A Cup of Kindness
Author: Dark Twin
Heartfelt thanks to Lazy_Neutrino for another outstanding beta job, and to everyone whose friendly encouragement (and persistent harassing ;)) made me complete the fic.
Archiving: All FQF will be archived solely at this site until January 30th, 2005. After that, it's yours to do with as you will.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to.
Challenge & Summary: Challenge #42: New Year's Eve, 1995. The boys are determined to have a fun New Year's Eve, even if it's spent at 12 Grimmauld Place. (Bonus points for getting Snape to come to a party at 12GP.). Snape has a grudge, Sirius has a request, and Remus has a secret. And none of them could have picked a worse time to reveal it than New Year’s Eve, 1995.
Author Notes: Back when the idea of R/S first entered my mind, it came in the form of a post-Azkaban relationship where there had been no pre-Azkaban one, and I simply had to write it one day. Plus, the challenge was just begging for a messy triangle – but if you find it too messy, I’ll just take the bonus points and run.
Heartfelt thanks to Lazy_Neutrino for another outstanding beta job, and to everyone whose friendly encouragement (and persistent harassing ;)) made me complete the fic.
And ther's a hand, my trusty friend, and gie's a hand o' thine,
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet for auld lang syne.
(Robert Burns, 1759-96)
Given how little success he had had to report to Albus Dumbledore, the mission had proved exceptionally time-consuming. It had already been late in the afternoon when Remus had unlocked the door to his flat, a little too close to moonrise for comfort, to be honest, but still in time to get ready. It wasn’t as if he was new to the procedure.
A last goblet full of the Wolfsbane that he re-heated on the stove, stirring the ill-smelling, greyish brew in its cauldron, and as always concentrating hard on keeping the memories he was stirring up with it out of his mind. And then away into his bedroom to lock and bolt the door, mechanically as well as magically, just to make sure.
He let some fresh air into the room before he settled down. For the second last day in the year, the air was exceptionally mild, but there was something deceptive about it – an ominous, brooding quality that he couldn’t quite pin down, even with his senses sharpened to their utmost extent as they were. Something brewing. Atmospheric changes.
Remus had sighed, closed the window and the curtains, and turned towards his bed.
He had woken up in the morning an hour or two after moonset, quietly cursing midwinter and longing for the short summer nights that were so much more bearable than these. But he had managed to drag himself into the kitchen to make some tea, his eyes still half closed, looking forward to a full day and night to sleep off the effects of the transformation, before he would head back to Grimmauld Place on New Year’s Day.
And then Tonks had barged into his little place, still far too early in the morning for him to already be in a state to receive visitors, babbling about a New Year’s Eve party at Headquarters. No, of course she had not been sent by Molly. It was going to be a surprise party. Nobody knew, except for Kingsley and her and now Remus. So ssshh. But she needed his help. He’d come, wouldn’t he?
Of course he would.
He was still wondering now why he had thought it such a good idea. He suspected he had agreed to come, and even to help with the preparations, just to make Tonks shut up, because her voice had made his head hurt. But that was being unfair. It had seemed like a good idea. If there was anything off about it, it was because Tonks hadn’t chosen the best moment to announce it. But the full moon never asked what day of the year it was, and if that was anyone’s fault at all, it was at least not Tonks’s.
And Christmas at Grimmauld Place had, unexpectedly, already been a wonderful success, and with Arthur on the mend now, they had all the more reason for another celebration. The children would love it. And Sirius, too, Sirius had been rapidly falling back into his pre-Christmas gloom after Boxing Day, and anything that had a chance of pulling him out of it again at least for one night was welcome.
So Remus had slept for as long as he could, all day and well into the evening, and in the end had had to rush to the Muggle underground station closest to Grimmauld Place where he and Tonks had agreed to meet.
The change had come overnight, and it was bitterly cold now. Remus had felt his feet turn to ice while they had stood waiting for Kingsley for ten minutes. When the Auror hadn’t shown up, they had set out on their way without him. On foot, because Remus’s head was still so heavy he would have preferred to carry it under his arm instead of on his shoulders, and he felt that he needed a bit of fresh air if he was supposed to even stay awake until after midnight.
They wandered along in unusual but companionable silence for a while. Tonks was quietly whistling a slightly melancholic song, but she was giving the ancient tune a few unexpected twists and turns of her own that made Remus smile. At some point, she even started skipping along on the off-beat, kicking at an empty bottle that rolled away rattling along the cobblestones, or maybe it had just happened to be in the way of her foot.
She broke off when they had reached the corner to Grimmauld Place, and a cold gust of wind suddenly blew into their faces, driving fallen leaves and rotting pieces of newspaper along the pavement. Tonks pulled her denim jacket closed, and gave a shudder. “We've wander’d mony a weary foot,” she recited in a very bad imitation of a Scottish accent. “Remind me again why we didn’t Apparate?”
“Nothing like a little walk at night to clear your head,” Remus muttered. He, too, felt the cold creeping in under his shabby thin coat.
“Oh dear!” Tonks exclaimed. “I don’t want my head clear. As a matter of fact, if it’s not completely bunged up by two in the morning, I’ll consider this whole affair a flop. Kingsley said he’s bringing the best French red Mundungus could procure. What on earth do you want a clear head for, Remus? Sombre reflections on the year that has passed, and solemn resolutions for the new one? Go on then, if you must. Do it now, and get them out of the way. You’ve got exactly – “ She consulted her Muggle wrist watch, “ – forty-eight minutes to go until midnight.”
“I don’t think I have enough resolutions to fill forty-eight minutes.”
“Forty-seven,” Tonks said with a grin. “Well, let’s hear them, how many minutes can you fill?”
“Exactly one,” Remus said resignedly. “If you must know, I usually just try to avoid repeating too many old mistakes, and to make not too many new ones. That’s about it. And of course, as with everybody else’s resolutions, it won’t be long after midnight tonight before I’ve already broken them again.”
“You’re a philosopher,” Tonks observed with a little smile.
“Oh no, Tonks,” Remus replied in the same manner, hitching his backpack up on his shoulder and stepping out into the square. “I’m just a weary old man who feels January coming on in his bones, and fresh snow.”
They had reached numbers eleven and thirteen, and were watching number twelve Grimmauld Place grow out of nowhere before their eyes, when there was a very subdued version of an Apparating crack behind their backs, and a loud clanking noise as of glasses being knocked against each other.
“And here’s the wine,” Tonks announced.
“Dammit, yes,” Kingsley Shacklebolt’s voice said, and there he was indeed, swathed in a thick cloak and a scarf in Quidditch colours that Remus couldn’t quite place, and carrying a cardboard box under his left arm. “And bloody heavy it is, too. Let’s see and get these emptied as soon as we can.”
“Levitate them,” Tonks suggested, but Kingsley only shrugged as if it wasn’t worth bothering, and proceeded through the wrought-iron gate and up the steps to the front door of number twelve Grimmauld Place.
It was Remus who let them in, with his hands free to tap the door with his wand. They heard the usual clinking of the chain, the bolt slid back, and the door creaked open. Inside, there was nothing but darkness and silence.
Remus stepped over the threshold – and stumbled backwards, hit by a sudden light so blindingly bright it could only come from the tip of a wand. He raised his hand to shield his hurting eyes, but almost immediately, the wand was lowered.
“Sorry,” muttered a low familiar voice, and a moment later, the gas lamps along the wall of the hallway flickered into life. Sirius was standing on the lower steps of the stairs to their right, wand in hand, its beam now pointing to the floor. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.” He spoke in a dull tone, sounding neither particularly apologetic about their welcome nor particularly delighted to find his expectations surpassed.
“You were asleep,” Remus observed, taking in Sirius’s bare feet, the half-unbuttoned shirt that hung loosely from his thin shoulders, his tousled dark hair and the pillow crease across his left cheek that looked like a scar in the gloomy light. Grey eyes, heavy with sleep, wandered unfocusedly over him, then over Tonks and Kingsley as they stepped inside.
“Where are the others?” Tonks asked immediately. “The Weasleys? Harry?”
“They’ve gone to St. Mungo’s, to keep Arthur company for the New Year,” Sirius replied. “Molly says they won’t be back till late.”
“But – “ Tonks exchanged a look with Kingsley, and she pulled a long face. “You mean they - ?”
Sirius shrugged. “I told them to go,” he said flatly. “Ginny and the twins were babbling about going to Trafalgar Square actually, but Mad-Eye Moody made it pretty clear that he wasn’t going to be the one who would drag their bodies out from under a mound of corpses for their mother to bury if anything went wrong, and since Molly didn’t seem exactly happy about the prospect either, St. Mungo’s it was. Moody went with them, and he’ll see them back home safely,” he added quickly, addressing this last remark to Kingsley, who had been frowning but now nodded in relief.
“And you went to bed,” Tonks concluded in an amused tone. “A fine plan for New Year’s Eve. You and Moody make a great a team these days – one about as cheerful as the other.”
It wasn’t the first time that day that Remus found himself wishing Tonks would just shut her mouth, though he almost instantly reprimanded himself for thinking it. He liked Tonks, he liked her liveliness and her carefree chatter. She was after all one of the very few members of the Order who didn’t need to be handled with kid gloves these days, and Remus couldn’t help finding her company refreshing.
This time, however, she hadn’t only managed to make Sirius‘s face assume a deep scowl, which she could have guessed herself wouldn’t help if she wanted her surprise to be a success, but she had also simply been wrong. Remus had just heard Sirius make the longest coherent speech in several days, and that alone was progress. Sirius had been falling curiously quiet over the past weeks, withdrawing into himself further and further. And although Remus was not about to flatter himself by thinking that Sirius should behave differently towards him than towards anyone else in the house, he couldn’t help noticing with particular regret that Sirius was withdrawing even from him.
And if Tonks was going to make it worse with her overly exuberant party mood now, he would have to do something about it. The last thing he needed tonight was an upset Sirius on his hands, or rather an upset Sirius on one hand and a consequently upset Tonks on the other, not to mention another half dozen upset young Weasleys and their friends once they came back from St. Mungo’s. Remus had found before that his two hands were barely enough at the best of times to offer one to everyone in the Order who needed it to hold on to, but this had the potential to be beyond anything he could handle.
“No Weasleys,” Tonks’s voice woke him out of his reverie. “No Harry. There go my resolutions.” She heaved a deep, rather dramatic sigh.
”Resolutions?” Kingsley asked curiously, balancing the cardboard box on one knee as he pulled the door closed behind them.
“New Year resolutions. I have loads,” Tonks declared proudly. “Like, defeat You Know Who, and then - ”
“Such modesty.” Kingsley gave a deep laugh. “Don’t you think you vastly underestimate yourself, Tonks?”
“What about you then?”
“Your resolutions, Kingsley.”
“Hmm. I don’t think I have any, to be honest.”
“Aw.” Tonks frowned at him. “Just like Mad-Eye always says – “ She imitated the ex-Auror’s deep, dog-like growl. “You have no ambition, Shacklebolt.”
Kingsley chuckled again. ”Ambition is for Slytherins.”
“But you must have something you want to achieve this year!” Tonks insisted playfully.
“Right. Erm - ” Kingsley looked around the hall for inspiration, and his eyes came to rest on Sirius on the stairs. “Yes, I have it. Locate and secure the person of Sirius Black,” he declared with a grin, “and throw a party in honour of the occasion.” He patted his box with one hand, making the bottles chink merrily. “And I win. It’s not even midnight and I’ve already done it.”
“That’s cheating,” Tonks protested.
“Party?” Sirius asked, slightly bewildered. His eyes went back and forth between his three fellow Order members, then settled questioningly on Remus’s face.
“That’s right,” Tonks confirmed brightly. “Maybe not as big as Trafalgar Square, but complete with a week’s supply of some excellent French red, courtesy of one Mundungus Fletcher – don’t ask about the details, we didn’t either – who says Happy New Year to all but excuses himself with urgent business.”
“A New Year party,” Remus elaborated with an almost apologetic little shrug, and let it be followed by a smile to make up for his half-hearted tone. “So go put some shoes on, I’ll just take my stuff upstairs, and then we can start warming up for when the Weasleys come back.” He took a few steps towards the stairs, and the others sprang to life with him. Sirius drew aside to let him pass.
“Shall I take this downstairs?” Kingsley asked, gesturing again at the wine box.
“Yes. No. Hang on,” Tonks instructed her colleague haphazardly. “Let’s just wait here to welcome our surprise guest first.”
Remus stopped dead on the bottom step of the stairs.
“What surprise guest?” came Sirius’s voice from above, and Remus had no explanation for it, but he suddenly felt a knot tighten in his stomach.
“That happens, Kingsley, when you interrupt people,” Tonks said cheerfully. “You haven’t heard all my plans for the new year yet. Resolution number one, defeat You Know Who. Resolution number two, cheer up Severus Snape. And I’m starting to work on the second one tonight. As a matter of fact, right now.”
“Oh, Merlin,” Kingsley muttered under his breath. “In that case, your odds for success are so much better on the first one.”
Remus opened his eyes, hardly aware that they had closed for a moment, and turned sharply on his heel. “You’ve invited Severus Snape to our party?” The knot didn’t loosen, and it didn’t help at all that it had a perfect reason to be there now.
“No, I haven’t, actually,” Tonks corrected him. “I figured he’d never come to a party,” she elaborated, apparently unaware that her news were being greeted with anything but enthusiasm, “so I told him there was going to be a strategic meeting with us Aurors here tonight. To make sure he’d come. And he said he would.” She checked her watch again. “Any minute now. And I can’t wait to see his face when he finds out.” She grinned again, and her spiky bleached hair reflected it by standing cheerfully on end.
“That’s cheating,” Kingsley muttered.
The Aurors good-natured grumbling was nothing, however, to the sense of doom that Remus felt descending on him. He had had that slightly ominous feeling about Tonks’s whole party project right from the start, but if he had still needed a reason to convince him that it had indeed been nothing but a big, big mistake, he had just heard it. Sirius had looked anything but delighted at Tonks’s plans to start with – and now she had, in her charming, blundering way, just managed to make the situation inexplicably worse. Remus almost pitied her. She couldn’t know, the poor thing. Not many people knew. Hardly anyone, thank goodness.
He could sense Sirius shift behind him, but he didn’t dare look around at his friend, not right now. Because, deep down, when it came to it, not even Sirius knew.
“Be nice to him,” Tonks was saying, stirring Remus out of his thoughts. Tonks had made things worse, and Remus was supposed to do something about it. His stomach gave another churn. He needed a plan, some sort of strategy, but his head was throbbing and his mind was blank. Snape, Sirius and me together in the same room for a party, he thought hysterically. Not even two Aurors will be enough to keep us away from each other’s throats.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he heard himself ask.
“Oh come on, Remus!” Tonks exclaimed, completely oblivious to his discomfort. “What’s the point of a surprise guest if everybody knows he’s coming?”
A tap on the door made them all turn, and a moment later, the opening mechanism moved again, and standing on the doorstep, framed against the dim orange streetlights outside, was Tonks’s surprise guest, wearing his usual black cloak and his usual expression of cold indifference. Severus Snape raised an eyebrow at their blank looks.
“Am I late?”
“On the contrary,” Tonks replied, and her face relaxed into a smile. “You’re early. Come in. We’ve still got almost half an hour to go until midnight.”
“I was under the impression that we had agreed to meet at half past eleven,” Snape replied with a politeness that was as meticulous as it was icy. “But of course I may be mistaken.” He stepped inside, and with a sharp clack the door fell closed behind him. “I also recall,” he went on smoothly, “that you mentioned some urgent questions of strategy that needed discussing?”
“Um – “ Tonks made, exchanging a look with Kingsley, who shrugged unhelpfully.
“In which case,” Snape continued, his eyes roving carelessly over their little group, “I suggest that we withdraw to a more appropriate place.” His eyes wandered from Remus to Sirius, two steps up the stairs behind his friend, and still looking for all the world to see very much just out of bed. “It appears that we’re intruding on a private moment of domestic bliss here. You must pardon me,” Snape addressed himself to Remus then, his cold black eyes glittering. “I do not seem to remember that you used to be so liberal with your attentions, nor so public. Or so indifferent about their object.” A contemptuous smile was playing around his lips, and his eyes went back to fix themselves on Sirius. “But I suppose it’s a comfort to be still good for something, Black?”
Remus felt the movement behind his back before anyone else saw it, and instinctively flung out his arm to block whatever was coming from there. His elbow connected with Sirius’s right arm just as the spell whizzed out of the tip of his friend’s wand, sending it zigzagging unsteadily into the curtains that hung on either side of the front door. It had been aimed expertly, and would surely have hit its mark even before Snape had jerked his head aside, if it hadn’t been deflected. But instead, it hit the dark velvet, and with an angry hiss consumed the fabric for three inches in every direction, little blue flames dancing along the blackened edges of the freshly burned hole.
Kingsley gave a belated shout of warning, and a moment later, he too had drawn his wand. The flames flickered feebly and died at a word, and for a moment, there was nothing but the smell of burned cloth descending on a very heavy silence.
“Get out of my house,” Sirius finally said in a chillingly calm tone.
But Snape, if he was shaken at all by the sudden attack, didn’t let it show. “Thank you, I was almost sure I had translated that correctly,” he replied, unimpressed, nodding at the faintly smoking curtains. “And I am perfectly aware that it was worded a trifle more insistently, too. But then, Black, moderation has never been a virtue of yours. I suggest you let him be in charge more often, Lupin, to get rid of all that excess energy.” Remus felt the dark eyes bore into him once more, trapped helplessly under their stare. “If memory serves, you will find yourself not entirely averse to the experience.”
“Snape.” Kingsley Shacklebolt took a few determined, almost menacing steps forward that brought him between Snape and the staircase, his wand still in his hand. “I think it’s better if you go now.”
* * *
Remus never knew how he managed to get Sirius and himself up the stairs, his fingers clenched around his friend’s upper arm, and he never wondered why Sirius just let it happen, why he didn’t struggle as he should have, cursing at Remus to let go of him, to let him go after that greasy bastard to hex him until he spat his guts out. But Sirius did nothing of the sort, just let himself be dragged upstairs and into the small bedroom on the first floor that Remus occupied when he was staying at Grimmauld Place. He gave a little wince when Remus kicked the door shut behind them with an unnecessary bang, but he sat down meekly when Remus pushed him down on the edge of the unmade bed, and still never said a word.
Remus remained standing where he was. For a moment something about the dark room distracted him, and he was unsure what he had even brought them here for. Except to get them both out of the line of fire. Which reminded him.
“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” he hissed. “Kicking a member of the Order out of Headquarters like that!”
“Teaching that filthy little snooper manners, you mean,” Sirius responded, raising his head sharply. “I didn’t invite him into my house, and just because you lot might think it’s funny, I’m not going to – “
“Tonks doesn’t know!”
“She knows he’s a bloody bastard! Anyone with two eyes in their head can see that.”
“You attacked him, Sirius. You drew your wand on him.”
“And how come you’re defending him, Remus?”
“That Stinging Hex would have been enough to set the house on fire!”
“This is my house, right, and I can bloody burn it to the ground if I feel like it!”
They paused for breath. Remus had balled his hands into fists, his nails digging into his flesh. The sharp pain of it made him feel strangely alive.
“I’m not defending him,” he said, a little more calmly than before, but that only fuelled Sirius’s rage.
“Oh, no you’re not, not at all. God, you just stand there and do nothing, just letting him say those things, as if - ”
“Sirius – “
“ – as if – “
“It’s not like there’s any truth to what he said!”
The lie rang sharply in his own ears, and for a moment, Remus almost wished that Sirius would challenge it for what it was, jump up maybe, grab him by the shoulders and shake that painfully guarded secret out of him, once and for all.
“That’s right,” Sirius snapped back with biting irony, but the bite went astray. “It’s great being useless, actually, lovely just sitting here and -”
Remus shook his head vehemently. “That’s not what I meant, I – “
“Oh, I know,” Sirius overrode him, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “No truth whatsoever, more’s the pity. You know, Moony, now that I think about it, I actually wouldn’t mind anyone taking me to bed from time to time. It would break the monotony nicely. Let me know if you ever run into anyone up to the job, will you? I won’t be picky.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying that.”
“Does it surprise you so much?”
Remus took a deep breath, ready for an almost automatic yes, but the word got stuck in his throat.
Sirius’s eyes had been still ablaze a moment before, but now he had lowered them suddenly, as if he was ashamed of the question, or afraid of the answer. He watched his hand as he ran it along the edge of the bed, his fingers toying absently with the folds of the rumpled sheets.
It was then that Remus realised what was wrong with his room.
It was dark, the heavy curtains were drawn, and the fire had burnt down into faintly glowing embers in the grate. But he had been away for several days, and even a magically supported fire couldn’t last that long without refreshing. And he had certainly left the bed in a meticulously tidy state before he had left, too, with all the covers and the blankets neatly folded and arranged.
Remus felt his hair rise at the back of his neck.
“Is that why you sleep in my bed?” he asked quietly.
Sirius merely shrugged.
“Is it?” It came out sharper than Remus had intended it to, almost accusatory, and Sirius pulled a face at the tone.
“It happened to be empty,” he said acidly, raising his eyes to meet Remus’s again. “And you said you weren’t coming back until after New Year.”
They seemed to be watching him, those grey eyes, challenging him out of his reserve. But Remus wasn’t going to let it happen. “Right,” he said in a falsely crisp, business-like voice, crossing his arms. “Well, now that I’m back, shall I find myself another bed to sleep in then?”
A moment too late, Remus realised that he should never have made it a question that could be answered with no.
He beat his retreat with almost indecent haste. “Right, I’m not defending him, or myself, or anyone, Sirius. It might look like it to you, but really, maybe it wouldn’t hurt if we all just grew up at some point.” He spoke calmly now, but firmly, in the tone that he would have used on a student in need of both guidance and reassurance. “We’re being ridiculous, behaving like we were all still sixteen.”
For a moment, it looked to Remus as if he had been able to talk the glint of fury back into his friend’s eyes, but then the spark was gone again, and their grey became veiled and dull.
“Life wasn’t so bad when we were still sixteen,” Sirius said quietly, almost in a whisper.
“What do you – “ Remus began, and then he understood.
“You remember it too, don’t you?”
Sirius’s voice seemed to reach his ears from somewhere very far away, and Remus pulled himself back from the edge of the memory just in time, knowing that if he let himself be drawn headfirst into it now, there would be no coming out again.
Of course he remembered it. There had never been a time in his life when he hadn’t.
“It’s not – it was silly, Sirius,” he said, fighting silently to keep his voice calm and under control. “We were being stupid. We weren’t ourselves. We were drunk, Sirius. Three bottles of Firewhisky between four teenage boys, I ask you. I was completely out of my face by any reasonable standards, and you were so far gone I marvel that you remember anything about that night at all.”
“Every detail,” Sirius said. “As if it was yesterday.”
“Well, it wasn’t,” Remus insisted. “We did a lot of things at sixteen that were not right, if you remember, a lot of things we have no reason to be proud of, and a lot of things that were simply pointless, too, that meant nothing.”
“Nothing.” Sirius echoed the word tonelessly.
“Sirius, I – “ Remus ran a hand through his hair, searching for the right words, or maybe the wrong ones, as long as they only served their purpose. “I never let that stand between us, really, I didn’t. I might not have been able to forget it, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. You don’t have to – believe me, I never thought less of our friendship, just because - because – “ Remus broke off, knowing he was making things worse with every word he said.
Because we almost defiled it that night, in our youth and inexperience and curiosity, with something that had no place, should have had no place, in something so good and pure. I pushed you away, remember, at the last moment, when you had come crawling to me, onto me, on top of me, with that broad, drunk grin on your glowing face. Come on, Moony, your sleepy, slurred voice urged me, and so did your eyes, and the whole of your beautiful body, your open lips on mine, your hands in my hair.
But I knew that you didn’t really mean it, that it was just one of your many sudden crazy ideas, dangerously fuelled by far too much Firewhisky. That you’d be horrified the next morning if you remembered or found out what you’d been trying to get your friend to do with you. Horrified, or worse maybe, amused, cracking jokes about it for years afterwards. And I knew that I could never live with either. So I pushed you off me, laughing at you as I did, calling you an idiot, hoping with all my heart that you hadn’t noticed anything, and that you would not remember.
But Sirius had, and Sirius did, and he was telling Remus so now, telling him by that same pleading look in his eyes that pierced Remus’s heart now like it had done then, and sent the very same shivers running up and down his spine.
“It’s nothing, is it?” Sirius repeated, and his hand on the edge of the bed made a shy little move, as if to reach out for something, or someone, but hesitantly and carefully so as not to startle. Or be pushed away.
“Please,” Remus saw Sirius’s lips form, or maybe he only imagined it, but he couldn’t bear to hear it, his old best friend asking him for something that he might think a kindness, but that Remus knew would nothing but hurt.
Anything, Remus thought wildly. Anything else. But not that.
He suddenly found it hard to breathe. The air in the small room seemed to have grown unbearably dense and stuffy, closing in on him, suffocating him. He turned abruptly and took a few steps towards the window. He drew aside the heavy dark red curtain and opened it, and a stream of cool air flowed into the room. Remus looked out over the lights of the city, his hands resting on the window sill, glad for a moment to have something solid and reliable to hold on to in the turmoil of his mind.
He held on, as he knew he would have to. Remus hadn’t fought this for twenty years for nothing. He hadn’t plunged headfirst into a whole row of distractions, ranging from merely unfulfilling to lately disastrous, to end up having gone around in a circle. He hadn’t stumbled from one mess into the next to crown this unfortunate series with a complete catastrophe. He hadn’t taken advantage of strangers, and even of old enemies, to end by taking advantage of the only friend he had left.
It had never worked, never. Maybe they had been right at the Ministry when they had passed those laws that made anything of the sort plainly and simply illegal for his kind. It had never lasted, and never left him with anything but an aching emptiness in his soul, a sense of loss that he had, and this was the worst of it all, always seen mirrored in his companions’ eyes, too, whenever he had come close enough to see.
Was it so surprising that he had, at last, taken refuge with one whose eyes had been dead already, bottomless, unfathomable, too black and hard to ever reflect any feeling at all?
There was nothing Remus could give him, nothing, but by the time Sirius would know, it would be too late. An old mistake repeated, or a new one made, it didn’t matter – whatever it was, it would make the last light that was left in his friend’s sunken grey eyes die, and Sirius would be left with nothing but a phantom of comfort in a cold heart, an illusion of kindness for old time’s sake.
It could not be.
The wintry air cleared Remus’s head as he had hoped it would. He slowly unclenched his fingers from the window sill as his thoughts were falling back into some sort of order, organising themselves in comfortable, familiar patterns, ready again to let logic have the last word.
“Moony?” The voice that had spoken up behind his back was very quiet, almost a whisper.
Remus didn’t turn around.
“If you could do it for him, you can do it for me.”
A gust of icy wind suddenly swirled up from the darkness below, brushing against Remus’s glowing face like a long, cold, bony finger, mocking the silence that stretched between them.
Far in the distance, over the hum of the city, the first bell began chiming the full hour. First quarter, second quarter, third quarter, midnight. For a fraction of a second, time seemed suspended, and then all the bells awoke at once, swelling up from all around like a wave from the deep, flowing together in one glorious ancient chorus to greet the New Year.
Remus sighed, closed the window and the curtains, and turned back towards the bed.