A (last) bit of hope
'You are hiding'.
Sirius's voice echoes in the room, but Remus doesn't turn to him, same as he didn't move when the door opened and the bright light from the hall illuminated the small room he is in.
His hand continues to carefully brush the feathers of the sleeping hippogriff, just as he'd done for the last fifteen minutes.
'You can't hide here', Sirius continues, when Remus doesn't answer. His voice is light and teasing. ''That's my hiding spot. Go find somewhere else'.
It's supposed to be a joke and Remus thinks he was supposed to find good that Sirius' humour is better, but he doesn't laugh.
There is another moment of silence.
'Are you going to ignore me?', asks Sirius, sounding annoyed now. He was always sensible about people not noticing him.
'I am not', Remus assures distractedly. 'I am just concentrating on my task'.
'Merlin, you sound like a prefect all over again. "I can't go, Prongs, I need to finish these reports, they are soooo important"'.
This brings a small smile to Remus' lips.
'From what I remember, I used to go with you anyway'.
'You were just playing hard so you didn't feel so guilty. You obviously wanted to come with us'.
'Yeah, but then I had to wake at dawn to really finish those reports', Remus points out, raising his eyebrows to stare at Sirius, but Sirius doesn't seem impressed.
Well, he never really managed to make Sirius feel guilty, and, in any case, Sirius knows him well enough to know Remus doesn't regret his choices in school.
He'd trade any report for one more night with his friends. There weren't enough of those.
Sirius comes to his side, stroking gently the hippogriff's head; even in his sleep, the animal seems to relax at Sirius' touch. That is one of the strangest friendships Remus has ever seen, and he once knew a group of a werewolf, a dog, a stag, and a rat.
'Moody and Tonks have arrived', Sirius says in a nonchalant voice that doesn't fool Remus for a second. He also knows Sirius very well.
He just nods, careful to avoid looking in Sirius' direction so it's more difficult for Sirius to read him. Won't work, Remus thinks, but he can try.
He just doesn't want Sirius to see that Remus already knows they've arrived - that she arrived. He'd heard the sound of noise in the hall, had heard Mrs. Black's cries echoing through the house and he had known Tonks was there - she always kicked the umbrella stand, so charmingly clumsy. It was fourteen days since he'd last seen her - he wonders if she still keeps her hair pink, if she had asked about him, if she...
He shakes his head, admonishing himself for letting his thoughts roam free. He'd promised himself he wasn't going to think about her - no matter the fact she still appeared in his dreams, where he couldn't control - hadn't wanted to control, because in his dreams there were no problems and they could be together, and if dreams were all he had...
'You got that look, mate'.
Remus' head snaps in Sirius' direction, but Sirius isn't even looking at him. He's smirking, though, like a cat that knows it caught the mouse.
Or rather a dog with a wolf, in their case.
'I don't know what you mean', says Remus with all the dignity he can muster, hoping his tone is enough to let Sirius drop the matter for once.
It's not, but then again Sirius was never one to drop the bone.
'The wolf-in-love look', Sirius explains helpfully. 'That one that makes you look like a puppy, or, well, more like a dog that needs to be neutered, you know, when the dog is all over the place with his -'
'I get the idea, thanks, no need to go on'.
'Well, that look. And considering the reason for your lovesickness is downstairs, I don't know what you are still doing here'.
'I am just busy', Remus whispers without any conviction. 'Since Buckbeak isn't flying outside, most caretakers recommend -'
'Moony, I appreciate your top grades in Care of Magical Creatures - we seemed to find it rather ironic if I remember correctly -, but you are avoiding the subject here... Merlin, you were really hiding, weren't you?'
Sirius is staring at him concentrated now, and Remus wishes he'd thought of another place to hide. Well, not to hide, he wasn't doing that; he was just in search of a safe place to be while he avoids a beautiful temptation in the form of a twenty-three years old woman who has (most of the time) bright pink hair and makes his heart beat faster.
Also, a place where he doesn't have old friends that know him too well.
'What's going on?', Sirius asks at least. 'Two weeks ago you were offering to do anything if it were with Tonks - you took the Knight Bus to Scotland to be alone with her, for heaven's sake - and now you don't even want to see her?'
'I wasn't -', he begins but Sirius' lifted eyebrows make him lose his courage to lie. 'I just need some time alone'.
'Remus -', now Sirius' voice is sounding really concerned, and for a moment Remus is taken back to the Hospital Wing in Hogwarts in his Third Year, waking up to see James and Sirius around his bed, looking at him worriedly after one of his worst nights. They had refused to leave his bedside all day. 'I thought it was just the full moon last week, but it's something else, isn't it?'. Sirius pauses, then he looks troubled as some thought crosses his mind. 'Did she - I thought Tonks was also - are you hurt?'
Remus shakes his head, denying it. That's the problem, really, he is not hurt. He is the opposite of it, because he is in love and he never felt that exhilaration before, never believed in it really, even though he'd seen people fall in love before.
It just had never seemed like something that could have happened to Remus.
It can't happen, he says to himself, you and her, it can never be. You can't be in love.
Except Remus never really had a choice in it. It had just…Happened.
'I'm going to call her here if you don't tell me, Moony'.
'She fancies me. We were on this mission together a couple of weeks ago, she was saying that you are still handsome even after everything, and I lost control, I got jealous and stupid and then Tonks - she - she told me if I stopped being sorry for myself, I'd see it was me that - that she fancied'.'
The words slip out of Remus' lips without him controlling it, and the only thing he thinks is that he isn't really telling the truth.
She told him she is in love with him. Not just fancying him.
Still, Sirius beams.
'Good hippogriffs, that's great! I'm glad to know I'm still handsome, but I'm so happy for -'
'It's not "great", Padfoot. It's… it's bad'.
'But you fancy her too' says Sirius confused, and Remus wishes that his feelings for Tonks hadn't slipped out in a drunk confession to Sirius when they were overcelebrating New Year's.
'My feelings don't matter'.
'Of course they do', Sirius says critically. 'You've been pinning all over her, with that gentle sad smile that's your charm, and now that Tonks actually reciprocates your feelings, they don't matter?'
'I never… I never thought -'
'That she could like you back, I know, but guess what? She does'.
'She shouldn't, I mean, look at her and - and look at me'.
'Kind of opposites attract maybe. She is lovely, you are a git'.
'I'm being serious'. When Sirius opens his mouth, his eyes already shining with the joke, Remus raises his hand to stop him. 'Not now, Sirius. I mean it, look at me and tell me what you see'.
'A very fine gentleman, with greyish hair that looks actually distinguished, lines of experience in his face and, as James once said, deep green eyes that can see your soul'.
This distracts Remus for a minute.
'I think he was talking about Lily, Padfoot'.
'No, pretty sure it was you. He didn't have that goofy face he had when he was thinking of Lily. But he was actually pissed, so who knows -'
'My point is that what you see is an unemployed thirty-six years old man who lives in his friend's mother's house with no perspective of life… and I'm a werewolf'.
As he expected, the last phrase makes Sirius scowls, annoyed.
'Except for your age, none of it is your fault'.
'Doesn't change the fact it's true'.
'Well, true or not, she doesn't seem to care'.
'But it does. Me and Tonks - we - we can't be together'.
Sirius looks at him as if Remus had grown another head.
'I don't get you, Moony. You spent one year getting to know her, finding any excuse to be here when she returns from her watches, volunteering to missions that sounded boring even to me who would do anything to get out of this hell… and for what?'
Remus resists the urge to grab his hair and pull it out. None of his friends - none of the Marauders - seemed to ever truly understand what he was; they always seemed to put Remus on a pedestal that reality would crush.
'It was supposed to be platonic. It was supposed to be me letting myself just dream and enjoying her presence until - until she would meet a nice young handsome Auror and then -'
'How much firewhiskey did you drink?'
'You must be drunk to be so out of your mind. My cousin has been smitten with you ever since she fell the first day and you offer her your hand, like a prince'.
'But I'm not the prince, I'm the mons -'
'Don't you dare, Remus', Sirius cuts him off, with a growl that makes Buckbeak wake, nervous. 'We forbade you a long time ago of calling yourself a monster'.
Remus thinks of their Second Year, of the night he came back to the Boy's dormitories to hear his friends telling him they knew of his secret - he'd been so ashamed and scared, unable to meet anyone's eyes, promising them he would leave and telling them he was sorry for being a monster.
('You are not a monster!', Sirius had said, grabbing him by the shoulders and making Remus look in his direction. 'Don't ever say that again!'. And then James and Peter were there too. 'You just have a furry little problem', James had added, with that easy crooked grin that had first drawn Remus to him. 'And above all, you are our friend. If you ever want to define yourself, remember what you are. A Marauder')
'A half-breed, then', he says tiredly.
'That's Umbitch talking, and I refuse to hear anything that cow says, Moony'.
'I'm not human, not really'.
'Give me your hand'.
Remus blinks, puzzled, but he offers his hand anyway. Sirius puts his hand over his.
'See? Very much the same. Five fingers. Normal skin. Human'.
'Once a month -'
'Once a month I used to turn into a dog. How normal is that? Tonks changes her hair colour twice a day. Talk about normal, who wants to be normal?'
'You are boringly normal, Remus. You are just a typical guy that once a month becomes intolerable, but if I could bet Tonks also has this kind of day'.
'I am too old for her'.
'I would say that age means experience, but you are so old-fashioned that it wouldn't even be true… so I'll say wines are better the longer they are left alone on the barrels'.
Sirius seems very satisfied with his metaphor, but Remus doesn't smile.
'She is too young'.
'She is a grown-up adult, you know that, right? Tonks can make her own decisions, even if it means falling for old grumpies such as you'.
'Not helping, Sirius'.
'I'm trying. You were the one who was good at helping people feel better - or was it James? Both of you were better than me, anyway. What I mean is that you are both adults, so anything you consent to is valid'.
'I'm too poor'.
'I've heard Aurors are paid well, so she can totally support you both… Ok, not helping, I know. But I mean it, stop being old-fashioned in this at least. Money is not an issue, and once this is over, you will get a normal decent paid job with three days-off every month'.
That surprises Remus, making him stop and smile for real now. He can hear the optimism in Sirius' voice, and after one year in that bloody house, with Sirius being more and more recluse and upset, it's nice to see him hoping for once.
Even if it's a vain hope, one that Remus cannot see himself.
'Now can you stop hiding? Do you know what James would have said if he saw you like that?'
'"If you want to hide you should have taken my Invisibility Cloak, Moony"?'
Sirius laughs loudly, even if there is a hint of sadness in his tone, the same one that is always there when he is thinking of Prongs.
Almost fifteen years later and it's evident that Sirius still misses his best friend like if he died taking a part of him.
It's a feeling Remus shares, but he thinks it's easy for him. He feels grief, not guilt, and he had more time to learn how to live with it.
'He'd have kicked you in the arse', Sirius says when he stops chuckling. 'And tell you that if he had the nerve to ask Lily out when it was more likely she'd rather hex him than date him, you can face a girl who already fancies you'.
'Well, that paid him off in the end'.
'That's 'cause Lily would never resist his charm', Sirius says playfully, copying one of James' most presumptuous voices. It was one that had seemed to drive Lily mad, but in hindsight, Remus thought it was because she actually enjoyed it; and, after all, James had used that tone more as a joke than anything as he got older.
Thinking about them makes his heart heavy with longing. They had shined so brightly together…
'They were perfect together', Sirius says suddenly, his thoughts in synchrony with Remus'. 'I think about them all the time, of how… how they made the right choices'. A shadow crosses his face. 'Well at least until the end'.
'What do you mean?'
'They didn't lose time. The moment they knew that they loved each other, nothing else mattered. None of James' past mistakes, none of her insecurities. They would fight in the war, and they would be together for as long as fate would allow it. Even Harry, you remember how -'
'They were so scared, I don't think I've ever seen James so terrified before'.
'He didn't even flinch before suggesting we became animagi, but talked about a baby and he was afraid', Sirius chuckles briefly, before looking beyond Remus. 'What I mean is… They lived. Shortly, not enough as they should, but they lived more than me and you'.
'We are alive, Padfoot'.
'Are we really? I'm back in this godforsaken house and sometimes I'm mad because James promised I'd never step foot again here, but he is dead, and I… I am a ghost'.
'You are alive', Remus insists and now he is the one taking Sirius' hand. 'See? Warm. That's because your heart is pumping blood through your body. While your heart is beating, you are alive'.
'That's my point!', cries Sirius. 'If this poor excuse of a human that's me gets to be alive, then it should have a meaning, right? I won't live to see my end in this house. You and I both, we deserve a chance to really live, and we can do it. As James did'.
If it were anyone else, Remus would think of denying it, and would list again all problems he has. But this is Sirius talking; Sirius, who once told him he wasn't a monster, who hugged him after his mom died, who is his best friend, to whom Remus promised he wouldn't ever mistrust again.
Sirius, who spent twelve years alone in Azkaban, who suffered more than anyone Remus has ever known but has come to grace him now with that little bit of hope that Sirius never seems to grace himself.
'Okay, I can work with that', Remus says finally, smiling, and that makes Sirius grin.
'So can I prepare for the wedding? I've got really good recommendations -'
'James had to lock you before his wedding', Remus remembers in a false severe voice, and they both share a smile. 'Something about a real stag party?'
'In a zoo, yeah, he wasn't amused. So no wedding yet?'
'No, just… just control yourself as much as you can. We'll start slow. I will - I will ask her out. On a date. One that doesn't involve us hiding behind bushes'.
'Oh, if it's your kink, don't be shy'.
'A very fine one I have, yes', jokes Sirius and Remus can't help but chuckle freely for the first time in two weeks. Sirius watches him thoughtfully. 'I mean it all, Remus, do you know that, right? I'm a poor bastard, but you should be happy. You deserve to be happy. Promise me you won't forget this'.
There is something soberer than usual in Sirius' eyes, some urgency that takes away Remus' sudden desire to just joke about it. There is a cold feeling in his spine that he forces himself to ignore.
'I won't', he says. 'But try to do -'
He stops when he hears someone coming up the stairs - the sound is rather erratic as if someone is missing a few steps now and then, and it is a sound Remus recognizes so easily that he can't help but sigh fondly.
Sirius grins knowingly to him, seeming more at ease, and Remus almost expects him to start winking and giving them his blessing…
'Wotcher, guys', Tonks says when she appears at the door, her pink hair reddening slightly when her eyes meet Remus. Ignoring the nudge from Sirius in his back, he smiles at her, for once letting his imagination flow free.
A date, yes, that would be nice. He doesn't have the money for a nice dinner, but he could cook for her - but where? Not in Grimmauld Place, for sure, and he wouldn't suggest her house for a first date (Sirius is right in calling him old-fashioned). Maybe a picnic then? He cooks here and then they go to a nice park in London, somewhere no one would recognize them, where they could be just two lovebirds sharing chocolates and then, if he dares to hope, a kiss -
'Looking for someone?', Sirius asks innocently, and Remus wants to smack him. Sirius is never innocent, which is obvious even for Tonks, who glances at Remus with a strangely shy expression on her face.
Guiltily, he remembers he never answered her when she told him she was in love with him.
He'll make it right, he promises, and for once, instead of feeling concerned with the knowledge she likes him back, Remus lets this thought fill him with hope.
It can be okay. It will be.
'Actually, it's you', Tonks says, sounding a little puzzled as she looks back to Sirius. 'Snape just sent a patronus, he said the most unbelievable thing, for some reason Harry thinks you are in danger…'
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