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Things That Can't Be Changed

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Remus was late.

It wasn’t, in fact, unusual for Remus to be late these days, but each time it had gotten slightly more irritating, and currently Sirius was very irritated. He had drunk a bit as he waited, had then drunk a bit more. And Remus was still gone.

Sirius poured himself yet another drink and thought about Remus. He thought about the fresh scars on Remus’s back that couldn’t have been caused by Remus himself. He knew that Remus was spending time with other werewolves, he had known it for months. Ever since they had first been asked to become members of the Order, he had known that what Dumbledore wanted from Remus would have something to do with werewolves. It was self-explanatory. So, he knew, even though he wasn’t supposed to know.

Remus had taken good care to never talk about his missions. Sirius knew that it was exactly how they were supposed to deal with things, but it had quickly started to aggravate him. Remus knew that he already knew, so why could he not talk? No, instead Remus always reprimanded him when he shared details of what he was supposed to be doing.

“We shouldn’t talk about that,” Remus tended to say.

And Sirius felt like he would tear out his own hair if he had to hear Remus say that even once more.

And it wasn’t just the missions any longer. It was the mysterious disappearances between missions. Remus would be gone for the entire day, having left before Sirius woke up, returning late at night after Sirius had gone to bed, sometimes staying out the entire night and returning the next morning or late the following afternoon looking twitchy.

“Where were you last night?” was a question Sirius had never imagined he would need to ask, yet he could no longer remember how many times he had asked it.

And Remus never had an answer – or not a satisfying one, at least.

“I was out,” he would say. “I got called to a meeting about my mission,” he would say. “It’s not important,” he would say. “You know I can’t talk about it.”

All of it was bullshit, Sirius knew, because he could read Remus and he knew when Remus was lying. He could still read Remus, even though Remus had stopped being quite so open with his face, even though Remus would turn his eyes away more often than let their gazes meet.

Remus was keeping secrets, Sirius told himself. It didn’t mean they were bad secrets, he told himself.

He poured himself another drink and thought about Remus. He tried to remember exactly what Remus had looked like before they became grown-ups too quickly, before Remus got his first grey hair. He thought about that discovery, how they had been lying in bed on an unusually lazy morning, Remus still half-asleep as Sirius ran his fingers through his hair, watching how it glowed in the faint streak of sunlight that their curtains could never quite keep out. And there, at Remus’s left temple, a grey hair. Sirius stroked it with soft fingertips. He knew that Remus was going to notice it quickly, and he wondered if he should try to pre-emptively placate him, reassure him because Remus often got insecure over his appearances.

Sirius drank and thought about how Remus still got insecure, no matter how many times Sirius had told him, had shown him, that he had nothing to worry about, he had no reason to be ashamed of his body because his body was a part of him and Sirius loved him completely.

Or at least he had.

Sirius stared at the bottom of his empty glass and frowned. Did he still love Remus?

It was supposed to be an easy question. His answer should be an immediate yes, he shouldn’t need to think about how different things were now than they had been five years ago, when Sirius had first looked at Remus as a lover rather than a seemingly unrequited crush. It had been late spring in their fifth year, and Remus had only quite recently started acting normally with him, he had finally been forgiven, and the relief made him reckless.

They had been sitting together on Remus’s bed, alone in the dormitory with James in Quidditch practice and Peter who knows where. Remus was explaining a very complicated spell that he thought would improve the Map, and Sirius had been so happy, he had been ecstatic that Remus didn’t go all awkward and quiet when they were alone. Remus’s eyes had finally lost the faint traces of hurt and anger and mistrust that Sirius had almost grown used to.

He poured himself another drink and remembered how soft Remus’s lips had been when Sirius had abruptly leaned forward and pressed their mouths together. It had been a brief kiss, and Sirius had pulled back to see Remus’s startled face before Remus had leaned in and pulled him into a longer kiss. A deeper kiss. The best kiss Sirius had ever experienced. It was still high on his list of best kisses ever.

The glass under Sirius’s finger was cool. He thought about touching Remus with the same finger, the same hand, his skin and Remus’s skin rubbing together as he explored. It had always been happy. Remus had always smiled brightly when they had sex, when they hugged, even when they just held hands. Remus’s smile was the brightest right after they kissed, a faint flush over his cheeks that never ceased to make Sirius’s heart skip a beat. Because Remus was beautiful and Remus was his and he was Remus’s in return and nothing could have made either of them happier.

And now Remus was late. And fidgety in a completely new way. And no longer took off his shirt when they had sex.

Once, when Remus had fallen asleep after sex, Sirius had lifted his shirt to see what he was hiding. That’s how he had discovered the new scars that he couldn’t ask about because that would be admitting that he had looked. He hadn’t understood why Remus hadn’t wanted him to see. He still didn’t understand, as Remus still didn’t want him to see. Remus had always had scars, so what was so different about these scars, except the fact that they were clearly caused by someone other than Remus himself?

Remus had been pulling away. It almost appeared that he was trying to do it discreetly but was failing spectacularly. Sirius had noticed. It was almost impossible not to notice that his boyfriend no longer smiled into their kisses, flinched back when Sirius rested his hands on his waist without warning, and the one time Sirius had asked him to bottom for a change, Remus had gone pale and withdrawn into himself, shoulders hunched and upper lip sweaty.

How had he explained that away? Sirius couldn’t remember. He was sure it had been one more bullshit excuse that put him on a bad mood for days afterwards, and when he was on a bad mood, Remus went quiet and hid behind his books. He had never done that before. Before, when Sirius was on a bad mood, Remus snapped him out of it because Remus had always been fierce and strong and not this odd shadow of his former self that he had become.

It was dark out and Sirius lifted the glass to his lips. The alcohol no longer burnt like it used to and wasn’t that just one more thing that was different. He remembered the first times of drinking, the giddiness of knowing they weren’t supposed to even have alcohol, not to mention drink it, how James had turned out to be a total lightweight, and Remus started giggling uncontrollably. Peter seemed to hold his liquor surprisingly well, and Sirius couldn’t stop watching Remus giggle. The alcohol warmed his body, his cheeks felt flushed, and their Moony was giggling so hard he couldn’t sit upright.

He missed still being a Marauder.

If he ever made the mistake of bringing that up with any of the others, they would tell him that they still were Marauders, nothing had changed just because they had left school, but really, everything had changed. Nothing was like it used to be and it made Sirius uneasy, it made him feel like he was drifting in a river that was carrying him to an unknown destination. He was alone in the river, Prongs and Wormtail and Moony had drifted into their own rivers and were headed away from him.

It had been Prongs first. He had finally managed to snatch Lily like he had always wanted, and it was already obvious during their last year at Hogwarts that Lily would never stop being a part of James’s life. It was no longer just James, it was always James and Lily, even more so now that they were married and had a son. As much as Sirius loved Harry, he couldn’t help mourning a friendship that would never return to the way it had once been; they had been closer than brothers, always trusting each other with everything, and he had been the first to find out when James had gotten further with Lily, and James had been the first to find out when Sirius figured out his sexuality.

Back then Sirius could monopolise James’s time, and because he was still Prongs, James had not only let him but also liked it. They had liked being always together, always inseparable, always James and Sirius, Sirius and James, the best of friends, brothers.

Wormtail was the second to drift away. Some months after they had left Hogwarts, his mother had fallen ill, and Peter spent a lot of time helping her. Then she had gotten better, but he had still needed to care for her. Sirius couldn’t remember what it was that she had had. It was some Muggle disease that seemed serious from the way Remus had reacted. Sometimes it almost sounded like Peter was making excuses not to spend time with his friends, but it must have been that his mother still required a lot from him.

It was surprisingly lonely without Peter. Sirius hadn’t realised how much space Wormtail had occupied in the Marauders. Peter had always been there, always ready to explore and help with pranks and study advanced magic to improve their map. Peter was a quiet constant that Sirius only knew to miss when he was already gone.

And then, of course, there was Moony. He and Sirius were dating, so their rivers had run parallel to each other for longer than with the others. They moved in together. They woke up together, brushed their teeth together, ate together, breathed together, existed together. They couldn’t stop touching, constant contact between them that Remus wanted to keep on the down-low, so Sirius indulged him and made sure that while he always stood close to Remus, while he always had his hand resting somewhere in Remus’s person, it never seemed more than friendly while they were with people who weren’t their immediate circle.

When they were alone, they were all over each other, couldn’t stop kissing or caressing or stroking, and they had sex more than once a day, Remus had learned to suck cock so well that the thought of his mouth worked as foreplay for Sirius. They tumbled in bed together, trying out different things, laughed at the things that didn’t work out, smiled in post-coital bliss and wrapped their bodies around one another and slept under the same blanket.

Sirius quickly drained his drink and put the glass down with a loud noise that made him jump. He blinked rapidly a few times.

Their mission schedules were difficult, because they rarely coincided. It often happened that when Remus finally returned, looking haggard and worn, Sirius had barely a moment to kiss him goodbye before leaving himself. Remus’s missions were longer, keeping him gone for so many days it was weeks, and then he stopped talking and smiling and how could someone so sad and burdened be their Moony?

And then Remus’s missions stretched past what they were supposed to be, and Sirius didn’t know if it was something Dumbledore planned or even knew about, or if Remus was…

The bottle was empty, and Sirius threw it at the wall. It shattered into pieces with a resounding crack, and Sirius threw his tumbler too, looked in satisfaction at the way shards of glass pooled on the floor.

The door to their flat opened and closed. Sirius sat in his chair and listened. There was a rustle of clothes, shoes being tugged off tired feet, and Remus stumbled before making it to the doorway.

“Oh,” was the first word Remus spoke to him in three weeks. “I thought you’d be in bed.”

“I was waiting for you,” Sirius said, and his voice only slurred a bit.

He listened to Remus, how he hovered at the doorway, uncertain. Why did Remus want him to be asleep when he got back from a mission? He could ask, he could already see how Remus would squirm and try to explain it away without saying anything. It would amuse him for a moment, he was sure.

“Well,” Remus then said, and he sounded tired. “Thank you.”

“You’re late,” Sirius said.

Remus was quiet. Sirius turned enough to just see him. Remus was looking at the shattered glass on the floor, eyes unreadable, the bags under them less so. He saw Remus swallow.

“I had to wait for the right moment to leave,” Remus said, and it was more than he had ever said before. “I then went straight to Dumbledore, so I won’t have to tomorrow. I’m so tired.”

Remus turned to look at him. Sirius turned more. Their eyes met only for a fraction of a second before Remus looked away again, his gaze wandering around the room as if he hadn’t lived there for three years. Sirius watched him.

The first time Remus had returned late from a mission, there had been a scar on his face. Remus had always implied that he was thankful that he had managed to avoid scarring his face during a full moon, and then he was standing there in their small flat, a fresh scar on the right side of his face, stretching a short distance from his nose to his cheek. It was still red and immediately noticeable, and Sirius tried his hardest not to stare. He tried his hardest to pretend that he couldn’t see it, because his Moony was fragile when it came to his scars, to the way he mutilated his own body every full moon, and Sirius was never going to make him feel self-conscious.

Remus had been self-conscious, started keeping his head down when they went to Order meetings, when they went out with people, when they went somewhere where there was the possibility of running into people. If it weren’t so sad, it would have been funny with how tall Remus was and how impossible it was for him to stop being noticed.

There had been no more facial scars, but Sirius wondered what the extent of what Remus was hiding under his shirt was.

This time, Remus seemed like a shadow of the shadow he had become. He looked tired like he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a while, like he hadn’t had a proper meal in a while. He was hunching his shoulders differently from before. It almost made Sirius think that this time Remus would not stop doing it after a couple of days back home. There was something different about the way Remus was holding himself in general.

He was feeling guilty.

He had been out there with his Death Eater buddies betraying his friends and now he was feeling guilty.

It was obvious that Remus couldn’t look him in the eye, wouldn’t look him in the eye. Sirius stood up, swaying a bit, and leaned against the table for support in a way he hoped was not obvious. Remus’s eyes were still everywhere but on Sirius.

“How was the mission?” Sirius asked. “Successful? Learn anything of interest?”

Remus’s quick glance at Sirius was almost worse than no contact at all.

“You know we can’t talk about the missions,” Remus said quietly.

Sirius snorted unkindly. “More like you can’t be arsed to think of lies,” he said, noticing to his dismay that he was maybe slurring more than he had first thought.

“What?” Remus asked, and his eyes were now intently watching Sirius.

“You heard me,” Sirius said.

Remus stared at him, but Sirius couldn’t read his face. His eyes were round in surprise but wary. Obvious signs of guilt all over his face, in the way his lips were pressed together a bit too tightly, the way his hand was shaking ever so slightly.

“You are so bloody obvious,” Sirius said.

“What do you mean?” Remus asked, and his voice was strained too.

“You know what I mean.”

Remus shook his head, the movement small enough to be almost unnoticeable. But Sirius knew, he had known for a while now, he had just been too stupid and in love to let himself believe. There was no way to hide the truth anymore.

It was clear that there was a traitor within their immediate circle. It had been clear to them all for a long time, how their missions sometimes went so horrifically wrong, how the Death Eaters seemed to know things they weren’t supposed to know unless they had learned those things from someone on the inside.

Who had regular contact with Death Eater supporters? Who was the only one going so obviously undercover with the enemy? Who was the only one who could never explain his absences, his lateness, his changed attitude, the cooling of his heart?

Remus, Remus, Remus.

“I know it’s you, Moony,” Sirius said, spitting out the nickname that had once been spoken with utmost care, with adoration and love so thick it threatened to suffocate them both.

“You’re absurd,” came Remus’s response, but it was too quick. “And you’re drunk. You need to sleep it off. I’m not having this conversation with you while you’re so drunk.”

“Stop that,” Sirius snapped.

He stepped forward, and Remus stepped back, eyes widening more, but now the look in them was worried.

Sirius had him all figured out. That fucking traitor.

“I’m not too drunk to understand things,” he continued, discreetly stepping back to lean against the table before he lost his balance. “On the contrary, I understand completely. My head is totally clear.”

“I doubt that,” Remus said, more force in his voice again, his face also settling to something more familiar and closed. “From the way you’re stumbling with your words, I’d say you’re not seeing anything clearly right now. Let’s go to bed.”

“I don’t sleep with traitors,” Sirius hissed, eyes narrow as he leaned forward, keeping most of his weight still against the table.

Remus flinched. Sirius smirked.

“I’m not going to let the traitor fuck me,” Sirius added. “You can’t fool me anymore.”

“Padfoot,” Remus said, and his voice was almost pleading. “You don’t mean that.”

“I do mean it, Moony,” Sirius said forcefully, pushing himself away from the table and immediately stumbling, so he leaned back again. “I have never meant anything as much as I mean this.”

He thought about how Remus had blushed and smiled shyly the first time Sirius said I love you. He thought about how Remus’s entire face had shined like the sun when Sirius had told him that I want to marry you, Moony. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.

He had meant those things back then, and now they seemed like a dream from a past life, words that he would have never uttered had he known that Remus was no longer their Moony, Remus had become someone else who didn’t care about betraying his friends, his best friend’s family. Sirius.

And there Remus was now, staring at him with cold eyes. He had known, he had been right.

“You don’t mean it,” Remus repeated assertively.

“I know it, Moony,” Sirius said. “You’ve been feeding information to the Death Eaters. How did they win you over, huh? A promised cure for Lycanthropy? Or just improved conditions? Are they promising you freedom? Are they telling you they’ll treat you better than the current Ministry?”

Remus was biting his lip so hard that Sirius expected to see blood.

“Or,” he continued, voice now taunting, waiting for Remus to snap and admit it all, “maybe they’re offering you pleasures of the flesh. Is one of your Death Eater buddies a better lay than me? Do you let them fuck you, Moony?”

“Shut up.”

Sirius had his mouth open, ready to continue, but the hard edge in Remus’s voice cut off his words. Remus had pressed his hands into fists, and they were shaking. His face had drained of colour.

“You don’t understand anything,” Remus said. “You don’t know anything.”

“I know enough.”

Remus stared at him with inscrutable eyes. Once, they had been the most beautiful eyes Sirius had ever seen, fascinatingly green and filled with love. Now they weren’t filled with anything, they seemed dark in the underlit room.

“I know you’re the traitor,” Sirius repeated and watched how Remus squeezed his fist tighter.

Quietly, Remus said, “Fuck you, Sirius Black.”

Then he turned, with long strides made his way back to the hall. Sirius could just see him from where he was standing. He watched how Remus put on his shoes, pulled on his coat, and lifted his rucksack. Never turning back, Remus opened the door, stepped out, and closed it without slamming.

It was the most unsatisfying fight of Sirius’s life.

*

Sirius decided not to tell James and Peter exactly what had happened. Not that they had the time for long chats. He showed up to say goodbye to James with Peter the next afternoon, knowing that in the worst case it could be years before they would see James again. Peter and he could see more often if they wanted to, but they had agreed that it would be safer for them to keep a bit of a distance, at least at first.

“Moony visited this morning,” James said, and Sirius’s heart stuttered.

“Did he?” Sirius managed to say keeping his voice even.

James nodded and looked at Sirius with worry. Sirius looked away, smiled weakly at Peter who was frowning.

“He said he was going away for a while,” James said. “It must be tough for you.”

Sirius cleared his throat.

“How are you holding up?” James asked. “I know he just returned yesterday.”

Peter was also looking at Sirius with something like worry, and Sirius hated it. His skin was itching, it felt like it was shrinking and he’d have to get out of himself to feel better.

“I,” he started to say, then swallowed heavily as tears suddenly sprang in his eyes. He furiously blinked them away. “It’s… We…”

James was watching him with all-seeing eyes, his hair a familiar mess, dark bags under his eyes slightly obscured by his glasses. Peter was biting his lip, looking expectant, looking almost eager to hear what Sirius was going to say.

I figured out that Moony was the traitor, so we fought, and he left.

We broke up because Moony was going to get us all killed.

I confronted Moony about his odd behaviour and learned that he’s the traitor. I don’t know if I threw him out or if he left because I was drunk enough for it to fog my memories, but Moony and I are no longer together because I don’t sleep with traitors.

Moony left because I yelled at him and I’m not sure if I even had reason to do so.

I think we broke up because Moony no longer loves me.

He couldn’t say any of that. James was going into hiding; they would not and could not have any contact before the war was over. He couldn’t leave James to dwell on his own personal issues.

“I’ll be okay,” he said weakly.

James smiled at him, that encouraging smile that never failed to lift Sirius’s spirits.

It didn’t work anymore.

“Did you tell him?” Peter asked. “About the switch?”

Sirius shook his head.

“He has to spend so much time around Death Eater supporters,” he said, voice still oddly quiet, “it’s better he doesn’t know. Maybe I’ll tell him eventually, but not… Well, he’s gone anyway.”

James placed his hand on Sirius’s arm and squeezed.

“You’re right,” he said. “It’s probably better this way. The fewer people know, the better.”

Peter nodded.

Sirius and James exchanged the strongest hug they had ever shared, long and lingering, and Sirius had trouble breathing through the lump in his throat. He thought of all the times they had touched: accidental brushes of elbows, encouraging pats on the back and squeezes on the shoulder, wrestling on the dormitory floor until they were laughing too hard to continue, James jumping on Sirius’s back in excitement. Hugs for strength, half a hug just because they meant so much to each other. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt James’s muscular body in his arms, and he already missed James’s warmth.

He and Peter left together, also hugging briefly before parting ways. Peter was going into hiding himself, but Sirius promised to see him at the end of the week to discuss how they should proceed.

Sirius had meant to go into hiding as well. He and Remus had fought about it because Sirius didn’t want to be alone, but Remus didn’t want to let Dumbledore down and stop going on his missions. Now that Sirius thought about it, they hadn’t really reached a conclusion, they just stopped talking about it.

They had stopped talking about many things.

Sirius returned to a quiet flat. An empty flat. He didn’t even have any alcohol left, and he didn’t think it was safe to go out just for some Firewhisky.

His insides were stone, heavy and cold and it felt like dread but not quite. He should be afraid, surely. Once the Death Eaters figured out that the Potters had gone into hiding, once they realised that they were under a Fidelius, they would come for him.

And would Remus be with them?

Sirius looked at the books that were still lying on the coffee table, right where Remus had placed them. Several of them had bookmarks sticking out, some of them more than one.

Would Remus come back for his things?

Sirius wasn’t sure what he wanted. He wanted to see Remus but seeing him would be painful. They would have to talk, and it would be hard because Sirius wasn’t even sure what he had said exactly. He remembered accusing Remus of being the spy, of betraying his friends, but he couldn’t remember the words he had used.

Could he take it back?

Did he want to take it back?

Remus was gone, so did it mean that he had been right?

His chest felt heavy and he sat down on the sofa, right where Remus would sit and read his books, curled under a warm blanket with a cup of tea forgotten on the side table. He could almost feel the warmth left behind by Remus. He could almost see himself sitting on the opposite end of the sofa, toes poking at Remus’s thigh, quietly begging for attention but unwilling to really disturb Remus.

He would come back.

Where had he even gone? James hadn’t said, which meant that Remus probably hadn’t told him. Where could Remus go? A lot of their friends were dead. Remus’s parents were alive, as far as Sirius knew, but Remus had never liked imposing himself on them. Sometimes Remus seemed angry at them but wouldn’t talk about why.

If he was the traitor, he would surely go to his Death Eater buddies. Except they wouldn’t care because Remus was a werewolf. He would have to go to the werewolves. But wasn’t that almost the same?

If Remus wasn’t the traitor…

Sirius squeezed his eyes closed. He squeezed them harder until he saw flashes of colours.

When he opened his eyes, Remus was still gone and the flat was still empty.

Sirius didn’t know how long he sat there staring at Remus’s books, but the next time he became aware of his surroundings, it was dark.

He didn’t want to go to bed. The bed would be empty, too big, like a vast field of nothing but cold loneliness. He had slept alone in that bed for three weeks. He should have shared it with Remus the previous night, but then he had ruined it all. He thought about how lost Remus had looked, his shirt too big on his skinny frame and eyes unsettled, and Sirius had only made it worse because he was drunk and filled with what he believed to be justified acrimony.

If he had returned from a two-week-long mission and been greeted by Remus drunk and angry, he would have looked uneasy too.

But then, he didn’t have mysterious disappearances that he couldn’t or wouldn’t explain. He wasn’t spending most of his time as a spy among Death Eater supporters, immersed in their rhetoric and empty promises of a better world. He also wasn’t a werewolf who had spent all his life trying to hide it, there were no laws making his life difficult if one didn’t count it being illegal for him to marry the man of his dreams, and he would never understand Remus’s life because they were so inherently different, they started from different places, their paths had taken drastically different turns, and even though they had been together for such a long time, there were still layers of Remus that Sirius had never gotten even a glimpse of.

Sirius would have never had a reason to turn traitor.

Remus had plenty of reasons.

Remus was smart, but surely even he could be blinded by a promise of a world where he wouldn’t need to hide, where he would be allowed to exist without someone always contending it.

Sirius rubbed his eyes. They were dry.

*

Sirius existed in a stupor. Once the sun was up, he had gone out and bought several bottles of expensive Firewhisky. He didn’t know how long it took him to get through the first bottle. In fact, he lost count of his bottles altogether, courting the edge between very drunk and too drunk to live. He didn’t remember throwing up, but he woke up with the taste of vomit in his mouth. He didn’t remember going to bed, but he woke up curled up on Remus’s side. The pillow no longer smelled like Remus because Sirius had scrubbed the bed clean in a bout of anger while Remus was still out on his mission.

Where was Remus now? Was he still on the same bloody mission? Sirius would have to have a word with Dumbledore about sending Remus on such difficult missions. What if one of those missions was compromised by the spy?

The spy? They had a traitor in their midst.

And then he remembered: Remus was gone because Sirius had been convinced that he was the spy.

“Moony,” he whined, surprised by how pitiful he sounded.

The next time he woke up, he was hungry. He wobbled to the bathroom and took a piss, stopping to look at himself in the mirror on his way out. His hair was a mess, eyes bloodshot and underlined by dark bags. His stubble was a few days old, and that's what alerted him to the fact that he wasn't sure what day it was. He slowly made his way to the kitchen, drank a big glass of water and found some stale bread to chew on. It didn't make him feel any better, and he regretted not having stocked up on hangover potion. He definitely could have used some.

Instead, he had a drink. His robes were wrinkled and smelly, so he stripped out of them, carelessly tossing them somewhere, then returned to the bathroom for a shower. The water was too cold, and he regretted not making Remus teach him how to get it just right. His own charm-work made the water just a tad too hot. Remus always got it right.

His legs didn't feel stable enough, so he sat down in the tub and let the too hot water rain over him. It felt cleansing, and when he finally crawled out of the tub, he felt somewhat more alive. He went to the bedroom and opened the closet. Remus’s clothes were still there.

Remus didn’t have a big collection of clothes and seeing them there next to Sirius’s overflowing collection of both Muggle and wizarding clothing made them seem even fewer. He must have had a change of clothes with him, but even then, he surely wouldn’t have carried more than a couple of pairs of trousers and a few shirts.

Remus had such few clothes.

Sirius pulled on a clean pair of underwear, then hesitated. He had planned on going for robes to make sulking more comfortable and undressing easier in case he got too drunk again, but as he was reaching for them, his hand ended up landing on one of Remus’s jumpers. Without stopping to think too much, he pulled the jumper on, found a pair of his own jeans (because there were none of Remus’s left, and even if there were, they would have been too long on him), and headed out. Sirius wore his trusty leather jacket. It was a cool day, and he rather wished that he could have stayed inside.

He made his way to Diagon Alley for more Firewhisky. On his way he managed to catch the date on the papers. It was the 30th, meaning that he would need to go see Peter the next day. He would have to drink less. In fact, it would be ideal if he didn’t drink at all.

He bought a bottle of Firewhisky. He drank too much of it. He passed out by the kitchen table, thinking about Remus’s big warm hands.

*

Sirius cursed himself for not having acquired any hangover cure while he had foolishly gone out again just to get more alcohol. What had he been thinking, both about the potion and about the going out?

The thing was, Remus had always done the thinking. Sirius did the reacting. Sirius acted and Remus thought, and then Remus reprimanded him for being reckless.

At any moment, you could have Death Eaters come looking for you, he heard Remus’s voice in his head. If you absolutely had to go out for more alcohol, you should have made sure that you won’t be incapacitated after you’ve drunk it all.

Joke's on Moony, he hadn’t drunk it all.

Sirius groaned and looked at the time. He had enough time to properly wake up and remember how to pretend to be a living person.

He had forgotten to buy food.

When he finally made his way outside, he felt only half-human. He went to the local Muggle pub and had greasy food that didn’t make him feel much better. The pub was loud, and someone was smoking in the next table, and Sirius really wanted a fag but had none left. He couldn’t remember when he had run out. He only smoked occasionally so he hadn’t thought to buy more cigarettes, but he decided to buy some now with the last of his Muggle money.

He smoked two cigarettes in a row. They didn’t make him feel better, but at least they calmed some of the jitters he’d been experiencing. He went back home, got his motorbike and headed out to Peter’s hiding place.

He was cold. He had forgotten to wear gloves and his fingers were freezing, but the cold cleared his head a bit more, and he felt his thoughts sluggishly rearrange themselves into something resembling coherence. He felt at least three quarters human by the time he reached Peter’s hiding place. He took off his helmet, then blew hot air on his fingers to warm them up. He’d ask Peter for a pair of gloves to wear.

He found that he couldn’t wait to see Peter, have a bit of a chat about everything. He’d been lonely for a long time now, he realised, what with Remus being gone so often and James having had to spend a lot of time figuring out how to keep his family safe, and Peter being… Well, Sirius didn’t know what Peter had been doing that kept him out of touch at times. Maybe he never really thought about it either, because he and Peter had never been the closest. They’d been friends, but they also both understood that they weren’t an ideal pair. Sirius was too impatient and explosive, Peter was too…

Sirius shook his head. He didn’t want to think about why Peter often made him so irritated right before he was to meet him.

He strode over to the door and knocked. He looked around.

Peter was staying in a small cabin at the edge of a forest. Sirius felt dread creeping up his back as he considered the trees, how dark it was among them especially now that there was no sunlight left. He was sure that it would be dark in bright daylight as well.

He knocked again. He felt like someone was standing right behind him, watching him, but he couldn’t see anyone or anything. It was quiet. Almost eerily quiet, but it also meant that if there really was someone watching him, they would probably eventually make some noise and he would hear it and…

Why was Peter not opening the door?

He knocked yet again, this time louder, even though it was sure to draw attention to him if someone happened to be close-by. Not that him arriving on a motorbike wouldn’t have done that already.

Was he just really stupid? Was Remus right about that? Was Sirius just deeply stupid?

To be fair, he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a sober day, so he was really just an alcoholic. Which was fine, probably. One can’t fix stupidity, but one can stop drinking.

As if he wanted to stop.

He already ached to go back home and get a drink and forget everything about everything for a bit. He wouldn’t be called on missions because he was supposed to be hiding, Remus was gone and James was under the Fidelius, so what else was there to do?

He took in a deep breath and looked around again. He could still see no one.

He turned back to the door and pounded on it with both fists.

“Peter!” he yelled, hearing it echo along with his pounding. “Peter, open the door!”

He stopped abruptly.

Nothing.

His stomach squirmed, and this time it was not caused by a hangover. He swallowed against the dread that was crawling up his throat.

“Peter?” he tried. “Wormy?”

Of course, if Peter hadn’t heard him trying to break down the door, he wouldn’t hear Sirius’s voice when it was not much louder than a whisper, but one could always hope.

Sirius had his wand firmly in hand when he reached out, took a hold of the doorknob and prepared to charm the door open. He turned the knob and the door opened.

An unlocked door.

An unlocked door that was supposed to be locked because it was attached to a cabin that was being used as a hiding place by someone who was in hiding due to being a Secret Keeper for people who were being pursued by a murderous lunatic.

Sirius didn’t manage to swallow down his dread a second time. His skin was crawling as he slowly pulled the door open, peeking inside and seeing nothing unusual. Very, very carefully he made his way in, searched the cabin from top to bottom, and concluded that there was nothing to find, nothing out of place except Peter being nowhere to be found.

Sirius used his wand to turn on the lights. The flickering candlelight made everything look eerily alive, the shadows dancing over furniture and a curtain fluttering in the cold breeze that blew in through the front door that Sirius had foolishly left open.

“Peter?” Sirius whispered.

“Wormtail?” he whispered.

It remained quiet and still.

It wasn’t right. It was all wrong. It was all so, so wrong.

Sirius backed out of the cabin, closed the door and pressed his forehead against its cold surface. He spent a moment catching his breath and forcing it under control.

There must have been an explanation, he thought when he hurried to his bike, when he kicked off and soared up into the sky, when he realised that his fingers were going to freeze even worse because he still had no gloves and he was higher up.

He suddenly remembered the first time someone had suggested to him that maybe Remus wasn’t completely trustworthy.

“Have you noticed anything odd about Moony?” Peter had asked quietly.

“Odd how?” Sirius had asked in return.

“He’s always gone,” Peter said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Where does he go? Has he told you?”

Sirius hadn’t been sure what to say.

“I thought so,” Peter said when Sirius remained quiet. “How do we know he’s not, you know… That he’s still on our side?”

“Of course, we know that!” Sirius said a bit too loudly, then lowered his voice. “He’s our Moony. Of course, we can trust him.”

“How do you know that, though?” Peter asked. “If he won’t tell you, and you’re his boyfriend. He should tell you.”

Sirius’s frown deepened and he nodded.

“It’s so obvious that someone’s leaking information,” Peter had said. “He’s the only one who keeps disappearing with no explanation.”

Peter.

*

Sirius didn’t know how he had managed to make it to Godric’s Hollow without incident. His heart was lodged in his throat, his stomach had lost its bottom, and his fingers were so cold he was certain they would drop off the moment he tried to dislodge them from the handlebars. He could see James and Lily’s safehouse from the distance, which meant that the secret had been given away, but he refused to believe it.

It must have been a mistake.

It must have been a mistake.

He had hardly even touched the ground before he was off, running towards the house that had collapsed in on itself, the front door wide open – no, the front door was gone, and there, by the staircase, lay James.

“No,” Sirius gasped and skidded to a halt by James.

James was undeniably dead. His face still looked determined, his eyes unseeing, lying still on the cold floor. His glasses had a crack on one lens.

Sirius couldn’t see anything else as tears blurred his vision. He let out a broken sob, let go of James’s hand (When had he taken it? He couldn’t remember.) and stood up. He could hear crying, loud and heart-breaking, and he wiped his eyes as he hurried upstairs.

Harry’s room was hardly recognisable as a room. The roof had collapsed, a wall was missing, and for a while Sirius didn’t understand how a child could be alive in that room. He stubbed his toe on something soft and saw Lily lying on her stomach. Half of her body was buried in the rubble, and Sirius didn’t need to check to know that she was dead, but he did anyway.

The crying drew him away from his sorrow and he hurried towards the cot that had been buried under pieces of what might have once been a wall but could have been a ceiling. He carefully lifted out the debris, taking too much time but unwilling to risk hurting Harry any more than he had already been hurt. His hands were shaking.

When he could finally see Harry, he was relieved to find that not only was he alive, he seemed unharmed except for a small amount of bleeding on his forehead. He carefully extricated Harry from his cot, making sure to direct his gaze away from Lily’s corpse.

“Harry,” he whispered.

Harry had quietened down and was looking at Sirius with big, marvelling, wet eyes, sniffling quietly as Sirius pressed him against his shoulder, whispering nonsense to keep him calm.

Harry was warm. Harry was breathing. Harry was alive, and Sirius had tears in his eyes just because Harry survived. He continued cradling Harry against himself, stroking his hair and his back, humming quietly, and it didn’t take long for Harry’s sniffles to cease and his breathing to calm down.

Sirius checked to make sure that Harry had truly fallen asleep before he hurriedly gathered as many baby things as he could find, wary of looking at Lily lying unnaturally still, carefully not thinking about James downstairs in the same state. He had to move fast, before anyone else arrived. He was sure that there would be Muggle officials arriving too.

After he thought he had everything he might need, he managed to secure Harry against his chest in a sling that would probably not pass any closer scrutiny but seemed to be doing its job. He made sure to double-check every odd knot and fold before he felt somewhat confident that it would hold.

He hurried outside, picked up his bike, hardly having time to have a fleeting thought about how letting it fall to the ground might have damaged the paint, before stuffing Harry’s things in the storage compartment and mounting the bike. From the distance he could hear Muggle sirens.

Then he heard movement much closer-by and froze. He wrapped his arms around Harry, hoping against hope that he would stay asleep, thankful that in his haste he had left his bike a bit to the side so he wasn’t immediately visible from the front of the house, especially because he was shrouded in shadows. He could see movement.

He waited with bated breath, then recognised the moving shape as Hagrid.

What was Hagrid doing there? He must have been there on Dumbledore’s orders. Why had Dumbledore sent Hagrid?

Sirius’s head was spinning with all the questions that were popping up, arms tightening around Harry. He waited. Hagrid went inside. He heard a quiet wail, which must have meant that Hagrid had found James. He waited. The Muggle sirens were getting close now.

He thought he could hear the stairs creaking, he waited for a moment longer, and only then did he start the engine. He took off as quickly as he could. Hagrid could probably hear him, and it wouldn’t take a genius to guess that a missing Harry Potter and a motorcycle speeding away equalled one desperate godfather, but he could not give Harry up. He could not give up the only person he still had left.

Every now and then – and probably more often than that – he checked that the baby sling still held and Harry was safe. He then started worrying that Harry would get too cold, so after he found a nice, empty area, he landed and applied numerous heating charms on him.

He stopped to think.

He didn’t know what had happened. If he went back to his flat, would he be safe? Where else could he possibly go?

He didn’t know.

He wished that he had trusted Remus. He wished that Remus was there with him, giving him all the rational answers that he needed. He missed Remus so much it hurt, his entire body ached with it.

He wished that he had trusted Remus because none of this would have happened.

And look at the mess he had made – because it was his fault: he had convinced James that switching to Peter had been the best course of action, he had driven Remus away and he had been so obsessed with figuring out Remus that he had remained completely blind to Peter and his odd disappearances and now that he thought about it, it all seemed so obvious.

He swallowed heavily.

Remus might come back.

If Remus came back and Sirius wasn’t in the flat, Remus wouldn’t know where to find him.

“Moony,” he whispered, sounding more miserable than he had ever sounded in his life.

Slowly, he started driving again, staying on the ground because he still wasn’t sure where he was going.

Rationally, he knew that Remus wasn’t likely to return to their flat, but there was still a big part of him that wanted to cling to hope, that maybe Remus would want to come back to the only friend he had left, maybe he would want to be a part of Harry’s life, maybe he would want to help Sirius, maybe he still loved Sirius.

Rationally, he knew that their flat would be the first place Dumbledore would come looking for Harry. The flat would be the first place anyone would come looking for Harry. The flat would be the first place Death Eaters would come looking for him.

He took off to the sky and headed home.

*

Sirius spent the better part of an hour casting different protective spells to strengthen the protections their flat had already had. He cast every spell he could think of, then cast them again. He even quickly looked through Remus’s books on protective spells to see if there were any more that he could use. He made sure that the spells would still allow Remus through.

Once he was done, Harry was still asleep.

Sirius sat down heavily on the sofa and slowly disentangled himself and Harry from the sling. He was horrified to realise that he had forgotten about Harry’s bleeding wound. Luckily, the wound seemed to have stopped bleeding by then, and it didn’t seem to have bled all that much to begin with.

He summoned a clean flannel and used an Aguamenti to wet it. He carefully cleaned the blood off Harry’s face and revealed a wound in the shape of a lightning bolt. He tried healing it to prevent it from scarring, but nothing happened.

He had a toddler with a curse wound. He nearly laughed, hysterics quickly mounting inside him. Before he had time to completely lose his mind, he realised that Dumbledore thought that he had been the Secret Keeper. Dumbledore had no idea that it had been Peter.

Dumbledore thought that Sirius had betrayed James and Lily to Voldemort. Hagrid had surely figured out that Sirius had taken Harry with him.

How did that look?

“He thinks I took Harry for that sick bastard,” he said, part in awe over the realisation, part in anger that anyone could ever think that he would…

“I need to tell Dumbledore,” he mumbled to Harry.

He took his wand in hand and raised it, did his best to dig up his happy memory of him and James right after he had come out to James, and James had smiled and hugged him, telling him that they were brothers and nothing could ever change that.

Expecto Patronum.”

He wasn’t sure he was going to produce a corporeal Patronus at all, the sorrow trying to dig its claws in to corrupt his happy memory. He was relieved to see that the silver mist was quickly taking form.

But rather than the familiar dog, it became a wolf.

Sirius stared, dumbfounded.

He had seen that wolf only a handful of times before. He was one of the few people in the world who had ever seen it at all. The wolf was usually incorporeal, because the man it belonged to, hated the association it had with his Lycanthropy.

Sirius’s wand clattered to the floor and the wolf disappeared.

“No,” he whispered.

He blinked hard to keep his tears at bay.

He didn’t know when his Patronus had changed forms, but he knew that he had cast the charm quite recently before… So, it must have happened after…

After he had driven Remus away.

“Can’t think of that right now,” he mumbled to himself.

This time, he was prepared, and seeing the wolf only made a small lump form in his throat. He sent word to Dumbledore. He watched the wolf go.

He hugged Harry to his chest and finally allowed himself to cry.