fifteen is preternaturally handsome and slightly otherworldly. He's lost most of the baby fat, not that he had much to begin with, and there is the beginning of a fine shadow along his sharp jaw and his knifeblade cheekbones; and now, sprawled out against the luggage rack, with James draped up against his side and snoring, he looks every inch the Young Dauphin. His gray eyes are fixed on Remus, superior and comfortable.
"Sirius, experiment with human logic," says Remus patiently.
"Well," Sirius glances out the window, so the light blades golden over his face, "you're taller than me, which means you're taller than Vincent Crabbe, which means you don't need anyone's help to keep him from knocking you down; which means you've absolutely no reason to hang about with an idiot like me any more. This is a tragedy, Moony, why couldn't you have just stopped two inches ago?"
"I hang out with you for other reasons than your amazing ability to kick Vincent Crabbe in the Unmentionables," says Remus, "you know."
"Don't patronize me," says Sirius mournfully.
"For example," and Remus feels a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, "your incredible powers of inane babbling, and your comforting shortness. I can use your head to rest things on."
"I could have you killed, you know," says Sirius Black, heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, with ominous credibility.
"I could step on your head, like a garden gnome," says Remus, and grins at him, and Sirius flips him two fingers in playful antagonism or salute.
Sometimes he goes to the toilet and hunches over it, knees scraping rough against the hairy bathmat and his stomach hard with pain. Two hours at a time, Remus waits, and is not sick.
He flushes the toilet when he's done and gets up with painful slowness and then stands absurdly in the middle of the tiny washroom, towering over the sink, not moving, not knowing where to move to. There are books downstairs he could read, there are errands he could get done, but if he thinks about it the best thing for him to do, really, is to not move. He finds himself doing that more and more: standing in the middle of dark rooms with no idea why he's there, so that it's just a relief not to try to go anywhere else, just to stand in the circle of the empty floor and wait to figure it out.
Moony. Moony, pay attention, Moony, hello--
“What time is it,” whispers Sirius out of the dark. He has ink on his nose, Remus can see in the faint light from the map, and he looks like death. Next to him James is tumbled in sleep, his glasses askew and his mouth half-open. Now and then he lets out a little snore and shifts his head on Sirius’s thigh.
“Half-four,” Remus whispers back. He looks down; they have nearly all the East Wing done now, and his hand throbs from writing: words to spell the walls into listening, words to spell the map into comprehension. He puts the quill down, flexes his aching fingers, and winces.
“Stop it,” says Sirius sharply.
Remus looks up in surprise. “Stop what?”
“writing, just for a second,” says Sirius, “if you go on like this you’ll give yourself premature arthritis. Already you are sixty in the head, and I would hate to see it consume you entirely. Next goes your teeth, you know, and then your tolerance for spicy foods, and next thing we know you’ll be head boy and what will we do with you then? You'll have to be killed.”
“Shut up, Sirius,” says Remus, but he can’t help grinning a little. Sirius glances at him, sloe eyes soft, and takes Remus’s hand, thumbs kneading soothing circles on the twinging palm. Remus exhales, eyes flicking up to the ceiling, not daring to look over at Sirius.
“’S nice, isn’t it.” Sirius’s voice is soft, and his hands are freezing and gentle. “Back in first year I needed it all the time—-this was before I learned that work is merely a distraction intended to occupy the weak and muddy-minded. I used to make James do it for me.”
“I bet it was vile, he’s got clammy palms,” says Remus with a violence that surprises him, and then feels stupid. But Sirius just laughs, strokes his fingertips down the webs between Remus’s fingers and the raised net of white scars on the back of his hand; and Remus sighs and nestles down into his own shoulders like a bird. “How much have you done?”
“Nearly all the east wing, I think,” says Remus. His whole body is straining and yearning towards Sirius’s palm, flush against his own.
“Christ. No wonder your hand’s in knots. Well, I’ve nearly done the southeast quadrant, I think, so when you’re done–-” Sirius is doing the hardest part, the tracing spell, the one he and James worked out together. The whole parchment has to be covered in it; it takes up over half of one of James's stained and crumpled copybooks. James did the north while Sirius napped, and Peter kept him on track, and now it’s their turn. Sirius dips his quill back in the clarewater well, drags a hand down his face. “The worst of this is I can’t even see the fruits of my labor. Hours of writing and all I have to show for it is wrinkly fingertips and soggy parchment. Moony, what if it doesn’t work?”
“It’ll work.” Remus sometimes wonders if it even matters what they do; if the map, consecrated by their writings, hasn't acquired some strange life of its own, if it would even allow them to fail. It frightens him a little, and awakens an unfamiliar awe that Remus imagines belongs somewhere else, somewhere bigger than this room, like a cliff or a church.
“Why do I always believe you?” and Sirius hunches again over the crinkling paper, his unruly, elegant hand tracing out words in water, words that blossom dark for a moment and then wrinkle and wane, invisible, into the paper.
Remus wishes they would send Harry to him, even though he knows they can’t. He’s better with his relatives, they tell him. The magics on him are very old, and very complicated; it would be like unweaving one strand from a spiderweb, they say, you can’t do it. If he were to be honest with himself he would have to admit that Harry is better off anywhere but Grimmauld Place, with its flaking plaster and its single, living ghost.
He wishes he could go back to teaching people that had the capacity to learn, and he wishes Harry were with him, and he wishes the sink in the downstairs kitchen didn’t leak, and he wishes he could afford something to eat besides instant noodles and margarine and cheap bread.
The train, going by, shakes down dust from the kitchen wall.
Remus presses the tips of his fingers against the smeared train window, squashes his face against it so that he can see the yellow fields spinning away behind them, the long sparkling line of the sea uncurling and racing beside them. He likes this kind of travel, slow and lazy, the sun making soft bright squares on the red seat. Under his hand Sirius stirs, once, and huffs like a dog in its sleep, and the light spills on his collarbone in a triangle of light. Remus turns back to the window; the sun in his eyes turns his pupils to points, floods his vision with white.
He tightens his hand on Sirius’s shoulder and Sirius shifts, his curled back flexing, and mutters something. They have been on the train three hours already, and Sirius has seen the view too many times to be impressed by the spiral of white cloud in the burning sky; he takes the time to snatch the sleep he never gets otherwise. June surprised them this year, closing in with exams and hot buzzing cut-grass days, and Sirius got in a fight with James and broke his arm and mended it backwards and cried with helplessness and horror and leftover anger while James watched with wide eyes at his own hand flipping backward on his wrist; and Peter got an inexpert blow job from a girl named Midge Masden and didn’t stop talking about it for three weeks and Remus watched them all, listened to James’s rage and Sirius’s guilt and Peter’s euphoria, lying on his back in the sweet-smelling grass, silent and comfortable.
He doesn’t mind listening. He likes it that they trust him. It makes him feel pretty much all right that they’ll talk to him with a violence of emotion that they won’t show each other most of the time. Someday, he thinks, he’ll have something to tell them about, and he’ll be the one on his stomach with his chin in his hands, trying to make them understand how happy he is. For now he waits, listens, thrills in silence with love for them.
“You all right, there,” says James softly, from the other side of the compartment.
Remus looks up in surprise. “Do I look sad?”
“You’re just quiet.”
“Silence is the perfectest herald of joy,” says Remus distantly.
“You do talk a lot of rot, Moony,” says James, and shares a brief, lazy smile.
Sirius moves against him, like a cat, silent and content. The train rattles on, twisting through green and familiar paths, wheels fast and thunderous as the rhythm of Remus’s heart.
He entertains elaborate fantasies, guiltily, secretly, voraciously; even knowing that if you indulge too deeply, if you create too perfect a future memory, it will never come true. He can’t help himself. He reaches the Ministry ten minutes earlier. He looks up to see Sirius running toward Bellatrix. He lowers his wand and kills her. The body bursts with blood, slumps and tumbles down the stairs from the dais. People cheer them in the streets, Voldemort’s corpse is paraded in front of the Ministry, Sirius says Thank God you came, Moony. I love you, thank you so much, I love you. Sirius looks handsome and young and Remus looks handsome and young, and the violins swell up and the bright smell of bacon and oranges because Harry is making breakfast for all of them in the tiny kitchen–-
Remus snaps back and blinks, realizes he’s been staring at the blank, peeling wall for ten minutes. He shakes his head, takes a sip of his tea. The cup rattles and chinks in the old saucer. Remus notices the swirl and speckle of the wood-grain table, rough against the tin sugar-spoon.
Ink is smeared over the back of his hands, like–
The map is working, the map is finished. Covered in ink the four of them in the Shrieking Shack, drunk and euphoric. James ran outside and started howling, leaping madly around with joy, and Peter just sat and grinned, and Sirius and Remus bent over the map together, transfixed by their own footprints birthed from the yellow paper. Now Peter and James, who were doing celebratory shots, are gone, and as the glass rolls from James’s limp hand it becomes clear that there is no longer a competition to cheer for. Still the burst of cheering waits in Remus’s throat and refuses to die. He turns to Sirius, and Sirius’s eyes glint with reflected moon.
“We did it,” he says, stupidly, to fill the silence--because of course they did it, or they wouldn’t be here. Sirius shakes his head and says, low and rough in the darkness, “Moony, c'mere.”
His voice is just like Remus imagined it would be, saying that, quiet and commanding and darkly assured of its own power.
He cannot refuse. He goes, his skin hot against Sirius’s skin, Sirius’s heart against him like a bird trapped in the hand. And then Sirius says, wonderingly, “I get it, I think,” which is nice because Remus doesn’t--and he eases Remus not un-gently against the creaking bed. Remus shoves his hand down to grip the frame, shaking, not understanding, and Sirius says impatiently, “oh, please,” and kisses him.
Remus gasps into Sirius’s mouth, lost, head soaring and spinning.
Sirius’s mouth is wet, and his kisses are sloppy and frantic, his tongue strange in Remus’s mouth and his lips not always accurate. They don’t breathe right together, and when Sirius shoves his hand inexpertly down Remus’s shorts, rucking them down around his thighs, Remus hitches and buckles, gasping, and their teeth knock painfully together, and then Remus curls up automatically to shove Sirius’s hands off him and their foreheads slam against each other. Blood in Remus’s mouth, his tongue stinging.
Three strokes of Sirius's cold, sweaty hand on his cock and Remus has forgotten to push, is hissing, dragging his fingers down Sirius’s sweat-slick back, slamming his hips up ungracefully, convulsively. Sirius grins, his open mouth and bared teeth against Remus’s mouth like a crescent moon. When he rocks against Remus for a moment, grinding hard down on Remus’s thigh, Remus thinks, idiotically, This isn’t fair. But his wrists are caught between them, one of them in the circle of Sirius’s fingers, one pinioned agonizingly under his back, and he can’t shift. Sirius is grunting and twisting, trapping Remus’s leg between his, and then that’s it, that’s it, ah god, fuck, yes, the sweet rush and melt, the silver dissolve in the pit of his belly and spreading wild through his whole body. Remus feels his mouth working, his limbs quaking, Sirius’s wide kisses too strange and arrhythmic to match. He can feel the words spilling out of his mouth, hot against Sirius’s lips, but he has no idea what he’s saying, just that his mouth is open and he can’t stop the sounds coming and he convulses upward and knocks them both over, so now Sirius is under him, and Sirius’s mouth is bleeding at the corner and Remus is left sobbing his last words out, panting hot into the hollow of Sirius’s throat, grinding against the hard line of Sirius’s thigh.
It doesn’t matter: because all it takes to get Remus there are Sirius’s hands, smoothing down the vein-lines on Remus’s forearm, a thumb smearing the corner of Remus’s mouth.
He’s still breathing hard, the wires of his body jangling and shaking, and the sheets tangled around his thighs are damp and rapidly growing cold. When Sirius pushes up against him, mouthing a round breath against his cheekbone, his elbow goes right into Remus’s chest and Remus yowls and chokes, his right foot still in its sweat-thick sock paddling into the wet spot on the mattress. Sirius shudders and drapes, and then laughs, low and wild, throws his body over and around Remus like he doesn’t know how tall he is. For a strange silent moment they both breathe.
“Shove over,” says Sirius eventually, comfortable and assured. His knee is hard and alien between Remus’s legs, his sharp chin digging into Remus’s shoulder. Remus tries not to move, lightheaded with this weight of Sirius’s body on him. “What are we–-” he starts to say.
“Shh,” says Sirius, and puts a hand on his mouth, and Remus stills.
Around them the decaying walls creak, and hold.
At her son’s death, the portrait of Niobe Black went silent and strange; after a while, Remus stopped bothering about the curtain, since she spent most of the time slumped up against the frame, impotent and hateful. On this day he passes her in the hallway and she says, suddenly, “It was a stupid way for him to die.”
“I know,” says Remus. His throat feels thick. He wonders if he should be kind to her.
“A stupid end for a stupid child. I thought he would come to good at first, you know. His first year he wrote me a letter about all his friends. Oh, I was proud, for all he was in the wrong house. The Potters-–well, that’s a pedigree. So to speak.” A little smile curls the unpleasant edges of her mouth. Remus regards her silently.
“Do you know what he wrote me,” continues Mrs. Black, leaning up against the frame. “He told me he’d made all kinds of friends. The Potter heir, and the Pettigrew boy-–who I heard was practically a Squib, but his family had always run in the correct circles. I can’t say I ever thought much of the Longbottoms, but they were well-bred, and their boy was very polite whenever we saw him at functions. I don’t recall ever running into your family at all.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have, we spent most of our time in the loo vomiting together,” says Remus, and turns to go.
“Do you know what he wrote me in that letter?” Her sharp, vicious voice rings down the hall like the crack of a whip. Remus stops. “He wrote...oh, my, I don’t know if I can remember. Let me think...oh yes. He wrote ‘I have made the best friends of my life,’ yes, and then he wrote something else. ‘There’s one boy,’” and her voice is a mocking, thin imitation of Sirius’s rich one, wavering the words the way Sirius would when he got excited, “‘one boy in my house who won’t stop following me around. He thinks I don’t notice but I do, I think he fancies me, I can’t get a moment’s peace, I have to talk to him just to get him to leave me alone–’”
“I don’t believe you,” says Remus, “so you can shut your evil fucking mouth. He hated you. He’d never have written you, and certainly not something like that, he couldn’t even stand to think about you, you rotten, twisted old bitch, not after what you did--”
“Oh, no,” whispers Mrs. Black. Her hooded eyes are dark with triumph and pleasure. She looks very like Sirius, Remus thinks absently, in some ways. “Couldn’t he really? When was the first time you spoke to my son about me, half-breed?”
Second year. The first time he spoke to Sirius Black at all, except to ask him directions and apologize for bumping into him, that was second year.
“Was it after we had our first argument, half-breed,” the portrait breathes. “Was it after he told me–-adolescent temper, nothing bigger than that–-he told me that he wanted nothing to do with me, that he meant to do whatever he wanted to at school, that he would do everything in his power to find friends I wouldn’t like? Just to show me up? He didn’t even care who they were; as long as I wouldn’t like them. Don’t you think he was your friend only after that?”
Remus knows that the boy Sirius told his mother about-–if that boy even exists–-isn’t him. He knows this because he and Sirius didn’t even know each other in first year, and he knows this because a twelve-year-old Sirius said, once, in the spellbindingly cruel way of children, “You know, it’s so funny-–we lived in the same room and everything, but I hardly even knew you were there. I mean, now you’re one of my best friends and before that I hadn’t even the faintest idea you existed. Isn’t that funny?”
Still, in a distant way, Remus is impressed with her ability to manipulate, her remarkable aptitude for cruelty. It reminds him of Sirius, but Sirius used it to get fucks or skip class without consequences or charm a good confession from an unsuspecting spy, and his mother uses it to hurt.
He thinks about this as he is digging his fingers full into the canvas, ripping it violently, in strips, off its wooden backing. Mrs. Black screams and writhes and rages incoherently, trapped in the splintering portrait by her own sticking charm. The strings of the canvas snag against his fingers, drawing sharp angry lines over them as he pulls them apart.
When it is over, he sweeps up the scraps of canvas, neatly, wraps them up in a bundle and burns them. It has been a long time since he used his whole strength, and it never stops surprising him. Against the grate his face feels hot and wet and he is surprised to find himself crying, mindlessly, reflexively, without it really touching him at all.
A twelve year old Remus said, yes, it was funny and Sirius said, happily, “Anyway I’m glad we know each other, now.”
On October twenty-ninth, nineteen-eighty-one, Remus comes downstairs and finds Sirius packing a knapsack, looking exhausted, shadows on his face the color of bruises. The kitchen door slams behind him and Sirius jumps and glances up with something like panic and something like pain, jamming something into his bag.
“You all right, Padfoot,” says Remus, carefully. Last week they were attacked, all four of them, on their various routine missions, and Sirius got off the worst. Peter just got a burn on his arm, and James got a bit knocked about, and Remus was fine; he smelled them coming and they barely got a shot in before they got ripped apart. Sirius-–there is an angry red welt running from the back of his neck down to his hip, where he says someone hit him from behind with a curse he didn’t recognize. Dumbledore wondered aloud how he got away with his life, how if they were going to curse him with something so volatile why they didn’t just kill him outright, and now Remus finds himself wondering too.
Sirius seems to notice him staring, because he flinches, yanks up the collar on his shirt. “No, everything’s fine. I’ve got to run-–sort something out with James.”
“Sort what out?” With a bottle of heartstrings and a spool of silver? You should close your bag. Something small aches in Remus’s stomach.
“Some things. We wanted to have a pickup game, sometime before he goes off on assignment.”
“Is he going on assignment?” His voice sounds curious in his own ears, high with polite interest, the voice he gets talking to strange adults. “I’d like to see him too. It’s been a while.”
“Right, yeah.” Sirius slings his coat on, pulls the bag closed and over his back and turns to go.
“Sirius,” says Remus. “Sirius, wait?”
“Fraid I can’t, Moony,” and Sirius doesn’t turn around, his back is to Remus, his broad shoulders are set. “You know Prongs and me hardly get a moment to see each other, I never know where he is now that we’re not to know each other’s schedules anymore. Why don’t you get a rest? It’s not like we won’t see each other later, I’m just going down to the Hollow.”
Remus wants to scream and chuck things, he wants to take Sirius by the shoulder and spin him around, slam him into the wall, stick his face right up next to Sirius’s and yell What is wrong with you? He wants to apologize for nothing, he wants to tell Sirius that Sirius is the best and most beautiful thing in this whole stupid world, he wants to push him out a window and watch him spin to the ground and smash, he wants to pin him against the wall and fuck him so hard he screams through Remus’s fist in his mouth. He wants to know what’s being said: he is tired of feeling like a child at a table full of grownups. He wants to bite things and rip things apart and feel things break in his hands.
He says, “yes. I should get some sleep.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” says Sirius, and flashes him a strange, hard smile as he goes. “Don’t wait up for me.”
“I won’t,” whispers Remus, tasting blood in his mouth.
They come to visit, Tonks, Dumbledore, Kingsley, to visit and pay their respects and leave expensive produce in the cupboards in hopes he’ll eat it without asking awkward questions. Sometimes they have very nice conversations. Tonks touches his face often, and cries sometimes. It is hard to remember that she lost what amounts to an uncle, that she was, what, five or six when Sirius went to jail? and that she still remembers his vast, swooping presence, laughter, the distribution of candy and conspiratorial whispers. It seems stupid and wrong that she should know these things, and Harry should not, but Remus tries not to be angry with her about it.
Harry sent him the map. It was the kind of gesture that should have been made by someone much older, and this is stupid, too, that Harry has been forced into this stark knowledge of the adult intimacies of grief before the warmer intimacies of grown-up love.
The note with it said, If he comes back you’ll know, don’t forget to tell me.
It was too much kindness. Remus will send it back after the holidays, when Harry goes back to school.
There is a part of Remus that not only believes, but knows, that Sirius will come back. It is the same hapless, optimistic part of his brain that knew that everything was going to be Okay when Sirius had killed Lily and James and Peter and gone to prison, and he had hated it, the small useless reassurances it whispered at him, the way it wouldn’t let the old hurt scab over and go. Now it’s different; now he knows. He knows that it’s too stupid and too heartless for the world to take Sirius’s life away and then thrust it back for ten horrible seconds and then wrench it away again. The whole thing is silly and illogical. There has to be a rhythm. There has to be a sense. Because there are things that make sense about living, and you can’t come to a logical conclusion from an illogical premise, it doesn’t work like that.
Remus doesn't know that he believes in God, but he is an academic, and he knows that he does believe in Logic. There is a frightening part of him that believes they are the same thing.
He spreads the map out and closes his eyes, and part of him knows, knows so strongly that it catches in his throat, that when he opens them again there will be one name, Sirius Black, floating inexplicably before him like water into wine, like a promise.
“I love you,” says Sirius, in a rush, as if it were by accident, as soon as he opens the door. "I love you and I'm sorry. I wanted you to know, so don't say anything, it'll make me sound stupid." He has a bottle of cheap, piss-poor vodka in one hand, and he looks desparate and haggard.
Remus blinks, pushes his wet hair out of his eyes, one hand still stupidly raised to knock. It is raining hard, and his mac is inside somewhere on the floor of Grimmauld Place, and he loves Sirius Black more than anything in the world, which is absurd, and he doesn’t know quite what to say. What are you sorry for? Why are you still here after I ruined everything? When do we get to start breathing again?
“I brought us a curry,” is what he says, finally, and holds up the two Styrofoam boxes in their soggy plastic bag; and the slow, heartbreaking smile grows on Sirius’s face, which will be beautiful again in a few more months. And Sirius leans in and kisses him, hands tangling in his hair, and the rain trickles between their mouths. His head falls to rest in the crook of Remus's neck, mouth right against the warm point where his pulse races.
"You didn't have to say it," says Remus gently, after a time. He can feel the raindrops hitting him on the fontanel, over and over. They're too old for this mad, schoolboy kind of love, and he can't help that.
"I know," says Sirius softly, against his throat, and pulls back to smile painfully at him.
Remus climbs the stairs to their old room, and the map in his hands follows him.
In this house the walls are not going to move. The words on the map tremble in their spaces like trapped mice.
He opens the door and looks around. The room is silent, cold, smelling of old wood and dead bats and things trapped in the walls. They used to laugh about the smell; the bed is still unmade, sheets rumpled from the day they got up to get Harry and they never lay down again, and there is a place in the pillow on the far side of the bed that is just the shape of Sirius's body.
His feet scuff on the floor, and dust rises around him, shining in the gray light. He realizes, and there is something awful and hysterically funny about it, why he hasn't been in here in months: he would feel like Miss Havisham.
But she was different. She didn't understand, he thinks. She couldn't have had this feeling, she didn't have this map.
The green wallpaper is peeling, but they’ll strip it down and replace it; they’ll drag the big stupid bed out to the balcony and toss it on to the street, knock out the peeling wall so that the light floods the house.
He spreads the enormous map tenderly out on the bed, lightly, so as not to disturb the echoes of Sirius in the pillow and sheets, and lies down next to it. His hands fist in the heavy paper, and it crumples in his fingers, solid, comforting.
Things are going to happen, he knows it, he can feel it, he wouldn’t believe it this deeply if it weren’t true. Sirius is going to come home; Remus knows this with every part of himself that matters.
He can almost hear the sound of Sirius’s fingers closing on the doorknob and turning it. The door creaking open, the city flooding in, Remus, breathless, breathing in.
And then everything will come crumbling down around him. Remus, the map, the house, the walls made of words; walls shuffling like paper, falling around him like the breath of God.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay