Summary: Post-PoA. Sirius is picking up the pieces, but putting them back together requires help.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Remus Lupin/Sirius Black
Original story: When Love Took a Train Headed South by gryffindorj
Notes: To my beta/babble/think-tank crew- reddwarfer, avendya, ineffabili_tea- thank you so much. &hearts you all!
The pub is cool, dim enough for Sirius to feel comfortable in his own skin despite the prickle of wariness at the nape of his neck. He thinks longingly of Padfoot, but a mutt as big and decrepit as he currently looks would draw more attention than is wise, even- or perhaps particularly- in a town as small as this one. Besides, Padfoot can’t drink beer, and Sirius is nervous enough about this meeting that a bit of liquid courage wouldn’t go amiss.
Collecting his pint, he retreats unobtrusively to a corner table. There are still twenty minutes before Remus is due to arrive, and someone’s abandoned the crossword section of today’s paper.
A tug of not-quite-memory distracts him as his fingers curl around the pen, something from their Hogwarts days, perhaps… Sirius bites his lip, knowing better than to think about the ragged spots in his mind, twelve years’ worth of frayed edges and more than that of loss. He takes a drink, glances down at the crossword. Five across: six letters for a Quidditch ball. Sirius grins. Now there’s something worth remembering. Leaning over the paper, he starts filling in the squares.
"Pub's not exactly a place for crossword puzzles," says a low voice.
Sirius jumps, slashing a jagged black mark across the next box. "Oh, sod off," he mutters disgustedly, looking up.
"I see your manners are faultless as ever, Sirius," Remus says, brown eyes glinting with amusement. Sirius stares: right now, in the half-light of the pub, Remus looks about seventeen.
Remus grins crookedly, spreading his hands. "It’s nice to see you keeping to tradition. Almost like old times, that is."
"Well, perhaps not the pub," Remus amends wryly. "But we used to drive Lily mad, stealing the crosswords from her newspapers every time we went to visit James."
"Ah, right. I’d almost forgotten about that."
"Glad to see you haven’t forgotten me."
"As if I would!" Sirius huffs, indignant.
"Oh, I don’t know; if I recall correctly, your mind was never a steel trap for anything but pranks-" Remus closes his mouth abruptly. "Sorry. That was terribly tactless of me."
"It’s fine," Sirius says quietly. "I really don’t remember everything."
"It’s fine, I said."
Remus subsides into a guilty sort of silence. Sirius nudges his beer across the table, returning to his crossword as Remus takes a long, slow swallow.
"Prestidigitation," says Remus, at last.
"Here, twenty-six down."
"Thanks. Always finish faster with you around," Sirius murmurs fondly, filling in the last few squares with satisfaction.
"Well." Scarred fingers curl around his own, squeezing briefly. "We can’t sit here forever, you know."
"Arabella arranged for a room upstairs," Sirius offers.
"Always with the propositions, aren’t you?" Remus laughs. "No; we’ll go to my house. Not that I don’t trust Arabella, but my wards are better."
"Now who’s the one with the propositions?"
"Still a sod," Remus mutters, but softly enough that Sirius lets it slide.
Remus’s house is on the outskirts of town; a small cottage: picturesque, yet strangely forgettable. Sirius looks at it, puzzled. "Moony-" he starts.
"It’s the wards," Remus says, unlocking the door. "Several layers of them, to be precise. I’ll key them to you once we’re inside; otherwise, you won’t be able to find your way back unless I’m with you."
"There’s always Padfoot, you know. I have a very good sense of smell."
"Ah, yes." Remus smiles wryly and stoops to unlace his boots. "However, thanks to a misspent youth and a close acquaintance with three unregistered Animagi, I did think to modify the structure of each layer… Come in, Sirius. Let me just fix the wards, and then I’ll put the kettle on."
Sirius toes off his shoes obediently, closing the door behind him. "Almost like old times, then?" he quips.
"A bit like, I suppose- especially now you’re here." Remus pulls his wand out, tracing a brief figure on Sirius’s forehead. "Sirius domum ingrediatur; Sirio domus patefaciatur. Sirius domo habitet."
A wave of sensation ripples down Sirius’s spine, a tingling warmth that expands from the inside out. "Brilliant," he says, impressed. "Although… grammatical Latin, Moony?"
Remus shrugs. "What can I say? I prefer specificity. Luckily for me, your name declines."
"Ha! Only you, Remus Lupin." Sirius shakes his head fondly.
"Earl Grey, I presume?" Remus says, ducking into the kitchen. He emerges with a tin of tea in each hand. "Or are you in the mood for orange Pekoe?"
"I…" A fragment of an image teases at the corner of Sirius’s mind, something with Remus’s face behind a curl of steam, hands cradling a mug. The smell, though… Sirius frowns. The sense-memory isn’t there.
"Pads?" A warm hand grasps his chin, tilting his face up to Remus’s searching gaze. Sirius blinks, lost.
"I can’t remember, Moony."
"What can’t you remember?"
"About the tea-" Sirius stops with a helpless wave; it’s not as if he can name a specific instance. Besides, Remus’s perfect recall only extends to situations that fit a certain set of criteria, which Sirius has never quite been able to make out.
Remus merely looks at him, serene. "Perhaps Darjeeling this time," he says, sweeping his thumb briefly over Sirius’s cheekbone. Sirius closes his eyes and leans into the familiar gesture. It’s a comfort to give himself over to the care of someone who knows him better than he does.
It’s long after sunset by the time their supper dishes have been cleared away and he’s caught Remus up on Order business, Dumbledore’s instructions about harboring highly-sought fugitives apparently having no effect on Remus’s equilibrium. Not for the first time, Sirius finds himself wishing for Remus’s even temper: while he understands the need to lay low, the orders still chafe.
"It’s just as well you’re here, then," Remus says mildly. "I’m sure you’d drive everyone else mad with your restlessness."
Sirius fidgets a little, shifting about on the worn couch and avoiding Remus’s gaze. "I just- I want to be doing something," he says, knowing he sounds petulant.
"You’re resting up and staying safe."
"You aren’t endangering anyone unnecessarily."
"Harry, you mean?" Sirius snaps, but Remus merely looks at him.
"Yourself, Sirius," he says, voice level but not entirely unsympathetic. "I know Dumbledore can be a bit enigmatic-"
"Old coot," Sirius mumbles.
"- enigmatic, and Hogwarts and the Order are his first priorities, but he does mean well, and he is thinking about your safety."
"Well, I do happen to be Harry’s godfather and a semi-valuable resource, if only for the psychological aspects."
Remus sets down his mug with a bang. "I know you’re feeling impatient, Sirius, but some of us are actually thinking about you!"
Sirius looks away, chagrined. "Sorry, Moony."
"We’re not sixteen anymore, Pads. We can’t afford to be so-"
"Reckless. Yeah, I know. There’s Harry, after all." Sirius sighs. "He looks so very much like James. I’d almost forgotten what he looked like at that age."
"Did you forget about James?" Remus says, surprised.
"I spent most of my time in Azkaban revisiting the day he died and the mistakes I made, not anything that happened before that. Not if I could help it, anyway."
"Ah. So our Hogwarts years…?"
"Oh, I remember those. Mostly. A lot of the better parts, actually, when it comes to the four of us." Sirius laughs humorlessly. "I’ve got Peter to thank for something after all. Isn’t that funny? The little bastard actually did me a favor- or it would be, if I could remember James without him."
Remus winces, then unfolds himself from the couch. "Well. If it’s any consolation, you’ve come to the right place. All of James and Lily’s things are in Harry’s vault now, I believe, but I’ve still got your boxes and old photo albums in the attic."
Sirius stares at him, then down at his hands. "I thought- I mean. I hoped you’d kept something, but I thought you might have thrown them all away."
"I almost did," Remus admits candidly. "Dumbledore came by to see me after I’d heard the news. He stopped me just in time; said that Harry deserved to know."
"He did," Sirius says miserably.
Remus squeezes his shoulder. "He knows the truth, Sirius. That’s all that’s important now."
The attic is unexpectedly clean, mysteriously free of dust and cobwebs despite the age of the crumbling boxes. Sirius recognizes his own careless scrawl- Hogwarts, mischief, QUIDDITCH- on the cardboard alongside Remus’s neat inventories, taped to the sides of each box. Once, he would have laughed at Remus’s "obsessive-compulsive tendencies;" now, he is overwhelmingly grateful. He doesn’t think he could have faced going through everything without some sort of advance warning.
Even with the careful notes, it’s difficult. Sirius stares at the boxes (twelve, he thinks; one for each year of Azkaban) and can’t make himself move.
Remus stands quietly next to him, watching, a warm and steady weight. "We don’t have to do this now, if you don’t want to. It can wait until tomorrow."
Sirius gulps. "No," he says, stubborn. "No."
"All right." Remus goes to peer at the lists, scanning the contents of the boxes. "The pictures are in this one, if you want them."
"That’ll do," Sirius says with relief.
Remus strips away the packing tape, prying the lid open. "Here. Those look like the ones from Hogwarts, so these ought to be the ones we took after seventh year-" He sits down next to Sirius, opening the first album to a cascade of photographs. "Sorry. I never did get around to organizing them."
"Not like I did such a good job of that anyway." Sirius picks up the picture at the top, curious. "Oh, look, these are from our flat."
Remus laughs. "Well, yours and James’s, at first. Hadn’t the two of you been making plans since seventh year?"
Sirius frowns. "That, I don’t remember so well. I only remember you rejecting me when I asked you to move in."
"I gave in eventually, didn’t I?"
"Yeah, but that was after James moved out. He knew about us from the very beginning; I don’t see why it would have been a problem."
Remus shrugs noncommittally, sliding the photo deftly back into its plastic sheet. "Pass them over as you’ve finished looking at them, will you?"
"Yeah, thanks," Sirius says, distracted. He shuffles through the stack, staring intently at each of the images- James, James, and James again; a hopeless jumble of post-Remus visits and pre-Remus snapshots that are nearly impossible to keep track of- and trying to place them chronologically. He pauses at a picture of the kitchen, which contains neither a disaster area nor a competent Lily, teaching James and Sirius how to cook, and frowns.
"What was this one? I didn’t realize we had records of our breakfast foods."
Remus peers over his shoulder, watching James scrape eggs from a skillet as Sirius gesticulates wildly, emphasizing his points with his fork. "That was the day James was going on about proposing to Lily. You told him-"
"You can't marry her," Sirius said. "What are you going to do after that?"
"Be married, have children," James replied. Remus stepped into the kitchen, curious.
"Commitment," Sirius said, shuddering dramatically.
"We've been together for years now."
"Including one summer I remember you shagging every bird in sight," Sirius pointed out through a mouthful of eggs.
"So we broke up for a few months at Hogwarts. That didn't matter," James said. Remus cocked an eyebrow at him. "Don’t look at me like that, Moony; we did talk things through."
"Good morning to you too," Remus said dryly, "but what exactly am I interrupting?"
"You're not interrupting," Sirius replied, swiveling in his chair. "Jamie here is going to go and ask Lily to marry him so he can ruin his life."
James rolled his eyes. "I'm not ruining my life."
"Hey, I’ve nothing against Lily," said Sirius. "I love her, I really do. But marriage?"
"Oi, shut it, or you won’t be my best man."
"You’ll make me your best man no matter how much I object," Sirius returned cheerfully.
James sighed, exasperated. He gestured to the skillet. "Are you hungry, Moony? I was going to give this git seconds, but they might as well go to someone more deserving of sustenance."
"Hey!" Sirius pouted. Remus grinned and nodded at James, sliding into the chair between them.
"I didn’t realize that Peter was there until his flashbulb went off," Remus says, watching himself wander sleepily into the picture. "I’m rather grateful for it now."
"Traitor," Sirius growls, on a sudden upsurge of bitterness.
"Yes. He wasn’t always, though," Remus says quietly.
Sirius grimaces, closing his eyes. "I know. Let’s not talk about him anymore."
"All right." Remus slides the last of the pictures into the album and closes it, leaning back against the wall.
"Do you miss it?"
"Our flat," Sirius says wistfully. "We had some good times there, didn’t we, before the end? Fixing up the motorbike, watching Harry, figuring out how to become responsible adults- not that I managed that particularly well. The two of us, before everything else got in the way."
Remus laughs shortly. "When was it ever just the two of us, Sirius? The flat was yours and James’s before I moved in. After I moved in, James and Lily were visiting us whenever we weren’t visiting them. Then you and James were partnered when we joined the Aurors, and I ended up seeing more of Lily than I ever saw of you."
Sirius blinks, taken aback by the sudden bitterness in Remus’s voice. "Moony-"
"Was it any wonder that I didn’t tell you, when someone leaked my lycanthropy outside of our team? Was it any wonder that I didn’t tell you why I quit and started running errands for Dumbledore, instead?" Remus exhales, shaky- with remembered anger, Sirius realizes. "And whenever I came home from Romania, or Hungary, or wherever the pack leaders were that Dumbledore wanted me to talk to, James was already there, or you were out on a job. It was your flat, Sirius, but it was never mine."
"Why didn’t you talk to me?"
"What was there to say? All of our years at Hogwarts, it was Black and Potter. I didn’t ever expect that to change once we’d left." Remus sighs. "It felt- silly, at first. I felt like I was being unreasonable. But then we got busier, and we stopped spending time with each other, and when I finally needed to talk, it was Peter who was home, not you."
Sirius closes his eyes. "Moony."
"It was so easy for him. We made it so easy, to begin."
"I loved you," Sirius whispers. "I still do."
"I know, and I knew you did, then. It’s just- looking back, I don’t think I was ever sure of how much." Remus rubs his eyes wearily, pushing himself to his feet. He runs a hand lightly over Sirius’s hair. "I’m sorry, Sirius. This probably wasn’t the best time for us to have this conversation. It’s getting late; I’ve put clean sheets on the bed."
Sirius swallows roughly. "I’m not putting you out of your damn bed, Moony."
Remus huffs a laugh. "I didn’t expect that you would. This one’s big enough for two. You don’t have to be Padfoot, even, if you’re feeling disinclined."
Sirius surprises himself with a yawn. "All right, then."
He follows Remus back downstairs, the two of them shuffling into the bathroom together out of sheer force of habit. Stretching out next to a bonelessly-sleeping Remus isn’t nearly as awkward as it should have been, given the circumstances. Sirius debates the politics of shifting into Padfoot, but falls asleep before he can make up his mind either way.
His dreams are disjointed, a muted flurry of half-forgotten images. Flying with James over the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts, Remus laughing up at them from the stands. Lily’s smug grin as she teases James for burning the ceiling upon his first attempt at scrambled eggs; Remus’s indulgent smile when Sirius crows over his own platter of perfect pancakes. Remus’s frequent cracks about Sirius’s relationship with his motorbike, and his surprise when Sirius tosses him the keys. The purr of the engine as it rises into the sky, the faint shock of magic running like a current through the chrome into their skin.
Sirius wakes up, disoriented, to the smell of toast.
"Good morning," Remus says cheerfully, passing him a cup of tea as he stumbles into the kitchen.
"Morning," Sirius replies, bemused, watching as Remus turns to rummage in the pantry for marmalade.
"So I’ve been thinking about our conversation with respect to Dumbledore’s orders," Remus says. "If you’re to be staying here for an indefinite period of time, then this house should be your home as well. I, er, took the liberty of unpacking some of your things, and. Well. A certain delivery arrived for you this morning."
Remus nods toward the front door, where a very familiar set of keys dangles from a nail in the doorframe. Sirius bolts toward the window to look, even as Remus mutters a quick charm to reveal the motorbike, shining and pristine, that sits in the middle of the front yard.
"I had the Headmaster contact Hagrid, who had Arthur Weasley transport it over," Remus says. "Arthur was quite keen to fly it, but felt it would be best to refrain from doing so."
"Moony." Sirius turns, flinging his arms around Remus’s shoulders and squeezing tight. "You didn’t have to do this."
"Well," Remus mumbles, embarrassed. "Like I said, this is supposed to be your home, at least for now."
Sirius smiles against his neck. "Oh, Moony. You still don’t get it, do you? Anywhere you are is home; I should have told you that from the beginning."
Remus goes still, one scarred hand coming up to twine in his hair. "I regret to inform you that there will still be no joyriding, Sirius," he says after a moment, and Sirius turns his face up, laughing giddily into Remus’s mouth.