Summary: Ceremony or no, they didn’t get the Ministry’s seal of approval, couldn’t make medical decisions for each other, or inherit belongings, or adopt kids. It didn’t matter how they felt about each other. Same-sex couples weren’t entitled to that.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Remus/Sirius, implied Remus/Tonks
Original story: Sailed on Shooting Stars by such_heights
Notes: I feel slightly guilty for turning a fluffy romantic story into angst with political overtones, but not quite guilty enough to stop me doing it! Thanks to my betas nathaniel_hp & werewolfsfan, & to the mods for all their hard work.
The graveyard stands atop a hill, beside a small, disused church dating from the era when there were mills and quarries here, instead of unemployment. The boundary is marked by a stone wall that is almost invisible beneath the ivy and crumbling in places under the slow pull of gravity. On a clear summer’s day, much of the Peak District is visible from the summit, but today — as on most days — the area is almost deserted. The only person in sight is Remus, who climbs steadily up the path leading to the church, halting at intervals to catch his breath.
Remus pauses by the churchyard gate, steeling himself for the task ahead, and then pushes open the stiff gate and enters, burying his hands deep in his pockets.
There are hundreds of gravestones, some large and ornate, others plain, most carved from the local gritstone which is smoothed away by wind and water until the dates and letters grow faint. Remus walks with a quiet sense of purpose until he reaches a far corner of the graveyard, under the shade of a tree. The branches overhead toss in the breeze, dappling the grass and a slim gravestone bearing a single word and a simple image.
It had been a fight to establish this gravestone — unnecessary, the Ministry argued, given the lack of a body — and to choose both the inscription and the location. Sirius had lived most of his life in only three places and Remus was sure that he wouldn’t have wanted to rest in any of them. Eventually Remus prevailed over the bureaucrats and other members of the Order, and he’d chosen this place for the memorial because he and Sirius had lived nearby after finishing at Hogwarts. He recalls them walking up here, Sirius barking at rabbits and chasing after sticks as if he hadn’t a care in the world. This is a place where he’d seemed happy.
Remus regards the headstone for a moment and then lowers himself onto the ground, one hand spread on the grass and the other clasping the object in his pocket.
He says, “Hello Sirius.”
It doesn’t hit home until the morning that Remus tears open a posh cream envelope and sees the words ‘Potter’ and ‘pleasure of your company’, at which point the realisation hits him like a punch to the gut: James and Lily are getting married.
Remus feels his throat tighten as he stares at it, expensive embossed gold writing against the cream parchment. He takes a couple of deep, calming breaths and then slides the invitation out of the envelope, reading and re-reading the words.
It’s a symbol, Remus tells himself, just a symbol. It doesn’t mean anything.
That’s not true of course, because symbols have power, especially in the realm of magic. Marriage isn’t a mere symbol any more than the sword of Gryffindor is, and both are important not for what they represent, but for what they are — tools wielded to prove one’s legitimacy.
In some unreasonable way James’ marriage is a betrayal of the unwritten Marauders’ code to be there for Remus as much as they can, even with fuzzy animal brains and furry animal bodies. He’d assumed — unfairly, irrationally — that their tacit agreement applied to relationships, so that James and Lily would keep living in sin and perhaps buy a house in a few years. Evidently, he’d been wrong; instead, James and Lily had abruptly switched lanes and were accelerating away towards a straight-only happily ever after, a cloud of confetti swirling in their wake.
Remus and Sirius could send out invites, book a venue, buy a cake and get someone to mumble solemn words in front of a crowd, but it wouldn’t be the same. Ceremony or no, they didn’t get the Ministry’s seal of approval, couldn’t make medical decisions for each other, or inherit belongings, or adopt kids. They wouldn’t get tax breaks, or a place on the Ministry’s new families housing scheme, or a joint pension, and it didn’t matter how they felt about each other. Same-sex couples weren’t entitled to that.
Remus traces a finger over the elaborate looping script — one of Lily’s charms, no doubt — and wills himself to feel something beyond a sour disappointment. He shouldn’t resent them having this, Remus tells himself, and then thinks, Damn it, why not? His friends profess to be tolerant and egalitarian, so why shouldn’t he expect them to live up to those principles? Benefiting from a system that unjustly excludes others is what privilege means, and Remus had hoped that James and Lily were better people than that.
He props the invitation up carefully on the mantelpiece and leaves Sirius the task of replying to it. Not that they really need to reply, given that Sirius and James have been inseparable since they were twelve and Sirius’ role as best man goes without saying, but Remus has learned not to take such things for granted. Friendships that seemed solid as rock could dissolve beneath your feet.
Remus has the urge to smash things and crushes the impulse ruthlessly, channelling the energy into cleaning the house. He directs clothes and brushes into a whirlwind of furious scrubbing and bleaching, moving from room to room until the house gleams in a way that bewilders Sirius when he returns to work.
“Nothing,” Remus says, carefully not looking at the invitation on the mantelpiece. “Someone has to tidy up around here.”
“Maybe I like it dirty,” Sirius remarks casually, approaching with a familiar swagger. Sirius has always been all energy and bravado, it coils in his spine and manifests in the smallest of gestures: the sway of his shoulders, the jut of his hip.
Sirius drops a hand on Remus’ shoulder and Remus momentarily succumbs to the musky scent and lazy arousal, before get gets a mental image of James and Lily peeling each other out of wedding clothes. Remus’ throat constricts and he steps back, evading Sirius’ arm. There’s no point in talking about this, which would ruin Sirius’ day without achieving anything.
Sirius frowns, but doesn’t make anything of it.
Over the coming weeks Remus does his best to ignore the big event, doing the minimum compatible with politeness. He covertly arranges to take an Order mission that coincides with James’ stag night — “Boodum-ching!” Sirius says, every time, regardless of whether his audience understand the joke — and insists that they don’t bother to re-schedule it. Sirius is his usual idiotic, hyperactive self, and if he notices any change in Remus, then he doesn’t remark on it.
The date creeps closer: weeks away, then days, until Remus is pulling on his best robes and straightening his tie. He pastes on a smile and an upbeat demeanour, but as the day wears on the façade ebbs like a deflating balloon.
The last straw comes after dinner, when he’s chatting idly with Peter and the conversation tilts underneath him with the terrifying inevitability of an iceberg.
“Makes you think, doesn’t it,” Peter says, his eyes fixed on his girlfriend from across the room. “I think she’s been giving me hints. And I mean, I’m not certain I want to marry her, but I’m not certain that I don’t. D’you think you just know, one day, that it’s right? James said he always knew, but then he’s been bonkers for years, so —”
“I need some air,” Remus interrupts and flees.
Outside it is cool and dark, although he can still hear the blaring music, and Remus slumps onto a bench. He stares up at the sky, where the moon is always the first thing he sees, currently barely a glimmering sliver above the treetops. He should probably be grateful for the small consideration of this timing, Remus reflects, and then scoffs at himself. Should. There have been too many shoulds in the day already.
Remus scuffs at the Potters’ manicured lawn with his shoe and is thinking resentfully about people flirting with the idea of getting engaged, when Sirius’ voice startles him.
“You’re missing the party.”
That’s the point, Remus thinks, but he doesn’t say it. After maintaining silence on the subject for months, a few more won’t make much difference.
Sirius sits down beside him, his thigh warm against Remus’ own, and makes clumsy enquiries. It is easy to evade and dissemble, but Sirius persists until his patience runs out and he snaps, “Remus, could you stop being infuriating?”
Remus opens his mouth to deny it and stops, because there’s a limit to how many times you can repeat the same lie without tiring of it. He glances at Sirius and is surprised at how old he looks, his eyes sombre and his cheekbones shadowed in the dim light. For a moment it’s possible to imagine that they will grow old together.
“You’ve been a nightmare all day,” says Sirius, sounding tired, and Remus can hear the implication that since the best man’s job is to keep the wedding party together he would appreciate a little co-operation.
“I didn’t mean to be,” Remus says, but the words sound fake and make him defensive. “It’s just—actually, I thought you’d get it.”
Sirius recoils at this insult to his famed intelligence, so Remus has earned the bite in Sirius’ tone when he replies, “Get what? Your inexplicable discontent at our two friends enjoying the happiest day of their lives?”
“It’s not them, it’s the whole . . . thing,” Remus says, searching for phrasing that won’t sound like an accusation. “Weddings. All this pomp and ceremony, the propaganda that this is the happiest day any of us could hope to achieve, but the Ministry’s never going to change and so I’ve been sitting there all afternoon just thinking—“ He pauses, looking down at the ground, which is now a muddy mess beneath his shoe. “I can’t marry you.”
Sirius is silent beside him and it takes Remus a moment to realise that there is more than one way that statement could be interpreted. “Sorry, I didn’t—” he says hurriedly, words tripping over themselves, “that wasn’t some kind of proposal, it’s not like we’re—”
“Shut up,” Sirius tells him, and Remus mumbles something about being an idiot. He remembers something his father said years ago, after inadvertently enraging Remus’ mother by buying her a wheelbarrow instead of jewellery for their anniversary, when you’re in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.
The silence is growing increasingly awkward when Sirius jerks and asks, “Whoa, what’s that?”
Remus looks up and sees a star streak overhead, long tail glittering behind it. Are the shooting stars flying, he wonders, or are they simply falling?
“I think I saw something in the Prophet about meteor showers around now,” Remus says blandly, a statement of fact. “I suppose being out here isn’t so bad after all.”
“Course it isn’t, you’re here,” responds Sirius cockily, and Remus lowers his eyes to take in Sirius’ face. He is handsome as ever, dark hair and sparkling eyes, and despite Lily’s doubt he’s been an exemplary best man. It seems absurd that Sirius will never be the star of his own wedding day, cameras flashing as he leans in for a proprietorial kiss.
“Weddings aren’t important, not really,” Sirius announces, in the lofty tone he uses to assert all manner of improbable things. “Not that James could resist a chance to show off to the world just how lucky he is. But it doesn’t change anything that really matters.” Sirius lays his hand on Remus’ own, and Remus resists the temptation to pull it away because Sirius’ bland platitudes are missing the point so spectacularly. “They’ll still just be James and Lily tomorrow, just with some nice new legal benefits. We can get by just fine until someone gets some sense knocked into them.”
Remus takes a deep breath and tries to suppress the anger that is swelling in his chest. Doesn’t Sirius get it? Can’t he see how precarious things are for them and how vulnerable it makes Remus? Sirius is love, friendship, financial security and a solution to full moons all wrapped up in a neat little parcel, but it could be snatched away at any moment. All it would take is a misstep and god knows how many curses they’ve dodged recently. They won’t keep on being lucky: staying too long in the firing line makes it inevitable that you’ll be hit.
“We should go inside,” Remus says, at last.
“Probably,” replies Sirius, watching the stars with the air of one enjoying a firework show, “but maybe not just yet. I think I know this one.”
Sirius tugs at Remus’ hand, pulling him upright and wrapping an arm around him to adopt the stance of a dancer, and while this is ridiculous in Remus’ opinion — what the hell have they got to celebrate? — resisting is more effort than it’s worth.
He finds himself held close, Sirius’ hand nestling in the curve of his lower back, as Sirius guides him in time to the music. “I’d have said yes, you know,” Sirius murmurs, lips brushing against Remus’ temple so that the words ghost hotly over the shell of his ear. “If you’d been asking.”
The words hit him like a curse, shocking Remus into immobility. How can Sirius imagine that this declaration will make things better? They can’t have this, so hearing that Sirius would have accepted a hypothetical proposal adds exponentially to his sense of loss.
“Oh,” Remus says dumbly, as his reeling brain tries to orient itself. He laughs clumsily, not from any humour in the situation but because the alternative is to cry and Remus is damned if he’s going to cry in public. “If I’d been asking.”
Sirius’ arm is warm against him and as Sirius tries to steer him into a turn — a proper turn, deserving of a proper dance floor — Remus feels his heart break a little more. Inside James and Lily dance in the full glare of the lights, watched by fondly smiling parents and drunken friends, but out here the only observers are the fickle moon and distant, glittering stars.
“Let’s go home,” Remus mutters.
Sirius wavers, missing a beat, and Remus can feel the refusal before Sirius opens his mouth.
“It’s still early,” replies Sirius apologetically, “so I should stick around. I think I owe Petunia a dance, too, although Merlin knows I’d rather get out of that.”
Remus stifles the urge to say something bitter and wounding, because the best man is supposed to be witty and smiling and straight. What else did he expect in asking Sirius to choose between himself and James? If a decade of knowing Sirius has taught him anything, it is that Sirius’ loyalty to James comes first.
“Come back inside?” Sirius asks, as the last note fades.
“Yeah, I’ll come in a minute,” Remus lies, as Sirius releases him and steps away.
Sirius gives him a slow, searching look. “I hoped to see you smile tonight,” he says quietly, the sadness in his tone unmistakable. “You’re beautiful when you smile properly, there’s all these crinkles round your eyes. It seems like a long time since you have.”
There is nothing Remus can say to that, so he watches Sirius’ silhouette recede until he steps inside the door and is swallowed up by the bright, swirling crowd of dancers.
Remus sits beside the grave and talks for a long time. There is, after all, a lot of news to impart: Dumbledore’s death, the fight at Hogwarts, the seemingly inexorable rise of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. The silver lining — and isn’t that an ironic term, coming from a werewolf? — is Bill Weasley’s upcoming marriage, despite his recent bite from Greyback. Everything is described in meticulous detail, as if he were giving a report.
When all other subjects have been exhausted, Remus gazes out over the landscape below, mustering his courage. Abruptly, he says, “I’m going to propose to Tonks.”
Remus pauses and then feels like a fool, because Sirius plainly isn’t going to answer.
“I know what a hypocrite that makes me about weddings, but I do love her. It’s not —” He breaks off, frowning. “I wouldn’t have wished for things to happen this way, but I don’t know how much time any of us have left. Dora deserves the chance at some happiness. I’m sorry that we never —”
Remus falls silent again, his eyes never wavering from the skyline and his fingers wrapped tight around the ring box in his pocket.
A train snakes along the valley below and Remus thinks of all the people who are travelling home to their families, children playing, Muggles walking their dogs or watching their televisions, oblivious to the magical world and the tragedies developing within it. Once Remus hated that cosy, conservative domesticity, but now the Death Eaters seem like formidable enough enemies without picking any further fights. He may yet die defending those Muggles and their dull, straight families; may yet be mistaken for one himself.
Remus sits there until he gets stiff, and it's only after standing to leave that his eyes return to the tombstone, where the image of a dog is cut deep into the rock.
“I’m sorry,” Remus says tiredly, and walks away, past the lines of gravestones. He does not allow himself the luxury of looking back.