DISCLAIMER: I'd say I own nothing but the thoughts in my head, but someone probably owns those, as well. So I own nothing. That's exactly what you'd get if you tried to sue me, too.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thanks to Llama for beta'ing this thing and catching my Americanisms. Also, thanks to Tori (and Liz!) over at the Mischief Managed forums. ;) I owe you one. Thanks to Leandra for the encouragement and the patience. And finally, extra thanks to mysid, who not only took the time to beta, but who gave me wonderful advice and helpful insight into plot points that might have been unstable before she graciously offered her assistance. I'd kiss your butt if my lips were not already glued to your feet. :) Thank you for everything.
For Challenge #2.08--Sirius is a REAL Black.
Sirius emerged into sunlight. He was shivering from going through the archway; he raised his face to the warmth as he took a deep breath, the prickling of icy sharpness slowly fading from his bones. Was he back? Would he find Harry again? Would he find Remus?
He already missed them terribly. It was an ache in his chest; a feeling of dread and hopelessness weighed his soul in despair, and it was all he could do to keep himself from crying out and giving up. It seemed as if he had been a million places already, each further from his reality than the last.
This place, at least, had the potential to be where he desired. He had no wish to be in another strange reality where Remus was dead or where girls were looking at him with familiar male eyes. This might be a place where there were no Ministry dictatorships. He looked ahead wearily and spotted a building. Not any building, but one that he recognized from his past.
It was a simple cottage. The forest was thick, pressing in around the small building, and smoke drifting lazily from the chimney indicated to Sirius that it was occupied. The last time he had been there had been before his time in Azkaban, and it both warmed his heart and filled him with anticipation as he hurriedly strode to the front window, not caring about taking precautions, and peered inside.
He saw a sleek back at first, golden brown and rippling with tight muscles that stretched as the owner raised equally muscled arms. The owner of them was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts, and he was very obviously either getting ready to exercise, or was cooling down from doing so. Judging by the sweat already forming a sheen on the slick back, Sirius guessed the latter. He stared, feeling a bit nervous about the fact that this particular cottage, as far as he knew, had not been occupied since that fateful Halloween night in 1981.
It was James and Lily's old place in Godric's Hollow.
Who, then, was this person with the wiry muscle and tanned back? Could it be James? Sirius' throat tightened up as he watched the owner of the back bend down to stretch some more, the boxer shorts pulling tight across the backside, making Sirius shudder as he struggled not to remember the last time he was with Remus intimately-this was not the time to get distracted. Gawping at another man like a schoolboy wouldn't get him back to Remus any faster.
He watched some more, feeling a bit pervy, but he imagined that the person stretching in the living room was probably used to admirers. Not that this one knew that Sirius was outside the window.
But then, someone obviously did. Sirius was so entranced by the body of the man in the boxer shorts that he didn't hear anyone creep up behind him. He had no time to prepare as he felt his body seize up, straighten out, and fall back, the sky coming into clear view as he found himself unable to look elsewhere.
The shadow of someone's torso fell across him. Looking to the right a bit, he saw the upside-down form of Lily Potter glaring down at him, tendrils of dark red hair poking out of a blue bandana tied around her head, a gardening apron stained with green.
"I don't know who you are, or what a scruffy vagabond like yourself is doing here, but you obviously don't have a bit of sense if you think you can sneak around this house without getting caught," she muttered angrily, and then waved her wand. Sirius felt his stiff body float off the ground, and he tried to concentrate on this form of Lily as his mind also attempted to work out how she could have put a Petrificus Totalus hex on him without uttering a word. Then again, Lily always was the maven of charms in school.
"James," she called loudly as she floated him along. Sirius took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down enough to face his long-dead friend as he drifted past the front door. Footsteps announced the approach of someone, and Sirius let his eyes dart upward to look ahead as much as possible.
He shouldn't have. If he hadn't, he would have never passed out, the dizziness of his veil travel and his low intake of food and water, along with emotional stress, taking his conscious self far away. The thing he saw before the blackness was Remus' face; it was tanned, healthy, and suspended above the perfectly toned body that Sirius had been ogling from the window just a few minutes earlier.
"...didn't even recognise him with those clothes and that long hair. I can't imagine how he got out. You put him there yourself, Remus."
Sirius woke to the sound of a familiar female voice, and the name stood out like a beacon, lighting his way back into the safe realm of consciousness. He struggled to move, but his arms were tied behind the back of the chair he found himself sitting in. Colours swam before him; he had to blink several times before he could focus.
He had the terrible feeling that this was one 'dimension' of the veil in which he would have to fight the ones he loved. It was not a comforting thought, he mused, his eyes finally taking in the forms of a hard-looking Lily, a frowning James, and the crazily muscled Remus. All three were standing before him, their wands pointed at him.
"How did you get out?" James started, his voice rough, and Sirius could detect a bit of surprise in the voice. He studied his friend; James still had the untidy black hair, but it was streaked with just a hint of grey, and his glasses now had black rims. He was wearing a plain set of dark blue robes, the elaborate lining a pattern of silver and gold. He looked comfortable in them, as if he wore them around the house, but Sirius could tell that they were worth more than an average set of dress robes.
Several moments must have gone by, because Lily interrupted Sirius' staring. "He asked you a question!" Sirius turned to get a good look at her-she was still wearing her green-stained gardening apron and that bandana. She had lines at the corners of her brilliant eyes and pouty mouth.
"Out of what?" Sirius decided to play along. They obviously recognized him, but they weren't friends of his. Not in this dimension. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"It seems as if you've made history, Black." Sirius closed his eyes, trying to will the ache in his chest to go away. He didn't want to look at Remus, whose voice was gravelly as ever. He didn't want to be reminded of the pain he had been feeling for the longest time now, sensing that every time he went through the veil, he was drifting farther and farther away from his own reality. His own Remus.
Sirius shifted in his chair, the hard wood of the back digging into his forearms. "Did I win 'Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award' again," he babbled. "That WOULD be history, wouldn't it? Four times? That's more than-"
He was cut off when his head knocked to the left. His cheek felt as if it were on fire, making his eyes sting. He looked up through the tears at Lily, who still had her hand up as if she were going to slap him again.
"You foul...you EVIL..." She was shuddering, and Sirius watched as James put his arm around her shoulders and leaned over to kiss her temple.
"Don't let him get to you, Lily. He's just trying to rile you up."
"Joking like he didn't do all of those evil things, like he's our friend..." She sobbed one last time, wiped at her tears angrily, shoved James away, and held up her wand. "I'll ask one more time, Black. How did you get out of Azkaban? And if I don't get an answer to this question, your tongue won't be able to form the words to answer another. Got it?" Her eyes blazed.
Azkaban. So he was a fugitive here, too? Or was his other self still in the dark prison? Was his other self innocent of whatever crime he had been committed for? James and Lily were still alive, and they looked around his own age-what else would he have done to land in Azkaban?
He decided to tell the truth, at least on how he broke out in his own dimension. "I'm an Animagus. I waited until the Dementors were away, changed into animal form, and slipped through the bars." He ventured a look at Lily, who was staring at him with narrowed eyes, and James, who looked puzzled.
"Show us. I'll untie you. And I know you're not stupid enough to try anything, Black." Remus cut James off with a firm voice, and Sirius couldn't help but look.
This muscular Remus had thrown on a robe, looking almost like the Remus that Sirius knew, except for the tanned face, the light brown hair with not as much grey, and the expensive-looking dark green robes trimmed with gold lining. This Remus wore his hair longer than the Remus that Sirius knew, and it was worn back in a tail instead of loose.
Also, this Remus had a look that Sirius didn't like at all. It was unfamiliar on Remus' face, in Remus' eyes. It was an icy look, an I will kill you if you look at me the wrong way, or even if I'm just in a bad mood attitude that seemed to ooze out of his stance. It was...foreign. It was unreal.
Sirius felt his bonds loosen, and he slowly and experimentally brought his arms around to his front, twisting his wrists. Three wands were trained on him, and he had a feeling that Lily would kill him if he made as much as a fraction of a wrong move.
"You might want to stand back a little," he told them. "I'm kind of big." He waited until they backed up (but not very much, he noted-Lily's wand was still in his face) and then drew the magic of transformation out from deep within himself, willing his body to change into the familiar shape that he had taken so many times when he had been imprisoned in Azkaban.
Looking up at the three, who stared at him, astonished, Sirius ventured a lolling of his tongue and a wagging of his tail. He sat on his haunches, whimpered, and then sniffed. He sensed the least amount of fear and hostility from Remus, so he inched forward, his head down, and licked at the hand that wasn't holding a wand.
"Change back," Lily ordered. Sirius did it quickly, his head still down, his body still close to Remus. He could smell the other man-a distinct scent of sweat and unfamiliar soap reminded him that these were not his friends. This was not his world. They didn't know him here as he was now-they only knew this apparently evil Sirius who had done them wrong.
James walked forward and pushed Sirius back into the chair, binding his hands behind him again. Sirius didn't fight it-he knew that the only way to get out of this world was to go through the veil. Perhaps...
"Well? Are you going to turn me in to the Ministry? I'm a fugitive, aren't I?" He noticed the look that passed between James and Remus.
"Lily," James said. "Why don't you Floo over to the Auror division and get Mad-Eye and some of the others. Dumbledore should come, too. Remus and I can watch him until you get back."
Dumbledore. Yes. Sirius thought that he could probably convince Dumbledore of the truth-it had worked in other dimensions. Dumbledore was the sort of rational person that considered what would seem like impossible probabilities. But it was best not to mention that. Remus would think that he was trying to use reverse psychology-acting like he WANTED Dumbledore there to fool them into thinking that he DIDN'T want the Headmaster to appear, when he really did. It was the way that Remus thought. James would just get angry in thinking that Sirius, an obviously Dark person, was acting as if Dumbledore was on his side. And Lily...
"I'll get Moody, Dumbledore, and stop by the Burrow to ask Molly if Harry can stay there tonight. We don't need him to see this filth." She spat the last word in disgust, glared at Sirius one last time, and tucked her wand up her sleeve. Shrugging off the gardening apron, she left the room. Sirius tried not to look at James or Remus as they all listened to the fireplace in the living room flare up, Lily's voice declaring her destination to be Hogwarts.
Waiting for Dumbledore to get there was something that Sirius could do. If Sirius was given a chance to tell his story, someone would make sure that this reality's Sirius was still in Azkaban. The Aurors would need further proof, though, that he was not a nutter that just looked like the man imprisoned. Someone would fetch some Veritaserum. He would then explain his story, and they would have to believe him and let him go back to the archway.
Thinking of this, however, made Sirius realize that it would take a large amount of time to finally convince everyone of his story. Now that he was sure of this being a different reality than his own, he felt urgency pressing at him to get back to the archway, and back through the veil. Harry needed him. Remus needed him. Sirius closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on how he could get out of this current situation sooner. Perhaps he could convince this reality's Remus and James of the truth.
Banking on James' sense of righteousness, whatever the cost, and Remus' ability to sense the goodness in others, Sirius decided that it wouldn't hurt to try and get them to let him go on his own, before he had to face being held up by the Ministry. Opening his eyes again, he stared at his two captors, suddenly grateful for the departure of the third.
Lily was a firecracker-she always had been. As much as Sirius missed her, and as much as he had liked looking at the way Lily would have looked at his present age had she lived, he was glad that she had left. He knew much more about the two men that were standing in front of him. Maybe, just maybe, he could convince them of his story. He knew that this would save him immense amounts of time.
"Look," he started, "I know that you probably won't believe me, but there's something that you have to listen-"
A kick to his chair silenced him. James scowled. "Shut up, Black. You'll sit there in silence until the other Aurors get here. You can talk to them, if they'll listen before they throw you back in Azkaban, Death Eater."
That stilled Sirius. Death Eater? How could he be a Death Eater? He hated Voldemort, his family, Dark magic, and every view that Voldemort stood for. He hated those weaklings who did nothing but follow the Dark Lord out of fear and a sense of tradition.
He ventured a look at Remus. The werewolf was leaning against the counter, his wand still pointed in Sirius' direction, but it was limp, as if Remus weren't making too much of an effort to ensure safety and prevent escape. Sirius knew, however, that it would be a grave mistake to underestimate Remus' reflexes. Making an assumption about laziness would be most dangerous, indeed.
Sirius sighed. He knew that he wouldn't be getting out of there any time soon, but he had to try. He thought.
They had been standing around in silence for several minutes. It was time to pull out the big guns, Sirius thought, if he was going to convince James and Remus of his story. Maybe something to shock them.
"I know things about you two," he said quickly, before James could shut him up. "I know that you're a werewolf, Remus, and your scar is a light pinkish colour on your right shoulder blade. I know that you were bitten when you were seven, when you were out playing in your back yard. I know that there's this old shed behind your parents' house where you transformed when you were at home for the summer holidays. On the back door, on the outside, you once scratched your initials into the surface with a sharp rock. It took you an hour."
He paused. James' brow was furrowed, pushing his glasses askew as his nose was a little crooked (or so James had often joked). Remus' face, however, was a mask. Only a few seconds went by before he left the room.
"He doesn't like to be reminded of those initials because they were done before he was bitten," Sirius said to James, because he wasn't even sure if the James in his own reality was ever told of them.
"I don't know where you came up with that information, but I'm sure there's an explanation," James snapped back.
Sirius thought for a second. "I know that you and..." he spat the name, "PETER are Animagi, too. You're a stag, and Peter's a rat. You did it for Remus." He thought that this might have been true because as much as he wished otherwise, it was James, and not him, who had come up with the idea in the first place.
James appeared angry. "So you've spied on us. Bloody hell, Black, do you think I'm stupid?"
"No, I don't," Sirius said quickly. It was not the right time to tease James with an answer that he would have done in his youth. "But I'm telling you, Prongs, there's a REASON I know these things. If you would just listen-"
"Don't call me that," James growled. "Only my friends call me that."
Sirius sighed. "Come on, James. Please. Remus is listening to all of this-I know him. He's standing right outside the door, listening to every word we're saying. He's not nosy; he's just always been the type of person to find himself entrapped when other people are discussing something of interest to him, whether it was classified and important information or not." He paused, and then raised his voice a little. "Put your eyebrows down, Remus, and come in here so I can tell you my side of things." A beat of time passed, and then, "and close your mouth-you always look like a fish when you do that."
The quirk of the corners of James' mouth and the faint gasp from the doorway told Sirius that he had been spot on. A shuffling of feet brought Remus back into the room, his cheeks a little pink.
"Let's at least hear him out," Remus said to James. He settled back into his previous place, leaning against the counter. "After all, he's right-I never told anyone about those initials, and especially not about when I did them." He raised his eyebrows in obvious amusement. "And he knows your first name, James. I thought it was 'Potter' only. That's telling us that something's up."
Sirius didn't wait for James. "Fantastic. Look, you're going to think I'm crazy, but there's a good explanation for all of this. I don't belong here. Not in this world, I mean." James was scowling again, and Remus' face was a mask once more. "There's a stone archway in the Department of Mysteries. I was fighting some Death Eaters, and one of them threw a hex that made me fall through the veil that covered it. Ever since then, I've been arriving in different realities by repeatedly going through this veil, trying to find my way home." He paused. What else? "I'm not a Death Eater in my reality. I'm in the Order of the Phoenix. I'm Harry's godfather." He looked up at James. "I was your best friend. That's why I'm an Animagus-I finished learning how in fifth year, just like you. We did it for the same reason, too."
There was a silence. Sirius looked from James, who was frowning, to Remus.
"Do you understand?" he asked softly. "I'm not the same Sirius that you know. I don't know what would have happened to make me a true Black in this reality, but it's not real for me. I turned away from my family a long time ago, back before I even went to Hogwarts. I was sorted into Gryffindor. You two...you both mean something to me."
James sighed, running his hand through his hair, glancing at Remus for a second before turning his gaze back to Sirius. "I think your stay in Azkaban has turned you into a nutter. I don't believe you, Black."
"Padfoot," Sirius mumbled. "My nickname is Padfoot." He closed his eyes, wondering how he could get away, now that he was failing to convince these two of the truth.
Silence permeated the room. Sirius waited.
"What was the very last password for Gryffindor in our seventh year?"
Sirius lifted his head and looked towards Remus, who was staring at him with an inquisitive look.
Sirius suddenly laughed. "I can't believe I remember this after all these years, but it was 'polished wands.' James came up with it in a flash of inspiration. He said it was while he was in the Prefects' bathroom."
James had snorted at the password. "Gods, I was childish." He looked at Remus. "The Slytherins didn't know. They couldn't have. They would have done something to us if they did. Remember what happened earlier that year?"
Remus bit his lip. "How could I forget?" He looked at Sirius. "It was something that James did to humiliate you. Do you know what we're talking about?"
'Racking his brain, Sirius thought that he would have remembered if a great prank had been played on a Slytherin in his seventh year. Well, something memorable, anyway. He shook his head.
James used his wand to scoot a chair across the floor to himself. He moved one for Remus, as well, and they both sat. "You can tell him," he said to Remus.
"It was in the middle of our seventh year, and you and James were both at the top of the school in marks. You both were very competitive, and in that last year, you were both taking the exact same classes."
"Ancient Runes, Divination, History of Magic, Charms, Potions, Transfiguration, and Defence Against the Dark Arts?" Sirius HAD taken the same classes as James in their seventh year, and they HAD both been at the top, but it had been a friendly competition.
Remus blinked, and then nodded and continued. "It was so close that one wrong move by either one of you would have put the other on top. James, Peter and I wanted to see our own friend end up on top, of course. I foolishly considered myself too noble and good to participate in what was done next, though, so I kept out of it. There was this essay due in Transfiguration, and McGonagall had planned to be out for a few days on personal business, so she left a box for us to put our essays in before the deadline. It would close itself up at the end, and she wouldn't accept any essays that were not in the box."
"You wouldn't shut your big fat gob about how your essay was the first in the bloody box," James continued, looking amused as he leaned forward and smiled slightly at Sirius. "So I decided that something needed to be done. With Lily and Peter's help, I managed to charm the box into spitting the already submitted essays out. I put all of them back in but yours, went up to my dormitory, and charmed the essay to say something entirely different."
Sirius stared at James, wondering what this clever-minded man had done as a boy. "What did it say?"
James let out a little laugh, looked sideways at a frowning Remus, and sobered up. "It, ah, said something about you. And a particular body part of McGonagall's. And what you'd like to do with it. Something, er, involving catnip as bait to lure her in. I might have even included the words, 'naked passion' in there somewhere. And it addressed her as 'kitten'. She wasn't amused-I turned it back in with your name still at the top, using your handwriting patterns to make it seem as if you had written it."
"She called you up front at the beginning of the lesson after she got back and scolded you in front of everyone. She made you read it out loud. You were fuming. I remember you getting to the last page and slamming the essay down onto the table, and she took points away from Slytherin for your 'disruptive behaviour.' It was," Remus said with a red face, "quite pitiful. If you hadn't been such a bullying git I would have felt sorry for you."
"So you WERE too noble and good to help James with the prank," Sirius stated. "The Remus I know would have been. You're not a cruel person by nature, and you don't like the idea of someone hating you. Even if they weren't on the top of your list of good people."
Remus shook his head. "I could have stopped James. I could have stopped a lot of things during school. If I really had been as good as you say, then I would have done something to prevent others from getting hurt."
"Oh, quit whinging about that," James told him. "Some people just deserved it. Like him." He jerked his hand at Sirius. "He was terrible not only to me, but others, including Lily. I was NOT going to let that stand."
"Even he didn't deserve to have his schoolwork jeopardized by you," Remus argued. "You always hated him more than anyone, Prongs, because of his family and his House."
James opened his mouth again to retort, but then shut it, his jaw clenched, and looked away from Remus.
Silence lingered, and Sirius thought some more.
Sirius felt as if he were breathing in the silence, almost choking on it in his impatience to leave, when James spoke.
He wrinkled his nose. "So, in your world…are you in love with your cousin?"
Sirius jerked his head up in horror. "My cousin?" He wondered what kind of atrocious things the Sirius in this strange dimension was involved in. "What are you talking about?"
He watched as James and Remus glanced at each other, and then Remus shrugged. "Obviously, it's different in your own reality. Here, the Sirius Black that we know married his cousin, Narcissa, about two years out of school."
Sirius felt sick. "What about Malfoy? That's who she's married to in my reality."
"Lucius Malfoy?" James stared at him. "You killed him. Or, er, your other self killed him, about a year before the wedding. It was actually a fight between you two—the competition between you was legendary. You competed for both Narcissa and the place at Voldemort's right hand."
"I still can't believe I'm a Death Eater here," Sirius mumbled. He shook his head. "I HATE my family. I grew up hating them. I hated the Dark Arts too—that's why we became friends so fast." He looked up at James. "We had the run of the school. Everyone looked up to us. They wanted to be you on the Quidditch pitch." He grinned. "Or they wanted to be WITH you on the Quidditch pitch, preferably alone at night."
"If you were actually a nice bloke, then you probably had your share of admirers, too," James pointed out. "You scared most of them off with your pureblood mania and bullying attitude here."
Sirius sighed. "Well, maybe. I was too caught up in playing pranks and pushing away good friends to worry much about my next shag."
"Good friends?" Remus studied him. Sirius shifted away from the gaze, uncomfortable, wondering why he had even hinted at that terrible time of his life.
"I did something horrible. Something to you. I don't really want to talk about it, Remus, but it was really, really bad." He stared at the floor. "You didn't speak to me for what seemed like decades. You were so angry…I hated myself. And I deserved every bit of your anger, and I'm sorry," he hung his head further, feeling the memories of the guilt weighing down on him. "I'm sorry."
He felt a soft touch on his shoulder. "You didn't do anything to me," Remus said softly. "You don't have to apologize. And I'm sure I would have forgiven you, whatever it is you would have done."
Sirius let his head brush sideways, his cheek resting upon the back of Remus' hand. "You did. I don't know why, but you finally did forgive me."
James cleared his throat, the sound loud in the room, and Sirius immediately missed Remus' touch on his shoulder. "So, Black," James said, "you didn't marry your cousin."
He left it open, but Sirius knew what he was trying to ask without doing so out loud. Remus just looked as if he were only mildly interested. Sirius decided to humour them.
"I'm in love with a man," he said.
Out of all the possible responses, the last that he expected from either one of them was laughter. James and Remus had looked at each other for a split second, Remus raising his eyebrows, and then James went mad.
"What's so funny?" Sirius demanded.
James letting out loud whoops that made Sirius ache for a second, because he remembered when the James of his youth had the same laugh. Remus was struggling not to smile, his bottom lip white from where he was biting it in an effort to not lose complete control. Remus did everything like that, restrained, afraid of being loud and raucous like Sirius and James had always been. It hurt to see that reminder, too.
Sirius sighed, a little annoyed. "What, you great gits?"
With a last bellow of laughter, James took his glasses off and wiped at his eyes. He put them back on, grinning wildly at Remus and then Sirius. "I haven't laughed like that in years. Thank you."
"Care to share the joke, mate?" Sirius asked sarcastically. "I could use the laugh, too, you know."
"Sorry," Remus added, the corners of his lips still twitching upward, his eyes sparkling. Sirius quickly looked at James, but listened to the voice that he had come to love. "I suppose you could say that we're not that surprised."
That admission made him look back at Remus. "Oh, bloody hell. Tell me what I did," he said. He wondered if he would be in for a world of embarrassment. "It must be something extremely funny…"
"It wasn't at the time," Remus told him. "In school, you hit on me."
Sirius' heart jumped in his throat. Should he tell this Remus the truth? James' voice broke the silence.
"Moony came running up to the common room one evening in our sixth year. He pulled me and Peter aside and told us that he had been sitting in the library, studying, when you came up to his table and sat down."
"It was shocking," Remus interrupted. "There it was, sixth year, you a Slytherin who didn't exactly make your hate for my best friend a secret, and me a Gryffindor who had never spoken two words in your direction. But you sat down as if we were best mates, and you asked me if I had ever thought about a bloke in a sexual way."
James spoke out of blue, raising his voice in a higher mocking version of Remus'. " 'James, he PROPOSITIONED me! I still look like a bloke, don't I?' Moony was shaking when he got to the common room. I think it made my year, that statement." James shook his head, chuckling again. "He wasn't even trying to be funny, but Peter and I…I think I wet myself."
Remus rolled his eyes while James was speaking, and Sirius couldn't help but smile. It reminded him of his own school years, bickering and laughing and being comfortable enough around his friends that he could make fun of them without fear of offending.
"You put your hand on my leg. I told James and Peter this later, but they just laughed at me and told me that I was probably imagining things." Remus, Sirius could tell, was trying not to smile. "James said that you were in love with Narcissa, and Peter told me that your family would have disowned you if you, er, preferred males."
"And you WERE in love with Narcissa," James said. "You were all over her. It was sickening. I nearly vomited all over the Quidditch pitch during practice one afternoon when I caught sight of you snogging beside the greenhouses." He visibly shuddered. "She's your COUSIN. That's just as disgusting as snogging a bloke."
"Like I said," Sirius repeated rather harshly, "I'm in love with a man, and Narcissa married Malfoy. I was in love with that same man when she married. I was in love with him when I was at Hogwarts, too, though he didn't know it at the time, and neither did I. If you want to laugh at the fact that I'm gay, then, well…I can tell you, James, that I am just as happy with this man as you are with Lily." He felt a little drained, because sometime during the conversation, he had started getting angry. These two men—they didn't know HIM. They didn't grow up with his friendship, they didn't have Padfoot…they weren't the same Remus and James. He shouldn't have pretended that they would understand anything about him.
More than anything, he knew he had to get out of this place. He didn't know if he could take much more of this. These strangers...they didn't understand him at all.
"We…didn't mean to offend you," Remus said quietly a minute later, breaking the silence, drawing Sirius' eyes. "This man that you're in love with…you must miss him very much."
"Yes," Sirius whispered, unable to look away from that face.
"And he must miss you."
"Yes. He needs me almost as much as I need him."
"Do you know that?"
"He's told me. He's been telling me that he needs me every day since we reunited after…" Sirius broke off, not wanting to go into detail. He shook his head. "I have to get back to him. I have to get back to Harry. They both need me."
Remus continued to stare at him. Then, just slightly, he nodded. "I believe you."
Sirius let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding. "Thank you." He looked to the other man. "Pr-James?"
James looked upset. "Even if I did, we can't let you go. If you're not telling the truth, then you belong in Azkaban, and Remus and I work in the Auror division. We can't just let you talk us into letting you go."
"Aurors?" Sirius looked at Remus, surprised. "You are, too? I thought the Ministry was against letting werewolves have a place in society? Too dangerous and all that rot?"
Remus shrugged his shoulders. "Werewolves ARE dangerous, but I did well in school, never caused trouble, and never showed any lack of control. They had no reason to turn me down after Dumbledore convinced them of my magical abilities." He smiled a little without showing his teeth, bringing back a bit of the Remus that Sirius knew. "I was no James, but I got good marks, and they even interviewed some students that went to school with me after I finished to see if they ever noticed they had gone to school with a werewolf. None of them did."
It came upon Sirius in a crash of guilt. It must have been Sirius' terrible mistake during school that showed the Ministry that Remus was, in fact, dangerous at any time, especially if Snape had told the Beast Division that Remus had been in on the prank.
"Good," Sirius croaked. "Good, Remus, that you lived a successful life here."
"How is the Remus that you know?"
Sirius thought carefully about the answer. He turned to James, who had asked. "He's basically jobless, except for the work that he does for the Order. He's had to resort to getting Muggle jobs because the Ministry refused to let him take any Wizarding job, and the Registry is public to anyone who wishes to check it. They've...they've BRANDED him, like an animal. Those bastards have made his life hard." He smiled ruefully. "There was a year where he taught Defence at Hogwarts, but Snape ruined it for him in the end when he let the 'secret' slip to his students. He resigned because he knew that the parents wouldn't like him teaching their children, and he felt as if he was still a danger to them himself."
"I taught?" Remus looked amused and little wistful. "I would have loved a job like that. But Voldemort got so strong. I couldn't sit by and watch while my friends fought and I didn't."
"Why is it so different?" James leaned forward in his chair. "Why do they treat Remus that way?"
"I don't know," Sirius lied, looking away. His bottom hurt from sitting in the hard chair, and he moved around a little to get more comfortable. He smiled as Remus waved his wand, the Cushioning Charm a blessing.
"Why haven't his friends helped him, then?" Sirius winced at James' question. "What about you? Me and Lily? Peter?"
Sirius contemplated not answering. "It's a long story, James. Longer than the time I have. I'll just say that Peter was a traitor, and you and I were gone. There was no one left to help Moony. Because believe me, I would have."
Remus shook his head. "Peter's a traitor in your world? Here, he strived to be like James during school, and he came into his own after we got out. He's on a mission right now for the Ministry. He would have never been a traitor."
"He is in my reality," Sirius said bitterly. "He betrayed us. All of us. He turned us against one another, the little rat, and he's responsible for my being unable to help you. The Remus I know, I mean."
But he thought about this. James and Lily were alive in this world, and Sirius was not in the picture. Peter was still a friend. This meant that either Peter was still a supporter of Voldemort in secret, or he really didn't turn in the first place. "Is Voldemort defeated, here?"
"Yes," James answered. "This is also a long story, but Harry defeated him two years ago, fulfilling a prophecy."
Peter would never support a force that was gone for good, even the Peter that Sirius knew in his own reality. If Peter never turned, then what made him do it in his own world?
And then this hit him like the realization of why Remus was treated the way he was in his own reality-Peter must have turned traitor because he was a target of Sirius' scathing remarks. Peter HAD tried to be like James during school, and Sirius remembered with a large lump in his throat how he used to tease Peter, how he used to bring Wormtail down at almost every opportunity. If Sirius was not a friend doing these things, then Peter might not have...
"You're right," he muttered. He let his head hang, strands of black falling into his face, brushing against his unshaven cheeks. "Peter wouldn't have betrayed anyone here, because I wasn't around to put him down for trying to be like James. If I hadn't teased him so much-"
"Don't blame yourself," Remus said quickly. "I'm sure the Peter you know did what he did for different reasons other than the fact that you were around."
"No," Sirius said miserably. "Maybe this world is better because I wasn't here to mess things up. Voldemort is already defeated, Peter never turned, werewolves have a chance at a good life, and Harry has grown up knowing..." He cut off, not wanting to say it. He missed James terribly, and it hit him harder now, with this 'other' James standing before him at his age. He missed Lily. He had not had a chance to grieve in Azkaban, for grieving was a cleansing process that healed one's soul, and there was no healing done in that prison. By the time he had escaped, Sirius had been faced with the challenge of dealing with his best friend's death, and he had never truly come to terms with the fact.
And now, in a different reality of how things would have been had he never been a Gryffindor, he was in Azkaban, yes, but his friends...Remus, James, and Peter were happy, healthy, and together. Their little pack of pranksters had remained tight in this world, not torn by betrayal and death. Maybe it would be better if he never found his way back. Surely, Harry would become a better person without his reckless guidance, and Remus would meet someone that could offer him so much more than Sirius could give.
"Stop that," James snapped. Sirius looked up to find his hazel-eyed friend glaring at him through the black-framed lenses. "You're thinking too hard. You're wallowing in pathetic self-pity, and it isn't healthy."
"This man that you love-you say he needs you," Remus chimed in. "He probably misses you, and he's probably miserable and trying to hold it in because that's what he does in times like these. But it's eating him up inside." He was looking off to a point above Sirius' shoulder. "He feels your absence. He's trying to be strong for the people who need him, but he doesn't feel complete without you, especially since he found you again after so long. Because when you were...when you were in Azkaban..." He trailed off and looked at Sirius questioningly, who nodded. "He missed you then, and he loved you, and he is in awe because you love him, for who could love a gay werewolf?"
"You always did have a way of piecing things together," Sirius told him, ashamed of his self-hatred and pleased that this Remus was not so different from the one he knew and loved.
"You..." James looked back and forth between them, and then nodded his head. "Well, I'm surprised I didn't cotton on sooner. It makes sense, really. Lily said you were ogling Remus from the window."
Sirius wasn't a blusher, but he felt his cheeks heat up nonetheless. "She said that, did she?"
"You were?" Remus WAS blushing. It was a trait that Sirius had always liked about Remus, being able to tell when the man was embarrassed.
"I didn't mean to," Sirius told him. "I just came up to the window, and I didn't know who it was. This house was familiar, but I didn't know anyone who had, er, the same body..."
"There's no such thing as an overweight Auror," Remus said. "I have to stay in shape."
"Is Remus fat in your reality?" James looked amused.
Sirius shook his head, laughing a little. "Not at all. I'd say he's a little on the thin side, actually. But he's..." He trailed off, closing his eyes, picturing his Remus. "He's perfect," he said softly. "He's perfect, and he loves me." He ached for his lover.
A clearing of a throat brought Sirius back. "He must be sad, then, if you've been gone for a while," James said hesitatingly.
"I have to go back," Sirius whispered, looking desperately at him. "Please."
"Why don't we wait for the others to get here," James suggested tentatively. He looked uneasy. "We could see what Dumbledore says. You could stay and rest for a bit while they verify your story. Someone will make sure that there's still a Sirius Black at Azkaban, and maybe we can get a hold of some Veritaserum..." He trailed off.
Fearful, Sirius shook his head. "Please. It'll take too much time for that. I can't wait around to be prodded and poked. I have to get back to Remus. And Harry."
Sirius seemed to have said the magic word. James closed his eyes at the name of his son. He seemed to be torn. Sirius knew that he'd potentially be putting both James and Remus at risk in this world, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was getting back. Sirius silently willed his childhood best friend to choose in his favour.
"Just tell me one thing first," James said, and Sirius could almost feel the hard stare. He thought he knew what James was going to ask, and he didn't know if he could tell him the truth.
"How does Harry feel about you?"
Sirius gaped at the question. His thoughts about how to answer a question about James and Lily's deaths flew out of his mind. He tried to focus, knowing that this was his last chance to convince James.
"I think," he said slowly, "that he cares about me. He cares about what happens to me. He...looks at me as a sort of father figure, because...well. He just does." He closed his eyes, because looking at James was almost like looking at Harry. "I miss him. I have to be there. He has no one. Remus, in my reality, was his teacher only. I was his godfather. They might get closer than that, but...you know how Remus is. He's not a very open person when it comes to letting people in."
He cringed, because he had said too much. Surely, James and Remus would be wondering why Harry would look up to him so much.
A sound at the window made Sirius look up. A large brown owl was fluttering outside, a letter secured to its leg. James hurried to the window and opened it, ducking as the owl flew over him and landed on the table that had been pushed to the side.
Remus went to close the window as James untied the letter, unrolling it and scanning the contents. Sirius had twisted around in his chair to watch.
"Remus," James said suddenly, "take him to the Department of Mysteries at once. Harry can't keep living without a parent. I'll stay to fill the others in when they get here."
Sirius perked up. James believed him, and he had figured out the truth. He had done it! Or was it the contents of the letter?
Remus nodded, pointing his wand at Sirius. The ropes tying Sirius' hands behind his back unravelled.
Standing, James sighed and looked at Sirius. "If Harry trusts you and cares about you, even if he's not the Harry I know, then I have no choice but to believe you. He's a clever boy. He can figure people out." He smiled and handed the letter to Remus, who read it quickly.
"He IS clever," Sirius repeated. "The cleverest student at Hogwarts."
"Then we know who he takes after," Remus said strongly after reading, putting the letter aside. "We should go before Dumbledore and Moody get here to apprehend this 'imposter.'" He smiled at Sirius' inquisitive look. "The letter says that you're just impersonating the very Sirius Black who is currently imprisoned at Azkaban. It looks like Dumbledore has a quicker way than the Ministry has for finding things out, although he warns that you should still be held captive until the Ministry can find out what your motives are for being here." He paused, and then sighed, looking at James. "Lily will not be happy, and I'd rather avoid her wrath," he said pointedly.
James groaned. "I'll defuse her. Just go. After all, we've already established what the motives are, haven't we? They'll thank us for getting the information so quickly." He held out a hand tentatively, and Sirius took it, smiling slightly at where their hands were clasped.
"Thank you. I miss you, Prongs," Sirius said quietly. James stared at him, and then nodded slightly.
"Come," Remus said. "We shouldn't linger."
With one last look at James, Sirius nodded. He followed Remus out of the back door.
Apparating into the corridor outside the door to the Department of Mysteries was easy. Sirius breathed easily when he saw that it was deserted.
"People have already gone home for the day," Remus said, seemingly reading his mind. "Now come on; we should still hurry."
Sirius followed him through the main door, stopping and closing his eyes as soon as he saw what was in front of them. They were in a circular room with many identical doors. "Bugger," he muttered.
"The room with the archway, right?" Sirius opened his eyes again to see Remus looking at him expectantly. A long arm pointed. "It's that door. All Aurors are given a tour of the entire Ministry, because if anyone broke in here, we'd be the ones to apprehend the intruder. We have to know this place inside and out."
It made sense. Sirius followed Remus to the door, dread rising in his chest as they passed through. The stone archway was standing in the middle of tiered room on a dais, the veil fluttering slightly, waiting for Sirius. He shuddered at the sight of it.
Their footsteps echoed as they both made their way down to the bottom of the sunken room. Ahead, Remus walked all the way up to the dais and stopped at the edge, staring at the fluttering veil. "I hope this thing does as you say," he said softly. "I would hate to think that I'm leading you to your death."
Sirius swallowed the lump of fear in his throat, wondering at where the archway would take him next. He placed a hand on Remus' shoulder. "I'll be all right," he told the other man. "I have to do this."
Remus turned and let Sirius edge closer to the archway, stepping onto the dais. "You know, I think I would have liked to be friends with you, Black. Your Remus is a lucky man."
Raising his eyebrows, Sirius smirked. "I think I'm the lucky one." He lifted his hand and touched Remus' cheek, watching as those brown eyes closed. Half joking, he asked, "Are you gay, by any chance? That might just persuade me to stay a bit longer."
To his surprise, Remus smiled up at him, opening his eyes. "Maybe if I had a friend like you in my younger days, I would have had the courage to come out." His smile faded. "Go back home, Sirius Black. He needs you. And I'm not the same Remus that you know. I can't be a substitute."
"No," Sirius said sadly. He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on the slightly lined forehead. "Take care."
"I have faith that you will get back," Remus told him. "I'm sure he hasn't given up expectation of seeing you again."
Sirius studied that face one more time. He imagined that the lines and wrinkles were more pronounced. He imagined that the hair was shorter and hanging around the thin face. He imagined that the robes were of a light, dusty brown.
With a farewell nod, he turned away from the man that he knew and walked forward, intent on finding his way back to the man that he loved.