title: dining on ashes
fandom: Harry Potter
characters/pairings: Remus/Sirius, James/Lily, Peter, Snape
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Remus reflects.
notes: for my darling one. most likely to be the end story to a series i haven't started yet, because that's just how i work. =p

"In the end," he sighed, and titled his glass around, watching the liquid spin, clinging to the surface. "It all fell apart so quickly. I suppose we had built a castle of sand, but it had felt so solid while we were in school. Once we left Hogwarts, though..."

She put her chin in her palm, and smiled. Her smile was always a special thing. She was easy to talk to, always was. It was the way that she maintained eye contact, her lovely green eyes so kindly waiting to hear whatever needed to be said. "What happened when you graduated?"

He shrugged, and sighed. "Nothing. At first. Sirius went to live in London, with his uncle's money. He got a grand flat. Really nice. And he bought himself a Muggle bike, which he bewitched himself to fly. A secret from the Ministry, of course. James and... you were planning your wedding. His mother was in poor health. You were really in a rush, anyway; time was so precious, as long as Voldemort was out there. There wasn't a second to waste. Peter... to be honest, I don't even know what Peter was planning. He was always... just there, but then, that's what Peter did."

"But something happened," she prompted.

"Yes," he sighed. "I was looking for work. I wanted to teach, but I needed more credentials in the Defense Against the Dark Arts, first. I was working freelance as a demon hunter, when it happened.

"I came home to find the Dark Mark over my home."

He sighed heavily. These were such dark times, and they were followed by worse times... He hated reliving this, but then, in every way that mattered, he never left these memories.

"I can't, even now... I'd heard of it, but... to actually see it, over your home... to know my parents were inside, dead..." He cleared his throat.

She leaned closer to him, and she wasn't smiling anymore. "Why them?"

He chuckled. "That's what I wanted to know. My parents... they spent their whole lives being poor because of me. My father changed jobs fifteen times by the time I was eleven. We moved twenty-seven times. When I went to school, things got easier for them. It was only the summer, and, well, it's common to take vacations during the summer. My father could hold a job... He worked international relations for a broom manufacturer. Apparently, he had gained the trust of a clan of vampires in Romania. He was close to making a deal with them.

"Now, here's the irony. He told them all about me, how I was a werewolf, but I went to Hogwarts, and I was graduating... He led them to believe that England was changing. That the Ministry was becoming more tolerant of... strangeness. That we were banding together as a people to stand against Voldemort. The vampires were impressed. But of course..."

"The last thing Voldemort wanted was a clan of influential vampires sympathetic to his enemies," she sighed.

"Naturally," he sighed. "My parents... they were such... simple people. They did what needed to be done. They never..." He waved his glass around vaguely, searching for the right words. "They weren't fancy. They weren't purebloods. They weren't political. They were practical people. They couldn't have been..." His throat constricted, and he closed his eyes, breathing slowly. "They couldn't have been expecting it. Maybe... maybe that was better..."

"Did you turn to your friends?" she asked, and it was clearly a leading question, because so many things wouldn't have happened if he had.

He shook his head. "The first thing that happened was that I was visited by the goblins. My parents had debts. Large debts. I was expected to pay them. They were... solicitous, for goblins. They were clearly trying to be understanding, or, at least, they were trying to make sure they'd get their money at some point. Can't get blood from a stone... They set up a payment schedule...

"Mind, to James or Sirius, their debts were... nothing." He laughed. "Literally, nothing at all. They could have paid them off in one lump sum without any hardship at all."

"Why didn't you let them pay, then?" she asked, and it was a reasonable question.

"How could I, though? I suppose it was pride. I wanted to pay it off myself. It was my parents' debt, and I would pay it. But more than that..." He set his glass down, pushing it around arbitrarily by the base, as if there were some perfect place for it to be resting. "Things changed, you see, and they were changing more."

"Because we had graduated," she said, but it was a question.

"Because you entered our clubhouse," he smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that to be cruel. But things changed. Our priorities changed. It was always... all for one, and one for all. But, as soon as you said yes to him in the Great Hall that day, the very first time you agreed to go out with him, we all knew. Eventually, you'd be his bride. And things would be different. We all knew it, for years. After school, we were going to fight Voldemort, in our ways. How could we not? There was this horrifying evil in the world, and we were heroes, damn it." He laughed. That's how James and Sirius saw it, anyway.

"Did you think I couldn't be a hero, too?" she asked, but her eyes were twinkling.

"That's not the point. The point was... James wasn't just James anymore. He was James and Lily. And we had to protect you. Because there would be a wedding. And then, babies. We always knew.

"Sirius was always so loyal. It was a great adventure to him. Even with me..." Remus took a deep breath. "It wasn't that he considered our relationship less important. It was just... it was James. He and James were going to challenge the world, and have loads of fun. That's just how it was. We were going to look after you. Because... if we couldn't have fun, if we couldn't laugh, if we couldn't have weddings, and we couldn't bring babies into the world, if we lived in fear, then Voldemort really won. That's how we fought him. We lived.

"We lived for you, for you and James. For your love, and for your happiness."

"I've never known such friendship and love," she murmured, smiling gently.

He smiled, but he couldn't look her in the eye. "So, you see, right? If we were living for you, then I couldn't be a burden. I couldn't be sponging off of James and Sirius. Even if..." He sighed, and covered his face with his hand. "Even if I had no place to live. Even if I couldn't get work. And here's the rub. I went to my father's work, and I tried to take his place. I'd finish the negotiations for him. But they wouldn't let me. Because. And this is good. Because I was a werewolf. They knew, because he had told the vampires. The vampires trusted him because of it. And they wouldn't hire me because of it.

"It was like that everywhere. It wasn't like it was widely known. But it never took long. The longest I could ever hope to hold a job for was three weeks. And you'd be surprised how hard it is to get a job when you have no place of residence, no fire for floo, no owl to your name, even." He sighed. "I did odd jobs. I worked for Dumbledore, for the Order. I...

"I drifted away from everyone. Trying to protect you all from me, and I'm sure I felt very noble about it, but it's no wonder Sirius started to distrust me. I was too poor to have decent robes to go to your wedding, and too proud to tell Sirius, because if I did, he'd just buy me new robes, and make me live with him, and damn it, that's what I wanted. But pride is indeed an evil thing."

"And the road to hell is paved in good intentions. I knew, Remus. I knew why you weren't there. I didn't blame you, and neither did James." She tried to sound reassuring, but her omission was obvious.

"No, but Sirius did. And Peter... God alone knows what Peter was thinking then. He was jealous enough of you. I half think he wanted to be the one that James was with, though it makes me sick to even think of it. But, he used to be the one we all protected. And now, we were protecting you. He hated that. He stopped talking to me, and I never thought on it. Sirius and I argued. I hardly saw James. You were the only one who understood."

"You did get work, though. You got a teaching position in Bulgaria." She sounded encouraging, as if it was a good thing.

"Abroad, yes, which only heightened Sirius' doubts. Clearly, I couldn't be trusted to be there when it mattered."

"But you loved each other, still," she reminded.

"That's true. I loved him, as ardently as ever. More so, maybe. Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder." He sighed. "We would see each other... He didn't trust me, but we'd have... phenomenal sex."

She laughed, and that made him smile, too.

"No, really, it was... mind-blowing. It got better each time. Like, we were positively starving for each other. God knows, I was dying for him. He must have felt the same way for me. I don't know. I do remember... one morning... God, it was beautiful. Just... in bed with him, and it was raining, the sunlight was grey and dank, and it was just... it was lovely. And we talked, like only lovers can. I was bursting with love for him. And he told me... he said, You know, Remus, it's not that I think you ever could betray us. I just don't know that you aren't vulnerable. He was right, of course. I was the weak link. There was no doubt. There was no way you could have trusted me." He looked her in the eye, sighing.

She smiled. "But we did. We did, Remus. We loved you."

"I was vulnerable, though. Especially... as a werewolf... Werewolves were easy for Voldemort. The fact that I had to go to Bulgaria to work was proof of it. England was no country for a werewolf, and Voldemort was offering equality... of course I was vulnerable."

"Did you know that we had taken a Secret Keeper?"

He sighed. "I didn't even know you were in danger. Not until... It's not like they published every family that was killed by Voldemort, much less those he was hunting. No, I didn't know... until... after.

"Like I said, it all fell apart... so quickly. You and James, dead. Peter, dead. Sirius, in jail, and responsible for it all... Just... How? How had that happened?" He looked to her for answers, even though he knew she couldn't give them to him.

"What did you learn? Who did you see?" she asked calmly.

"Who else?" he shrugged. "I went to see Dumbledore. I saw him the next day, though he was busy. He barely looked me in the eye. I told him... I told him there was no way Sirius did that. Betray James? That alone was impossible. But join Voldemort? Inconceivable! For one thing, it would have made his mother too happy!" He picked up his wine glass, and drank half of it down irritably.

"And what did he say?" she asked, her voice sounding far away.

"He said... essentially nothing. It was then that I learned that Sirius was your Secret Keeper. Dumbledore said he knew it for fact. That alone... but then, there were witnesses... I begged him to intercede, to ask for a trial... at least, I reasoned, if there were a trial, we could hear Sirius' point of view. If we could at least hear...

"Because I couldn't reconcile it!" He got to his feet, and started to pace erratically, running his hand through his thin, untidy hair. "Sirius Black! I'd known him for nine years! I shared his bed, I shared everything with him! That he could do this thing... he couldn't, not the man that I had known!"

"What did Dumbledore say to that?" she asked quietly, and he could feel her eyes following him.

"He said nothing. He would do nothing. He warned me..." He tossed his hand around vaguely, frustrated with his own need to verbalize this. "He warned me, it's not over, Voldemort's still out there, have to keep in readiness... He would do nothing.

"I don't think he believed it either. But he would do nothing." He fell back down into his chair, his chin falling into his hand, and he stared miserably off into space.

"How do you reconcile it, then? Do you believe Sirius innocent? Do you believe him guilty?"

He closed his eyes, and wiped his face with his hand. "I can't. The man I had known, my lover, the Sirius Black that I had known since first year, could not do those things. But, Sirius Black was in jail for exactly that, and there was no way anyone could think he was innocent."

"He didn't do it," she asserted, shrugged. "That's all there is to it. If the man you knew couldn't do it..."

"There were witnesses!" He threw his hands up. "Oh, no one questioned it! His teachers, the people we knew in school. Everyone assumed... I heard it, you know. What could anyone expect, all of those Blacks are like that. The purest of the purebloods. Of course he was on Voldemort's side. But... it never made a bit of sense! How? How, Lily? How could Sirius Black, the most loyal and steadfast person I've ever met, betray the man who was closer to him than anyone else in the world, betray the man that was more a brother to him than his real brother? There's no way he did it!"

"Then he didn't. He was innocent. Why is that so hard to believe?" she asked, leaning in and narrowing her eyes.

"Because... even Dumbledore wouldn't do anything for him. And Dumbledore believes in second chances. If Dumbledore wouldn't help him..."

"Dumbledore is a man, Remus. He can make mistakes, like any other man."

"God, Lily. That's a million times worse, you know. For twelve years, Sirius was in Azkaban. If he were innocent..." he shook his head.

"Remus, do you really believe that Sirius Black intends harm to my son?" She threw her shoulders back and looked him in the eye, but he would not meet her gaze.

He considered it for a long time, shaking his head. "No. No. Not for a second can I even contemplate it. He's Harry's godfather, for God's... I mean, I know how proud he was that you chose him... But if he really did betray you all... No, even then. No, I can't believe it."

"Then he's innocent." She smiled. "You should try to find him, now that he's out..."

He laughed. "You know, when Dumbledore came to offer me this job," he waved his hand out, displaying his office. "I was living in a damned tree, afraid some Ministry agent would come by any day to fine me for offenses upon forestry or some such thing. I knew why he offered me the job. It was because of Sirius. But I could never figure... did he want me to tell Harry all about it? Did he figure I could protect Harry best of all, because I knew how Sirius thought? But if Sirius really does intend to harm Harry, then... I don't know him at all. I don't. And if Dumbledore expected me to tell Harry everything..." He covered his face with his hands. "But I can't do that, either, because the Sirius Black I knew is not the Sirius Black that Harry needs to know about now, just in case..."

"Remus," she spoke softly. "Do you still love him?"

"Oh, Lily..." he laughed. "How could I ever have stopped? Maybe when I'm dead I'll stop loving him. Could you ever not love James?"

"There were times when I hated him," she reminded with a wink.

He shook his head. "No. You didn't know James then."

"True," she sighed. "I was born to love him."

"You'd be so proud of your son," he sighed, his heart twisting painfully. Everything that Harry lost... everything that was stolen from him... If Harry really knew the depth of his loss, would it break him, or would it make him stronger?

She opened her mouth to say something, but there was a loud knock on his door, and it began to open. He passed his hand over the glowing green stone on his desk, and the light inside it faded away, leaving it grey. The phantom of Lily Potter dissipated into purple dust, back to being the memory inside his head. He could have used the Recollector to talk things out with James, or even Sirius himself, but... It would have hurt too much.

Snape swept into his office, holding out a goblet, as far away from his body as possible. "Lupin. Your potion." He looked down his long, greasy nose disapprovingly. "Were you... talking to someone?" He looked around the room distrustfully.

Remus shuddered. It galled him, really, to take courtesy from Snivellus. Fate was a cruel bitch. He smiled, though, because this potion was his salvation. "Just to myself. Thank you, Severus. Sorry for dragging you down here. I'm sure the feast has begun, has it not?"

Snape raised his chin, his mouth twisting into something like a revolted sneer. "Indeed. You are not going to join the festivities?"

"It is not really a night for celebration anymore, Severus." Snape had the decency to stiffen, his expression closing off, but he betrayed no emotion.

White-hot anger flared up in his heart.

"Do you know what night this is, Severus?" Remus narrowed his eyes. He did like using Snape's given name, almost as an insult.

Snape affected a bored posture. "Naturally. It is Halloween."

"Thirteen years ago to the day. James and Lily died. Or, perhaps, you don't think too much of this date? Maybe the death of your rival and his..." Remus' lip curled in disgust. He hated this word. "Mudblood wife might not mean that much to you. It's also the night that Voldemort's powers were destroyed. What does that mean to you, I wonder? Don't suppose you'd want to raise a glass with me to the memory of James and Lily? No, I wouldn't think so."

Snape narrowed his eyes, his lip curling up, and Remus was certain that he would love to hurl any number of insults at him, but he said nothing, nothing at all.

Remus turned away, and lifted the goblet of potion. Perhaps it was poisoned. He took a long sip. "Well, thank you, for this, anyway. I presume I will see you tomorrow."

Snape stared at Remus for a moment, and then nodded once, tightly, before sweeping away.

In the back of his head, Remus could hear Sirius laughing. That git! Oh, the only thing worse than a goth wizard is one with a great, greasy nose like that! Snivellus will never change, will he?

Remus drank down his potion quickly, and prayed that Snape would at least be kind enough to poison him quickly.