Summary: A love story in fourteen parts.
Fandom: Harry Potter.
Title, Author and URL of original story: train de grande vitesse, by glass_icarus.
A photograph is stuck to the window, at the bottom left corner, becomes visible as the sun drifts behind and beyond the glass. It shows a lake, still as a mirror; trees reflected, sharp-edged and clear, red leaves vivid and warm in the image and in the reflection. Remus was careful about it, stood still as a tree himself, not a single human tremor to mar this magic, this inorganic capturing of an inorganic ghost.
It’s not magic, Sirius had said, and shaken his head. Remus merely stared back, and stuck the picture to the glass when it was developed, a small piece of colour against a chilly blue.
“It’s not,” he says, again, motioning it at it, gesturing incoherently into the space. “It’s not magic. It’s just, it’s just a copy of what you see. What you see isn’t everything.”
“You read into what you see all the time,” Remus says mildly, stepping away from the window. His feet are bare; he makes no sound as he walks around the kitchen, getting out mugs, teabags, the pint bottle. “You see I’m not there in the morning; you read into it that I’ve gone out for milk. You see the photograph; you read into it where I was and what I saw in the scene.”
“But there are things you can’t ever catch,” Sirius goes on. “No sugar, thanks. I mean, things you can’t catch with a camera.”
Remus sits down with his tea. “Like what?”
There are so many other things Sirius could say then: the flap of a butterfly’s wing, would be poetic, would be trite. A tree falling in the forest, would be philosophical, would make Remus roll his eyes in affection. But he plunges into it regardless, tumbling in headlong – because isn’t this how Remus sees him, brave, foolhardy? – and he says, “You came back that night. You were so tired.”
The photograph was the only colour in that day. Remus didn’t tell him where he’d been, what he’d been doing; he came back carrying the camera, carrying dirt and blood behind his fingernails, and he was exhausted and childish, he didn’t want to go to bed, he wanted to sit still, here in the light and the warmth, comfortable. His limbs slipped, his eyes closed, his head dropped to Sirius’s shoulder, and in the late evening wandlight, they were close enough for Sirius to feel the jerk in his body, to catch him on the edge of sleep, falling: a moment, an intimate shifting through space, uncaptured, uncatchable.
“Yes,” Remus says, and in the tilt of his head, the way his eyes have opened wide, Sirius sees what he can and can’t remember. Sirius remembers the morning, raw and autumnal like this one; the lights had faded and died; they had fallen; they had landed together, tattered round the edges with sleep, curled together through the night.
“Yes,” Remus says again, “that” – and they know what it means, wordless at the beginning of things.
“Why a Muggle camera?” James asks suddenly. “What about wizarding photographs?”
Remus, fiddling with settings, his hood pulled down to shield his head from the rain, says, “What about them?”
Off to one side, out of the wind, Sirius smiles to himself, watches the play of the city lights filtering through the water on Remus’s hands. He looks up, catches Sirius looking, smiles back, briefly. A car swooshes past, spatters the edge of Remus’s robes with dirty puddle water. He barely notices.
James hasn’t finished. “It’s so” – he waves his hands around – “clunky. I mean, I’ve seen other Muggle cameras, they’re not all like yours.”
“Is that right.” Remus looks up again, smiles that elusive smile. This time it’s James who catches Sirius’s eye; they exchange the same amused glance, the same agreement. The years they’ve spent watching each other grow into themselves have shaped them a shared space, a mute, old-friend space. Walking side by side on this raw, wet night, it’s a comfort.
Remus exists a little beyond them, a little distant. The streetlights do strange things to his face, cancelling out the colours, so his eyes are very dark against the absolute, washed-out pallor of his skin. On nights like this one, Sirius thinks about ghosts.
“You’re a big girl’s blouse, Lupin,” James says. Sirius hears every nuance: the archaism of the insult, the conscious irony, the way he didn’t say faggot or poof.
“Isn’t that right.” Remus inclines his head a brief moment before picking up the camera. Sirius thinks it’s strange that he never knows exactly when the picture is taken; unlike the flash-bang of magical photography, Remus’s camera is a silent observer, quiet. Like its owner.
James gives up and laughs as they cross the Thames, their boots splashing through the rivulets building up on the pavement. Below them, the water gleams blackly, shadows marking out the still tugs and pleasure boats. In the distance, Westminster glows. Remus takes his picture just as Sirius looks away; when he turns, Remus is smiling, saying something lost into the rain. James laughs again, shields his eyes. Sirius grins at them both, suddenly filled with affection that bubbles up and warms him through the chill.
Later, when Sirius comes to see it, the picture evokes perfectly that quiet moment, he and James together against the blurring lights, the rainwater glistening on their hair. He wishes Remus were there too.
In a whimsical moment, Remus titles this photograph. On the back, written neatly: self-portrait. Sirius finds it on the doormat on his way out in the morning, flips it over and laughs. The picture is more Remus’s camera than Remus himself, bulbous and red-reflected in the surface of a giant bauble. They had both helped decorate the Potters’ tree, with Harry serene in his Moses basket at the base of it, watching them fall over glass and tinsel, making small noises of joy as James finally drew his wand and lit the tiny candles.
Sirius puts the photograph on his desk at work. The Ministry guidelines are disapproving on the matter – there could be spies anywhere, they say. Don’t put your loved ones in full view. Sirius finds this faintly ridiculous – he’s not sure how you can hide away who and what it is you love, and how a handful of photographs makes any difference, anyway – and he has his small framed images: Lily and James dancing at their wedding, Peter holding Harry up so they both sport identical grins. Until now, though, there was nothing of Remus. The winter nights are cold and getting colder and Aurors work late. The flash of red is a quiet, warming glimmer out of the corner of his eye, even in the long small hours of worrying and fighting.
On Christmas morning, they’re back at Godric’s Hollow and Sirius watches as Remus rummages for his camera, trying to capture the moment, the transient happiness of small presents and bright colours and Harry’s wide green eyes.
Remus pauses, hands in the camera case, and pulls out rolls of expensive Muggle film. He looks up, says nothing, and smiles.
Sirius smiles back, and the candles on the tree burn softly above.
“Cold weather for a wedding,” Lily says, softly, picking up last-minute things from her desk: hairbrush, mirror, ratty old rabbit to amuse Harry with, wand. “Hush, my baby, hush! Almost time for us to go.”
Sirius picks Harry out of his basket and sticks out his tongue, makes a face. Harry stops crying long enough to stare, so Sirius does it again, this time with waggling ears. Lily catches him at it and smiles. “Thank you. Do you have everything? Are James and Remus-”
“They’re meeting us there, yeah,” Sirius says, picking up the basket as well, and they step into the fireplace. The flickering green flames are only warming for a few brief seconds; the other side is just as chilly, with the cold seeping out of the stones as they step quickly down the long dungeon passages. The wedding is in the Hogwarts grounds, attended by almost their entire cohort, full of people and presents and children laughing and babies crying, but the chill persists. In ordinary times, Ram Patil would have got married in the house of his father, festooned with flowers and turmeric powder, his feet raising sunbaked dust as he walked around the sacred fire. In wartime, there can be no unnecessary journeying, no carefree Apparitions around the world, no stately hopping to the warmth of old Calcutta. The grounds are ancient and beautiful, but there is no sunshine here.
Small things, Sirius thinks. He follows the crowd, keeps an eye on Lily and the baby, keeps an eye out for Remus. Small privations are sometimes harder to bear.
“Sirius,” Peter calls, from some distance ahead. “Over here.”
He’s kept some space for them to sit and watch the fires being lit, brightly coloured lights drifting magically in great serene circles around. Lily settles with Harry, and Sirius watches for a telltale flash of movement. He catches it eventually, spots James and Remus running across. “Sorry we’re late,” James says, breathless. “Moony here was lurking with his camera around the women getting changed, Merlin knows why.”
Sirius laughs, catches Remus’s hand as he sits down beside him. Remus is flushed and grinning, traces of sparkle in his eyes. They haven’t seen each other in a few days, Sirius on patrols in London, Remus chasing werewolves in Scotland. Small things, Sirius thinks, yet again, and sits back, letting the warmth of his hands ease the tension in Remus’s body. “What were you doing back there?” he asks, whispering.
“You’ll see,” Remus tells him, and that’s all he’ll say.
Afterwards, when the ceremony’s over and the party’s over and they’re all piled into the living room at Godric’s Hollow, Remus shows off the pictures. At first, they’re just like Sirius remembers: the colours, the lights, the flowers, they all have the backdrop of the northern sky. The last snapshot falls out of his hands like an afterthought, and James picks it up, says, “Oh, Moony,” and there’s a soft silence in the room. In the picture, Ram Patil’s beautiful new bride looks out at them through her fingers, eyes bright and shaped with kohl. Her hands are orange and golden with henna, patterned intricately, starkly against the olive of her skin. There is no touch of distance, no oncoming cold. Sirius lets his arm drop around Remus’s shoulders and they both sink back into the sofa cushions, into the warmth.
Most mornings, Lily greets them with a quiet hello and instructions not to wake the baby. Today, their greeting is: “Remus Lupin, you idiotic, self-effacing, thoughtless, moronic, imbecilic excuse for a human being.”
“Morning, Evans,” Sirius mutters sleepily as she stomps off. “Care to shed any light, Moony dear?”
Remus’s look of confusion evaporates as Lily reappears waving a magazine, and is replaced by one of deepest embarrassment. “Lily, I didn’t...” he begins, just as she thwaps him on the head and frogmarches him into the living-room.
Sirius only starts getting it when James comes in with Harry, their hair sticking up in comically similar fashion. “Remus has been holding out on us, Padfoot,” he says, grinning. “O tempore o mores, et cetera, et cetera. Peter found this little gem” – he waves the magazine, a little grubby from Harry’s grabbing fingers – “in a Muggle newsagent last night.”
Sirius smoothes out the magazine’s centrespread pages, and at last, it’s clear. The image is striking, a frosted branch against an overcast dawn, every detail clear as if cut with glass out of the sky. It’s familiar. An identical image, smaller, is stuck to their kitchen window at home. All at once, Sirius laughs and kisses the top of Remus’s head. “You got published?” he says, still grinning. “You got published!”
“See!” Lily says. “See, you didn’t know either! Remus, why don’t you tell us these things?”
Remus still looks embarrassed, but he’s smiling. Five minutes later, Lily has stopped shouting long enough to kiss him herself – James growls, says she’d better make it up to him; her only reply is to smack him around the head – and Remus looks quietly happy, staring at the picture as though he’s never seen it before. Sirius thinks about what it must be like to see through Remus’s eyes, to see the world through soft- and hard-focus, everything etched with beauty, and is buoyed up, momentarily, with wonder, and with love.
“James!” calls Peter’s voice. “Sirius, Remus! Hurry up, we’re going to be late for work!”
“He’s right,” Sirius says, reluctantly, and they’re standing up, heading out, back outside and back to real life, but before they’re quite gone, he sees Peter give Remus a new copy of the magazine, not yet besmirched by Harry’s jammy fingertips, and notes the quiet smile that passes between them.
There are werewolves in Japan. Also, pianos playing by downstairs windows, Remus reports; there are bicycles ringing through the streets, silk kimonos flashing at the edge of his vision like astonishing butterflies, coloured lanterns reflecting in the surface of still water.
On a grey day, an owl flaps through an equinoctial squall to tap at the window. Sirius lets it in and catches the dropped snapshot, the single cherry blossom caught mid-fall, focused, sharp, lovely. On the back Remus has scrawled his handful of words: the war goes on but there are still beautiful things.
“I miss you,” Sirius says into the open air, and hopes his voice will carry on the trade winds, carry with the storm across the world.
Remus is experimenting with portraits. They're in the Green Park, and the sun is shining brightly and Harry's crawling at a cheerful rate of knots across the grass and Sirius, lying back so the clouds are fluffy cotton-wool overhead, feels utterly content. Lily is tearing grass straws, whistling through them and then dropping them into his partly open mouth. Chewing comfortably, Sirius thinks that he doesn't mind.
"This way, Lily," Remus calls, and Lily turns to face him just as he takes the picture, pieces of greenery still sticking to her fingers.
"Serves you right if he gets you with grass in your mouth like a cow," Sirius says, holding out a finger for Harry to grab on to. "Cruel and unusual woman that you are."
"Did you just call me a cow, Sirius Black?" She laughs and hits him on the head with the flat of her hand; he rolls backwards, rubbing the point of impact and giving her his most innocent look.
"See what I mean?" he demands. "Cruel and unusual!"
Remus takes another picture. This one, Sirius is sure, must have him in mid-flow, with Lily grinning in response. Remus has been taking pictures for months now and it's amazing, Sirius thinks, how he's started to think in terms of freeze-frame images, miniature tableaux of lives as lived. It's fitting, he supposes. The war has ruined the narrative of their lives; they don't know where they'll be in six months, a year, they don't know if they'll have won or be winning or be dead, Lily and James don't know where they'll send Harry to school. It makes sense to think of life as individual moments, happy or sad or grass-scented.
"I have had a thought," Remus announces.
"Did it hurt?" Sirius and Lily chorus, and Harry squawks at the collective groan.
"I shall not dignify that with a response" – and he stalks off.
Sirius watches him go, smiling, and turns to Lily. "James and Peter are joining us for lunch, I think," he says. "We're working late from tonight, again. Raids and suchlike."
She nods, slowly. "I shouldn't be out here in the park mid-morning, I should be getting ready for tonight. But… you know." She waves a lazy, expansive hand. "The sunshine, the birds singing, you know. This is Harry's first summer. Oh, behold, the traveller returneth!"
Remus, treading softly, has a shifty expression and a splash of bright colour in each hand. "Moony, dear," Sirius says, amused, "I don't think you're supposed to pick the flowers in the Green Park. I think it might just be against the byelaws. You reprobate, you."
Remus grins and hands over his gifts. "Lily with rose and daffodil," he says, and that's what they write, Lily grinning and beautiful above the words, when they stick the photograph to the window.
The night before last, Remus took a picture of the sunset, sky sliced through by lens-like clouds, orange and blood-red, with the coming night clear in the moon’s white face. The photograph is blurred on the kitchen table, another flurry of warm tones against the polished wood and the soft yellow light of the evening. Sirius walks barefoot around the room, reading notes Dumbledore has sent, answering letters, thinking about strategies, about plans of attack. He works alone on these days, doesn’t go out to meet the Order. The sun rose high, flooded the world in fresh, lovely colours. Sirius kept the curtains drawn.
The last of the daylight is fading out of the sky as Remus stirs, makes soft-edged ripples in the blankets Sirius draped over him. “You,’” he says, through layers of sleep, and Sirius wanders unhurriedly across, sits down beside him.
“Want anything?” he asks mildly.
“You were here all day,” Remus says. There’s clear note of reproach through the haze. “You didn’t... you needn’t...”
Still unhurriedly, Sirius bends down and kisses him, stands up, goes back to pacing the room, letting papers and parchment flutter beneath his feet. He watches Remus watching him, sees how his eyes brighten with consciousness, sees how words form on his lips, and fall into nothing, silence.
Remus says: “You’re always here.”
“Yeah,” Sirius says. “I am.”
“I’m fine,” Remus tells him, emphatic through layers of cotton and wool. “I’m always fine.”
Sirius is thinking about the setting of the moon, and how his arms wrapped around fur and felt the bones break beneath. He’s read about a special kind of Muggle photography that cuts a body up into slices, shows millimetre by millimetre how bloody flesh and sinew hold a soul together. And he’s read about pain, and how it never registers in the memory properly, vanishes like invisible ink so it will be a fresh surprise every time.
He thinks about telling Remus this. Instead, he gets into the bed, lets his feet slip coldly across skin, feels the shudder. “You’re fine,” he says.
“Yes,” Remus whispers, insistent. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
He falls asleep again quickly, the smell of exhaustion tangled up with pillows and sheets. Sirius sits with him and reads, listens to the sounds of the city, listens to Remus breathe.
Remus looks mildly surprised, but pleased, as Sirius pushes a pair of train tickets across the table. “Switzerland?” he asks.
“Scenery,” Sirius tells him.
Remus looks at him inscrutably over the top of the envelope. “All right. But you're coming too.”
So Sirius takes two weeks off work, with a note from Arthur Weasley to smooth things over at the office. Remus locks the door to the flat, and Sirius thinks that this is one of the few times they’ve left together.
They Apparate to the train station, Remus giving him a curious look. Sirius shrugs, hands their tickets to the conductor. Remus tucks his bag under his seat as the train slides into motion, fingers tapping restlessly on the camera in his lap. Sirius reaches across the table, closing his hand firmly over them. No pictures, he says, just look. Remus smiles, slow and sweet, as he confiscates the camera.
The next few hours are spent in silence, Sirius all but forgotten as Remus glues his eyes to the window, hands twitching unconsciously at the scenery rolling by. Sirius watches from behind his book, amused, and does not even try to engage him in conversation. He doesn't return the camera until after sunset (somewhere in the Alps), over a shared plate of sandwiches and a pot of tea.
Remus smiles, at first, and then his eyes soften with a different look, hands on the camera. Sirius is lulled, happy, comfortable, by the movement of the train. Back in London he sees that same softness in himself, sleeping, and Remus doesn’t stick the picture up but keeps it with him, because, as he says, it matters.
In a few minutes, Harry will be a year old. Born as the seventh month died, and twelve months have rolled around again and they are all still here, still counting time. Sirius is oddly proud of this fact, walking around the house in the dark. There is even a celebration planned – small, and conducted as quietly as possible, of course, but there will be cake, and maybe a few wand-created streamers, and some of the Weasleys will be attending, Alice and Frank will bring their baby boy, Andromeda and Ted will bring Dora. Harry will grow up with these children, he'll know them at school and afterwards, Sirius thinks with satisfaction. Sometimes he's perfectly clear in his mind: there will be some sort of future.
The night is warm. Sirius's bare feet are sticking to the kitchen tiles, and there's a stubborn stickiness persisting in the air, too. The house is almost perfectly quiet – the odd creak of the boards, brief distant murmurs from Lily and James in the room above – except that someone, for reasons best known to themselves, is singing Christmas carols.
"Remus," Sirius calls, as quietly as possible as he moves through the house. "Remus, why are you...?"
Remus appears as if from an invisibility cloak, sudden. He puts a finger to his lips, goes back to the Coventry Carol, lullay lullay thou little tiny child. Sirius smiles despite himself at the only lullaby Remus knows, as Harry slips into sleep on Remus’s shoulder. Moments pass, still and lovely, as Remus places the baby in the Moses basket by the window, moving with measured, careful precision. His camera is sitting under a chair, and he reaches for it.
“Happy birthday, Harry,” he says softly as he puts the camera down. “May it be the first of many happy birthdays.”
Sirius says, “Give him the photograph. When he’s ten, or eighteen, or something. He’ll want to see it.”
Remus nods. “Won’t we all, by then.”
Sirius tries to picture it in his head, Remus ten or twenty years older, still with those eyes and that elusive smile. He can’t quite do it, so he kisses Remus in the dimness and pictures him here and now, instead.
A real English summer, Remus had said, and a picture of the rain was an odd miniature on the window, the same view seen within itself, like a fractal. Sirius wonders if that’s what James and Lily’s house will look like when it disappears from sight, when they’re hidden from the world outside by a charm in the heart of a man. Put like that, Remus said, it sounds like they’re being hidden inside a person, vanishing beneath skin and into bone.
That’s it exactly, Sirius thinks. They’re vanishing into themselves, all of them. The rain and the wind batter at the walls and windows, throwing sprays of broken leaves and trigs at the glass. The world outside seems darker than it ought to be, and Sirius misses Remus too, a shadow in the storm beyond whom he hasn’t seen in days.
Sirius sleeps like the dead these days. It's more than a metaphor; there's a deathly, unhealthy quality to it, the way he flumps down on the pillows unheeding and unwashed and sinks down deep into oblivion in seconds. His dreams are murky, diseased visions, full of places he's never been and skies he's never stood beneath. When he wakes up the sheets are usually tangled between his feet and Remus is never there any more.
Tonight is one of those nights where the weight of sleep is almost unbearable; he crashes through the front door after a raid with blood worked into the cracks of his palms, and Moody and Kingsley had said, get some sleep, get some sleep, and he's taking their advice right here in the chair by the window. It rocks back once or twice, creaks, settles into stillness as Sirius does too. At once his limbs relax, go limp. The old pictures from the winter are starting to peel from the glass.
It's still dark and much, much later when something comes out of the furthest distance and lands softly on his head – a hand, gentle, shaking. "Wake up," calls Remus's voice, echoing and hollow. "Sirius, wake up, go to bed. You're going to hurt in the morning if you stay here. Wake up!"
In earlier days Remus was never able to sleep. He padded around their dormitory, he strolled, book in hand, around the common room in the small hours, eyes bright and reflecting the dim sconces. Sirius used to wake when he came up, feel the change as even the air in the room warmed, the world around delineated itself in softer lines as Remus finally slipped away. It was something they never talked about. It is something Sirius has stopped dreaming about, its comfort and familiarity belonging to another time.
Sirius doesn't shift, now. He's too tired, the weight in his head is too much. At length the shaking stops and he's conscious, distantly, that the other presence has drifted away. When he wakes up the dawn is grey but clearing, there's a crick in his beck and all his joints ache, and he knows without going to check that the flat is empty. On the window there is a photograph: black and white, taken with the moon low in the sky, a late-night street scene. Sirius can see where Remus was, how he must have been standing to frame the streetlamps with the window frame, and he can see the brief perturbation of dust on the floorboards; otherwise, he might have thought that no one had been there at all.
Blood in pawprints on snow. Is that a signal, Sirius thinks, dizzily, feverishly, is it a message, is it part of the conversation they’re not having? Is it a striking image, a work of art stuck to their window as a sign of love?
He ought to ask, he realises. He ought to walk out of this kitchen and through the dark on the landing and through the steam in the bathroom to where Remus, naked and scratched and retching under the water, is washing the day from the tired emaciated surfaces of his body, and ask, where have you been and what did you do and who are you, now.
He ought to ask, and Remus ought to tell, and instead there is just this moment, this thick sequence of silences, this tired autumn. Sirius makes it to the bathroom door but doesn’t open it. He leans against it, his full weight held up, supported, for a few seconds, and murmurs, “I love you,” into the wood.
The tap drips. The clock ticks. Remus keeps his eyes shut.