There were never any walls, before. It had taken Sirius longer to open himself to Remus than it had taken with James, but by the end of their Hogwarts years when James had begun spending more and more time with Lily, there was no pair more inseparable than Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. And when they exploded one night after a shot too much Firewhisky, Remus snapping and pushing Sirius up against the nearest available wall, no-one was really very surprised in the sheepish aftermath.
Then came Voldemort, the Order and the war. Lies, traitors and deceit were the new order of the day – not even the five of them were spared, absences and work for the Order fuelling furiously stamped upon suspicions. It was tense, it was horrible, but somehow they managed to hang on. It was the day Lily and James died that changed everything. As his former lover was carted off to Azkaban without a trial, Remus closed off and locked away the part of his life labelled 'Sirius Black' – not a photo escaped, anything that reminded Remus of the last of the Blacks secured in the false bottom of his trunk.
All through those long, long years Remus refused to question why he never told the Ministry about Sirius' other form, why he didn't just destroy the photos and have done with it.
Now, sitting at the dining table of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place and nursing a lukewarm mug of tea, Remus refuses to dwell on the mistakes of his past and waits for Sirius to finish tending to Buckbeak and join him. A Sirius out of Azkaban, a Sirius that has been on the run for year – this is a man that has many, many carefully constructed barriers, guarding parts of his thoughts and feelings that Remus is not allowed to see. He feels he is making progress, though – deep down, he knows Sirius wants and needs to trust him again, and every time he sees a flicker of that old, boyish grin or catches a fragment of a laugh untainted by dark experiences, Remus feels some of the worry ebb away.
Remus fidgets, pulling at the edge of his threadbare coat; he sighs and takes a sip of tea, rapidly morphing his grimace at the temperature into a tired smile as he hears Sirius' footsteps approaching. "Tea, Padfoot?" he tries as Sirius comes into view.
Sirius makes a slight face. "I prefer coffee."
Despite himself, Remus chuckles softly. He knows Sirius' preference for coffee stems from the fact that his parents abhorred the stuff, something he'd picked up as a teenager and settled on ever since. As Remus gets up and moves toward the sink – it would be easier to use magic, but he's always favoured doing these things the Muggle way – he sneaks glances at the man now slumped at the dinner table, staring disconsolately at the Daily Prophet lying in front of him. "Infernal newspaper," Sirius mutters under his breath, scrubbing a hand over his eyes.
He looks tired, frustrated, worn and a little worried – the Daily Prophet is a constant reminder of the Ministry's idiocy and Harry's plight at Hogwarts, and Remus almost wishes he'd had the forethought to tuck it out of sight. "It's important to know what they're saying."
Sirius scoffs. "Miss Granger's rubbing off on you."
"Or the other way around – I was her teacher," Remus reminds him, setting a steaming mug of strong coffee in front of the other man. He settles himself in the chair beside Sirius and then wrinkles his nose slightly. "You've been feeding Buckbeak, then."
Sirius sniffs his hands, and then mirrors Remus' expression. "Dead ferret isn't the nicest aroma." Remus snorts and Sirius flashes him a little smile. "Buckbeak eats as much as an elephant, I'm sure." His expression sours. "He needs to fly, though."
"When the Ministry admits –"
"I don't think Fudge would admit anything, even if Voldemort marched through the Ministry accompanied by a dozen Death Eaters and a brass band," Sirius says derisively.
"A brass band? Interesting touch." It's a pitiful effort at lightening the mood, Remus thinks, and Sirius' answering laugh is devoid of any humour.
They lapse into silence, broken only by Sirius sipping his coffee (with a grateful thank-you), the rustle of paper as Remus skims through the Prophet, and the occasional noises from Buckbeak or Kreacher. There's an article on Hogwarts and Dolores Umbridge further in, and Remus hears Sirius shift and reach for the paper. Remus is of two minds about giving it to him, but he gives in and slides it across the table towards his friend. He watches out of the corner of his eye Sirius' face grow angrier and fill with disbelief, his brow furrowing and eyes narrowing. Sirius finishes reading with a growl, and without thinking Remus puts a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Sirius lets out a long breath, but doesn't twitch away, moving the hand not holding his coffee to cover Remus'. It's a small movement, and yet the fact that he's at least allowing Remus to offer some comfort is an improvement. "I wish I could help him more, Moony," Sirius whispers, and the helplessness mingled with protectiveness in his tone tugs at Remus' heart.
"I think that you help Harry much more than you realise just simply by being here for him," he replies honestly, squeezing Sirius' shoulder gently. "He sees you as the father he lost and partly the brother he never had."
Sirius nods once and opens his mouth to speak, but at that moment there's the sound of footsteps and a muffled crash. Sirius raises an eyebrow and removes his hand as Remus stands up and draws his wand, even though he knows there's no chance of a harmful intruder. "Tonks," he says by way of greeting as she almost trips over herself coming down the stairs.
The Auror laughs. "Wotcher, Remus."
She flashes a grin at Sirius as she comes into the kitchen, and he offers her a tired smile in return. He gets up, making an excuse that Remus doesn't quite catch, and leaves, ignoring Remus' frown. Tonks watches him go, her hair darkening for a moment, before zooming a cup of tea into her hand.
"How come you're here?" Remus asks bluntly. "Aren't you on duty today?"
"Lunch break. I wanted to check on Sirius," she adds, dropping her voice lower. "How is he?"
"The same," Remus replies, sighing slightly.
Tonks' expression drops a little. "I remember before Azkaban," she says with a hint of a wistful smile. "When I was little, and he'd come visit us."
"Little Tonks with multi-coloured hair, and boyish Sirius giving her hell," Remus teases. She laughs quietly.
"He's just a shell, now." She shivers. "I hate this place. Mum always said – well. You can imagine."
Remus could, because Andromeda was Sirius' favourite relative, and had also been blasted off the Black family tree. "It's not good for him to stay here," he murmurs, and holds up a hand as she starts to speak. "I know he has to. Would you like something to eat?"
Tonks shakes her head. "I'd better go, or Mad-eye will have my hide." She puts her cup back on the sink, muttering a quick cleaning spell (Remus was thankful she managed not to break it), and then adds, "I'll go say good-bye to Sirius."
She looks indecisive for a moment, but then embraces him awkwardly before he can protest, and dashes off. Remus blinks and shakes his head, then makes Sirius a fresh cup of coffee and hopes she's gone by the time he gets upstairs.
It's one of those rare days where there are more visitors than there are gaps, and it's well past sundown by the time the last – Mrs Weasley – leaves. There's not an Order meeting that night, and despite Remus' admonishments Sirius pulls out the Firewhisky and slams back a shot before Remus can say anything about it. He frowns, and Sirius waves the bottle under his nose. "Don't say you aren't tempted."
Remus isn't, and he says so, the corner of his mouth twitching up despite himself. It seems as if Sirius is determined not to dwell on things tonight, but Remus only wishes he didn't need liquor to let go of his demons. "I'm not that drunk, Moony," he says, and grins at him. Remus balks, struck by just how lost his friend really is. Sirius' grin is forced – although he's not sure how many people would pick up on that aside from himself and perhaps Harry – his laugh has lost its force, and even with Firewhisky thrumming through his veins, there are more walls between them than Remus cares to count.
He's hit by the urge to fold Sirius into an embrace and reassure him that it doesn't have to be like this; there are so, so many things on the tip of his tongue – "I'm sorry" being the first – but instead he says, "I wish you wouldn't drink, Sirius."
"You're such a killjoy," Sirius retorts, and takes a gulp straight from the bottle.
Remus stamps down on his desire to vanish the drink, bottle and all, and settles for clamping his hand firmly over the top. "You don't have to do this."
Sirius goes quiet and stops trying to pry Remus' fingers off the bottle's mouth. "I want to forget," he whispers.
"Well, I could wipe your memory if you really want," Remus suggests light-heartedly. Sirius tries to scowl at him, but ends up caught between that and an amused smile. With a sigh, Remus steels himself, and says, for what feels like the hundredth time, "Let me in, Padfoot."
"Let you in where, exactly?" Sirius quips.
"Not drunk my arse," he replies, and when Sirius laughs Remus takes the opportunity to put the cap firmly back on the Firewhisky and levitate it out of reach, hovering in the air. He reaches out, covering one of Sirius' hands with his own. Sirius drops his gaze, staring at Remus' hand over his; it's a pleasant surprise when he threads their fingers together. "I'm sorry," he says.
Sirius doesn't reply.
"Please rest," Remus implores. "Don't do this to yourself."
There's none of the angry outburst that Remus almost expected. Instead, Sirius watches as Remus sets the liquor down gently at the other end of the table, then nods. He's quiet, and it worries Remus, reminds him of the scars that will in all likelihood never fully heal. Sirius stands in a rustle of cloth and the scrape of his chair on stone, but doesn't let go of Remus' hand. "Alright." And then abruptly, he laughs. "Look at me, bowing to the might of Moony's reason. James would be ashamed."
Remus snorts. "James would agree with me on this count."
Sirius' smile is wry. "I should hope not." He glances down at where their hands are still intertwined. "You're not tired?"
Sirius was never great for subtlety, Remus thinks, but he catches the unspoken question within a question that was Sirius' attempt at it. "It's late," he agrees. He doesn't say anything further.
Later, as Sirius falls asleep with his head pillowed on Remus' chest, his arm and leg thrown over him possessively, it feels so achingly familiar and right that Remus blinks back the sting of tears as he places a light kiss on Sirius' messy black hair. He pulls the blankets higher over both of them as Sirius shivers slightly, and tightens his hold on the other man as Sirius' breathing evens out. From the shelves and the wall, a younger James, Lily, Remus and Sirius wave and grin at them, Hogwarts scarves and robes and Muggle clothes flapping in the breeze. It's a motley collection of those pictures Sirius has saved and the contents of the false bottom of Remus' trunk, and Remus falls asleep to the thought that maybe now, Sirius can begin to heal.