Remus knows Sirius well enough to be very, very apprehensive. All throughout breakfast he’s remained uncharacteristically silent, his gray eyes darting back and forth between Tonks and Remus with a look of dawning comprehension on his face. Remus doesn’t know what it is that’s being realized, and suspects this ignorance is thoroughly beneficial to his sanity.
“I’ll see you tonight at dinner, then,” Tonks says as she finishes up the last of her coffee, beaming at him.
“Wonderful,” Remus answers. “See you then.”
Tonks somehow manages to trip over the chair as she stands; her clumsiness really is nothing short of impressive. She wavers precariously on the spot for a split-second before falling forward – Remus is quick to reach out and catch her by the shoulders, steadying her.
“Careful,” he says with a smile. After a moment of merely looking at him, as though she can’t quite believe what’s happening, she smiles back. She seems oddly breathless.
Sirius lets out a snort.
“Thanks,” she says, more softly than her custom bubbly tones.
“Of course,” he answers courteously, and, after making sure she’s capable of standing on her own, turns back to today’s issue of The Daily Prophet and his own coffee.
“So, um, see you,” she says, raising her hand in an awkward wave. “Later, Sirius!”
Sirius mimics the gesture, a little roughly.
Tonks trips again, this time over nothing in particular, on her way out. She swears vehemently, and Remus chuckles under his breath.
Sirius’s eyes are still trained fixedly on him.
Perhaps against his better judgment, Remus relents after ten or so seconds. “What?”
Sirius takes his time in answering; he reaches over and steals a piece of bacon from Remus’s plate, shoves it into his mouth and chews with the doglike vulgarity he hasn’t quite shaken yet.
“Or,” Remus amends, “you can steal my breakfast and refuse to explain your behavior. That’s another option.”
Sirius swallows, then immediately resumes staring at him knowingly.
Remus rolls his eyes and turns the page in The Prophet. It’s all maddening as usual, but suddenly preferable to a certain other maddening presence in the kitchen.
“What’s all of that, then?” Sirius asks abruptly.
Remus turns a page in the newspaper. “All of what?”
“She’ll see you tonight at dinner?” Sirius answers; the words are laced with suspicion, which is enough to make Remus vaguely nervous. “All of that.”
“I can’t be sure,” Remus replies, keeping his voice light, “but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that dinner will be taking place here tonight, that she’s invited to it, and that I live here and will thus be here anyway. Although it is, of course, just a hunch.”
Sirius remains silent for an unnervingly long time before bluntly announcing, “She likes you.”
"I like her," Remus answers, unperturbed. "She's a very bright young woman."
"No," Sirius says, and leans in. He snatches up another piece of Remus’s bacon, and gestures with it to emphasize his point. "She likes you."
Remus meets Sirius’s eyes and finds himself suddenly, acutely reminded of the time in seventh year when Artemisia Jenkins apparently fell desperately in love with him, thus sparking the wrath of Sirius. The mere fact that Sirius is still capable of something so petty is both ridiculous and oddly comforting – more the latter, but Remus by no means intends to reveal that.
Instead, he frowns slightly. “Very funny.”
"You don't say," Remus answers wryly, and returns his attention to the Prophet.
“Haha, very clever,” Sirius grumbles. “D’you know, I’ve never heard that one before.”
“You’re the one who let it slip,” Remus reminds him, faintly teasing. “I think you may be getting sloppy.”
Sirius’s expression darkens. “Wonder why that might be.”
One of these days, Remus is determined to get used to his abrupt transitions toward moodiness. “What were you saying?” he asks casually, hoping to steer the conversation back to the comfortably ridiculous.
Sirius stares at him for a moment before continuing, with oddly scathing grandeur. “The point is, our lovely young Nymphadora is entirely taken with you.”
Remus keeps his gaze trained on the paper. “Pray tell how you reached that particular conclusion.”
“You know, I’m really not sure,” Sirius answers with mock thoughtfulness. “I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve got eyes and ears and the ability to comprehend things on the most basic level.”
“If it’s so obvious, don’t you think I would have noticed?” Remus points out impatiently.
“No,” Sirius answers promptly, “because you’re an idiot about stuff like that.”
He looks up from the paper. “Excuse me?”
“Trust me on this one, Moony,” Sirius orders. “Who would know better than me?”
“A fair point,” Remus concedes with a sigh. “Still, I hardly think she would—”
“Well, she has,” Sirius interrupts briskly. “And quite frankly, I’m a bit concerned.”
“Are you now?” Remus asks, a bit reluctantly. Sirius is temperamental enough as it is already – the idea of him of him becoming suddenly and childishly jealous over an unrequited crush that in all likelihood doesn’t even exist is by no means a welcome concept.
“Well, yes,” Sirius says, and lets out a heavy sigh. Remus watches him, apprehensive. “It will, of course, inevitably end in a duel for your affections – complete disaster. I’ll have no choice but to wipe the floor with her, but the fact that she’s my cousin, not to mention one of my very few decent relatives, could make things a bit complicated. And that’s not even counting all that Auror training she’ll be able to use to her advantage.” He pauses and adopts a ridiculously tragic expression. It seems, temporarily, to take years off his hardened face. “You’ll probably have to become very comfortable with the idea of me facing my untimely demise in your name.”
Remus finds himself smiling slightly, feeling acutely relieved. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“A bit, yeah,” Sirius admits, with traces of a familiar mischievous grin.
“I’m glad,” Remus tells him, reaching for his hand over the table. “Even if it comes at my own personal misfortune.”
Sirius’s fingers are startlingly cold as they twine with his, and strangely brittle. There’s an ugly, skeletal fragility to him even now that Remus has no doubt Sirius detests. In some ways, it feels as though Sirius is someone entirely new – Remus still hasn’t grown quite accustomed to the way Azkaban ruined him, although it’s by no means enough to drive him away.
Sirius stares down at their entwined fingers in silence for a long time.
“You don’t have to worry about me, you know,” he finally says, voice low and harsh, eyes still fixed on their hands. “You’ve got enough to deal with.” He looks up to meet Remus’s gaze. His expression darkens. “And besides, I’m just fine here. It’s not as though I’m in any real danger, now is it?” He laughs once, sharply.
Remus attempts to ignore the not-entirely-unanticipated surge of disappointment, and massages the back of Sirius’s hand with his thumb. “If I could be here—”
“I know,” Sirius cuts in, seeming slightly abashed. “Don’t worry about it. It’s nice getting to have you around at all.”
Remus just watches him for a moment before saying, quieter, “I do worry.”
“I know,” Sirius replies with a wry half-smile. “Knock it off.”
“Easier said than done,” Remus retorts fondly.
Sirius laughs a little, genuinely. “Fair enough.”
In the process of leaning closer across the table, his foot gets caught on something.
“Oh,” Remus says, looking down. “She left her bag.”
He pulls it from the floor – it’s a startling shade of magenta, covered in buttons luridly boasting “THE WEIRD SISTERS” and worldly sayings along the lines of “NOT EVEN IF I WAS IMPERIO’D” and “DRUNKEN HOWLERS: JUST SAY NO.”
“Nice,” Sirius snorts.
“Actually, you might have done well to listen to this one,” Remus points out fairly, tapping the ‘howler’ button.
“Don’t even try to convince me you didn’t love the drunken howlers,” Sirius instructs, firm. “That was some good stuff. Poetic, even.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Remus agrees easily. After a second, he can’t help adding, “I still think you’re wrong, by the way.”
Sirius eyes him quizzically. “On what grounds?”
He, predictably, doesn’t have the decency to look ashamed of himself. “Artemisia Jenkins – a shameless little tramp if there ever was one.”
“She was just being friendly so she could borrow my notes for the Transfiguration NEWT,” Remus points out dryly.
“Yeah, well, minor detail,” Sirius says with an unaffected shrug. “I can guarantee you Tonks isn’t using you for your Transfiguration notes.”
“Well, my coffee is much better than hers.” Remus shrugs. “Perhaps she’s using me for that.”
Sirius’s face has begun to take on an expression of reluctant resignation. “You’re not going to believe me, are you?”
“No,” Remus replies evenly. “I’d rather not.”
“I figured as much,” he mutters.
“I don’t see it,” Remus says firmly, standing and beginning to gather the breakfast dishes as a means of distraction.
“You wouldn’t,” Sirius snorts. “But you’re the only one. Molly’s practically having conniptions.”
Remus frowns, reaching for Sirius’s near-empty coffee mug. “I thought Molly knew about—”
“Oh, she does,” Sirius says, a tinge viciously. He grabs the coffee mug out of Remus’s hand and downs the last of it in one quick swig before handing it back. “But then again, she and I aren’t exactly best pals, now, are we? And she does dote on you a truly sickening amount. Probably doesn’t want you mixed up with a mentally unhinged convict who’s not even stable enough to care for his own godson. Especially when her darling little Nymphadora is the alternative.”
“Thankfully, it’s none of Molly’s concern who I choose to mix up with,” Remus answers calmly, heading for the sink. “And I promise I’m not interested. Although if there is a duel, I’ll be curious to see how that turns out.”
“Thanks for your concern,” Sirius scoffs.
“Anytime,” Remus responds. He frowns slightly as he taps the faucet once with his wand, prompting the sink to fill up with hot, soapy water. “You know, I still don’t understand it. Personally, I think I’d have a bit of a hard time getting past the fact that I’m unemployed and a werewolf. Not to mention around a decade her senior.”
“I know you don’t realize it, Moony my friend, but you may very well actually be the most profoundly decent human being in existence.” Remus hears him rising from the table. “Surprisingly enough, that kind of thing can be very attractive.”
“You don’t say,” Remus says, smirking, as Sirius grabs a dish towel and comes to rest at his right side.
“You do realize you could have this done in about two seconds with magic,” he points out. “Or Kreacher could do it, at least. Nasty little berk could use something to do that doesn’t involve getting intimate with old articles of my parents’ clothing.”
“I like doing the dishes,” Remus answers, scrubbing at a mug.
“I know you do,” Sirius says, sounding as though he can’t quite decide whether to be fond or completely bewildered. “Have I mentioned lately how helplessly mental you are?”
“Not lately, no.”
“Yeah, well,” Sirius says, and accepts the coffee mug that Remus passes him. “This is alarmingly domestic of us.”
Remus smiles sideways at him. “Any complaints?”
“Funnily enough, no,” Sirius admits, and bumps his shoulder affectionately against Remus’s.
The kitchen door swings open.
“Blimey, halfway there and I realized I’d forgotten my bag –” Tonks falls abruptly still and silent, taking in the sight of them rivaling Molly and Arthur in terms of sheer old marriedness. Her cheeks immediately turn a pink so impressive it rivals her hair. “Sorry. I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
“Not at all,” Remus answers kindly, and pretends not to notice when Sirius winks at him. “It’s there on the table.”
“Thanks,” Tonks says, and reaches for the bag. “See you later. Again.”
She exits so hastily that she doesn’t even have time to stumble over anything. Sirius watches her all the while, clearly not caring that his attention could be considered slightly unsettling. Remus suddenly feels compelled to ignore all traces of her presence.
“I wonder if you’ll be getting any drunken howlers in the future,” Sirius muses as soon as the sound of her footsteps disappears.
“Well, considering we both live here, it really would be more practical for you to tell me in person.”
Sirius elbows him lightly in the stomach. “You do know that you’re far too disgustingly intelligent to get away with playing dumb, right?”
“That hardly seems fair,” Remus protests mildly. “It always worked for you.”
“Yeah, well, that’s because I’m better at it,” Sirius retorts. “Now, what are you going to do?”
“The poor girl’s out of her mind for you,” Sirius says impatiently. “You’ve got to do something to put her out of her misery.”
“I figured I’d just let it blow over,” Remus answers with as much composure as he can manage. “Assuming you’re correct in the first place.”
“Let it blow over?” Sirius scoffs. “Typical. Come on, you’ve got to do something.”
It’s easy enough, Remus supposes, for Sirius to say: letting girls down gently had become something of an art form of his during their years at school. Needless to say, Remus, being bookish and mysteriously sickly, hadn’t had quite the same opportunity to hone his rejecting skills.
“Like what?” he asks, a bit skeptically.
“I dunno,” Sirius says with an easy shrug. “Say something.”
“Such as: ‘Flattering as I find your sudden attention, dear lady, I must regretfully inform you that I am already the willing sex slave of your devastatingly good-looking charmer of a cousin.’”
“Yes,” Remus says decisively, and passes Sirius a plate. “Definitely best to just let it blow over.”
“Fine,” Sirius responds as he sets to work drying the plate. “But when she eventually comes chasing after you, begging you to father her multicolored werewolf babies, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“It will pass,” Remus insists, trying not to think about multicolored werewolf babies. “Especially with all the other younger and far more interesting men buzzing around here all the time. She and Bill would make a good match, don’t you think?”
Sirius looks profoundly unconvinced. “Moony, my friend, you appear to be underestimating just how difficult it happens to be to get over you.”
“And you’d know a thing or two about that, hmm?”
“Certainly not,” Sirius says, mockingly indignant. “I’ve never been stupid enough to try.”
“Now you’re just being shamelessly charming,” Remus accuses.
Sirius grins at him. “Any complaints?”
Remus smiles back. “Funnily enough, no.”
“Y’know, I think the breakfast dishes can wait,” Sirius declares all at once, glancing down at them as though they’re suddenly offensive.
Remus lifts an eyebrow. “Can they?”
“Or I could always duel them for you,” Sirius continues. “You seem to like that.”
Remus makes a show of a moment’s contemplation. “I suppose it all depends on whether you can offer a more compelling alternative.”
“Oh, I’m fairly confident I can,” Sirius assures him.
Remus can’t help smiling. “Well, in that case . . .”
The dishes are left ‘til lunch.
When Tonks wastes no time in sitting down right next to him at the supper table that evening, Remus determinedly avoids looking at Sirius. Even if Sirius is right – something that Remus is finding increasingly more difficult to deny – it’s not as though it’s going to matter in the long run, anyhow.