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Fic&Art: Map of the Problematique - Part 2 (HP)

Title: Map of the Problematique (D.M.L.E. Evidentiary File 142-3b.) [Part 2 of 2]
Author/Artist: SullenSiren (sullensiren(at)gmail(dot)com)
Written for: ladyblack888
Rating: NC-17
Prompt: "First-time (realistically), preferably after a fight." With a sort-of take on "A list of facts about them" as well. If you squint.
Summary: "He's going to make it a RULE." Before they went their separate ways, Moony, Padfoot, Prongs, and Wormtail shared a flat. The flat had rules. This is how it went.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and the powers that be have all the power. I'm just building castles in their sandbox. Please don't sue.
Feedback: Would make my day!
Any other random notes, warnings, etc.: Written for ladyblack888, in the rs_small_gifts fic exchange. It isn't precisely what she asked for, and god knows it ran way over the word count - but hopefully it's a good enough gift anyway! I apologize for being late - it spiraled so massively out of control. HUGE thanks to maleficently, who did all the graphics as well as put up with my constant babble and hyperventilating while I was working on it. (And posted the first part for me!) Also thanks to cotume27 and hazelhawthorne for the beta! Any mistakes remaining are utterly and completely my fault. Additional story notes can be found here.
E.T.A. Many Years Later: This fic is archived with working images over on the A03, for those looking for it. As I'm rarely on LJ and it likes to not work well for me, the versions archived here will remain, but won't be fixed! Thank you to those who have messaged/commented to ask in one place or another.





Detail
Rules 1 & 2 | Rules 3 & 4 | Rules 5 & 6 | Rules 7 & 8 | Rules 9 & 10 | Rules 11, 12 & 13 | Rules 14 & 15 | Rules 16, 17 & 18 | Full Graphic


Map of the Problematique (D.M.L.E. Evidentiary File 142-3b.)
"You're gonna tear someone apart.
I wanna know how it all works out.
I had a feeling we were fading out.
I didn't know that people faded out,
that people faded out so fast.
I wanna show you what I got inside.
But you know those parts of me died.
Just like that, they faded out, they faded out so fast.
And there was love enough left to fix it,
but there it is."
-- Ryan Adams, "The Sun Also Sets"


9. Peter's Attempts at Swing Were Less Successful.
"Should I ask what you're doing, or just pretend I didn't see and practice saying 'I don't know officer, I've never seen him before?'" Remus asked mildly, not looking up from the copy of the Prophet he was currently reading his way through.

"Prongs always apparates in at the same place. It's bad form. They teach that in training, you're supposed to vary it up, so no one can predict your actions," Sirius answered absently, making a slow circle against the somewhat lopsided Runes he'd had Wormtail draw on the floor.

"So you're teaching him a lesson. For his own good?"

"Right." Sirius paused, throwing Remus a wide smile. "Move the chairs back, would you?"

"Why?"

"He'll need a stage," Peter answered, finishing the last rune with a flourish and standing, stepping back.

Sirius cast two quick spells, and the runes lit up, shimmery and alive, and then faded again. Sirius grinned, walking over and shoving obnoxiously at the sofa until it slid backward, Remus still in it. When it was far enough to suit him, he dropped down next to Remus, leaning in and pressing a kiss to his neck that made Remus shiver, automatic and easy. "When's he coming by?"

"After he and Lily go and see her mum - to tell her the date," Remus answered, leaning against Sirius.

Sirius reached to snake the paper away. When Remus looked up, he caught Peter looking at them, a strange expression of embarrassed envy on his face. He looked away as soon as Remus saw him, and busied himself playing with the pint of butterbeer beside him.

Remus thought maybe he should talk to Peter, whom he thought might feel left out with him and Sirius. . . well, him and Sirius. Just what they were was never discussed, and whenever one tried, it inevitably turned into an argument. And these days, arguments just ended with one or another on their back. Or their knees. Or. . . well, it was just different now. Remus didn't want to tie Sirius down. He didn't want to be someone that hemmed Sirius in, because he thought that was the easiest way to lose him. And he thought that if it ever came out, being known to shag a werewolf was infintely worse than just being friends with one.

Sirius. . . Remus wasn't sure what Sirius wanted, but sometimes it seemed like he was waiting. And sometimes he would look toward James' empty room, or stare at the spot he'd apparated home - home to the flat Lily and him had found - from, and something raw and sharp vibrated off of him. Remus wondered if what he was to Sirius would ever come close to mattering as much as what James was to him. In his darkest moments, he wondered if he was just what Sirius took because James didn't want him.

It wasn't true though. Remus knew that. But Peter's odd look, and the way these days he spent more and more time at work, or visiting his mum - Remus thought maybe he understood. It was hard being on the outside.

Sirius' sharp intake of breath distracted him, and he turned quickly, seeing what Sirius had seen. "I know," he said softly. He'd read that section half an hour ago.

"Those bloody . . . useless . . . fucking . . . whole LOT should be bloody Avada'd - they've their heads so far up their own arses that they-"

"It's fine. We knew this was coming." It wasn't fine. It would never be fine that more and more laws were being proposed to protect the pureblooded, to limit the muggleborns - and to limit werewolves. The newest said he couldn't work. That any infraction of the law was an automatic sentence to Azkaban. And Remus broke the law now every day he went to work. Not that he'd be going much longer. It was a week to the moon, and he'd been told if he missed one more day, he was fired.

"It's not bloody fine. This shouldn't HAPPEN, Moony. And we're not DOING anything. Dumbledore has his Order - but what are we doing? Sitting on our arses is what."

"He has a plan-"

"Fat lot of good it's doing," Sirius snarled, and Remus reached to smooth fingers through his hair, pet the rage from him.

Peter picked up the paper Sirius had hurled mid-bellow, reading quietly. "It's bollocks, Moony," he offered quietly.

Remus smiled at him, and Sirius shook his head - calming, if only a little. "It's MALFOY. And the Lestrange brothers. They're at the Ministry every fucking day, talking in people's ear. You know he's campaigning for a seat on the Wizengamot?"

"I know," Remus answered quietly.

Sirius was too angry to stop. "Rodolphus and his twit of a brother are only there because the bitch and her master tell them to. They do every bloody thing she says."

"They're not always wrong."

Peter's voice stopped Sirius mid-tirade, and Remus looked at him, blinking in surprise. For a moment, he was too worried to be hurt by what Peter said - saying something like that to Sirius in the middle of a fit was a bit like waving a red flag at an irate bull.

Peter colored under the twin stares and shook his head. "I mean, not about-about killing people. Or werewolves. Or loads of other stuff - but I mean, they want to limit exposure to muggles, which is good. Some of the people at the ministry want to make more of an alliance, and it would be . . . I mean it would be dangerous for us."

"They don't know anything," Sirius answered darkly.

Peter hesitated, and then shook his head. "I bet that's what they say about YOU." He lifted a hand. "Wait - I mean. They're wrong, but we're supposed to be . . . I don't know. Better? Right? So shouldn't we be able to look and see what little things they say that are right? And not just . . . I don't know. Hate them, the way they hate us?"

"If you knew them, you would hate them, and you'd have REASON," Sirius answered, voice flat.

Peter deflated, eyes flicking toward the window, like he was searching for an escape. Remus didn't understand. He didn't know what Peter meant, either, but he wanted to. He opened his mouth to answer, again, when the pop of apparition interrupted.

James' feet had only just touched the floor when they transfigured themselves into bright, ruby-red shoes that bore a disturbing resemblance to Dorothy's slippers. (The four of them had watched an hour of that movie on Sirius' seldom-working telly, laughing at how it sounded in Spanish.) Remus winced a little, since the shoes looked several sizes too small.

James' face went comically red, and a moment later, he began wheeling about in something that Remus supposed was meant to be a dance, but looked more like a spastic, reluctant hopping.

Sirius, mercurial as ever, went from angry to hysterical in one breath, dissolving into laughter and leaping lithely from the sofa. He rushed over, turning on Remus' record player with all of the careful reverence Remus had taught him to use when handling it.

Tinny music filled the flat, and Sirius began clapping in time as Peter got up, moving to stand with him, laughing too. James made an incredibly rude gesture in their direction, and then seemed to give up, fighting the shoes less fervently and just letting himself be danced about the flat.

The conversation slipped away, and Remus cast a last glance at Peter before letting himself forget, lifting his hands to clap in time, too.
********************

10. It was Claimed That he Tore the Lace, Though Grudges Were not Held.
"Black."

"Evans."

"If my ability to wear white is in doubt, YOU should burst into flame as soon as you put that on." Lily made a grab for the veil, and Sirius twirled merrily out of reach. "Sirius! Give over!"

"Say it first."

"Say WHAT?" Lily stood, hands on her hips and pale cheeks flushed, red hair wildly disarrayed and a scowl curving the corners of her lips down .

For a moment, Sirius almost understood why James had latched on to her so hard that he could never let her go. She really was fantastic when she was angry. It was a good thing he brassed her off so often. "Say that I can give him a stag night without you going wooly." Sirius paused and then added. "And that I look better in it than you do."

Lily blinked, and then her scowl faded, and she laughed. "Is that all? Fine. You have my blessing. Bring on the firewhiskey and naked witches." For a moment, Sirius was stunned enough that he didn't move, and Lily stood on tiptoe, carefully snatching the veil from his head. She smiled sweetly at him. "You know, Black. One of these days, you'll realize that you're not losing James - you're gaining a friend. Who looks LOADS better in this veil than you EVER will."

Sirius smiled, thin and small, but he reached, setting the veil carefully on her head, and then running fingers soft and slow through the long length of her flaming hair. He stepped back, tilting his head and looking at her. "You do look better," he admitted quietly.

He turned to go, meeting Remus' eyes as the other man stepped out of his room, lingering in the doorway. Sirius took in the tired eyes and the slight smile that seemed, somehow, almost proud of him. "I'm off to plan a party," he announced.

"I'll tell Mungo's to be on stand-by for fires and alcohol poisoning," Remus answered wryly, and Sirius laughed, stepping into him, arm around his waist and mouth soft and lingering against his. Just kissing him. Remus' arms were too slow to wrap around him, thinking too much to react, and Sirius was gone again before the circle of them closed to hold him.

He felt two sets of eyes watching him as he left, but didn't answer the questions written there. It was just a good day to let go.
***********

11. In the end it was Decided That Gideon Cheated, and That James Threw off the Game With Noise Pollution.
James was warbling one of the Hobgoblins' worst tunes with a good deal more enthusiasm than skill, a plastic colander on his head as a party hat and lipstick smears all over his collar and neck. His eyes were glassy and he was staring up besottedly at the ceiling. In between verses, he had just finished telling the ceiling how cute Lily's toes were.

The ceiling was unimpressed. Remus, however, thought it was sweet - nauseating, but sweet.

Peter was passed out on James' old bed, somehow, and in the corner Longbottom, Shacklebolt, and Fenwick were losing a game of cards to the Prewett brothers by truly heroic amounts. Probably because, while the three of them were decidedly tipsy, the Prewetts were stone sober - which no one but Remus was coherent enough to tell. He didn't point it out though. He might not be drunk; but he wasn't that sober, either.

He was stretched out on the sofa, Sirius half beside him, and half on top of him, face against his shoulder and head turned just enough to see James on the floor. It was warm and comfortable and Remus knew there was a reason they shouldn't be like this, a dozen reasons, each making less sense than the last.

The Order was small enough that everyone seemed to know everyone else's business, so Remus justified it by saying it didn't matter. Everyone knew he and Sirius were shagging. If they cared, they wouldn't have come - and there were a few that hadn't.

Remus vaguely heard the sound of someone who had to be either Peter or Mundungus retching in the other room, and habit made him start to sit up to go and check on them, but a long arm curled around him. "Don't go." Sirius pressed his face into Remus' neck, and just that quickly, Remus stopped moving. Laid back down and listened to the way Sirius breathed.

Stubble scraped rough against his cheek when Sirius moved to peer at James again, a soft laugh drifting past his lips. "We ought to bloody Silence him."

"He's happy."

Sirius dropped his head again, and Remus could feel the soft thickness of Sirius' eyelash brush against his cheek. "Two days and he's Mrs. Evans."

"I think she's taking his name, actually, but yes."

Sirius smelled like whiskey and cake, and when Remus opened his eyes to see the blurry, too-close features, the new leanness of Sirius' face couldn't be seen. He had smelled the same seventh year, when the four of them were passed out in the common room on their last night before school ended. He could almost pretend no time had passed, and the scarlet and gold of Gryffindor surrounded them, and nothing had changed, and never would. "You won't leave me." Sirius' voice was quiet, still.

Remus opened his mouth to make promises, but he shut it again, and curled in closer, ignoring Gideon's whooping in the background. "You're drunk."

"Prongs can't sing."

"I know."

"It's vile when he tries."

"You can tell him tomorrow."

Sirius smiled, and Remus felt it more than he saw it. "I like your tux."

Remus didn't know how to answer, and a moment later it became moot, since Sirius started to snore softly as James hit a particularly offensive note, making Remus wince.

Someone should make sure that the others went home; that no one threw up on the floor; that Peter didn't suffocate himself with a pillow, since he tended to gnaw when he was drunk.

Remus left it for someone else, or no one else, closing his eyes and staying where he was, pretending two days lasted forever, and nothing changed expect the things he wanted to be different.
*************

12. She Only Remembered how to Make a Pig Snout, not why she Learned.
"So what do you say to daddy next time you see him?"

"Bloody fecking hell," Nymphadora answered promptly, grinning widely at Sirius with lips that had, for some reason, turned orange a few moments before.

Remus groaned. "Andromeda is going to kill you," he offered.

"She will not. What do you say if Mummy gets brassed off at Cousin Sirius?" Sirius directed the question to Dora, who beamed at the notice, even if she'd had Sirius' attention from the moment her mother dropped her off.

The little girl bounced up onto her toes. "Mommy, don't yell, pleeeeeaaaaase! Cousin Sirius is the only family I have who LOVES ME!" she recited.

Remus covered his face with one hand and sighed. When he lowered his hand, Dora was grinning, sly and impish. If she'd turned her hair black and changed the shape of her face just a bit - and the orange lips - it might have been a miniature Sirius giving him that wicked look.

Poor Andromeda wasn't going to have an easy time of it.

Sirius caught the little girl up and set her next to him on the sofa. Nymphadora wrapped her tiny hands around his arm, making him wince. Beneath the long sleeves of Sirius' shirt, heavy bandages Remus himself had put on were wrapped tight around his skin. They covered a long slice that Sirius never told him the origin of, but glowered at whenever he looked down. "What do you want to do for Andie when she picks you up?"

"Mummy," she corrected, scooting in closer to him.

"Mummy," Sirius agreed, smiling at her fondly. "Purple hair?"

"We did that last time."

"Cat's eyes?"

"She's seen those."

Sirius pondered. "Pig's nose?"

Nymphadora brightened. "That's new! Okay!" She stopped then, frowning. "Whast'sa piggy nose look like?" she asked, the s's slurring just a little. In between words Remus saw her tongue push against her teeth a little, wiggling a loose front tooth.

"Moony will show you. Moony, transfigure something into a pig," Sirius ordered, turning that wide grin on him.

"No."

"Why?"

"Because then we'll have a pig in the flat."

Sirius made a frustrated noise and then looked around, finally making a triumphant sort of noise and hopping up, hefting Dora and balancing her against his hip with his good arm. She laid her tiny head against his shoulder, short hair going neon-green as he reached into the cabinet, pulling out a tin of canned ham, a portly pig portrayed on the front. "There. See how it looks?"

"Oh." Dora screwed up her face, studying the picture intently, and then lifted her head, her face changing, odd angles protruding until her nose had taken on the rough shape of a pig snout. "How's that?" she asked, voice odd filtered through the snout.

"Little flatter," Sirius instructed, laughing and pushing at the top of it until it sank in. She obeyed, and then he grinned. "Perfect." He smacked a noisy, showy kiss to her forehead and set her down, digging in the refrigerator until he came up with one of the juice bottles Andromeda had put there. He handed it over to the little girl, not bothering with a glass.

She'd be wearing the grape all down her front, Remus thought, but he didn't point that out as Sirius plopped back down beside him. Sirius' arm lay loose around the back of the couch, not quite across Remus' shoulders.

The boom of apparition had Sirius half out of his seat, moving toward Nymphadora, and Remus' wand already in hand before both relaxed again, seeing James' pale, wan face, Peter arriving a moment later, looking over at Dora immediately, nose scrunching up just a little. Peter never had been much good with kids. "Hullo," he greeted.

Sirius didn't pay him much attention, gray eyes narrowed on James' face. "What happened?" he demanded.

James shook his head, waving indistinctly. "Lily. . ."

Remus' stomach twisted and the blood drained from his face. "What? James, where? Is she okay? What do we-"

"She's fine . . . why does she have a pig's nose?" James asked distantly, staring at Nymphadora.

"Oink," Dora said, and then beamed a wide grin.

"She's pregnant," James offered dimly.

"I am NOT. You have to be grown up to have babies. Daddy told me about it because of the puppies. I just have a pig nose," Nymphadora answered indignantly, hands going to her hips. Her face was, as Remus had expected, stained purple from the nose down, along with the front of her clothes. With her current nose, it made her look a bit like she'd been rooting about in a pile of blueberries.

"What? No. Lily. Lily's pregnant," James answered her as if he wasn't entirely following the conversation enough to realize he was addressing a child.

"Oh." Dora paused and then shrugged. "Bloody fecking hell!"

Sirius was staring at James, something in his expression Remus couldn't come close to defining. And then it broke, and he grinned, shrugging. "I think that sums it up."

James dropped heavily down to sit in the chair. "I don't know how this happened."

"Do you want a DIAGRAM? I bet Dora could tell you. Dora, where do babies come from?" Sirius asked her, proving himself astonishingly unhelpful when it came to comforting fathers-to-be.

"Sometimes, when a daddy loves a mommy very, very much, or when a bitch - that means a girl dog - when a bitch wants to have puppies and there's a boy dog about who can smell her, they-" Nymphadora began instantly, while Sirius barely restrained from cackling over the bit about dogs.

"No. That's okay. Thanks. Peter, why don't you ermm . . .take Dora downstairs and show her Sirius' motorbike?" James' interruption sounded a bit desperate.

"Don't take her out of the wards," Sirius said sharply, a second before Remus said the same thing.

Peter looked unhappy with the order, but didn't protest. "I've got comics if you want to read?" he offered the little girl.

She wrinkled her nose a bit, but skipped obligingly toward his room, Peter shuffling after, resentment in his expression. Remus looked at James and smiled a little. "Congratulations, Prongs."

"You're going to be a DAD," Sirius told him, and it was hard to tell if he sounded excited or appalled.

James blinked, eyes huge behind his spectacles. "I know. . ." He looked panicked suddenly. "What if I muck it up? What if I'm BOLLOCKS at it and the kid HATES me?"

"It won't. You won't. We'll help," Sirius answered. "We won't let you muck it up."

Remus was quiet, watching the exchange. James looked afraid, and worried, and Remus understood why. It wasn't a good world for a child. It wasn't a good world for anyone. But then James smiled, small and pleased.

"You're all grown up now, Prongs," Moony offered quietly.

Beside him Peter Pan laughed. "We'll never grow up. We'll just get old and wrinkled." But from the corner of his eye, Sirius watched for Peter and Dora. James didn't run off with him into danger at the drop of a hat just for the thrill of it anymore, and Wormtail went to work everyday and came home at the same time and went to bed early to beat the rush.

Remus thought this was what growing up looked like. He was afraid that when they were all done, they'd end up grown up and apart, four separate spaces in the world, paths only rarely crossing.

It would be nicer to believe they could stay in Neverland. At least for a while.
******************

13. It was, Actually, Lily who Brought it up First.
The flat was silent, and Sirius was wrapped around Remus, still inside him, body heavy and warm and sweat-slick, mouth tracing kisses along Remus' throat. It wasn't like this much, lately. Training and Order missions left Sirius on edge, too bottled up and edgy to lie still next to Remus. Or so Sirius told himself. He didn't like to think that maybe he didn't want to be near Remus longer than it took to get off because it was too confusing, most of the time. He liked to think even less about the fact that, sometimes, he thought Moony didn't want to be near him longer than that either. They complicated each other, and everyday the stacked tower of things they couldn't say grew higher and higher, threatening to come crashing down.

But tonight they were there, both of them, and all the things they didn't say, Sirius wrote onto Remus' skin, and felt Remus's fingers mapping onto his.

It would be so easy, sometimes, to slip. To say too much. To ask for too much. To forget that the more he asked for something, the more likely Moony was to pull away and drown himself in all the reasons that they didn't work until he convinced himself that this should never happen anymore.

But for now it worked. Sirius breathed him in, stroked a hand down a long thigh before twisting onto his side beside Remus, a sad noise of loss bubbling out of his throat when he slipped free of Remus' body.

Sirius wound their legs together and lay his head against Remus' shoulder, eyes fixed on the wall beside them as Remus' fingers threaded through his hair. He didn't want to talk. Didn't want to take the chance of stepping over one of the lines they'd had to draw up to mark the places the other couldn't go. But he heard himself speak anyway. "Do you think he meant it?"

"He did," Remus answered quietly, thumb tracing the shell of Sirius' ear.

Sirius didn't question how Moony just knew what he meant. "It's bloody stupid, making me responsible for a kid."

"I don't know. Dora loves you."

Sirius snorted. "She's not old enough to know when I fuck up. And Lily'll bloody take his head off if he makes me the kid's godfather."

"Andromeda is old enough to know, and she lets you watch her. And I doubt James would have said anything if Lily didn't approve." It was true, Andie did let him, sometimes. Sirius thought that she was trying to show her daughter that not all of her family were monsters, so that when she was old enough to know where she came from, she would know that they weren't all Death Eaters who would rather she be dead than have a muggleborn father.

And Remus was right. James wouldn't say anything without asking Lily. Not anymore.

"Do you think I'll fuck it up?" He sounded weak and unsure, and Sirius was Black enough to hate it, stiffening against Remus and trying to kiss him to distract him from what he'd said.

Slim fingers moved, petting him into relaxing again. Sirius hated, sometimes, that Remus knew all the ways to soothe him and all the tiny lies Sirius told himself to keep from really looking at things. Sirius didn't know all of Remus' lies. He'd lie beside him, and he would still be so far away from feeling like he knew what Moony wanted. Remus was the best liar of all of them - Sirius wished he could forget that more often. "No. I think you'll be brilliant," Remus' voice assured him, and Sirius wanted to believe he meant it. But he couldn't be sure.

"Won't matter anyway," Sirius answered, rough-voiced.

"Of course not," Remus agreed. It wouldn't matter because godparents only mattered when parents were dead, and Lily and James weren't going to die. If anyone died, it would be Remus, whose meetings with Dumbledore ended more and more often in a night or two spent away, and coming home drained-looking and silent. Or Sirius, who was sent to hunt for people he'd played with when he was very small and didn't know anything about right and wrong or that his parents could be wrong.

Sirius pressed a kiss to Remus' shoulder, tracing the line of an old scar with his tongue, ignoring the new one beside it. The old scars he would touch, trace with tongue or fingers. The new ones he avoided. Because they were part of the secrets he couldn't tell, and Sirius felt that whatever bits of Moony he had claim to, those new, secret scars weren't among them. "I can teach him to fly, with James. We can teach him together."

"It might be a her," Remus reminded him gently, stretching his neck away at the kiss, long line of his neck offered up to Sirius' mouth.

"Teach her, then. Take her up on the bike."

"Brilliant. And then I can sweep up the little pieces of you Lily leaves behind when she's done hexing you," Remus answered dryly.

Sirius laughed, sudden and loud. "I-" It was right there. So easy to say, and then he'd have said it, and all the reasons not to wouldn't matter, because it would be done.

He nipped, sharp and playful, at Remus' throat instead, fingers sliding to his hip, finding the spot that always made Remus shudder.

Remus' head turned back, and his eyes - dark again, already, and Sirius remembered how full the moon loomed. He shuddered, cock twitching, hardening slowly again already - caught by the way Remus looked at him. Remus' hand slid down, wrapping around him and stroking slowly. "Already?" he asked, amusement obvious.

Sirius shut his eyes, groaning softly. "Your fault."

"I don't mind taking credit." Remus moved then, fast and sudden, weight on top of Sirius, and Sirius reached for him instinctively, legs parting and hands pulling him in closer. "I think it is my turn," he murmured, mouth catching Sirius'.

"Fuck me," Sirius agreed, and it came out as a mumble breathed into Remus' mouth. It didn't matter. Moony got it. Tomorrow he would talk to James. Tomorrow Dumbledore might call. Tomorrow they could go back to separate sides of the bed and nights spent away.

But not tonight.
***************

14. The Rule was Added the Next Morning.
The moon had etched new scars onto his skin, and Remus felt every bloody one of them, but he didn't care. He felt like they should be there. It was what every other wolf went through, after all. They didn't all have animagi friends. And if he was going to get through to them, for Dumbledore, for the Order, he had to look like them, but a little better. Enough for them to trust and know he understood, but just better enough that he could give them hope. Sway them to believe things could change.

It hadn't gone well. It never went well. But he had to try.

He was in his own bed, flat on his back, skin barely-healed and when he looked down at himself, he saw a patchwork quilt of skin and scars. He looked stitched together, like Frankenstein's monster. Sometimes, he looked at himself and he didn't understand why Sirius ever wanted to touch him.

But Sirius had been here, hands light as he bandaged, still shite at healing charms, even with all the practice they were getting. Remus had been too tired to say anything. Too tired for what he knew he was coming, because if his missions were making him frail and broken, Sirius' were making him sharp, brittle and lethal. His body thrummed and his eyes crackled like a livewire. Remus had been too tired to deny to himself how much Sirius looked like his cousin, these days. Bellatrix hummed with the same fervent, near-manic energy and power.

The silence had stretched too thin for Sirius, and he'd broken it, ranting about Dumbledore, about secret missions and bollocks rules and Remus had just let him. When a response was finally required, he'd just shrugged, trying for a light tone. "It's just what we have to do. Maybe next mission will be to make sure the Death Eaters aren't poisoning the butterbeer in Hogsmeade."

He remembered how Sirius had jumped up, and the taut line of his jaw. "What the fuck does it matter who's right and who's wrong. Look what our side is doing? Fuck them all. Let them bloody kill each other."

"You don't mean that. You don't want to let anything happen." Except maybe he did, and maybe Sirius heard that uncertainty in his voice, because he scowled.

"You don't know what I want." He'd thrown Remus' wand onto the bed, within easy reach, and then left. Remus was tired and sore and he couldn't remember when he'd last felt so alone, and he wanted to call him back. Tell him that he trusted him. Tell him everything else he was so careful never to say, but it stuck in his throat, and all he could do was listen to the sound of boots treading heavy across the floor and then apparition cracking like distant thunder.

And then he was alone.

Waiting.

Maybe he didn't know what he was waiting for. Maybe he was afraid that he did.

It was the middle of the night when Sirius came home. Remus - still close to the moon and the wolf, senses too sharp - could smell heavy perfume wafting off him as he stood in the doorway, whiskey wrapped inside it - story and excuse all in one scent. He wondered if she was pretty. He wondered if she'd been soft and easy and if Sirius had promised to call her.

He didn't ask. "I'm sorry," he offered instead.

"Yeah," Sirius answered, and it was as close as he would come to saying he was too. "Drinks tonight, after the meeting. You'll be there, right?"

"Yeah." Awkward silence and then a rush of sound. "You can-"

"Do you want me to-"

"Stay." It was Remus who finished, and Sirius who nodded, reaching to pull off his shirt. Remus pretended to not see the purple kiss-bruise his mouth hadn't made on Sirius' throat.

No promises. They'd never done that. He'd never asked, Sirius never offered. He couldn't blame Sirius for something Remus had never asked he not do. It was what Sirius had always been. He'd known that. He'd always known that.

Remus just didn't know why it still hurt. "Take a shower first," he said, and it sounded nonchalant. Indifferent. He was proud of that, because some part of him wanted to be angry. To hurt. To cut and blame and attack, just so there was SOMETHING other than masks of indifference that might only be a mask for him, and a reality for Sirius.

Sirius paused, and Remus couldn't read his face, the shadows turning it into just pale space and blank eyes, but a moment later he was gone, water running.

Remus thought perhaps he'd looked hurt.

He wished he wasn't petty enough to be glad.
*************

15. He Never Asked in Person.
Remus was so thin that when Sirius touched him, he could trace the path of the bones under his skin. Darkness circled his eyes and Sirius could find the pulse of bruise-blue veins under his skin whenever he looked too hard. Every time he left he was gone a little longer and looked a little further away when he returned - a little more worn down. He looked years older than the boy who'd left Hogwarts, not so long ago.

Sirius' sessions with Dumbledore inevitably turned to shouting. He was angry over the losses. Over what wasn't being done. Over the secrets Dumbledore wedged into their lives and into his friendships. He would demand answers and Dumbledore would smile, sad and resigned, and say that he didn't have all the answers, and he wasn't God.

Sirius wondered why he got to play with their lives like one, then.

It was the first time Remus went missing for a week - an entire week - that Sirius broke down and went looking for him, finding the places it wasn't safe to go alone, and going anyway. He didn't expect to find anything. He just needed to do something, and it was the only thing that he could think of that might keep him from coming apart.

He found his cousin, white-blonde and sharp-featured, beautiful in robes of sky blue, her new baby in her arms - waist already showing no signs of having had him. Narcissa wasn't Bella, and he hadn't been sure if he was glad for that or not. Bellatrix would have been straightforward.

Narcissa was a new mother with measured, even words. She knew too much and spoke too carefully. It wasn't her wand that cut people down, and that made it harder to hate her the way he wanted to. She spoke of Regulus, and the new ache of a loss Sirius didn't want to feel had burned in his chest. His brother had been a Death Eater git, and Sirius spent a lot of time learning how to kill those, when he needed to. But he'd been a child afraid of the dark and crawling into his brother's bed to be safe from it, once. Sirius had never told their mother that. He'd never told anyone that. But he remembered too well the smaller body warm beside him, and the way he'd promised to keep him safe, even though he'd rolled his eyes then, because there wasn't anything to be afraid of in the dark. Or so he'd believed, then. He knew better now. Some nights, to some people he was the thing in the dark they feared. Sirius didn't know if being a killer for a cause made you less of a monster, or just a more purposeful one.

Then she'd spoken of names and families. Of how even when he turned against them, he was still a Black, and his friends and their Order knew that. And Narcissa had smiled, sly and sharp, and asked him if he could really knew where his loyalties lie, when he shared his bed with a Dark Creature - and those all belonged to the Dark Lord.

Sirius had left, angry and aching with what he couldn't quite call a lie and believe himself saying it. When he went back to the flat that felt less and less like a home, Remus was there, in his own bed, deep asleep and exhausted looking.

Sirius didn't wake him.

In the morning he was gone before Remus woke. It was his turn to see Dumbledore. His turn to be given something he couldn't speak of. His turn to demand answers and never get them.

He wondered if he might have been granted those answers, if his name hadn't been Black.
***************

16. The Meeting Went Badly, There Wasn't Time for More.
Remus held Harry in his arms, Lily half asleep tucked against James' side. Peter sat beside him, Sirius on the floor next to the sofa, an untouched glass of whiskey next to him.

Harry drooled in his sleep, and Remus wiped his mouth gently with the blanket. He was so small - tiny and breakable. Every few seconds Remus felt James' eyes flickering toward him, watching the baby he held. Or maybe watching him. He wasn't sure.

They hadn't all been together in a month that felt like a year - save at meetings - and it felt wrong, now. Too many silences that weighed too heavy. Everything they said had some other meaning hidden behind it. "It won't be for long," he finally said - just because someone had to.

Lily roused a little, smiling wanly. "Of course not."

"Fucker's coming out on his own now - someone will take him down," Sirius answered, and then smiled sheepishly as Lily glared at him for the curse. He only came out for Meadowes. Meadowes who'd spent the last meeting with her head bent next to Dumbledore. Who'd looked at the five of them just a little too long.

Remus found his eyes drawn back to the baby, the Prophecy Dumbledore claimed to know drifting through the back of his mind. Harry was so small. How could he ever be at the center of something so massive?

"Right. Soon!" Peter agreed, quick and nervous, not managing well under the weight of the tension. He sounded like he had when he was a second year again - all echo and nerves, no real sense of who he was beneath it, though they all knew, by now.

"It will be like a vacation. Only we don't have to buy you sods anything to bring back," James agreed with a weak, tired smile. It grated on him, the running and hiding. Without Lily and Harry, he would have been like Sirius - fierce and furious - Remus thought. But they tempered him, and however it chafed, he would keep them safe above everything else. He wondered how long it would be before Alice and Frank went into hiding too, with little Neville.

James stood, taking Harry back. "After the meeting tomorrow, then. We'll-"

"Say our goodbyes then," Lily finished, then winced, amending, "Goodbyes for now."

Sirius stood too, hand fisting and unfisting once, eyes drifting toward the oversized parchment they'd all gotten used to seeing spread across the wall near the kitchen. "Yeah. . ."

Sirius and James looked at one another for a long moment, and then James' eyes turned helplessly to Lily, whose face tightened, head shaking slightly. Sirius shrugged as if she'd answered something, and reached to run his fingers through wispy dark hair on Harry's head. "See you later, Prongs." He threw an arm around James, careful of the baby, and then hugged Lily too. All of them pretended not to see the tears in her eyes that she refused to shed.

Remus and Peter stood. Peter hugged too, quick and nervous, eyes meeting Remus' for a moment, and then flicking toward Sirius and away again.

Remus understood. Peter had talked to him. Spoken of the last encounter with the Lestranges, and how they hadn't sent a curse toward Sirius, not really. He'd spoken of Sirius' frequent absences, too - of what it all added up to, now that Meadowes, the Prewetts, Fenwick and a dozen other names were crossed off the list of suspects and added to the list of casualties. Sirius' eyes turned to him, sometimes, thoughtful and veiled, and Remus thought maybe Sirius understood all too well, too.

Remus hadn't listened. He didn't need to. He'd seen it all for himself already. It was the latest in a series of things they never talked about.

James gripped Remus' arm goodbye, and didn't hug him. Lily clung seconds too long, murmuring "be safe" into his ear, and Remus had to bite his own tongue to keep from flinching.

Moments later they were gone, and whatever they'd said, this had been goodbye, and they all knew it. Wormtail ducked his head and then shrugged. "I should go too - I have to be in early." His goodbye was quick and forced. Remus had never seen his new flat. He doubted he ever would.

Sirius stood silent beside him, and he felt miles away. Remus wanted to touch him. Words in the back of his throat battled to escape. He wanted to say he was sorry. To tell Sirius that he was still here.

To tell him that it wasn't him.

He wanted to ask if it was Sirius. If in the end, birth and Black won out after all.

"I'm leaving tomorrow again," was all he said. "After the meeting."

"I figured." Sirius looked at him finally, and Remus couldn't read anything but indifference in his expression. "Do you want to fuck?"

Remus wanted to touch him and kiss him and go back to two years ago, when he was still happy. He hated the casual question - the disinterest, the crudeness of it. He knew Sirius well enough to see it as the dismissal it was. "Yes," he answered anyway.

Gray eyes flickered, and Sirius smiled, humorless and brittle, like something in him might shatter soon. He nodded, reached to kiss Remus a little too hard and violent to be as indifferent as he wanted to seem, and Remus answered in kind. Branding Sirius with his mouth, painting their history onto his lips and skin.

It wasn't enough, the fragile truce of not-speaking, not-accusing and not-asking. But it was all Remus had. He couldn't let go of it yet.
*********

17. She Believed it was Neither.
Lily's face, helpless and fierce at once, faded from the fireplace Sirius had transfigured onto one wall. It's not him, Sirius. You KNOW it can't be. You of all people should know. She'd said, and he wanted to believe. But the list was getting shorter, and there were only so many who could have sold out the Prewetts; could have given away where Fenwick was. Every dead man meant one less suspect, one less buffer between pointing fingers and his Moony. He'd almost put Peter through a wall for saying it, but he still remembered his pale, frightened face. Who else can it be, Padfoot? he'd asked, nervous to even suggest it, but brave enough to do it anyway. Sirius kept asking himself the same question.

"That's it, then," Remus' voice was soft behind him, but Sirius had known he was there. Had known the moment he walked out of his room.

Sirius ducked his head, and held back a shudder.

"Guess so."

He turned to face Remus, and Remus faced him, and somewhere in the middle there hovered a line that wasn't there once, but couldn't be crossed now.

Sirius couldn't help it. He grabbed Moony's face between his hands and kissed him again, hard and raw and unyielding. Anger in it, because he couldn't help it. Because he was angry and it wouldn't go away - it never went away. And he wanted things to be different so badly sometimes that he shook with it.

Sirius smiled when he pulled away, and it felt like a caricature, and it felt like a caricature - a lie. "This is all bollocks you know. We'll all be dead in a month." He half believed it. The same half of him thought it would be easier if he was right.

"Don't say that."

"I'll see you at the meeting."

His things shrunk down into one bag over his shoulder. The bike thrummed between his legs as he left, revving the engine's roar loud enough to drown anything else out as he drove away, leaving everything behind.
************

18. They Were Filed Away as Evidence.
"What do we do with this?" Kingsley Shacklebolt nodded toward the wall where worn parchment, words and drawings scattered all over it, hung on the wall.

Moody clumped heavily over, eye narrowing as he read. "Pull it down. Put it in as evidence. We'll check it for hidden runes."

Kingsley rolled his eyes, but agreed. The flat was empty, but they had to check anyway, and clean it of any trace before some muggle lived there. He had to check for anything Black might have left behind that could giveaway where the Death Eaters might have gone into hiding, even if he knew Black was too clever to have left something so obvious. "If it's clean, Lupin might-"

"Box it up," Moody said again, brusque and flat. No room for argument.

Kingsley considered, never one to bow easily, and then nodded, carefully undoing the sticking charm that held the rules in place.

He didn't think Lupin would want the reminder anyway.

~~~

((Note: For any who couldn't read the text on the rules, you can download them as a text file here.))

Begun in Part One.
Tags: fandom - harry potter, fic, fic challenges
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