It was Halloween. There had been whisperings all day of an attack, and Sirius Black, on edge, had been ordered to remain both calm and in his flat. It was not an easy task by any means, and he resolved to stay only until midnight. By then, if he had heart nothing, he would go to Peter.
Sirius stared at the yellow-tinged bottle of Ogden’s on the table his feet were propped on, ankles crossed. He reached for it, bypassing his still-full glass, and took a swig. He jerked his gaze to the door at a thump in the hallway.
“Bloody old codger,” he muttered, thinking about the nutty old Muggle across the hall who liked to cast disapproving glances at those “freak delinquents” in that flat there.
He held the bottle against the inside of his thigh and leaned back. The couch was stuff, scratchy, yet he’d been sleeping on it for a month, at least, ever since Remus–
Each time Remus had gone out “on Order business,” it was for longer than the time before. This time, it had been a month—a month doing God-knows-what with God-knows-who. But always—always—returning battered and beaten and sleeping for days.
Sirius hated it. He hated that he was helpless unless ordered for something. While his friends were off on business (hell, even Peter had business to do), Sirius was stuck waiting. (Though James was not-so-kind to remind him that at least Sirius wasn’t hiding, like a coward, idle, waiting.) He growled, pulling his lips back, at the bottle between his legs.
The door swung open suddenly, and Remus stumbled into the doorway to lean against the jamb - he was thinner than he had been a month ago, he bore a new set of scars, and his clothing was in tatters. The most unsettling thing about his appearance, though, was the frightened look in his eyes.
"He got Frank and Alice." His voice was hollow, and he didn't move from where he was standing in the doorway.
Sirius snapped his head toward the door, mouth open. It took him a moment to even recognize that it was Remus standing in the doorway. Another moment before he heard the echo of his words. “He—what?” His hand was trembling against the bottle as he let out a shaky breath. “James and Lily—? Are they—?” He couldn’t get anything out. He was stuck to the couch.
He wanted to get up, cross to Remus, take him in his arms, but he found that he couldn’t do anything.
"I-I don't know." Remus shook his head. "James and Lily - they must be fine. But Frank and Alice - they're dead, Sirius." He gripped the frame of the doorway with a shaking, dirty hand and pulled himself inside. Reaching behind him, he pushed the door closed and leaned against it, head bowed.
"Thank god," Sirius sighed, relieved. He took a moment, eyes closed, to relax. Then, realizing how that must have sounded, shook his head briefly. "I mean, about James and Lily--not--" He swallowed.
He pushed the bottle back onto the table and stood quickly. "Sit, please," he said. He took a step toward Remus, to grab hold of his arm, help him, anything, but stopped and turned to the kitchen. "I'll make tea." He didn't look at Remus as he hurried into the small, cluttered kitchen. "Tell me everything you know."
Remus stumbled over to the vacated couch and collapsed into it. "Frank and Alice are dead," he repeated once more. Each time he said it, it became more real, but no less horrifying. "He killed them personally. But -" Remus paused and looked up toward Sirius. "Their boy, Neville - he's not dead. Somehow he managed to survive the attack."
"Neville survived?" Sirius asked, because he didn't understand. He flicked his wand to heat water in teacups. He fumbled with tea bags, dipped them in.
"How is that possible? Where's Voldemort? Surely he'll go to James and Lily next." Panic began to swell in his throat. "We have to get to them now." His hand slipped, and a mug shattered at his feet. He cursed.
"It's being said that- that Voldemort is dead, Sirius." Remus rested his head in his hands, confusion etched onto his face. "I don't know how it's even possible, but Dumbledore, the Order - they say he's dead." He frowned - too much in shock to feel any elation at this possibility. "And if that's true, then the war is all but over."
"But what about his Death Eaters?" Sirius asked quietly. He was trying to stay calm. There was nothing else he could do, unless he wanted to run to Peter, find Lily and James but -- if there was anyone Sirius obeyed, it was Dumbledore, and Dumbledore had said to stay put.
He bent and gathered up the broken teacup by hand, rubbing his thumb along the jagged edges. He dumped the pieces into the rubbish bin. Not bothering with a second cup, he took Remus the first, already dark with tea. He moved to stand in front of him. "Are you alright?" he asked.
"As much as I can be." He took the proffered cup with a quiet "thank you" and sipped at the hot tea - the first food he's had all day, maybe even in the past two days. It had all begun to blur together. Clutching the cup between his hands to warm them, he smiled weakly at Sirius with the corner of his mouth. "Just need some rest and a good meal, that's all."
Sirius offered immediately to cook for him. "Can't do anything else," he muttered, though he didn't move from his spot in front of Remus. He couldn't even floo James and Lily, or owl, or - anything right now. He realized Remus wouldn't know any of that though, that he hadn't taken on the role of secret-keeper.
He tensed and straightened suddenly, his whole body going rigid. What if it was a trap? What if Remus came here after so long away to get the secret out of Sirius, unknowing that Sirius didn't have the secret? He swallowed heavily and shook his head, gazing absently at the closed door. No, Remus wouldn't have -- but he wouldn't have just burst out with it either. If he was working --
Sirius, trying not to shake with nerves or rage or both, sat at the edge of the couch and looked over at Remus. "How long will you stay now?"
Remus stared down into his teacup. "I don't know. If he really is dead, maybe I won't have to leave again." He didn't sound very hopeful that this would be the case.
"I don't want you to leave again," Sirius said suddenly and without thinking. He closed his eyes for a moment and swept a hand back through his too-long hair. He should have cut it, but he didn't have the time. "You mean, you don't know for sure if he's dead? I thought -" He didn't know what he thought, but he had been about to accuse Remus, and he didn't want that.
"It just seems like it would almost be too much to hope for. We've all had so many disappointments over the past few years - but if Dumbledore says it -" He himself had only heard the news an hour ago. He was still digesting it, still fighting back his disbelief. "It must be true."
"Did Dumbledore say it?" Sirius asked quickly, loudly. He leaned forward. Why hadn't he heard anything yet? He was as much a part of the Order as Remus was, so why hadn't be been notified? What part of this was --?
A scratching sounded from the window, and Sirius jumped, his hand jerking for his wand.
Remus mumbled something about having heard it from someone in the Order who heard it from Dumbledore as he set down his teacup and stood, wand drawn. He approached the window and opened it, letting a large, black owl hop from the windowsill into the room.
Sirius's cheeks heated, and he stood as well, squaring his shoulders and noting that the envelope in the owl's beak bore the seal of the Order. He snatched it before Remus could and the owl flew away, wings beating.
He tore it open.
Sirius, it read, I regret to inform you that, while Voldemort appears to have been vanquished, it would be unwise to do anything rash. Lay low with Remus, keep him close, and don’t look for James and Lily yet. Any news you may have heard it true: He murdered Frank and Alice earlier this evening, turning on their boy, Neville, who resisted the curse and survives. I believe Mad-Eye has already coined the term "the boy who lived." I am sure it will be around the gossip tracks soon enough. For now, stay still. I will send news the moment I have any. Albus Dumbledore.
Sirius looked up at Remus, taking in the worried lines on his face. He looked older than he had just a month before. "He's gone," he whispered.
"May I?" Remus reached for the letter.
For a moment, Sirius thought he shouldn't hand it over. But he did, letting his hand brush past Remus's along the way. He swallowed.
As their hands briefly touched, Remus glanced up at Sirius, a twisted feeling in his stomach. They hadn't seen each other in a month, and hadn't really been together in what felt like a much longer period of time.
The letter snapped him back to reality. He read it twice, his hands shaking. "But how - poor Neville, but - he's really gone."
"Hell," Sirius said with a slight bark of laughter, "best news I've heard in years. Better, though, that Prongs is alive." Prongs -- when was the last time they'd even used those nicknames?
"It's terrible about Frank and Alice." Remus glanced over the letter one more time. "But if he's gone, then this is brilliant news - and Lily and James, safe." What more could they ask for under such circumstances, really? - He wondered.
Sirius nodded warily. "Yes, safe," he said. And they were, he thought, they had to be. "I - Remus, I don't know for sure if they are," he admitted, placing a hand on the inside of his elbow.
Remus' head jerked up. "What?"
He looked away for a moment. "Peter did it," he said. "He was their secret-keeper. I haven't spoken with James since they went into hiding."
For an instant, Remus was almost angry - hurt that Sirius hadn't told him until now, but their lives had been so hectic and secrecy so important that after only a moment's hesitation, his frown became a worried one. "Were they sure it was for the best?"
"Why wouldn't it be for the best?" Sirius asked, almost haughtily. "It's just Pete, what would he do? It's not like they'd come sniffing at me for my family connections. And it's not like you -" He snapped his mouth shut and looked away. "I'm sorry, Remus."
Remus shook his head. "Don't be. All of us have been under so much pressure it's a wonder we haven't been snapping at each other more." He forced a smile. "But we should be celebrating right now, really."
"Celebrating?" He paled a bit. "Oh! Yes, I suppose you're right. I'm - Moony, I'm glad you're back. I really am. I know you don't want to hear it, but I worry so much when you're gone."
Remus felt his ears warm. Sirius was right - he didn't like it when he worried about him, partly because he simply did not like the idea of someone else being made to be unhappy if some misfortune should befall him - which was an all-too-likely possibility as of late. "Well, I'd worry if you were gone for so long." He looked down at his feet and realized that he was in dire need of new shoes.
"Would you?" Sirius asked quickly. He side-stepped and reached for the bottle of whiskey he left out. He topped off the glass and handed it to Remus, who looked like he needed it. He held the bottle tightly in his other hand.
"Of course I would." Remus tilted his head back slightly and took a large swallow of the whiskey. "You're my best mate and -" He let the sentence dangle, unfinished and took another swig of his drink.
"We used to be more than that," Sirius said dryly, staring into the neck of the firewhiskey's bottle. He debated taking a long, slow sip, but didn't.
Every response that Remus came up with in his head seemed inadequate, so he just took a sip of his whiskey and sighed. "I'm sorry."
"So'm I," he mumbled again, then tossed his head back and took a long swallow straight from the bottle. The alcohol burned pleasantly, filling his chest and stomach.
Remus drummed his fingers against his almost-empty glass. "We could be more than that again." He was somewhat startled by his own boldness - he usually wasn't the one to bring up things like that.
Sirius tensed, the hair at the back of his neck prickling. He squeezed the bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked at Remus. "Are you sure? I wouldn't want to force you into anything you're not interested in." He couldn't keep the bitterness from his tone.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Remus' voice now carried an edge to it, too.
"I mean you're the one who just goes away, without telling me. Who said this wouldn't work in the first place. Who said it wasn't working. It was working just fine until you saw fit that it didn't anymore."
"Do you think I made the choice to go? That I volunteered happily? I wasn't out on holiday. This was all Order business, Sirius." Remus' voice lowered and he sunk back onto the couch. "And we both know that he was quite willing to use those we care about against us."
"I'm not certain what you want me to tell you." Remus reached forward and took the bottle of firewhiskey, refilling his glass.
Sirius didn't answer right away. He watched Remus fill his glass, watched his hand through the glass bottle. "I dunno," he said softly, finally. He looked at the floor. "Maybe - now that he's gone - it will get easier." To trust again, he finished silently.
"It will." Remus tried to sound more confident than he felt and swallowed half his whiskey in one gulp. In the back of his mind, he knew he shouldn't be drinking so quickly, but the warmth of the alcohol was filling him in a way that he felt he needed at the moment.
Sirius took the bottle from Remus. "Stop that," he said. "We should at least do it properly, like you said." He was scowling. He raised the bottle though, and took a deep breath. "To - the memory of Frank and Alice," he said carefully. He waited for Remus to add his toast.
Remus raised his glass and nodded. "To the memory of Frank and Alice, and to Neville Longbottom - the boy who lived."