Many thanks to Halrloprillalar for beta.
Sirius, Remus, a house. Post-books.
The house wasn't what he expected. It was narrow and made of a red brick that looked gloomy in the overcast sky, and was exactly like the houses on either side of it. It was very much a Muggle house, a yellow sign on the side of the road pointing the way to the nearby railway station, a garish shop at the other end of the street. Next to the shop was a pub that might have been interesting if it hadn't been filled with Muggles. The front gardens of the houses were grey and wild and thickety, and trees grew knotted from the pavement.
It certainly wasn't a place one would think to find a werewolf. Sirius checked the number again and knocked. Then he waited. The rain that had begun as a thin mist when he started down the road now thickened, flattening his hair and drenching his clothes into a soggy mess--he almost said a spell, remembered where he was, and let the rain do its work instead.
It wasn't long, anyway, before the door opened and Remus emerged from behind it, his brown eyes maybe a little amused at the sight on his doorstep. But he let Sirius in readily enough.
Sirius stole through the house, dripping water on the wood floors. The house was small and narrow and filled with a gentle clutter of books and parchment, and once upon a time Sirius might have called it cozy. A fire burned in the grate despite the fact that it was midafternoon. He leaned toward it.
Remus stood a few feet distant. "Professor Dumbledore sent me an owl this morning, telling me the news."
Sirius wondered if Remus was going to offer congratulations. After the Minister of Magic had read the official scroll of pardon to him, there had been many congratulations. But Sirius just took the scroll and shook the Minister's hand solemnly. Then he walked away, and later, ran. He was used to running. He was used to disappearing.
Remus didn't offer congratulations. He said, "There's coffee in the kitchen if you want it."
Sirius slept for two days. When he emerged, he found Remus in the kitchen, leaning over a copper cauldron perched on top of the burner. Sirius's nose wrinkled at the smell.
"I hope that's not dinner."
"Mm," Remus said, and added a pinch of dried newt legs. "It's for the garden."
Sirius leaned against a counter. Remus's kitchen was small, like the rest of the house, but he didn't feel cramped. Copper pots swung from the ceiling, as did meshed bags of onions and a dried bunyip tail. Glass bottles were pushed together in a jumble behind him, an assortment of different sizes and shapes, filled with dusty powders, bat wings, and a few unlabeled substances that looked like dry, crumbled moss.
Remus consulted a book on the counter next to the bubbling cauldron. "I don't have any borage leaves," he said musingly.
Remus shook his head. "I used my last leaf a week ago." He sighed. "I'll need to restock supplies soon."
"If you mix verbena with hyssop seeds, it will have the same effect."
Remus nodded. "That should work."
When the potion was finished, Sirius followed Remus out to the garden. It was as thorny and brambled as the front, though Remus had cleared a third of it and a few paths through the rest. "I rather like the rest of it wild," Remus admitted.
Sirius watched him for a bit, as Remus spooned out the concoction with a kitchen ladle over a bed of freshly planted tomato vines. Stacks of flower pots lined the back of the house. The morning smelled young. Sirius wasn't used to the sun, to the way the air felt this time of the day, before the grittiness of afternoon and the cold dampness of night; to the way the light and shadows made everything seem like it was created just that morning. Just for that moment.
Remus put down the cauldron and handed him a trowel. "You can plant those flowers there," he said, pointing, "along the side of this path. The ground should be soft enough."
Sirius knelt in the earth and began to dig.
He found out what one of the unlabeled bottles held that night at dinner, when Remus sprinkled some into the pot stewing on the burner. "Rosemary," Remus said, when Sirius asked him.
Mornings they spent in the garden. In the afternoon, Remus would sit in the living room with a book, while Sirius prowled the house. He was too restless to read. Sometimes he would venture outside, down the road to a small park where Muggle children shouted and kicked a ball around. It looked like a poor substitute for Quidditch, but it sounded like they were having fun.
He would get strange looks from the children and parents if he stayed too long. Sirius wondered how he appeared to them, if he looked as wild and unkempt as he used to. He felt just as wild inside. So after a while, he'd cut across the park to the graveyard up the hill and the small church overlooking it. He was fascinated with the church: its clean lines of stone, the way it stood so humbly yet so grand. Hardly anyone visited it but him. The graveyard was overgrown and the headstones weathered clear, like clean slates.
When the restlessness returned, he'd cross back through the fields to the house, and Remus would look up from his book and make a pot of tea.
Sirius waited for Remus to ask the question. What will you do now? What are your plans? Sirius didn't know how to tell him that his past and future were tangled together, that there was no space, no stray thread to unravel. That questions about the future would be answered by the past. But Remus didn't ask.
Nights he spent in the smaller bedroom, down the hall from Remus's, listening to the wind or, if it was a quiet night, to his own breathing. The bed creaked when he moved, so he tried to stay completely still, as if the silence could mute the inside of his head.
Sirius had been at the house for a week when Remus left. "I need to go to Hogwarts for a few days." He smiled a little. "Severus is still the only one who can make the Wolfsbane potion properly. Do you want to go?" He sounded hopeful.
Sirius's lip curled at the mention of Snape, and he shook his head.
While Remus was gone, Sirius explored more of the village. He discovered that Mrs. Pendleton, the widow who lived two houses down, was also a witch. She seemed to know all about him.
"They've got it written up in the paper, dear," she told him, when he accepted her invitation to tea. She showed him a copy of The Daily Prophet. "It says here you're a hero."
Sirius didn't feel much like a hero, but he liked Mrs. Pendleton. She didn't ask many questions, though she did set him to fixing the roof of her shed out back. "Too risky for magic," she said. "The neighbors might see."
The way she mentioned her Muggle neighbors made Sirius think that she quite liked them, really. Every Tuesday she played pinochle with a couple down the street and a middle-aged man who lived by the pub. "His father was a wizard," she told Sirius one day, as they sat in her dusty living room papered with faded, peeling flowers. "Always disappointed that his son had no magical ability." She winked. "He makes up for it."
Sirius spent most of the three days Remus was gone working on her shed. Half the roof was rotted through, and after a few attempts to repair it, Sirius just stripped the roof to start over again.
"I'll get you the wood and shingles," Mrs. Pendleton said. Sirius would find them and whatever other supplies he needed stacked in a corner of the shed each morning, and never asked where she conjured them from.
It was painstaking work without the help of magic. The wood rubbed his hands raw, and his fingers collected a new half-moon bruise whenever the hammer went astray. By the time the last shingle was fitted on the afternoon of the third day, Sirius could barely feel his arms and back, they ached so much. He surveyed his work critically.
"You did a nice job with that," Mrs. Pendleton told him. She'd brought him some tea. They stood and looked over his handiwork. "A nice job," she said again.
The new roof was rather tightly constructed, Sirius thought. The shingles were a warm, dark red that made him think of upturned clay. Inside the shed it smelled like new wood, and there were no gaps at all between the planks. It should keep out all kinds of weather.
He wasn't proud, exactly, but he was satisfied. He was thinking about that, and how good it would feel to wash off the dirt and sweat, when he entered the house and saw Remus in the kitchen unpacking some things from his bag.
Remus glanced up. "I took the opportunity to stock up," he said. He laid the supplies, wrapped separately in small bags, on the counter. Then he pulled out a flask filled with a smoking, swirling liquid. "Severus has found a way to make the potion keep, for a month, at least. So I'll only have to collect it every other month." He smiled wryly. "I think he'd rather not see me even that often."
Sirius didn't want to be talking about Snape. He cleared his throat. "I'm going up to wash."
Remus looked him over, nose wrinkling. "Good," he said, smiling.
They got take away from the Indian restaurant down the street for dinner, and sat in the living room with plates balanced on their knees, a bottle of wine open on the coffee table. It was a warm night so Remus left the windows open, and the air was so thick it barely stirred the curtains. Sirius didn't think he was that hungry, but his plate was clean before he realized it. He mopped up what remained with his bread.
"I saw Harry," Remus said. He settled back in his chair, cradling his wineglass. "He wanted to know if I knew where you were."
Sirius didn't answer. He should have told Harry, at least. He hadn't been thinking about that on that day; he hadn't been thinking much of anything except to get away from all the kind, well-wishing people.
He'd kept the scroll of pardon, rolled tightly and folded in his pocket. He took it out sometimes, but never read it; just folded and refolded it, and put it back.
"I told him I didn't know," Remus was saying, his words careful. "But that I thought you were all right."
Sirius nodded. "I'll send him an owl in the morning."
The moon was a slice away from full that night, so Remus took the Wolfsbane potion for the next few days, as the moon filled out its lines. When Sirius went down for a glass of water one night, he found Remus stretched out on the braided rug in the living room, his ears twitching in sleep.
It looked comfortable. Sirius curled up beside him, feeling his bones and skin re-knit slowly until he was Padfoot. It was cooler on the floor, a draft from the slightly open window ruffling his fur like the light touch of fingers.
Spring turned into summer. The days lengthened, and the air was muggy and still. It had a calming effect on Sirius; he slept longer, was less inclined to pace the house as if it were a self-imposed cage. The garden bloomed with color and Remus's tomato plants dropped their flowers to form small, tight green nubs at the ends. Remus examined them carefully. "They should be ripe in a month or so," he said.
They were in the living room when an owl appeared, flying in through the open window and dropping a letter in Remus's lap. Remus put out a bowl of seeds for the owl, who perched daintily on the coffee table to eat them, and opened the letter.
"It's from the Ministry of Magic," he said. He scanned the parchment, then turned and explained to Sirius, "When I was at Hogwarts last, Albus raised the idea of doing some consulting work for the Ministry." He rubbed the bridge of his nose and smiled a little. "I suppose he didn't want me to feel too useless."
The owl finished the seeds, chirped its thanks, and took off in a whir of white and brown feathers. Remus read the letter again. "They're looking for research, mostly. Possible roots of Voldemort's power, ways to prevent…future occurrences." He crossed the room to the bookshelf and scanned the rows of books, pulling one out from near the bottom. He turned to Sirius. "How is your Latin these days?"
"Passable," Sirius said. "I didn't spend much time studying in Azkaban."
Remus threw him a quick, somber look then returned his attention to the book. "I seem to remember--no, it was in the other one." He put the book back and pulled out two more, handing one to Sirius. "Here. You might as well help."
Sirius opened the book. It was dry and cracked and the pages were aged to yellow-brown. "What are we looking for?"
"Anything that looks useful," Remus said.
They spent most of the next few weeks reading through Remus's collection of sources. Sirius developed a permanent ache in his eyes, and his neck was stiff from hours bent over dusty pages. He didn't think he'd studied this much in school, even. They took notes: small, cramped writing scribbled on slips of parchment that seemed to find their way onto every available surface of the house. The living room was a maze of books piled in precarious heaps that spilled out into the hallway, until just navigating their way to the kitchen became a hazardous task.
The subject matter didn't bother Sirius. It was comforting, in a way, to read about blood sacrifices and the conjuring of demons; to know that there were worse things in the world than having one's soul chipped away in a prison he no longer even dreamed about.
"Enough," Remus said one day, putting his book aside. He stood and stretched, and pulled the curtains back from the window. The sun was shining, the sky a clear crystal blue. Sirius blinked in the sudden brightness.
Remus ran his hand through his hair, which stood up wildly from his head in short reddish-brown spikes. His eyes were bloodshot. "How long have we been at this, anyway?"
Sirius shrugged. He'd lost of track of time since he'd first arrived at the house, and didn't particularly want it back.
"I'm going to make some tea. And then I'm going to put these books away." He nudged a nearby stack with his toe, and it promptly toppled over. Remus looked at it ruefully. "We have enough to write up and send to the Ministry, anyway."
They put the books away and spent the rest of the day in the garden, which was looking rather wilted and resentful from their neglect. Remus stirred up a moisture-retaining potion that perked the flowers and plants back up, and they made some headway in clearing a bit more of the wild half of the garden, which had begun to look even more brambly and thicketed than before, and was creeping steadily toward their neighbor's fence.
They sat outside that night to eat and watch the bats, who dove back and forth in search of insects, their small forms shadows in the dark sky. It was past midnight before Remus stood up to clear the dishes away, Sirius helping to bring them into the kitchen. Sirius was muttering a washing up charm over the plates in the sink when Remus leaned over and kissed him. "Are you coming to bed?" Remus asked.
It wasn't an invitation, exactly, and it wasn't a promise. But Sirius followed him up the stairs to Remus's room, which was dark with only a sliver of moon to light it. It felt strange, being touched by another human being, even Remus. He jumped a little when Remus kissed him again and cupped the back of his head, fingers brushing his hair.
Sirius pulled out the scroll of pardon from his pocket. It was creased and worn, the edges cracked. He held it loosely in his hand, as if he didn't know what to do with it.
Remus took it from him and dropped it on the bedside table, still folded. "Words, Sirius. Just words." He took Sirius's hand and tugged it lightly. "Come to bed," he said again.
Sirius followed him, and felt a little lighter.
Harry sent him an owl late that summer, with a note written in tightly scrawled handwriting that looked eerily like James's. "He's going to be in Diagon Alley in a few weeks," Sirius told Remus. "Wants us to visit."
Remus was trying out a new dusting charm, which seemed to only stir the dust in a hazy whirlwind before settling back exactly where it lay before. Remus sneezed and looked up. "Do you want to go?"
Sirius thought about it. He didn't want to go, but it was Harry. "Sure."
Remus's stock of floo powder was low, so they took the Muggle train to London. It was cramped, the compartment full, and Sirius sat with his legs nearly doubled up to avoid knocking knees with the woman across from him. Beside him, Remus was reading The Daily Prophet, charmed to look like something called The Times.
A girl across the aisle kept staring at him. She looked about eight, and she swung her legs back and forth under her seat in time to the bumps and growls of the train. Sirius ignored her at first. She kept staring. He caught her eye and made a face; a terrible, scowling face. She giggled.
It was nearly an hour before they pulled into the station. Sirius let Remus lead the way through the jumble of people, sticking close to him as if he could provide some shelter from the crowd, the noise, the bright lights.
They found their way to The Leaky Cauldron, and Sirius blinked in the darkness of the inn. Harry spotted them first, and jumped up from the bar where he'd been talking with a couple of wizards his own age. His grin was so wide it pushed his glasses up.
"You made it," Harry said happily. Sirius looked him over. He looked better than the last time he saw him; less haunted, more comfortable in his own skin. More Harry Potter and less The Boy Who Lived. Sirius wondered what the trick was.
Remus left them when they passed through the wall to Diagon Alley. "I've got a few things to pick up," he said. He smiled at them. "It's good to see you, Harry."
"You too, Professor Lupin."
Then Harry was dragging Sirius through the streets of Diagon Alley. "You've got to see the new broom model," he told Sirius. "It's a beauty."
A few people stared at them as they passed, and gave him nervous, sometimes apologetic looks, but Sirius just shut them out and focused on Harry. One wizard stopped them, his eyes widening at Harry, but also alight with recognition for Sirius. "Hey, aren't you---"
Sirius nodded, and they pushed on.
They stopped at Quality Quidditch Supplies and admired the broom in the window, a sleek racing broom made of a dark wood that was almost black, which trembled in its restraints as if longing to race free. They wandered up and down the main street for a while, stopping to admire the owls at the Magical Managerie, who puffed up their chests and fluttered their feathers proudly, Harry chatting about people and places Sirius didn't know, or only faintly remembered, like in a dream. It was pleasant. He forgot for the moment who he was and what he was supposed to be.
"Are you going to stay at Remus's for a while?" Harry asked, when they were eating ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor.
Sirius licked his fingers where the ice cream had dripped down. "I don't know," he said honestly.
Harry nodded and seemed satisfied with that. They finished their ice creams and left to meet Remus back at The Leaky Cauldron. The inn was crowded, but most of the people were more interested in talking to Harry than Sirius. Harry shook their hands and looked generally embarrassed. They were both relieved when Remus showed up, a bag slung over his shoulder filled with supplies.
Harry looked for a moment like he wanted very much to hug Sirius, but was thinking that was something teenaged boys weren't, perhaps, supposed to do. So Sirius hugged him instead.
"You'll come to visit me at Hogwarts?" Harry asked.
Sirius smiled. "Maybe. One of these days."
They took the train back to the village. It was night, now; past the time that Muggles were returning from work, and the train was nearly empty. It was bright in the compartment, and the windows reflected the interior back at them; though sometimes the light would flash off, and Sirius could make out the dim line of trees and houses as they sped by.
Remus yawned. "Long day," he said, shifting his bag on his side to lean against it, his eyes open only a slit.
Sirius nodded. "It will be nice to be home again."
Remus smiled at that, and the train bumped through the night.
Remus left for Hogwarts a few weeks later, to pick up more of the Wolfsbane potion. He asked Sirius if he wanted to join him. "Not yet," Sirius said.
The house felt empty without Remus. He read through some of the books on the bookshelf, tried a few spells that made him aware just how rusty he was. When he'd shattered every lightbulb in the house trying to turn them into torches, he went outside, down the street to the village market, which was filled with people enjoying the last few good weeks before winter.
He picked up some new lightbulbs, then wandered down to the edge of the market, to stands flowing with plants and flowers. He bought flower bulbs from a market stand. The seller told him that they should be ready to come up in the spring if he planted them now. He also bought a pair of bookends carved with lions that looked like the Gryffindor crest, which he put on top of the mantle. When Remus returned, he was in the garden planting the bulbs along the edge of the shed.
"What are those?" Remus asked, crouching down next to him. He looked tired from the travel.
Sirius sat back on his heels. "I don't know," he admitted. "Tulips? Daffodils? Mandrakes?"
Remus smiled. "We'll hope the wailing doesn't keep us up all winter."
The air was cool with the coming of winter, and it was too cold to sit outside. So they ate in the dining room, which was more like a small, cramped corner in between the kitchen and the living room.
When they were finishing, Remus put down his fork and looked across the table at him. His eyes were serious, and maybe a little cautious. "So," he said carefully. "What are your plans? What will you do now?"
Sirius put down his glass of wine. "The tulips--or daffodils, or mandrakes--won't be up until spring," he said, just as carefully.
Remus nodded. "It would be a pity if you weren't here to see them. Find out what they really are." The lines of exhaustion on his face lifted a little, and he sat back in his chair. "We should decide what to do with the rest of the garden," he said musingly.
"I thought you liked it wild," Sirius said.
Remus grinned. It lit up his face and made him look younger, like an echo of the boy from years ago. He stood and started clearing dishes from the table. "Come on, then. Give me a hand."
Sirius helped him stack the dishes in the kitchen. The house creaked around them cheerfully. Sirius laced his hand with Remus's and kissed him over the sink, and they left the washing up for the morning.
The bulbs turned out to be daffodils.