Written for the Remus/Sirius Shacking Up Sesa challenge.
March 1981. Sirius collects the body of his brother.
A Thousand Doors
The rain started in earnest as they set off across the field, and Remus drew the hood of his anorak closer, feeling the rain creep in all the same--down his face, under his collar, trickling over his scalp. He could barely see Sirius, though he was only a few feet ahead of Remus as they slogged through the mud and trampled stalks of wheat that lay between them and the treeline.
They could have Apparated, he supposed. They were miles from any Muggle-inhabited villages, and if a passing car did chance along the gravel road in the distance, they would likely attribute the sight to the rain and grey uncertainty of the afternoon. But it was Sirius's lead, and he had seemed just as happy with the mud.
A man was waiting for them at the edge of the field, wrapped in dark trousers and thick boots and an even thicker sweater. His face looked as if it had grown to dourness and settled there. He eyed Sirius. "You're the brother?"
Not waiting for an answer, his gaze flicked away in what Remus interpreted as disgust, though it could have just been impatience. Possibly he hadn't enjoyed standing out in the rain any more than Remus. "Told the Ministry to send someone out here to pick up the body, said they'd have to have someone identify it first." He glared at them as if they were solely responsible for the Ministry's indifference. "Guess they didn't want to interfere in case it was a Muggle."
It didn't surprise Remus that the Ministry wanted as little to do with this as possible; most of them were either too cowed by the Death Eaters or Death Eaters themselves. It did surprise him that they'd bothered to notify them in the first place. So many people had disappeared this past year.
"Right, then," the man said, apparently resigned to their silence. "The body'll be back this way. Not much to see--Death Eaters don't leave much evidence on the outside, if you know what I mean." He called the last bit over his shoulder as he disappeared into the trees.
Remus hesitated. "Sirius," he said--he didn't know why he said it, and felt foolish when Sirius glanced at him, inquisitive. Remus ducked his head, shrugged a little, and set off after the farmer.
It wasn't very far. They came to a clearing that made all the hairs on the back of Remus's neck stand up. He had the unexpected urge to growl. Trees had been hewed down or simply burnt away in order to make a wide, circular space. The grass and fallen leaves gleamed wetly, darker from more than just the rain, and there was a lingering smell that Remus couldn't identify...it was a like a cold, chill wind; a kind of hollowed emptiness.
Blinking rain out of his eyes, Remus saw Regulus. He was lying on his side with his knees drawn up, his long dark hair falling forward over his face. He almost looked like he was sleeping, the wet tufts of grass an uncomfortable pillow.
Sirius stepped forward and knelt beside the body, pushing the hair away from Regulus's face. Regulus's eyes were closed, and Remus was struck with how much he resembled Sirius--the same hard lines, the same arch to their eyebrows. In death, Regulus's face was softer, blurred; he looked more like Sirius than ever.
"Remus." It took Remus a few moments to respond, and even then all he could manage was a faint clearing of his throat. "We'll have to move him." Sirius's voice was steady, his gaze even when he met Remus's eyes.
"We could try Apparating with him," Remus said, though he wasn't at all sure how well that would work. Sirius was more than proficient, and Remus had no real doubts about his own abilities, but long distances were tricky, and he'd never tried Apparating with an inert object as large as a dead body.
Sirius nodded. "Give me a minute," he said, and turned back to Regulus.
Across from them the farmer shifted his weight, and a fallen twig cracked loudly beneath his feet. Remus had forgotten he was there. "You won't be needing me any more, then."
Remus shook his head. "Thank you," he said, trying to sound more sincere than he felt.
Still, the man hovered nervously. "Don't hold much with You-Know-Who and his crew. Nasty business. Your fellow here cross them in some way?" He glanced over his shoulder as if they were in danger of being set upon by Death Eaters that minute.
"Something like that," Remus said. He walked over to Sirius, who had shifted Regulus's body so that it lay awkwardly against his shoulder. The arms were folded inward, but Remus could see the edge of a black mark on Regulus's forearm--the Dark Mark, burned into his flesh, blackened now to a nearly obscene extent. Perhaps that had been part of their revenge.
"What do you think?" Remus asked as he knelt beside him in the mud and wet leaves. His hand brushed Regulus's cheek by accident, and he flinched from its cold smoothness.
"I can Apparate us back to--" Sirius hesitated. "You remember when you came to visit that summer before fourth year?"
Remus stared at him. "Of course. But--oh."
Sirius ducked his head. "Do you remember well enough to Apparate?"
Remus closed his eyes. His memory was a little blurred, but he could still see the dark, winding corridors of Sirius's house, remember the way his voice always came out thin and muffled, as if the walls fed on sound; he remembered the coldness of the house, the coldness of Sirius's family. They hadn't wanted him there than the house had. He always wondered how Sirius had stood it.
He opened his eyes. "Yes."
Sirius nodded. He shifted his weight a little under Regulus and gripped him more tightly, and a second later there was a loud crack of air as they Disapparated.
Remus didn't much like Apparating in the best of circumstances. The vast, dark swoosh of translocation, the sense that he was relinquishing control, made his skin crawl and his stomach turn unpleasantly. But he closed his eyes and visualized a dark corridor lined with red walls and a green and brown silk rug patterned with scenes of tortured house-elves--
Crack. The cold, wet ground under his knees and hands was abruptly replaced by softness. Remus blinked. Water dripped from his hair and chin onto the embroidered image of one particularly unfortunate house-elf having hot irons applied to his feet.
Sirius was nowhere to be seen. Remus got slowly to his feet. The aged and cracked door behind him led to Sirius's room; ahead of him, a few feet down, another door stood slightly ajar. When Remus peered in the room, Sirius was arranging Regulus on one of the twin beds.
Remus slipped in the room. It was small but drafty, the walls bare except for a portrait frame along one cracked and peeling wall. Regulus's bedroom, he assumed. Sirius had laid Regulus out on the bed in funereal pose. With the room glowing faintly from the gas lamp by the bed, the effect was haunting and creepy, and Remus had the strong urge to get Sirius out of there as soon as possible.
"Will you leave him here?" Remus asked.
Sirius's mouth twisted. "Fitting, don't you think? That my mother should see exactly what end her golden boy has brought himself to."
"Don't you think you're being a little hard on him?" He hadn't meant to say it. It was a stupid thing to say, at this time, to Sirius of all people. He wasn't sure why he was bothering to defend Regulus at all; it wasn't as if they'd particularly liked one another. But he didn't like the look on Sirius's face, either.
"Right," said Sirius, his face flushed, "because it's just what people expect of the Black brothers, isn't it. No need to express any outrage, is there. Might as well--"
A loud crash sounded somewhere below them. A moment later, Remus could hear the heavy tread of footsteps on the stairs outside the room.
"That'll be her," Sirius said, sounding almost relieved. "You'd better leave. I'll meet you at the house."
"I'm not going to let you face her alone."
"Why?" Sirius sounded genuinely curious, but Remus knew he was still angry. "It will be easier if you go. She never was very fond of you, you know."
Sirius turned away from him, back to Regulus.
Remus closed his eyes. The footsteps drew nearer, and he could feel them thumping through the house oppressively; the air itself was oppressive and thick, and he suddenly felt little use for the ensuing confrontation. Besides, Sirius was likely right. Remus wouldn't help matters any by staying.
He closed his eyes, saw the familiar shapes and colors of their house at the end of the village road, and Apparated. The soft colors, the warmth of the house's walls were like welcoming arms, and the unreality of the previous hours shifted back to a cozy present. It was like a weight lifting.
At the same time, Remus realized that he was cold and still wet from the rain, his hair flat against his skull and dripping water down his neck. He stripped down in the tiny living room, pulling off the sodden coat and kicking off his shoes; the cuffs of his trousers were caked with mud so he left them next to the couch as he went shivering to the bathroom, hoping the hot water was on because his hands were shaking too much to hold his wand steady.
When he came out of the shower some time later, a towel draped over his head and finally warm, the house still echoed emptily and there was no sign of Sirius.
So he dressed and put the kettle on. The front windows looked out onto the road; an older couple walked by, but their eyes slid over the house as if they saw only a copse of trees or a vacant site. Very few Muggles ever really saw the house, Remus had discovered, which made it a very handy place for a wizard to live. No one noticed the occasional banging or flash of lights in the middle of the night from spells gone awry, or the time that Sirius spelled the walls orange, trying to "brighten the place up," as he put it, not realizing that the paint was toxic. Half the house had melted around them before they'd found a spell to fix it.
He was distracted by an insistent scratching at the back window overlooking the garden. A large brown and white owl blinked at him and fluttered in when Remus unlatched the window, snapping his beak in annoyance for making him wait so long in the rain. Remus merely held his hand out for the folded, rather damp note clutched in the owl's claw.
"James doling out advice again, I suppose," he said to the owl, whose glare softened when Remus reached out to stroke its neck. It was a short note, written in James' barely legible scrawl: Just heard. Don't let him do anything stupid. James.
Remus wondered if letting Sirius confront his mother over his brother's dead body counted as stupid. He found a quill and pot of ink on the table next to the fireplace and wrote on the back of James' note: You worry more than my mother. Sirius is fine. Will write later. R.
Remus sent the owl off and went into the kitchen for tea.
He'd lied to James, of course. This past year had been filled with small lies--that Sirius was fine, that they were winning the fight against Voldemort and his followers, that friendships forged in school were impenetrable; the last time he'd seen James was two months ago, and he could still remember the uncertainty in James' eyes. Worse, he knew that same uncertainty was in his own eyes, and that areas of themselves they'd known just a few years ago were no longer accessible to one another. Sometimes it was easier to lie.
The sun had dipped below the trees. Remus hadn't even noticed that the house was dark. He lighted candles with a flick of his wand and drank his tea, which had gone cold, and picked up a book at random from the corner shelf. 501 Ways to Catch a Manticore.
Sirius appeared just as he'd reached number thirty-four, which seemed to involve blindfolds and an improbable number of virgins.
There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Remus thought of ten different things he could say and discarded all of them at the expression on Sirius's face. It was as if Sirius had just been through a battle; his face was drawn and aged in the candlelight, and he had a trapped look to him, as if he wasn't sure how he'd gotten there or what he should do next.
The silence grew too long to be ignored. Remus shifted in the chair and closed his book. He wished Sirius would sit down and tell him what happened; or if not that, if he would just relent, even a little. Remus moved to place the book on the table next to him.
"I'm going to bed," Sirius broke the silence pointedly, and Remus's hand froze in its motion.
"Good night, then," he said lightly, past the tightness in his throat.
Sirius disappeared into the darkness of the corridor, the door to his bedroom shutting with a soft click. Remus placed the book gently down.
He took a candle and the book into his own bedroom, and read until all of the various ways to catch a manticore started to blend in with one another, and he couldn't remember if one was supposed to sing to it while burning the leaves of a beech tree or just give it the beech leaves and knock it over the head with a wooden club while it was eating them. Neither method appealed to him, but then, he didn't have much need for a manticore.
The candle must have guttered out, because when he woke from a light doze, the room was dark.
He thought perhaps he'd been dreaming. There was an ache in his chest, as if he had a cold or had been crying, but his cheeks were dry. He blinked in the dark and silent room. The shadows stood out vividly and clearly in a way that felt strange to his sleep-muffled mind, and focusing on them chased away all memory of the dream before he thought to remember it.
In the next moment, the bed lurched suddenly beneath him, and he clutched at the sheets as a large and rather hairy weight shook the bed about some more before settling down next to him.
Remus buried his hand in the thick fur of Sirius's neck. His heartbeat sounded like a bass drum in his chest; he breathed evenly as the second ticked by and flowed into minutes, and his heart slowed and grew quiet. He could hear Padfoot breathing. Padfoot had his head turned away, his eyes staring forward at nothing except the pillows, and he blinked morosely as Remus stroked his head, smoothing the soft hair around his ears. Then he pushed his head deep into the hollow between Remus's neck and the pillow, burrowing forward as if he could hide or disappear.
And then Remus was rubbing skin instead of fur, and Sirius's shoulders were shaking, his face still buried in the pillow. Remus could feel wetness where Sirius's cheek brushed his throat and chest. He stroked his hair and the back of his neck, and rubbed between his shoulder blades until the shaking stopped and Sirius was still.
When Sirius lifted his head, his eyes were dry. He pulled a corner of the pillow from under Remus and rested his head next to him.
"It wasn't as terrible as I thought," Sirius said.
It took a moment for Remus to work out what he was referring to. "Your mother?"
"I thought she would curse me right there. She looked about to. I think it was only the realization that I'd curse her right back that stopped her." He shifted on the bed, and Remus moved over a little to give him more room. "She was so angry."
Remus stared up at the darkly patterned ceiling. "It sounds awful enough to me."
Sirius made a face. "Yes, I suppose it was." Then he laughed a little. "I've been officially banned from the house."
Remus snorted. "I'd thought you already were."
"Yes, but there's the weight of a distinctly nasty spell behind this one. I heard her muttering as I left." His voice changed. "I don't think she even realized he was dead."
"She'll have to mourn him soon enough," Remus said. Funny, but he wasn't finding it difficult at all to feel sorry for Mrs. Black. They were all caught up in this sad, dismal business.
"Regulus made his own choices," Sirius said. He turned his head to Remus's shoulder, and Remus reached up to stroke his hair as he'd done with Padfoot, tucking a strand behind Sirius's ear, tracing his finger along Sirius's rough, stubbled cheek as he kissed the corner of his mouth.
They kissed for a while. Remus didn't feel any particular urgency; it was nice to just lie there and kiss, their lips and cheeks rubbing against one another until Remus's lips felt raw and his chin was fiery with the roughness. Sirius still smelled like rain. He would have fallen asleep except that he was cold, so he felt around for the duvet, which had been pushed to the floor. Sirius leaned over to pull it up around them.
It was quiet. Remus could hear the house creaking around him. He wanted to tell Sirius he was sorry about Regulus; that Sirius was nothing like his family, not really, and that he was just as happy Sirius's mother had banned him from that house. But he didn't say anything. He listened to Sirius breathe and the low whistle of wind outside the window, and thought, this is enough.