Sirius moves into Grimmauld Place on a Friday. He left, years ago, on a bright December morning, snow on the ground and the sky threatening more. He goes back on an uncomfortably warm June night, long after midnight and still not quite dark.
"I like the contrast, of course. But there should be thunder," Sirius says. "At the very least, storm clouds. The world really isn't setting the mood."
"That mood being whiny and dramatic," Remus says, which is entirely unreasonable. Sirius just understands better the value of the right ambiance. Remus hoists the rucksack he's carrying a little higher on his shoulders and looks meaningfully at the building in front of them. It looks just as Sirius remembered. A little more weather worn, maybe, but not much. It's still grim, imposing, intimidating. All the things a Black residence should be.
I don't want to do this, Sirius wants to say. There are no prisons like Azkaban, but there's no prison he wants to be in, and that's what this building is going to be.
"Sirius," Remus says, and all the teasing is gone now. The kindness that takes its place steels Sirius's nerves. There's a war on, after all, and if Sirius can't be useful, he can at least provide something that is. For Harry, if for nothing else.
"Stand back," he says. "There's almost bound to be something horrific inside." He has a wild, fleeting hope that the wards won't recognise him, final proof that Azkaban has worked him into something entirely new and alien, but the door swings open to his touch. The horror that greets him is his mother, a demented, shrieking version of her.
"She was actually far less pleasant when she was alive," Sirius says. He's shaking a little, now that they're inside. The air feels thick, foreboding, like it could suffocate him whenever it wanted. Admittedly, it could just be the dust.
"The Black mansion," Sirius says to Remus, with a small bow. "Behold!"
Remus is taking in the peeling wallpaper and the cracks in the ceiling, the ugly portraits. "She had quite the eye for interior design, your mother," he says at last, And Sirius laughs. It echoes strangely in the emptiness, and it brings his mother back out again, screaming about traitors and abominations and filth until Remus helps him shut her up.
"She never did have much of a sense of humour. Quite understandably. Laughter is indicative of low birth, you know." He meant for it to be light, but the bitterness slips through. This house took up a lot of his head while he was in Azkaban, and her most of all. Bad memories were kind of her specialty. Sirius turns away from her. "Kitchen's that way," he says, already walking down the hall towards it.
That's where they find Kreacher, a discovery as shocking as it is unpleasant. "Don't really understand how he's not dead," Sirius says. "Little bastard." He orders him out, infinitely satisfied when he tries and fails to disobey.
Remus is already at work, apparently unperturbed by the reappearance of Sirius's childhood nemesis. Dust rises into the air as Remus mutters charms, and it looks disturbingly alive for a moment before it settles in a neat pile on the floor. It'll take more than that to make this place livable, and cheerful is probably out of the question. The heat outside hasn't permeated; Sirius remembers that from before, how all the stone meant it was almost always cold. He flicks his own wand, a new one, still strange in his hand. A fire flares up in the grate, to high. Sirius is like a kid again, too much magic half the time and not enough skill to control it. While he's cursing and commendably making sure he doesn't burn the whole place to the ground, Remus tests the water. Apparently, it satisfies, because he starts rummaging around the cupboards.
"Shall we have tea?" he asks. He's rinsing out cups now, like this is all perfectly normal, the dust and the dirt and the desolation. That unflappability of his is seeming more and more like an ongoing miracle to Sirius, especially when he's all frayed edges and jagged pieces. It's the sort of thing Sirius might try to hold onto, if he dared.
"If you've got something to spike it with," Sirius says.
Remus grins at him, and that's a bit bloody miraculous too, because it's Moony, not Remus, looking back at him, mischief in his eyes. "I might not have milk," he says, "but I brought the important stuff."
They pass the Firewhiskey back and forth between them, though Sirius can't hold his like he use to. "Nothing surprising there," he says. He's slumped against the wall, empty cup dangling between his fingers. He'd put it down, but he doesn't have the energy. "Not much I can do as well as before."
"Merlin's balls, you always were a maudlin drunk," Remus says. It's gentle, though, almost affectionate. Sirius wonders about that. The fondness. If it's for the boy he was or the man he is, or some better possibility of him Remus held onto. At some point, he should ask about it. Might be a bit awkward, he supposes.
"You never did like talking about that stuff," Sirius says, and that's true. Remus was always secretive, always guarded, even if the secrets he was guarding weren't the ones Sirius imagined they were. Maybe they should have that conversation, too.
"You talked enough for both of us on any subject."
Sirius is still thinking about that one when Remus takes the cup from his fingers. Sirius tries to hold onto it, for no particular reason, but Remus takes it anyway. The next thing he knows, there's cold stone against his cheek, and an angry, dirty house elf staring at him and muttering. Sirius has woken up in worse places, obviously, but not many.
Remus is already up, neat and tidy like he didn't sleep all night in is clothes. He nudges a cup across the floor with is toe. Sirius can see the steam rising off it, and he's not sure he's ever been so grateful for tea in his life.
"He doesn't like you much," Remus says, jerking his head at Kreacher. "I'd say it made him an admirable judge of character, but he doesn't seem all that fond of me, either."
Sirius shrugs, sits up slowly. All his bones ache these days, like the cold is part of them, as essential as marrow and whatever else it is bones have. There's bread to go with the tea, thick slices liberally coated with butter and jam. Sirius doesn't feel entirely up to it. It's not just the alcohol. Padfoot can survive on rats and not much else, but Sirius's stomach rebels at all sorts of things it didn't used to. Getting acclimatised, Remus says. Just one more thing to thank Azkaban for.
"You'll need more food," Remus says, as if reading his thoughts. "Molly's coming down in a few days, once the children are all back from school." He doesn't say that she doesn't want to be in a house alone with someone she thought was a mass murderer, but he doesn't have to. Sirius doesn't even blame her--not much, anyway. "Arthur's going to pop in, and Moody, too."
Sirius nods. "I'll work on the wards." That's why he's here, after all, days before it's going to really become a base for the Order. His warding is still good, and it had saved them more than once last time. He smiles a little. "Probably have to disable some too. I have no doubt my mother left some nasty surprises."
"I'd be disappointed if she hadn't." Remus sets his cup down by the filthy sink. "I'll be back, too," he says. "Can't have you starving."
"Yeah. Tried that. Didn't much like it."
He stands, too. If Remus has to go, than they might as well get on with it. He'd stay, Sirius thinks, if Sirius asked him. But Sirius doesn't know why he'd be asking, or why Remus would be staying, so he bites down on the question, tells himself it's better for both of them. Still, he waits for Remus to start towards the door before he follows. He's not that brave, and when Remus leaves, he's not sure he's brave at all. There's nothing around him but silence, a waiting quiet that feels like it might be reaching for him.
Sirius goes back to the kitchen. He banks up the fire, and he sets Kreacher to work scrubbing the hall floor while Sirius uses his mediocre cleaning spells on the kitchen. He doesn't like Kreacher, but he wants him near enough that his mutterings carry through. Even his mad ramblings are better than nothing. To be honest, they're almost comforting. Azkaban wasn't exactly overflowing with sane, lucid people, after all.
When Sirius first moved out that winter, he'd hated it. He'd hated his family more, of course, so it wasn't like he regretted the decision, and it was nice to come out of the shower naked and fall asleep the same way, and to play his records in the middle of the night, and eat left over takeaway for breakfast. All that had been good, but the flat had been quiet, lonely. And Sirius had never been very much suited to being alone. Even Regulus, arse-kissing and Slytherin wanker that he was, had been someone. At least he responded when Sirius annoyed him or besmirched the family name. No one in the flat did that.
And then Remus came over one wintery day, found Sirius hiding from the world and failing to make soup from curry and jam and some milk that hadn't quite gone off yet. He'd brought the world back in with him, and Sirius had kissed him, forgotten about the soup and the snow on the ground and the family that didn't want him. It had felt like home, even when Remus had to go back to his parents' house; it had been Sirius's flat then, in a way it hadn't been before.
He tells himself Grimmauld Place will be like that. Molly and Arthur will arrive, with a flock of children and pets, and Ron, who seems like a good kid, not least because he doesn't seem to hold Sirius breaking his leg against him. And Hermione and eventually Harry will join them. Nymphadora will be coming around, and some bloke called Kingsley, and Moody and McGonagall, and that's just for starters. Actually, that's a bit alarming too, if he's honest. The people who used to know him, especially. Nobody wants to be the person at the reunion who went to prison for thirteen years and seems like more bones than flesh. But still. There will be people to help clean the place up, and a reminder that there's a whole world going on outside. Sometimes, Sirius worries that there isn't, when it's the middle of the night, and there's no sound at all. That's when he shifts into Padfoot, and the nightmares and the fear recede, at least for a while.
Remus, though, is better at that than Padfoot. He stops by every evening. He brings food--cereal and milk and biscuits are always things Sirius can eat reliably. He sets plates of chicken salads and pasta before Sirius, admonishes him not to eat too much. Sirius makes faces at him and does as he's told, anyway. Mostly, it works out fine, and Remus says, "You're looking better," which is probably a lie. Sirius still feels happier for it. He gave up on what the world thought of him years ago, but Remus feels like a replacement, a more important judge.
"Did you bring me the paper?" he asks, because it's a safer response.
"Have I ever forgotten?" Remus asks. He tosses it across the table, and he fetches a plate of biscuits to put between them. "Try not to make up words this time," he says, as Sirius flips past all the lies pretending to be news.
"Language is very fluid, Moony. In three years from now, remarkful will probably be a word."
"In three years time, then, you can use it in a crossword, and I'll let you."
Sirius's fingers still for a moment, pale against the black print. There's a tightness in his chest, verging on unidentifiable. Since Azkaban, his emotional range takes in anger, fear and protectiveness. The rest is usually confusion, like noises heard underwater, and it's always fleeting. This, though, this hope is unreasonable and it hangs on, even while Sirius tries to push it away.
"Sirius?" Remus asks, and Sirius shakes himself. He's a wreck of a person, a half-mad fugitive with nothing to offer. Remus deserves more, and always has, even when Sirius didn't know it.
"Think the food disagreed with me," he says. "Sorry. Maybe you should--I'm not going to be much company, anyway."
"Padfoot," Remus says, the name a terrible surprise when he's already cracking.
"Moody's coming by tomorrow," Sirius says, rushing on. "You don't have to. I know it must be difficult for you. It's not--you shouldn't--"
"It isn't," Remus says, very softly, but he doesn't argue when Sirius leads him to the door. "I'll be back tomorrow," he says. "You don't get to do this. Not this time."
Then he leaves, and Sirius curls up on the kitchen floor, changing into Padfoot even earlier than usual. In the morning, Moody shows up, as promised. Sirius still feels like all his pieces are rattling around, untethered inside him, but Moody is profoundly and inexplicably comforting, settling in all his eccentricity. He stomps around, muttering mostly unintelligibly. He seems like the only thing in the universe that hasn't changed. Except maybe to get uglier, but Sirius is hardly in a position to hold that against him. And Moody doesn't look at him like he's scared of him, or feels sorry for him.
"You've done a good job," he says, before he leaves. "Place is as safe as it's likely to be. 'Course, we might still all end up dead, but then, that's war for you."
Sirius laughs, and it's strange, revelatory to realise there's someone other than Remus who can make that happen. Someone other than Remus who wants to. Moody looks at him, long and appraisingly. "It's not just Voldemort that's wrong with us, boy," he says, finally. "He's just the worst of us. I'm sorry I didn't do better by you."
Sirius shrugs, and maybe it's the residue of laughter still making him light, or maybe it's the honesty in Moody's eyes, but the usual surge of anger doesn't come. "We all should have done better," he says, and he means that, and is surprised to discover it. And that's more revelatory than anything. The possibility that he's capable of more than what he's been since he got out.
When Remus shows up that evening, Sirius is in the kitchen. There's an empty pot on the stove; there's a cereal box and a pot of jam, some left over spaghetti and a bottle of fire whiskey on the table. Wooing used to be done a little differently when Sirius was young, but Sirius can only work with what he's got.
"What," Remus says, in the tone of a man who already suspects he'll regret asking, "is going on?"
Sirius straightens up from where he's been examining the fridge. He's got half a block of cheese and a pack of sliced ham in his hand. "I thought soup might be a good idea," he says. "It's what people get after they're sick. Or maybe during. The details escape me. But it seemed like a good idea. Something new for me to try, anyway."
Soup had actually seem like a good idea, and then Sirius remembered again that day, Remus coming around, horrified and impressed by Sirius's ineptitude, somehow still looking at him like he was worth having. He wants that again, wants to try living up to it this time.
Remus pulls out a chair now and sits. He's not smiling, but there are crinkles around his eyes, and his gaze is soft when Sirius meets it. "Your ingredients," he says. "They don't seem traditional."
"No," Sirius says. "I seem to have hit a snag." He sets the cheese and the ham down alongside the rest of it. "There are some baked beans in the cupboard too. Do you think they would add or detract from it?"
"From the spaghetti, Firewhiskey, cereal soup?" Remus asks. "I fail to see how you could go wrong with some beans."
Sirius nods. "That's what I thought."
There's quiet then, but this kind feels all right. Remus reaches out, fills it with the crinkle of cellophane as he pops a slice of ham into his mouth. "If you wanted," he says, "I could go out for stuff. You know, carrots and potatoes and other soup-appropriate things."
"You could," Sirius says. He pauses, looks down at his thin, bony fingers on the tabletop. Then he looks up again to find Remus looking back at him, warm and expectant. "Then you could come back," he says. " And you could stay, if you wanted."
Remus rolls his eyes, like he's very long-suffering. "Took you bloody long enough," he says. And then, he has to start ruining it, by being logical and pessimistic. "Sirius, I'm not who I was back then. I'm like all the worst parts of me with a bit more anger and bitterness thrown in. I'm--"
Sirius laughs. That makes twice already today, but this lasts the longest. Remus eventually kicks him, hard and sharp with his sensible and apparently deadly shoes. "Remus," Sirius says. "Moony. Look at what's in front of you. I'm a prisoner in my parents' house and I sleep as a dog because I can't do it well as a human. I'm so angry sometimes I want to say fuck it and leave this whole bloody war to someone else. If it weren't for Harry, maybe I'd even do it." He reaches across the table, fingers fumbling for Remus's hand. It's a tiny distance. Five inches, or maybe six. It's like wriggling through the bars of his cell two years ago, or slipping into Padfoot for the first time. Monumental, a wild and frightening thing. "We're neither of us who we were," he says. "But maybe we can do better this time."
His fingers stop short, not quite touching. Remus reaches out, closes the distance. His fingers curl around Sirius's, gripping tight. "There was--last time. There was kissing, I think."
Sirius is mortified to find he's blushing, but he doesn't look away. "There could be this time, too. If you wanted."