War changes everything, and sometimes a peaceful interlude is all that can keep two men sane. (Foreshadows HBP, indirect spoilers for OotP)
The late afternoon sun threw the neighborhood of Grimmauld Place into long, dusty shadows, and the only thing to notice the muffled "pop!" that accompanied a man's appearance was a large calico cat. Said cat hissed threateningly as the man stepped out of the shadows, untangling a long leather cord from around his neck. "Off you go, cat," the man said with a hint of weary dislike, shaking his satchel at the feline. With an offended parting glare, the cat leaped away.
Without seeming to look around him, the man walked up the steps to a shabby, derelict house and knocked twice on the door, where slightly less-faded paint showed where the numbers 1 and 2 had hung before. He heard the shuffle of feet and the door swung open silently on its hinges. "Remus!" the red-headed woman greeted him in a low, relieved voice as she grabbed his arm and pulled him forward, "Dumbledore said we should expect you tonight, but I didn't think you'd arrive before dark. Planning on staying for supper?"
Shutting the door behind him, Remus Lupin nodded at Molly Weasley and replied "Wouldn't miss your cooking for the world, Molly. Especially since I haven't had a good home-cooked meal in weeks."
Molly Weasley frowned as she scrutinized the man beside her. "I do wish Dumbledore would let you come back more often, Remus. You're nothing but skin and bone."
"And fur," Remus added with a small laugh. He patted the Weasley matriarch on the shoulder and continued down the hall, "Thank you for the concern, Molly. Will you let me know when Arthur or Kingsley gets in?"
"I will," she replied, heading back towards the kitchen area of the house where a kettle had began to whistle, "Dumbledore's Silent Apparation charm giving you trouble again?"
Remus nodded as he headed up the stairs, then realized the silent gesture could not be seen and spoke up. "It doesn't seem to mix too well with werewolves. I'll have to ask if Professor McGonagall is having the same problem."
"He's in Buckbeak's room, if you were wondering." Molly's voice called up.
Remus knocked on the door at the end of the hallway and waited patiently for a reply. When none came, he eased the door open slowly and entered. The only living thing he saw was Buckbeak, staring with his head tilted at the door. "Hello, Buckbeak," Remus said, offering the hippogriff a low bow. The hippogriff almost immediately reciprocated and Remus stepped forward to pat him on his head. "Do you know where I can find Sirius, Buckbeak?"
"Sirius is right behind you," a mildly amused voice answered. When Remus turned around, Sirius flashed him a quick smile and disappeared down the hall, gesturing for the other man to follow. "It's good to see you again, Remus." With a last quick pat for Buckbeak, Remus hurried out the door to catch up.
Remus found Sirius already sprawled out on the worn, heavy bed in his childhood bedroom. "How are you holding up?" he asked the dark haired man as he closed the door behind him.
"Tell me, Remus," Sirius said, ignoring the question, "Is the sky out there still blue? Is the grass still green? Does the ground still smell like new growth after rain? Or have the waters turned to blood and the Muggle children run in fear from Father Christmas?" His voice grew more theatrical until a quiet chuckle escaped from the other man's lips.
"Don't be so melodramatic, Sirius," Remus admonished as he crossed the room. "By the way, I brought you what you asked for." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small rectangular packet and tossed it to the dark haired man, who caught it with easy grace. Easing himself to a seat on the floor next to the bed, he watched as Sirius grinned and ripped open the top.
Taking a cigarette between his long fingers, Sirius twirled it as he spoke. "You're the best, Moony. Got a light?"
"I don't know why you insist on this," Remus answered, reaching up with his wand and lighting the tip of the cigarette, "Or why you insist on asking me to bring them back for you from Muggle shops."
"I can't ever conjure them up correctly. Believe me, I've tried." Sirius took a drag on the cigarette and blew a thin stream of smoke above their heads. "As for why I insist on smoking them, don't you know, Remus? It's what prisoners do. Well, Muggle prisoners, anyway. They sit around their prison cells smoking cigarettes and get into fisticuffs."
Remus winced at the sudden edge in his oldest friend's voice. "You're not a prisoner, Sirius," he said gently. "And how would you know what Muggle prisoners do anyway?" Sirius waved his hand at a corner of the room, and Remus noticed a squat black box with a square of glass set into its front. "A television?" he asked in surprise, "Why is there a television here?"
"Hermione brought it and figured out how to power it," Sirius explained, still lazily blowing smoke to the ceiling, "Sweet girl, that Hermione. She thought I might get bored, so she's been sending me these Muggle things, movies."
"Hermione really is the cleverest witch her age," Remus murmured as he peered behind the television set. He couldn't make out how she had powered it, but he suspected something to the effect of magically running a cable to houses nearby. He turned back to Sirius and frowned, "Please tell me you haven't been getting into fisticuffs with Molly."
The statement shocked Sirius such that he dropped the cigarette and began coughing, having choked on the inhale. Remus quickly ground out the embers and conjured up a glass of water that he handed to the coughing man. Sitting back, he waited in companionable silence until the coughing stopped and Sirius caused the empty glass to vanish with a lazy wave of his wand. "No, Remus," Sirius replied, his voice a mixture of amusement and resignation, "I have been a model prisoner. I've stayed where they've said stay, and I've only kicked Kreacher twice. Maybe I should just lounge around the house as Snuffles; what do you think of that?"
Remus' frown deepened and he placed a thin hand on Sirius shoulder. "Can we talk about something else, please, Sirius?"
Turning his head to face Remus, Sirius softened at the pain in his companion's eyes. "Alright, Remus," he allowed, laying his hand over the one at his shoulder, "So tell me about your latest trip. Eat any good raw squirrels this time?"
The narrow, tired face suddenly seemed a decade younger as Remus Lupin threw his head back and laughed. At the pure, unadulterated sound, tension seemed to leech out of the set of Sirius Black's shoulders and the pair fell to spirited talk of the business at hand.
Remus basked in the companionable silence that had fallen, his head resting lightly against Sirius' stomach as he sat comfortably on the floor while Sirius sprawled on the edge of the bed. "We should help Molly with dinner," he said, glancing at the last red-gold rays of sunlight that filtered into the room.
"Arthur won't be back for a while. She'll call us if she needs any help; I doubt she does, she's used to cooking for a lot more people," Sirius answered before sinking back into a thoughtful silence. Remus began to doze off, and jerked in surprise when Sirius spoke again. "Remus, what do you know about Nymphadora?"
"Tonks?" Remus asked in surprise, "Not much. I see her around here, and we had an interesting discussion early in the summer about the differences between metamorphmagi and werewolves while we were scouting for potential Order members at Gringotts. She mentioned how she hated being a metamorphmagus when she was younger, because whenever she sneezed her hair would end up looking like shrubbery for the rest of the day."
Sirius gave a short laugh and lapsed back into silence; though curious, Remus waited for the other man to explain the abrupt change in subject matter, or if he would. "She fancies you," Sirius finally said with an air of nonchalance.
"What?" Remus turned his head and looked Sirius full in the face. Only then did he notice the almost imperceptible tightness around Sirius' mouth that belied the nonchalance in his tone.
"Tonks was here several days ago, and she came up to me asking about you," Sirius explained, "She thought that since I was your friend, I would be able to help her." He laughed, forcing a playful note into his voice, "Kind of ironic, isn't it? She asked for help from the one person who has the most reason to keep her away from you."
"Sirius..." Remus said quietly, "There's nothing anyone could say that would make me choose her over you. I've known you for most of my life."
Sirius's smile became genuine, and he reached up to brush away a lock of light brown hair that had fallen in Remus' face. "You may, once you get to know her," he said simply. Before the man in front of him could protest, he continued, "Tonks would be good for you, Remus. Better than me, at the very least. You could have a family, with happy little children that suddenly sprout wolf's ears whenever they cough. All I can give you is a life holed up in this dark little house."
Remus shook his head and caught Sirius' hand in a strong grip. "That's not true. After the war, we'll clear your name. We'll travel, go see everything we talked about. Remember how we always said we were going to go to the States and see their Grand Canyon? How we talked about how amazing they would be to run around in moonlight?" Remus twined his fingers with Sirius' and stared fixedly at their laced hands. "You're the only one I want, Sirius," he insisted, his voice soft.
"Remus," Sirius said, his voice equally soft, "Remus, look at me." He waited until Remus met his eyes again before continuing, "You and I both know that there might not be an 'after the war,' Remus. If we make it through alive, I promise, we will travel, and we will explore the Grand Canyon during a full moon. But if I don't, I want you to promise me something. I want you to get to know Tonks. I'm not asking you to promise to marry her and have fifteen children; I just want you to get to know her, let her know the Moony I know. And if you do decide to have kids, name one for me."
Unable to pull away from Sirius' intent grey eyes, Remus nodded silently as an all too familiar muffled shrieking began downstairs. "Someone must have woken up your mother," Remus said, the attempt at a lighthearted quip ruined by a small catch in his voice.
Sirius eased his grip on the other man's hand and smiled, sitting up. "We should go see who came, and save them from Molly's tirade. She's not very fond of Mother." Remus nodded with a faint smile and rose, pulling Sirius with him with an expectant look. "I'll meet you downstairs; I just want to make sure Buckbeak's got his dinner," Sirius reassured him.
Sirius watched the all too familiar slender figure of Remus Lupin disappear down the stairs before turning to the room at the end of the hall. Pushing open the door, he met the hippogriff's eyes and sighed deeply. "I know, Buckbeak, you don't have to look at me like that," he said, dipping his head to the large creature. "I know I said I was going to let him go." Sirius' voice lowered and became introspective as he moved about the room, pulling a large tray over to the hippogriff and drawing lazy circles in the air above the tray with his wand, "But I couldn't. I can't let him go, Buckbeak. I know I'm not good for him; I've lost too many years, I'm too stuck in our Hogwarts days. I still see James when I look at Harry. And... I can't lose him too. I've already lost James, I can't give Remus up."
A pile of assorted vegetables and meat appeared on the tray and Buckbeak lowered his head to sniff at the pile, still fixing his eyes on Sirius as Sirius turned towards the door. "Eat up, Buckbeak."