Disclaimer: Not mine. With sincere apologies to J.K.R.
Disclaimer II: In the past two months or so I have read S/R fics voraciously. Hence, this fic may carry echoes of stuff other people have written. If you catch such an echo and think it might amount to plagiarism, please tell me so I may change it. I do not intend to plagiarise, but I have too good a memory for words and phrases.
Rating: PG 13 for Harry's godfather and Harry's favourite DADA teacher doing naughty things, none too explicit.
Thanks to my betas: to Eledhwen (from Tolkien fandom) for the difference between 'heh' and 'hah'. To K'immie (from HL fandom) for the right Indian tribe. To Scapekid (from FS fandom) for a second - or third - opinion. To Ballyharnon (hey, finally a HP fan!) for generous praise and help with fine tuning.
Note: yes, I do know there should be a question mark after the last sentence. There's a reason why there isn't.
Dedicated to: Selena who doesn't particularly like S/R, for saying 'Yay angst!'
A Note on Format: For reasons unbeknownst to me it is at the moment impossible to have more than one space between paragraphs here, and all the useful little abstract signs like the asterisk or the tilde that are usually used in fanfic to signify such spaces between paragraphs are automatically edited out of the files, as well. So, I've decided to represent spaces by long lines of little 'o's. Just thought I should warn you, so you won't think my characters suddenly go 'ooooooooooooooo' in the middle of the story. ;-)
The days here are long; longer for you than for me, perhaps.
You're prowling the dim halls, moody and moping like a teenager, and I can see your fifteen-year-old self shadowing your movements, see the boy in the way you cock your head, the impatient flick of a hand throwing back your hair. An afterimage, an echo, you; a too-loud shout resounding in me for twenty years.
I always remembered you too clearly.
In recollection, our youth is a jumble of light and colour, blinding bright. We had our share of sorrows - lycanthropy and family, the war creeping up on us like bad weather - but what remains, what has survived unscathed, is the memory of sun, laughter, friendship. Your lazy smile, vaguely dangerous; utterly enticing.
Try as I might - and I tried so very hard - I could not cut that out of my memory.
Now that we're old life is murky greys and blacks; musty smells, threadbare robes and gaunt limbs; the premature lines on our faces. The deadness in your eyes. The grey in my hair.
I honestly can't remember growing old. It wasn't a gradual process. I simply woke up, one morning, and discovered that age had settled in my bones and soul like a heavy dust. The beginning of November 1981. Or perhaps a little later, because I don't think I really woke up until it was all well over, with James and Lily and Peter buried, and you buried, too, buried alive to rot in Azkaban.
They were dead, and you were as good as dead. And the morning after you'd been taken away I knew that I'd died, too.
Or at least it seemed that way to me, then. Now, next to you - every one of those twelve years inscribed in your bitterness, your unrest, your silences - self-pity feels inappropriate.
You're all sharp lines and angles, etched by years of having your soul frozen.
If I hadn't had the Map to tell me - and your image all over the press - I don't think I would have recognised you, that day in the Shack. Then, when my searching gaze found traces of the friend I remembered under the grime and despair, I had to embrace you to keep myself from breaking down as much as to tell you, without words, that all would be well.
Thus renewing our friendship with a kindly untruth.
I would have committed murder with you, that night, and they would have taken us, given you the Kiss, given me the silver bullet, maybe.
There still is a rightness about the thought of killing Peter together, and dying together.
It is a grim old place indeed, your ancestral home. It doesn't really need your parents' decided nastiness to drive a sixteen-year-old boy away from here. The house doesn't seem made for human occupation. Even now, all but deserted, it is stifling. It is a wizardly place, breathing ages-old magic to the exclusion of everything else. Dark magic, I wouldn't be surprised to discover.
As we live here we could be the parody of a married couple: me often out on some Order errand or other, you pottering away in the house, fighting your silly daily battle with the house elf on whom you pour all your desperate hatred.
Sometimes you're in reasonably good spirits when I return, joking, though not without an edge of self-effacing sarcasm, about Witch Weekly's latest tips on transfiguring dust bunnies into lapin aux herbes, and how we simply have to invite Cornelius Fudge over for a dinner party.
Even on the good days, your smile has more dog than human in it. Baring your teeth at the past, at the present. Snarling in self-defence.
Today I find you in front of your mother's portrait, silently listening to its eternal, ear-splitting rant. You're a lanky silhouette in the house's half-light - always half-light, no matter how many candles and lighting spells we use - and I know there's a glower hidden by your unkempt mane. When I say your name you turn to me but you don't seem to see me.
She, of course, is quite unfazed by my presence, and effortlessly includes me in her tirade.
'Why do you do this to yourself?' I say, not expecting an answer, and you give none as I draw the curtains shut. You only stand there, as if some clockwork within you has stopped, as if you've forgotten who I am or who you are, the dark look still frozen on your features like a mask. Then your face blanks for a fraction of a second, and then comes alive suddenly, not smiling but welcoming me nonetheless, and you take a step towards me and we embrace and we kiss and your kiss tastes of liquor.
Something inside me constricts, painfully.
But I can't face this now, and so make my kiss more urgent, because I do need you, I need you so much, and if you're falling apart I will have to put you back together as I've been putting you back together ever since you turned up on my doorstep this summer.
You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but you spat it out at sixteen. Earlier, possibly, for you only left when life at home became truly unbearable. You were defiant long before. A disgrace to the house of Black, and proud of it. Perhaps you need to listen to your mother's impotent rages to remember that.
In school, you were a prat and a bully, wildly irresponsible, with a malicious streak as wide as the Thames. You were never a snob, though, and anybody flaunting their 'pure blood' marked themselves an immediate target for your wicked sense of humour, although you could out-pureblood the worst of them.
Later, you grew up a little. A little; not all that much. You still haven't grown up - you're an angry and confused boy in the body of a broken man. Clinging to childish grudges and preconceptions to define yourself.
Always defining yourself by opposition.
If there hadn't been a war in which to oppose your family and all they stood for, you would have found another way to embarrass them. You would have grown a mohawk and put a safety pin through your ear, perhaps - joined a punk rock band and sired a horde of halfbreed children with Muggle groupies. Or joined the Department for Misuse of Muggle Artefacts.
Or you might have gone and lived with a werewolf. A male werewolf. Hah.
I wonder, now, how I could ever convince myself that your family made it more likely for you to become a Death Eater. If anything, they made it less likely. They would have approved, and there was nothing worse in your book than your parents' approval. I saw you fighting Death Eaters with all the force of rebellious youth; I should have known.
But then, so should you. Should have known I would never turn to Voldemort, would never have turned on James and Lily, no matter how frustrated I would sometimes get with how our society sees fit to treat 'Dark Creatures' -
No. No recriminations.
We have too much to forgive already.
"Tell me about Harry," you say. As I watch you, you fidget, pile some pots in the sink as if to clean them, then abandon the thought; pick up a loaf of bread, then put it down again after frowning at it for a moment.
"You know, you have to stop seeing James in him," I begin, your nervousness making me gentler even than usual.
You stop your fidgeting and lean back against the sink. Suddenly tired and sober.
"I don't know him," you say. "He's my godson and I don't know him at all."
"Give it time," I murmur.
"I've lost too much time already," you complain. (You plead.)
So I tell you about Harry.
One year of teaching him, a student among many, some private lessons - what can I tell you? You should have seen him grow up, first steps, first words, first magic, should have been a part of his life all along. No memories of mine can make up for that.
And I run out of words.
You're silent, as well. The gloomy, cavernous kitchen seems stuffed with silence, the table that separates us suddenly a mile long. I want to touch you, but you're too far away from me, beyond the vast desert of the table; you're in a cold place of regret, I don't know for how long already.
All those years of hating you for making me hate you, hating you for making me hate myself for loving you.
All I ever really wanted was to be able to touch you again, without the double bitterness of betrayal: your betrayal, and mine.
And now I have you back, but there is no space for happiness here. We make love quickly and furiously, in a frenzy of need and regret, in violent thrusts and greedy gasps, gasps turning into sobs, and then we cry, because this is not what we bargained for - this is not what we wanted - this is not, a little insolent voice adds, what we deserve. And yet it is so much better to be crying with you than to lie in my bed alone, with dry eyes, too calm, cold inside. If all I can have is this pain then I'll embrace it willingly; it is so much more than I have had all these years.
I know I should hope for better days, when you won't be a prisoner in this house anymore, when you won't be half-caught in the past anymore, when we won't be soldiers in a secret war, but I have almost forgotten how to hope.
Grasping the moment and holding it as fast as I can is about all I can do.
I wake, sometime before morning, to find your side of the bed cooling and Padfoot curled on the rug by the fireplace, whining softly. You say that your sleep is less troubled under fur, but I wonder if perhaps this is simply your twisted way of shielding me from your nightly terror.
Dogs don't scream in their sleep.
I am obscurely disappointed. I want you to stay in bed, stay human, and allow me to wrap my arms around your shivering form to keep out the cold of Azkaban, guard you against the night's Dementors. Allow me to be your guard dog, your guard wolf, against everything that haunts you.
Instead, I get up, put my sleep-warm feet on the cold stone floor. There was a rug here of spectacular ugliness that you threw out when we made this our room; one of your mother's favourites, you gleefully told me, your old mischief-making self resurfacing. The clock on the mantelpiece tartly informs me of the hour, adding a few insults for good measure. None of them is up to its usual standard, but then, it is rather late, even for a clock.
I sit down beside you. You're breathing fast. A paw twitches.
You shudder at my touch.
"Shhh, Padfoot," I murmur. "You're safe. It's just me."
I stroke your shivering flanks, and slowly, gradually, you relax, heaving a deep doggy sigh. I can't stop touching you. I need to feel thick fur under my fingertips, feel your side rising and falling slower now, calmer. I feel you slip into deep sleep again, and as I stroke you I am raging inwardly at the world for dealing you - us - such a hand. But it does no good to rant and rail at fate, and so I stop.
Stop, and listen to the clock's soft ticking instead. Stop, and listen to your quiet breathing, and the world begins to drift away.
And perhaps, I think as I fall asleep again, curling up on the floor with you, perhaps I should stop complaining.
For really, life isn't all that bad, even if we're sad and damaged and old and living in this awful place; for how bad can life be, as long as I can fall asleep beside you?
How bad can it be, as long as we're waking up together.