I didn't try to make any guesses really, because I'm notoriously bad at it. musesfool, however, is a sneaky minx, because she wrote my lovely shackinup_sesa, and wheedled me into talking about it on IM before I knew it was her. She is clever like a fox.
So I shall post both of my stories here, starting with the shackinup_sesa story, because no one will know what the hell the other one is from. Heh. Which is good. Yay for rare and obscure.
Title: Homeless Near a Thousand Homes
Author: Sullen Siren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com)
Summary: "He went there because he wanted to remember, and he stayed because he had no other place to be."
Warnings: A bit heavy handed with the sweet toward the end, but I couldn't seem to temper it for some reason.
Spoilers: Through the beginnings of OotP, I suppose.
Notes: Written for the shackinup_sesa Challenge. I drew kestrelsan, who wanted a non-comedy in a non-book location, and for them to meet up with another character. Hope this works for you, kestralsan!
"There's things I remember and things I forget.
I miss you I guess that I should"
-- Counting Crows, "Raining In Baltimore"
He left without knowing where he would go. The family house had long ago been foreclosed on, and the shoddy apartment in a dodgy part of London was now occupied by a prostitute he'd befriended his last time in the city. He'd paid her next two months rent when his first paycheck (proverbially speaking, as Hogwarts paid in wizarding coin, and not muggle money) came in.
She'd smiled at him. "You're a good gent, Lupin. Skinny as a scarecrow, but a good sort. Us creatures of the night gotta stick together, I always say. Even if half of the sick fucks around here don't agree."
She hadn't known he was a werewolf, or a wizard. He'd never asked her what it was she thought he did, and she'd never offered. It bothered him, suddenly, that he couldn't remember her name.
He had no where to go, but that was nothing new. Remus hadn't belonged anywhere since Godric's Hollow. He hadn't belonged anywhere since he belonged with James, Sirius, and Peter. Some days he missed what he’d had so much it pained him. Other days he wished he’d never had it at all, so that he wouldn’t recognize its absence.
The place he went to was both familiar and alien. It hadn't changed. Fourteen years without sight of it, and it hadn't changed. It was still just a ramshackle cabin on the edge of a wooded field within flying distance of Hogwarts. It ought to have been more rundown, if not collapsed altogether, but it wasn't. It was just how he'd left it, years ago, and somehow that utterly familiar appearance made it strange to him. It hadn’t changed – but he had, and somehow that seemed wrong.
He went there because he wanted to remember, and he stayed because he had no other place to be.
He'd hated the Shrieking Shack because he'd spent so long with it as a prison. The others had thought it a lark – great fun to play the ghosts in the cabin until the moon rose and they played different roles. It had never been play for him though. He was the monster in the cabin – it made little difference that he wasn't undead.
It had taken a while for them to realize how he felt. When they did they'd stopped setting up late night parties for the four of them there. The stash of liquor beneath the piano had vanished and they abandoned their joy in the forbidden aspects of the shack for his benefit. He'd been grateful, but guilty as well, since he knew they had enjoyed their secret hideaway.
It was probably only because he'd felt guilty that he'd let James and Sirius coax him onto a broom with only promises of "You'll like it when we show you, stop being such a bloody baby." Remus had never really been comfortable on a broom. Though to be fair he was better than Peter, who'd always preferred to keep his feet on the ground.
It was ramshackle and worn, and it smelled vaguely of rotten fruit, and Sirius and James had grinned as if they were showing him to the Taj Mahal when they explained that Frank Longbottom used to take the team here, but since he graduated last year, and the rest of the team were seventh years, they were the only ones left who knew about it. It was theirs.
Remus had refrained from pointing out that it was, in fact, either Frank's or the person he'd first starting trespassing on, despite their delusions, but he didn't.
It wasn't long before he did start to believe it was theirs.
The liquor stash they put in the ancient wardrobe – where they'd also discovered acres – far more than ought to have fit within the modest wardrobe - of jarred fruits, the cracked ones having been the source of the pervasive rotting smell. They transfigured the rotting carpet into thick shag and lay sprawled in it, talking and drinking and making the sort of idle conversation that boys-who-weren't-quite-men made when they didn't want to think about serious things.
By the end of seventh year James and Peter rarely entered the little shack. James' time was split between his Head Boy duties and Lily, and Peter rarely wanted to come when James wasn't with them.
James' absence had grated on Sirius' nerves, but Peter's he took without comment. Peter had always been slightly beneath the rest of them in Sirius' eyes, though he'd never admit it. He was still a Black though, and some prejudices died hard.
Remus had never understood why Sirius deemed him worthy of overcoming his blood-inherited prejudices, but he had. Looking back now, Remus tried to forget the time after Severus and the Shrieking Shack, when he and Sirius had barely spoken and he'd been so angry – and hurt, though he wouldn't admit it then – that he couldn't look at his face.
Instead he remembered the way the shag carpet had felt against his back when Sirius lay atop him. He remembered the way Sirius tasted of tequila and salt and the sugar-sweet candy he ate with the habitual enthusiasm of an addict. He remembered the day James showed up halfway through a rather revealing situation and Sirius had thrown a pillow at his head – forgetting that the pillow was the only thing he'd been covered in.
He remembered how James had laughed and Sirius had scowled and Peter had peeked through the door and grinned, blushing tomato red.
He remembered that he'd been accepted – he'd belonged. None of his oddities – and he had many things to set him apart – had mattered. Though it was always a faint source of wry amusement for him to remember that it had taken James and Peter a good deal longer to adjust to him being a ponce than it had to him being a werewolf.
Sirius claimed he knew all along. But then he'd claimed he was in love with Remus for years, too, when Remus knew for a fact that he'd shagged his way through half of the female population of Hogwarts.
Somehow the little lies Sirius said to protect him had never bothered him, even though he knew they should have.
The cabin was just the same. Half-empty bottles in the wardrobe, the shag carpet a bit moldy, but not enough to change its color.
If he squinted, he could look at the door and believe that Sirius might come through a moment later, James and Peter at his back.
It was a grimmer sort of reality that knew that James would never walk through any door again. That Sirius was not the beautiful boy he'd been, and that if Peter had shown his face, Remus would have prayed for a full moon so the Wolf could rend him in pieces. He wasn't the wolf in its pack anymore either. He was a worn-out professor who'd outlived the war that should have killed him.
Werewolves died young, traditionally. Tracked down by hunters, slow-killed by a weak body that couldn't take the changes that came with every moon. He'd known six other wolves in his life. Of them, the last had died three years ago of a bottle of pills he'd swallowed one morning after the lock to his cage failed and he awoken to his girlfriend's mangled body and an empty crib in the room she'd been fixing up as a nursery.
Abominations of nature, most called them. Most days Remus believed they were right.
He'd been lucky. He'd had friends, a pack, a purpose. Most never had that.
So he stayed in a place that had once been a hidden castle for them. He transfigured a bed in the corner and he hid from the world.
Somehow he wasn't surprised when a week later a black dog pushed its way through the crooked door frame, shaking the rain from its un-kept coat so that it covered the entire room – a gesture that had driven Peter mad, since it somehow invariably ended up being his things that were soaked.
"Knew you'd be here, Moony."
Sirius shrugged. "It's where I would have gone."
Remus understood that. Sirius didn't have anyplace to go either – the appeal of the familiar to the wanderer was undeniable, or so it seemed. "There's tea by the window."
"I'll get some tomorrow."
And then they were home.
It was surprisingly simple, this new-old arrangement. They talked about Harry, about the weather, about memories old and mild enough to be safe. They didn't talk about the things that loomed dark and gray over the horizons of their conversations. They didn't talk about Azkaban, about the joint betrayal of trust that had led each to doubt the other. They didn't talk about Godric's Hollow, about Wormtail, about the future.
They didn't talk about what they were. They didn't talk about the line between friendship and lovers, and whether they'd cross it again. They didn't discuss the finer points of desire, and whether either of them inspired it in the other anymore.
The days stretched by and a strange timidity hung over the small shack. Remus went out, Sirius stayed behind, save for rare nights when Padfoot romped the surrounding fields. They bathed in the nearby stream and lounged around it when the summer heat grew too heavy to bear.
It should have been idyllic, but instead it was strange, and oppressed. There were too many things unsaid, too many secrets known and unknown, too many years between them.
And always there was the familiar gnawing fear of what was to come. It was strange in a way to sit in the place they'd spent a large chunk of their youth and have the same fears they'd had then. They same horror of war and death.
The only difference was now they knew what it was they feared. Then it had been distant and sketchy – vague intuitions they understood only in the intellectual and innocent way those who have never seen death knew. Even Remus, who'd nearly seen death when he was a child, hadn't really understood.
Remus brought the paper home on his rare trips into town, and he read the obituaries first, looking for names he knew. He remembered the prostitute's name when he saw it listed there. Three sentences and her name. He wondered who was mourning Sarah Brown. He drank a glass to her that night and passed out on the moldy carpet when a glass became a bottle. He woke with a blanket over him and it felt strange to be bleary and hung-over in front of anyone but a mirror.
The days went on. The wolf went out with the dog under a bright silver moon, the potion Severus still made despite his bitter dismay keeping him docile and harmless, and an awkward pause the next morning when they woke tangled and naked, the tattoos on Sirius' back and shoulders drawing Remus' eye so that he could not look away.
Twelve years had marked his skin the way the Moon-scars and gray hairs had marked Remus.
It was sobering to realize that they were both old men – though neither had lived enough years to wear that title naturally.
There was a sameness to the days where nothing happened, and they waited for news that didn't come. And then it changed.
Remus was cutting Sirius' hair when Neville Longbottom walked through the door they rarely bothered to close.
Remus thought it odd that his first thought was regret at the interrupted haircut. It had taken weeks to convince Sirius to let him do it. Old pride died hard, and it was vaguely amusing that Sirius worried over a bad haircut when his scraggly black mass was unlikely to get any worse with any effort Remus made.
The boy looked little different than Remus remembered him, though he wore muggle clothes a few sizes too large, rather than the school robes he was familiar with. He was taller – the baby fat of his cheeks giving way to the shape of adulthood, though the face he would wear as a man hadn't yet fully emerged.
He stared at the two with a shocked expression, taking a nervous step back as Sirius – quick and wary as a snake – leapt to his feet and stared back at the boy. Remus saw the menace – instinct after so long in Prison, and months on the run, most likely – that lit in his old friend's dark eyes and rapidly stepped between the two. "Neville – it's alright. I can explain."
The boy stuttered slightly as he spoke too-quickly. "Professor! That's SIRIUS BLACK! What is he doing here? Why are you in my dad's old cabin? I don't . . . . "He trailed off and stared, shoving his hands nervously in his pockets and watching.
He didn't flee, didn't call for help. Remus smiled inwardly. Gryffindor, indeed. "I can explain." He repeated. "If you give me a chance." Neville looked warily at Sirius and Remus gestured gently for Sirius to sit. The other man did so, slowly, watching Neville without blinking. "Sirius is unarmed. And I can hand you my wand, if you want."
Neville hesitated and then shook his head. "It's alright. I trust you."
He felt a soft wave of affection for the awkward boy at those words. He hadn't heard them in a long time. He felt Sirius' eyes move to him and they burned into the back of his neck, heavy with all the things they'd not said. He didn't turn. Instead he sank into the transfigured ottoman in front of the chair Sirius perched on, gesturing Neville into a seat by the door. The boy sat after a moment and Remus wondered how to start.
"I know you two were friends. And Harry's dad and the one Sirius Black k . . . I mean . . . . my Gran told me that." Neville started for him.
Remus nodded and then started to speak. "James, Sirius, Peter, and I were close friends at Hogwarts. When they figured out I was a werewolf, they worked in secret to become animagi, so that they could come with me when I changed. Before that, I'd been locked in the Shrieking Shack – there's a passage to it from the castle that I used to use. After we graduated, there was a . . . . Well we found out that Lord Voldemort wanted James and Lily. Sirius and Dumbledore found an ancient charm to protect them – the Fidelius charm. With it, the secret would be protected inside of one person, and so long as that person was silent, it couldn't be found out. But things went wrong."
Remus spoke as simply as possible, explaining what had happened. It was strangely cathartic – it was the first he'd spoken of it in Sirius' presence since the Shrieking Shack, and the night Peter vanished again. The pain of it all felt distant – like a story he was relating to a student. A history lesson in what not-to-do.
Neville listened quietly through it. When Remus went silent he looked from one to the other. "What are you going to do now?"
Sirius spoke for the first time, his voice rough and harsher than he intended, most likely. "You believe us?"
Neville flushed a bit and nodded once, slowly. "I . . . Yeah. I believe you. I trust Professor Lupin. And if he says that's what happened, then that's what happened. But . . . . "
"Why are we here?" Sirius finished flatly.
Neville nodded again silently and Remus lifted his hands. "We didn’t know it was your father's. He showed it to us – well to Sirius – a very long time ago. The Quidditch team used to have parties here." He belatedly realized that giving that idea might not be the best notion. "I mean-"
"It's alright. I figured someone did. The bottles in the cabinet."
Sirius grinned slightly, showing his blackened teeth. Remus pretended he didn’t see Neville's flinch at the sight and hoped that Sirius had missed it. "And you didn't drink them?"
Neville shook his head. "No. I . . . well I thought maybe my mum and dad used to come here. Before . . . . "
Sirius' dark eyes took on a gleam of sympathy. "I didn't know your mum well. Like most of the girls with any sense, she steered well clear of me. Your dad was stand-up though. Great bloke."
Neville bridled slightly. "He still is! He's just . . . .I mean . . . . "
Sirius looked taken aback at the rejoinder and Remus laid a hand on his shoulder. "He didn't mean anything by it, Neville."
"I can speak for myself." Sirius grumbled. Remus ignored him – he'd only have mucked it up anyway. Sirius was never any good at apologies or explanations. He liked to be taken at face value, and to hell with any impression of him that wasn't favorable.
Neville deflated a bit and nodded. "I figured they came here to maybe, be alone, or something. And talk and relax when they weren't . . . working. Maybe. So I came out here on vacations and cleaned it up . . . . . and things." He smiled faintly. "Least I don't have to this time – it's cleaner now then I've ever made it anyway."
"When one lives in a place, one likes to remove the cockroaches." Remus glanced out the door. "The herbs in back then? You planted them?"
Another quick nod. "It just seemed . . . . empty?"
"It was." Sirius leaned back in his chair and looked at Remus and then at Longbottom. "So . . . . "
The silence dragged out a moment and Neville stood up finally to break it. "You can . . . I mean I don't mind if . . . . . Stay. If you want." He pushed out finally.
"Thank you. Remus could feel Sirius silently urging him and knew what he wanted Remus to ask. He didn't think it was necessary, but he did it anyway. "Neville . . . . No one knows. About Sirius, or any of what we told you."
The boy looked a them, and for a moment he reminded Remus of Harry. The same too-old look in young eyes. The haunted expression of a child forced to know things long before he was old enough to comprehend their weight. "I won't tell anyone." He said simply.
Remus nodded. "I know."
Neville looked at Sirius and then added quietly. "I keep lots of secrets. You don't have to worry." He pulled his hand from his pocket and rolled a small piece of paper between his fingers for a moment before shoving it roughly back into his pocket. He smiled tentatively. "I should go anyway. Gran wanted to go into London today. Has a Port-Key all made up and everything."
"Alright then, Neville. We won't . . . it won't be for very long. And if you want to pop 'round again and say hello, you're always welcome. Your dad owns it anyway."
Neville looked between the two again. "I'm sorry. For everything. It must have been . . . . well, I'm sorry." He scurried out the door and was gone too quickly to respond.
Remus watched the door he'd vanished through for a long time, and when Sirius spoke the voice was oddly out of place. "I didn't remember."
"The Dementors . . . . they took a lot of what happened. Of how it was. The good bits. They come back, but it's slow, and like a muggle movie, instead of a memory. It feels like it happened to someone else."
Remus felt a profound sadness at that. Sometimes his memories were all that carried him through. "It must have been awful." He spoke softly as they stepped into the realm of the topics they avoided.
"It was. Most of the time I think about that. About how unfair it was. About how much I hate Peter, about how much I miss James, about how it was my fault." He shook his head. "But I forgot I wasn't the only one. I forgot that it was your life Peter took too."
Remus stilled at that. "I wasn't sent to Azkaban."
"No. But you spent twelve years believing you'd fucked the man who killed your best friends. You went from having friends to being alone again, and I know damn well you went back into your little Remus-cocoon and isolated yourself from everyone until Dumbledore called you back." He looked at Remus and smiled faintly. "You only came back then because you heard I was loose, didn't you?"
Remus nodded slowly and Sirius gave a short, humorless bark of laughter. "Knew it."
"Know it all."
"Better than a know-nothing."
"Not by much."
Sirius shook his head and spoke abruptly into a companionable silence that followed the banter. "I'm sorry I doubted you. I'm sorry that I didn't come to you when I first found Pettigrew. I'm sorry you lost your job. I'm sorry for a hell of a lot of things, Moony. Mostly, I'm sorry we didn't get to live in that crap apartment we had after school and see if we were the types to settle down or not. I miss you. I missed you even when I thought you were betraying James."
Even now, Remus felt a faint twinge. A part of him wanted to say that despite what he said, he'd still valued James above Remus – just as he always had. But James was dead, and they were alive, and he was old and worn enough to know that second chances didn't come around. If you were lucky, you just got a different path to the same place. "I miss you too."
"I'm giving Dumbledore Grimmauld Place to use for the Order. Someone from the family has to live there."
"You hate that house."
"It doesn't matter. It's a place, and it's something I can offer, at least." Sirius paused and when he spoke again it was with a rare hesitancy. Sirius rarely hesitated. He was brash and cocksure – or he had been. Even after these weeks together, Remus was beginning to realize he barely knew the man Sirius had become. "You don't have to come."
He didn't know the man Sirius had become – but he knew his heart. Azkaban had robbed Sirius of many things, and Remus didn't think Sirius would ever be put back together again, no matter how many of the King's men and horses tried. He'd fallen too hard and cracked too deeply.
"I'll go. I'll be working for the Order again."
"I know." Outside Remus could hear the scuffling noise Buckbeak made when he preened his feathers. "I don't want . . . I know it's not the same. I'm not exactly posing for Witch Weekly these days and . . . . "He shrugged. "Friends is enough."
It might be. But Remus knew the boy Sirius had been, and he knew himself. The "what if" would hang between them and eventually it would become a wall that divided them. He didn't want that.
And it didn't matter what Sirius looked like. Some part of Remus would always want him.
He stepped across the small room and kissed him. It was strange and awkward and too hard – lips pressed tightly enough to bruise. But there was hunger in it, and Remus relished its presence.
When they pulled apart Remus surveyed him quietly. "There's a lot to talk about."
"We have time."
"We could stay in my mother's old room." Sirius grinned, wicked and bright and for a moment time flashed backwards and he was as he'd been years ago. "My mum would love that."
"I'm not sleeping in that harpy's old room. It might contaminate my soul."
"There's that suite off the south wi-"
"The one where your great uncle twice removed summoned a spider-demon that ate him?"
"The stains came out fine. Can't even tell."
"Cut my hair now?"
Remus smiled slowly. "Alright."
This story got a better response than I expected. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for people liking my stuff - but it felt disjointed to me and a little forced in spots. So either people are willing to overlook that, or I'm overly self-critical. Or, you know, both.
Also - musesfool has addicted me to Tom Mcrae. Everyone should seriously be listening to him and signing his name onto their panties. (Or boxers, or tighty whities, or whatever your preference.) He's brilliant. All these soulful young male singer-songwriters just *wish* they were this good.
Lastly - anyone up for a Beta on a seriously, hugely, massively WRONG on so many levels sort of HP fic? I so should not be writing this thing, but it keeps getting written. I blame the monkeys.
ETA: The stories written for me for yuletide and shackinup_sesa were both fabulous and fun and can be found here and here. Thank you for these, both of you!