"But the environment!" Teddy said, fire in his eyes. "Dad, you said you'd consider it, and an electric car, being electric has zero CO2 emissions, so it doesn't pollute the environment, okay, didn't you notice all the dead spots I showed you yesterday? By the roadside? You know, dead plants? Because of car emissions?"
Remus sighed inwardly. This was not the first time they'd had this discussion, and every time they'd had it, Teddy would find new, imaginative ways to convince him that electric cars were the future. "I'm not disagreeing with you," Remus told his son. "On the contrary. What I said was I'd consider buying an electric car once the benefits of the electric car outweigh the disadvantages of a petrol-driven car, including," Remus held up his hand as Teddy opened his mouth to protest, "where the electricity comes from."
He took out the sports section and handed it to Teddy.
"So long as there's no guarantee that the electricity for electrical cars is 100% renewable, I see no point. On the larger scale, swapping out one vehicle for another makes no difference, if the energy source itself is unchanged." Remus finished his coffee, then gave his son a soft smile.
Teddy hadn't looked at the sports section yet, just sullenly rolled it up, then unrolled it, and rolled it up again. "mum would've agreed with me," he said. "You know she would've."
"I don't doubt it for a second -"
"That's two votes against one," Teddy continued. His lip was wobbling a little. "She would've agreed, and we'd have voted, and then you'd have to change cars."
Remus' heart ached. It'd been five years, but the pain was no less for the two of them. "Don't use your mother as a bargaining chip," Remus said, voice rough and brusque. He'd not intended it to come out that way, but it had, and Teddy's face closed up instantly.
"I'm not!" He shot up from his chair, putting it between them. "She would've agreed! She would've -" Teddy stopped himself abruptly, making a strange hiccuping sound in his throat, and then fled the kitchen. His footsteps thundered all the way upstairs, and then the door to his room slammed.
The space Teddy had occupied in the kitchen suddenly seemed too large. Remus got up, hastily cleared the table and put their dishes in the sink (and put Teddy's half-finished glass of orange juice into the fridge, knowing Teddy would lecture him later about food waste if he poured it down the drain), and then refilled his mug. He'd already picked up the newspaper, but went outside anyway, and sat on the front step.
The neighbours - save from Alice and Frank, because they were sympathetic to his cause - usually gave him weird looks whenever Remus went out there, but honestly, the back garden faced mostly west; if he wanted to enjoy the morning sun with his coffee, he had no other choice but to go out to the front.
He pulled his morning robe tighter together. It was a little chilly to be out here, this time of year, but the house felt oppressive and angry (one day Remus would learn not to project his problems with his son on the house, but that was not going to be the day), and Remus wasn't quite up to facing Teddy yet. It was Saturday anyway, he was allowed to sit on the front step. It was the weekend. Lunatics came out on the weekend, or so Teddy said.
A moving van had pulled up by the house across the street. Remus had noticed the 'for sale' sign changing to 'sold' the previous week, but hadn't thought much of it. The house had been empty for years, always up for sale, by different agents, sometimes briefly sold, and then put back on the market. He hadn't expected anyone to actually move in.
There was nothing wrong with the house, that he knew of, there had just been a series of unlucky circumstances that had prevented previous owners to occupy it. Of course there were rumours that the house was haunted or cursed, but Remus didn't believe those. The house needed some work done, but nothing that would render it uninhabitable, so if somebody was actually moving in...good for them.
A ramshackle car pulled up and parked in front of the moving truck. A guy around Remus' age or possibly a little older, with a full beard and long hair in a ponytail, stepped out of the driver's side. A younger man - kid, he didn't look a day over sixteen - stepped out of the passenger's side. There was something familiar about the kid, but Remus shook it off. Father and son, probably, he thought. With help from the movers they started carrying boxes and furniture into the house - a rather meagre set of belongings, Remus reckoned, idly watching them while he drank his rapidly cooling coffee. So far he'd seen them carry in two mattresses (no bedframes), a drawer, a small bookshelf, and a small handful of boxes. There was also a chair (one). The moving truck closed up and drove away, and the man moved the car to the driveway.
Waste of money for renting a whole moving van, Remus thought and picked himself up to go back inside. Maybe he would ask Teddy if they should invite their new neighbours over for dinner, drop some hints that maybe they weren't very well off, and then Teddy would maybe be suitably distracted from their argument this morning...
He deposited the mug in the sink and went upstairs to talk to Teddy.
"Hey, buddy," Remus said, gently pushing the door open. He'd knocked first, but Teddy hadn't answered, which was usually code for 'I'm still upset but you can come in'.
Teddy was lying on his bed, stomach down, leafing through the sports section of the newspaper. The paper was wrinkly.
Remus sat on the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry," he said. He put his hand on Teddy's back.
There was no answer.
"Electric cars are very expensive," Remus said. "They can't go very long before they need charging, and there are no charging stations for electric cars in our little village, or anywhere around. In time...I'll look into it. Once we can safely afford one, and also drive it."
"I know," Teddy mumbled. "I just…" He trailed off, picking at the paper.
Remus didn't say anything, just rubbed his son's back.
"It's unfair," Teddy then said. He'd been staring at a random paragraph in the paper, and Remus knew he wasn't really reading it. "It's so unfair that it had to be…"
"That it had to be her?" Remus gently finished the sentence for him. "I know. She didn't deserve it. Neither do you."
"Why'd she get sick anyway?"
"I don't know, buddy. She just did. The meds stopped working."
It also wasn't the first time they'd had this particular conversation.
"It's stupid," Teddy said. "It's stupid that she couldn't wait until she was supposed to die."
"And when was she supposed to die?" Remus asked.
Quiet. "Not then," Teddy said.
"No, I suspect you're right. Your mother never had the best timing," Remus said.
It was painfully true, too. The meds had stopped working for Dora and the virus had shut down her immune system, and she contracted various diseases. Eventually she succumbed to pneumonia. The timing was especially heinous - if she'd just held on another three years, chances are she could've gotten on HAART, same as he and Teddy. She might've lived, then.
"She should still be here."
Remus couldn't argue with that. His heart hurt, for the loss of his wife, for his son's pain, for the guilt that burned deep within. "Yes," he said, simply.
"It's your fault that she isn't!" Teddy said, twisting around and crawling up to sit by the headboard, as far away from his dad as he could get. "It's your fault! If it hadn't been for you, she wouldn't have died! She wouldn't have been sick! You made her sick!"
"Go away! I hate you!" Teddy threw his pillow at him. "I HATE YOU!"
It stung - of course it stung. It didn't sting any less for knowing that this wasn't the first time Teddy had screamed at him in anger. The guilt only burned brighter.
"Be that as it may," Remus said, calmly, "but I love you."
Teddy refused to look at him. Tears were rolling down his cheeks and he was biting his jaw together in an effort to not sob.
Remus had a mental list of 'difficult things I've had to go through'. Among a few other things, losing Dora had been the hardest thing he'd ever been through, and for years it'd been on top of his list. Raising a teenager alone, though...that was slowly, but surely, taking over that spot.
He got up and left the room, deciding to give Teddy some space. And possibly to go cry alone in his own room, although there was no way he was going to admit that - not even to himself.
He'd forgotten all about their new neighbours.
Remus marked papers all day.
After dinner Teddy bleached his roots and stuck a pack of blue dye in his hair and joined his dad in the living room to watch the news, towel around his shoulders and tin foil covering his hair. (That was not a discussion Remus wanted to have at all, not with this uneasy truce between them.)
The doorbell rang.
"Teddy - "
"I have dye in my hair, I'm not answering the door," Teddy said and made no move to get up. "What if it's someone I know?"
Remus just shook his head but put aside the paper he was marking (the last one for the day) and went to answer the door.
"Oh, hello, I just moved in across the street, and I was wondering - Remus?"
There weren't any words in the world to describe what was happening in Remus' head.
"Did you shave?" he asked, dumbly.
Sirius was standing on his doormat, holding an empty mug. It was chipped. His hair was tied back and his face was clean shaven, and that might have been a different t-shirt than the one he was wearing this morning. He was thin, somewhat ragged - very different from the man he'd once known. Remus wasn't entirely sure this was the same man.
"I did," Sirius said, blinking. "I - what?"
"I didn't know it was you," Remus said then. "This morning. I saw you move in. I didn't recognise you. I never thought it was you."
"Right," Sirius said. His mouth was moving, as if he wanted to say something, or nothing at all. "I just." He shook his head, as if to snap himself out of a daze. "I was going to ask for a bit of sugar. I forgot, earlier, and now the shops are closed. For tea," he added. He waved the mug around. "Until I can get to the shops after the weekend."
"Daaaad? Who is it?" Teddy called from inside the living room. Not that he showed his face, what with the hair dye and tinfoil and all.
Sirius jerked visibly. "I should go - the lights are on next door, I'll try there instead, I wouldn't want to…" he swallowed, averting Remus' gaze. "Intrude."
"It's all right!" Remus yelled back, finally managing to move. "You can have some sugar," he said to Sirius and took the mug off him.
He left Sirius on the doormat and went into the kitchen to fetch the sugar. He almost knocked down a box of oatmeal as he searched for it - if his hands were shaking when he poured sugar into the mug, he denied it. He put the box back, closed the cupboard, and took a deep breath. Then another.
"There you go," he said to Sirius, handing him back the mug, now full of sugar.
"Thanks." Sirius looked at the mug. "Is sugar supposed to be this colour?"
"It's organic reed sugar," Remus informed him. "It's supposed to be this colour."
"It's perfectly good sugar."
"Ah, yes, of course, I…" Sirius blinked. "I have Harry," he said, then. "Remember when -" He stopped abruptly. "Of course you do. I'm gonna. Go." He turned and walked away, then stopped short at the end of the short path, and turned around. "Uh, thanks. For the sugar."
Remus didn't answer, just watched as Sirius hovered for a second, and then finally walked away. He couldn't find the words to express what he wanted to say, or do - probably because he didn't know what the hell he even wanted. He stood watching until Sirius had vanished inside the house across the street.
"Who was it?" Teddy asked. "You missed the weather."
"Our new neighbour. He turned out to be someone I used to know," Remus said. "An old friend, of sorts."
Teddy gave him a look. "Why didn't you invite him in, then?"
"You have dye in your hair," Remus said by way of explanation. "I couldn't possibly have."
"Whatever." Teddy rolled his eyes. "Uhm. Want to help me wash the dye out? Last time I tried to do it myself I got dye all over the tub. The stains still haven't come out." He at least had the decency to look a little guilty about it.
"Of course." Remus pushed the paper aside. He'd finish marking it in the morning - right now he wanted to give his son his full attention.
A few minutes later, Teddy was leaning over the bathtub and Remus was gently washing the dye out with lukewarm water.
"I was wondering if we should bring some food over to our new neighbours," Remus said, scrubbing behind Teddy's left ear. The dye had caked up there and was proving particularly resistant, but Teddy refused to let him use shampoo, on account of it washed out too much colour. "Sirius came over to borrow some sugar, and I noticed this morning that they didn't bring a lot of furniture with them, so I thought maybe..."
Teddy turned his head away from the spray of water. "Cinnamon rolls," he said. "People always like cinnamon rolls."
"All right. Will you be helping me bake them?"
Pause. "I've my paper round," Teddy said. "After my nap?"
"Deal." Remus sprayed Teddy's face, making him sputter. "There was dye," he just said. "I'm saving you from the terrible fate of a blue-striped face."
"Ugh," Teddy said. "How do you know him anyway? This Sirius dude."
"He was my best friend in school," Remus told him, scrubbing his hand through Teddy's hair. Most of the dye had come out, but the water wasn't quite clear yet. Remus' hands, on the other hand, were...blue. "Last time I saw him we had a falling out. Haven't spoken since."
"Oh." Teddy was quiet for a while, letting Remus work. "Conditioner," he said, when he noticed the water was clearing up.
Remus turned the water off and picked up the tub of conditioner. He scooped out a large glob and started working it into his son's hair.
"Why'd you have a falling out?"
"Hmm. Well," Remus said, trying to choose his words carefully. "It's complicated. This was a long time ago - before I met your mum. It was at his trial, right after he'd been found guilty. I went to speak to him, and...well. He went to jail, and that was it."
"What'd he go to jail for?"
"No way!" Teddy jerked, accidentally knocking over the tub of conditioner. "He's a murderer?! Our new neighbour killed people?"
"I don't know," Remus answered honestly. "He was suspected of killing fourteen people. Our three best friends, and eleven strangers. He said he didn't do it, but the evidence…" Remus sighed. "I don't know. I never knew whether to believe him, or the evidence."
Teddy stared at him. "I can't believe you're asking me to bake cinnamon rolls for a convicted murderer."
"You don't have to come if you don't want to. I just wanted to talk to him. His godson lives with him, he's...he must be eighteen, by now. Oh, no, wait. He's still seventeen, his birthday isn't till July." Remus exhaled. "I'm sure he's a cool kid."
"Yes, I'm sure a murderer's godson is a cool kid," Teddy said. "The coolest."
"You don't have to come," Remus pointed out, again.
"I'll come!" Teddy protested. "I want to see what a murderer looks like."
Remus just shook his head. He directed Teddy to bend over the tub again, so he could wash the conditioner out. "Your hair's getting a little long," he commented. "Need a haircut?"
"I'm growing it out," was Teddy's response.
Teddy got back from his paper round, shivering wet and cold. His hair was plastered to his face and was leaking blue. All the papers had gotten wet too, despite Teddy's attempts to keep them out of the rain.
His dad made it downstairs, still sleepy and dressed only in his pyjamas and morning robe, just as Teddy was toeing his shoes off.
"I'm making you a cup of tea," his dad said, handing him a towel.
"Can I have coffee?" Teddy took the towel and started rubbing the water out of his hair.
"You can have coffee when you're eighteen." Yawn.
Teddy rolled his eyes, following his dad into the kitchen. "There's caffeine in tea too, you know."
"Not half as much as in coffee." His dad set the kettle over to boil. "And herbal teas are caffeine free," he added.
"I like white tea better than herbal tea," Teddy said. "I think we've run out. What else have we got? Green?"
"Black Darjeeling. We've run out of green tea too." The coffeemaker gurgled happily away, and his dad was now frowning at the bread. There were only two slices left in the bag. Teddy felt vaguely guilty for having eaten it all up for lunch the previous day. "Have you eaten?"
"Cereal," Teddy answered. He put the towel down and then sat by the table, waiting for his tea. "Annie is looking for a new babysitter for Laura and Michael, and Mildred said she's retiring next month."
"Mh, she deserves it. Did she offer you biscuits this time?"
"They were stale," Teddy said, trying to suppress a yawn. "She did come out to meet me with an umbrella, so that was nice for all of five minutes. She likes the hair, by the way."
His dad smiled. "It does become you." The toast popped up and the kettle howled. Outside, the rain intensified and beat against the window loudly.
Mornings like these were Teddy's favourite. It was always quiet - nobody else in the neighbourhood was awake at seven on a Sunday - and while he could've done without the bone-chilling rain, it wasn't so bad once he was back home and could enjoy the rain from the comfort of the kitchen.
His dad set his tea down in front of him and Teddy wrapped his still cold hands around the mug. It was scorching hot to the touch, but he held on, willing the heat to travel all the way from his hands to his core.
"Did you finish your essay?" his dad asked, sitting down across from him with his toast and coffee.
"Yeah." Teddy let go of the mug, instead twirling the tea bag a little. He liked the way the colour seeping from the bag would mix in the water. "I thought I'd go over to Andrew's house today."
"Mmh." His dad bit into his toast absentmindedly. His gaze was directed out the window, into the dark rain. His brow was knitted.
"What're you looking at? Dad? Hello, Earth to dad." Teddy waved his hand in front of his dad's face. "What's up?"
"Ah." He took a sip of his coffee, then looked down at his plate. There was jam smeared on the edge. "I was just thinking about Sirius."
"Is that why you look so worried? You know, I'm not sure murderers deserve cinnamon rolls."
His dad smiled. "That was a long time ago, Ted."
"I'm just saying." Teddy shrugged. His tea had cooled enough that he could sip it.
They sat in silence, Teddy drinking his tea slowly, feeling it warm him from inside out, and his dad crunching toast and staring out the window. The rain wasn't letting up.
"Would it be rude to bring somebody cinnamon rolls before lunchtime?" Teddy asked.
"I think cinnamon rolls in themselves would negate any rudeness," his dad answered, the corners of his eyes crinkling up in a tiny smile. "Why, are you in a hurry?"
"I'm going to meet a murderer today, there's no way I can sleep," Teddy informed him. "And I want to go over to Andrew's, so I thought I'd skip the nap, make cinnamon rolls now, then go see the murderer and then go to Andrew's after and tell him all about it."
His dad raised an eyebrow. "I see," he said, and emptied his mug. "He's not a zoo animal. He's a man."
"I know." Teddy shrugged, not in the least sorry. "Anyway, I want to make cinnamon rolls now."
"Let me get dressed. Do me a favour and do the dishes in the meantime."
When his dad came back downstairs, he was dressed and had combed his hair. Teddy had done the dishes, started the oven, and was measuring out the ingredients for the cinnamon rolls.
"This is our last packet of dry yeast," he informed his dad, indicating the empty packet. He'd already poured it into a bowl of lukewarm water, and was now adding a pinch of sugar and salt to it.
"I'll put it on the list." His dad picked the grocery list off the fridge and added yeast to it. "What else did we need? Tea, was it?"
"White tea and green tea, and also bread for toast." Teddy stirred the yeasty water until he was satisfied, then began adding flour.
Teddy worked on the dough while his dad took stock of the kitchen and expanded the grocery list. While the dough was rising, Teddy stole a short nap after all. When he woke, an hour had passed and he found his dad had finished making the cinnamon rolls, which were in the oven rising happily and emitting a lovely sweet scent of cinnamon and sugar. Teddy breathed in, and when the rolls came out of the oven, he stole one away for taste testing.
Remus shuddered under his jacket as he looked out, and picked the largest umbrella they had in the house. Teddy had been adamant not to go until the pillow creases on his face had faded, so he'd tasked his son with putting chocolate-flavoured icing on the cinnamon rolls in the meantime.
Anxiety coiled in Remus' stomach, and he wondered whether it was a good idea at all to bring his son to visit a convicted murderer - even if said man was...well. An old friend. It's what he'd told Teddy, and it's what he kept telling himself, now.
Teddy exited the kitchen, plate of cinnamon rolls in hand. The rolls were still warm, so most of the icing was melting into the cracks and pooling around the bottom. They'd make for messy, sticky eating, Remus thought.
"Dad? You're zoning out again." Teddy's brow was furrowed.
Remus snapped out of it. "Distracted by cinnamon rolls," he said. "Let's go." He opened the door and unfolded the umbrella, holding it out for Teddy to step under it so he could close the door.
The few steps to the house across the street seemed insurmountable, all of a sudden. At once the distance was too short and too long - a spatial conundrum. Remus drew in a deep breath and pulled the jacket tighter around himself. And off they went.
It took a while before anybody answered the door - he and Teddy had shared a few looks between them already, silently communicating is anybody even home and let's just give it another try, knock again.
In the end, Sirius came to the door. He stared at them, at their plate, at Teddy, and seemed unable to speak to them; his mouth opened and closed, but nothing came out.
"Your hands are blue," Sirius said.
Remus looked down. His hands were indeed still blue; the dye was persistent and he'd not succeeded in getting it off. "Yes." Then: "We made cinnamon rolls," Remus eventually said, feeling stupid and pointless and lame. "To, uh. Welcome you to the neighbourhood?"
"Oh. Uhm. Thanks?" Sirius accepted the plate awkwardly. "Would you like to...come in?" He asked, glancing between the two of them.
"If it isn't a bother -"
"No, no bother at all," Sirius said, almost jumping backwards. "Come in, come in. Harry!" he yelled up the stairs. "Come down! We have guests!"
There was a brief pause, then there was the sound of a door opening and footsteps. Within seconds, Harry had come bouncing down the stairs.
"Guests?" he asked.
Remus' breath was knocked out of him. He didn't know what he'd been expecting, but the young man standing beside Sirius looked just like James.
"Our neighbours. This is Remus, and - ah - " Sirius trailed off.
Teddy looked up at Remus, who was still staring at Harry, and then rolled his eyes. "I'm Teddy," he said, extending his hand to Harry. "That's my dad, and I don't know what's wrong with him."
"I'm sorry," Remus said, blinking. Then stared at Harry again. "I was… I knew your parents. You look just like James."
"Right," Harry said, giving Remus a wary look. He glanced at Sirius, but Sirius looked supremely awkward, holding on to the plate of cinnamon rolls with one hand and rubbing the back of his neck with the other.
"Your dad was one of my best friends," Remus clarified, then finally moved his gaze from Harry to Sirius.
"Let's not stand around, come in, take a seat," Sirius said, abruptly turning and gesturing for them to follow.
The living room was empty save for one box and a few cushions on the floor.
"Take a seat," Sirius said, balancing the plate of rolls on top of the box. "We're, ah, having furniture delivered tomorrow, if you don't mind…I'll go fetch some paper towels. Something to drink?" he added, already halfway out the door. "We've got tea and...tea. Or water, if you like?"
"Tea is fine," Remus told him, and Teddy nodded his assent. "Stop staring," Remus whispered to him as soon as Sirius had removed himself from the doorway, even though Teddy hadn't been staring at all.
Harry, Remus and Teddy carefully seated themselves on the cushions, waiting for Sirius to come back.
"I should apologise," Remus said to Harry. "Only, it's a surprise...I didn't expect…" He glanced in the direction of the kitchen. "They told us that you'd been placed with your aunt after your parents died. Sirius did say you were here, but I was...unprepared. I'm sorry."
"Oh. Uh. That's all right?" Harry glanced between them. "I, uhm. I did live with my aunt until recently," he said. "Two years ago Sirius shows up, says he's my godfather and asks if I want to come live with him instead. There was a case and everything, it was a mess. A right circus. Anyway, it's all done now, so."
Sirius came back in that moment, carrying an old silver tray with a silver tea set on it. Remus vaguely recognised it as something that had belonged to Sirius' family. Sirius set the tray down next to the plate of cinnamon rolls, and Remus saw now that two cups were missing from the set and had been replaced with two mismatched ceramic cups. He recognised the chipped one as the cup Sirius had brought over the evening before. There was no sugar in it now, the sugar having been relegated to the sugar bowl (lid missing).
He poured out tea for everyone and passed the sugar and milk around, then at last the plate with cinnamon rolls. They were still warm inside.
And then the four of them sat in awkward silence.
"Remus," Sirius finally said, looking a little tortured; he kept frowning and glancing between him, Teddy and Harry. He couldn't quite meet Remus' eyes. "You're probably wondering why I'm here and not in jail, is that right?"
"Well…yes." Remus looked at Sirius over the rim of his cup. "I'm wondering a lot of things, if I have to be honest."
"I didn't do it," Sirius said, the words rushing out. "I didn't do it." He swallowed hard. "About four years ago the police found Peter - alive - and he confessed to the murders. They were investigating another case or something. Some new evidence came to light that supported his confessions. It was a mess, they took me out for interrogating all over again, and eventually they put him away and released me, with an apology and a compensation." Sirius snorted. "And what a compensation that was."
Remus' mind was reeling. "Peter?" He put down his cup, accidentally sloshing some of the tea onto the floor. He felt like he was going to be sick. "How -"
"Oh - shit." Sirius' face was stricken. "I'm sorry, Moony, this is all old news to me, I should've realised - I'm sorry."
Teddy was staring at Sirius, but Harry had offered Remus his paper towel to wipe up the spilt tea. Neither Sirius nor Remus moved; Sirius was glued to the floor, and Remus was trying to breathe. Harry mopped at the pool of tea himself, giving Sirius and Remus alarmed looks.
"Peter got in with a skinhead group and never told us about it," Sirius explained, voice low and soft. "He and a few others from the group were responsible for the killings they charged me with. Peter personally destroyed the brakes in James' car." At this Sirius' fists had balled up, his knuckles white. "And then he faked his death and made it look like I'd done it."
He took a deep breath, then continued.
"So you see, I never...James was my brother."
"It was Peter...not you," Remus said, slowly. He was aware of his heart racing and his palms felt clammy. There was a rage inside him just begging to be let out - what he wouldn't give to get his hands on Peter and-
"Dad?" Teddy asked tentatively. "Dad, you don't look well."
"I'm all right." Remus shook his head, then took in a few deep breaths. "I'm all right, Ted." He gave his son a shaky smile. "Why don't you help Harry with the washing up? I need to have a word with Sirius."
Teddy looked like he was going to protest - he'd not even finished his tea, although he'd polished off two whole cinnamon rolls - so Remus just gave him a stern look until he got up. Harry, not needing the same teenage management, silently got up and collected all the mugs.
Remus slowly stood up, realising his hands were shaking. Sirius shot to his feet and stepped closer, hand outstretched as if he wanted to touch him. He stopped short, forcing his hands into his pockets.
"It's a mess," Sirius said.
"You didn't do it," Remus said, the meaning of those words finally filtering through to him. Something in his gut released.
"I tried to tell you."
A wave of pain and guilt went through Remus' body. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you."
"I don't blame you." Sirius gave him a humourless smile. "The evidence...at one point even I thought I was going crazy, thought that maybe I really did do it. Maybe the inbreeding was finally starting to show, you know?" he shrugged. "When they told me they'd found Peter and that he'd confessed, my first thought was oh, I really didn't do it. I'm not crazy. Go figure."
Remus looked at him, properly looked at him. So much had changed in the seventeen years that had passed since he'd last seen him, but so many things were still the same. His shoulders were wider, but he was skinnier than he should be, for his build. There were hints of grey in his hair, and his eyes had crow's feet. The colour of his eyes was the same, and the shape of his mouth, and the length of his hair - the ends recently trimmed and neat. He looked tired and weary; he'd lost the youthful energy and fire he'd possessed all those years ago.
"I didn't know you were here," Sirius said. "When I bought the house. I didn't know. Harry chose the location; he has friends in the area."
"You didn't call," Remus said, then. "When you got out. You didn't call me."
At this, Sirius looked embarrassed. "I thought about it. I wanted to, but...I haven't forgotten what you said to me. The last words you ever spoke to me. So I didn't. I...tried to find Harry instead."
Remus nodded. He could remember all too clearly their last row, the harsh words exchanged between them, how he'd screamed at Sirius… He'd been so angry, all he'd wanted to was hurt Sirius the way he'd been hurt. He shuddered. "I need to go - I'm sorry, I just…"
"Yeah, I know." Sirius' eyes softened. "Just...don't be a stranger?"
There wasn't anything Remus could say to that, so he just went to the kitchen to fetch his child, Sirius trailing after him.
Teddy and Harry were having a heated discussion over the washing up, the subject of which didn't seem entirely clear.
"It's vegan!" Teddy hissed at Harry, throwing the dish towel onto the counter. Harry was just looking at him in alarm.
"Teddy." Remus cleared his throat.
"What's vegan?" Sirius asked, frowning at the boys.
"My hair," Teddy answered, glaring daggers at Harry. Harry only held up his hands in defense.
"We're leaving," Remus said. "Let's go. Thanks for having us," he said to Sirius. He gave Harry a nod.
Teddy found his manners, much to Remus' relief, and bade them politely goodbye as Remus opened the umbrella again.
"Are you disappointed?" Remus asked, when they'd reached their own house. "You have that look on your face."
"He wasn't a murderer after all," Teddy said, with a shrug.
Remus noticed vans delivering furniture and other things to the house across the street, and Teddy had managed to get his hands on strawberries from Neville, Frank and Alice's son next door who had a job at a florist's up in Musselburgh in the school holidays, to plant in their back garden. Neville had also promised to see if he could get him discounted sunflowers and clovers for the front lawn.
This led to the usual discussion of "It's not nice to take advantage of people like that, Teddy." which was always countered with "It's not taking advantage if he offers and anyway I am paying for it all!"
"I'm just saying, you can't just expect Neville to get you everything you want," Remus pointed out.
"But he said it's not a problem, and he likes doing it! It would be a waste anyway if I didn't take them off his hands because else they'd be thrown away, and it's stupid to throw away plants even if they're a little droopy, you just plant them and give them some water, and they'll be fine, and Neville knows that, and not one of the plants he's given me has died, so there." Teddy crossed his arms, jaw jutting forward in defiance.
Teddy's quest to save the planet might possibly one day give Remus an ulcer. He gave up the discussion - it was pretty hard to argue against Teddy's points, and the truth was their back garden hadn't looked this lively until Teddy had taken up this hobby.
The fact that he didn't want another screaming row with his son was another thing entirely.
"Dad! I have an idea for something we can do instead of getting an electric car!" he said first thing, flailing into his usual chair.
"Lay it on me." His dad looked up from the paper, one eyebrow raised in amusement.
"Cargo bikes!" Teddy exclaimed. "Obviously we can't get rid of the car, we need it to go see nan, but there's no reason why we can't stop using it on a daily basis!" Teddy gesticulated, attempting to visualise his points. "I thought of just regular bikes, but then there's a problem when we have to get groceries, so. And anyway it's stupid to drive so short distances anyway, and if you go by bike to work it'll be healthier too!"
"You are crazy," his dad said, but he was smiling. "You are completely nuts. You are going to force your old man on a bike in order to protect the environment?"
"It's the perfect solution," Teddy argued. "It's cost-effective and non-polluting and healthy and all that!"
He looked at his dad, attempting to read his face. He was anxious for this to work, and his fingers were drumming against the table nervously. This would be good for his dad's health. He rarely did any kind of physical exercise, and Teddy had read in brochures in the doctor's office that physical exercise was good for you, and would improve the immune system and anything that improved the immune system was good, in Teddy's view, especially for people like them.
"Instead of driving me to school, we could both go on our bikes," Teddy then said. "I already have a bike, so it's only you who needs one. It's two miles each way, so it's not far and it saves us petrol and it's good for the environment and it's good for our health, and..." he trailed off, trying to think of more reasons.
"Tell you what," his dad said, looking contemplative. "If you can manage to find me a cheap bike, a normal bike, I'll think about it. Okay? Just think about it. I'm making no promises."
"Okay." Teddy leaned back again, satisfied, and a little relieved. "You'll come around. You'll see. It's the perfect solution, really."
"We'll see about that."
His dad returned his attention to the paper, and Teddy polished off the last piece of toast on the plate.
"Are we going to the Pride march next weekend?"
"Yes," his dad answered, then looked up. "Why? Do you have other plans?"
"Nope, just making sure." He got up to make more toast. "I got mum a really nice candle."
Pause. "That's good of you."
"It's pink," Teddy supplied. "I think I want to dye my hair pink next time."
"In all honesty it would probably be a better look on you than the blue," his dad said. "Not that the blue isn't…cool, of course."
Teddy snorted. "As if you've ever dyed your hair crazy colours." He turned from the toaster to look at his dad. His hair was brown with a bit of grey, but there wasn't that much of the grey, at least not yet. Maybe a bit more than Teddy would've liked. In the sunlight it always had a golden shine to it, which Teddy had always loved looking at. As a child, he'd loved sitting on his dad's shoulders, steering him by his ears (and giggling all the while), and leaning down to put his nose in his hair.
All these years later, his dad still used the same shampoo and still smelled like dad.
"Actually, I have," his dad said, pulling Teddy out of his reverie. "When I was sixteen I lost a bet to Sirius and had to dye my hair green. I kept it like that for a month until our head of house got fed up and said she'd put me in detention if I didn't immediately do something about it."
"I don't believe you." Teddy narrowed his eyes at his dad, but his dad's poker face was legendary, and betrayed nothing. Not so much as a tiny little hint.
"I'm sure I have a picture or two knocking about somewhere." His dad sipped his coffee calmly, with no understanding of just how urgent and important this matter was. "Remind me to find it for you."
He was watering the tomatoes, chilis and cucumbers when he heard voices carrying over from the garden next door. That usually meant that Neville was out there, tending to his own lot, and sometimes if he had the time, he'd give Teddy tips on how to care for the plants.
"I don't know, Nev. He's driving me crazy."
Teddy frowned. That didn't sound like somebody he knew - was that Harry? He set down the watering can and strained his ears. He wasn't sure he liked Harry very much, but he was not above listening in on his conversations.
"I don't know that I can help you," Neville said, sounding amused. "You know what my feelings are regarding Draco Malfoy. I honestly don't know what you see in him."
"I also wonder what I see in him. He's completely nuts, I swear to you. Do you think he's inbred? He's posh enough that he could be, I think." Sigh. "Jokes aside. I don't know what we're doing. It's like… we're at a standstill? We're not moving anywhere, and I can't figure out if it's because it's all in my head, or if there's just something…"
"You might try to ask him," Neville suggested. "Make one of those letters like in Year Four. Do you want to be my boyfriend, with those ticky boxes."
Snort. "Hah." Silence. "That's not actually a bad idea."
Teddy was pretty sure that was Harry, which begged the question how the hell Harry and Neville knew each other. Neville was his friend. He picked up his rake and knelt down beside the fence separating their gardens. He had arctic poppies in a few boxes, and a small carrot plot in another couple of boxes, and weeds were popping up where there should be no weeds.
"What does Ginny think of it?"
"I haven't actually talked to her about it. Does that make me a bad person? God, I feel like a bad person."
"Tsk, tsk, Harry. You said you would talk to her about it."
"I know." Harry sounded rueful. "I will. I just don't know what to say. What's there to say if I can't even figure out what we are?"
"I don't know. Here, hold this."
"What's - ew, that's gross. What is it?"
"Compost, and it's not gross. It's just earth. Delicious, nutritious earth."
Teddy looked over at his own compost bin. He'd only just started it a few months ago, once his dad had finally relented and agreed to purchase a compost bin for their garden, and so there wasn't anything much in it yet.
The door opened behind Teddy, and his dad stepped out. "How are the strawberries doing?" he asked. He had with him a giant mug of tea and a book, both of which he set down on the small cafe table under the window. He sat down by the table, surveying the garden and Teddy's handiwork.
"They're alive and flowering, and there's already a few berries on them," Teddy told him, feeling immensely satisfied, not least because of the argument they'd had after he brought them home. He'd hung the strawberries in baskets over the chili plants on the northern fence, where they'd get as much sun as possible and it was working out beautifully.
Teddy grinned. "Oh, Andrew's coming over tonight after dinner. He said he'd rent Starship Troopers. Can we have popcorn? I may have promised popcorn."
"I don't think we have any." His dad frowned. "You'll have to run to the shops for it."
Teddy could live with that. He finished rooting up the weeds and threw the lot in the compost bin. When he was done, he realised that Neville and Harry had gone, and he'd missed the last of their conversation.
"What are you doing?" he asked, utterly perplexed.
"We're planting bee food!" Teddy told him excitedly. Neville confirmed this.
"Bee food," Remus repeated. He looked at the lawn - it wasn't torn up, per se, but the boys were loosening the grass with their rakes and were almost done with the patch to the left of the path, the right path already done. He noticed that the lawn in front of Frank and Alice's house looked much the same.
Neville noticed Remus' staring, so he stopped raking for a bit and stood up straight, supporting himself on the rake. "We're going to plant an ecology mix of clover and English daisies directly into the lawn," he explained. "For the seeds to take hold, we need to roughen it up a bit, as ordinarily you'd mix the seeds with grass seeds and plant them directly into the soil to grow a lawn." He made an all encompassing gesture. "It's rained for three days straight, so the conditions are perfect. Before long your lawn is going to be lush and beautiful and full of food for the bees."
"Yep!" Teddy said, having finished the last bit of the left patch. "We'll do the lawn in the back garden after."
Remus just nodded. "All right." Bee food. He shook his head a little, then reached into the car to fetch the indian curry take away containers. "Come eat when you get hungry, Ted. I'll keep the food hot for you."
Teddy wavered a little at the sight of the take away containers. "What'd you get?"
"Butter chicken and tikka masala," Remus answered. "I got the extra hot chutney you like to go with it."
"I'll be quick," Teddy said, putting the rake down and fetching a bag labelled 'ECOLOGY MIX: ORGANIC LAWN. Keep fertiliser, pesticides and other chemicals off your lawn! Bonus: Help the bees! Mix contains clovers, English daisies, yarrow & baby blue eyes.' that'd been sitting by the front door.
Remus left the boys to it. Not ten minutes passed before Teddy came inside, hands dirty and cheeks flushed with exertion. He washed his hands, then joined his dad in the kitchen.
"I'm starving," he said, dishing out an obscene amount of rice and tikka masala onto his plate.
"You're welcome." Remus was quietly glad he'd ordered the extra large boxes. Teddy packed food away like he didn't get fed regularly, though you couldn't tell - he remained skinny and somewhat gangly. Actually… Remus eyed his son critically. His trouser legs seemed a little short, didn't they? And that t-shirt looked a little tight over his shoulders.
The doorframe to the kitchen was littered with marks and dates and measurements; Dora had started the tradition when Teddy could first stand on his own. She'd taken his measurements every year on his birthday and every summer on his first day of play school or school, and every year on christmas morning. After she died, Remus had continued the tradition.
Teddy's 15th birthday was not two months hence, but Remus suspected he'd already outgrown his latest mark.
"Come here," he said, standing up. "I want to see something. Come on."
Teddy, his mouth full of food, looked at his dad like he'd gone crazy. "Wha?"
"Don't talk with food in your mouth. Get up and come over here." Remus gestured at the door frame.
"Ugh," Teddy said, swallowing hastily and pushing his chair away from the table. He placed himself against the door frame, giving his dad an impatient look. "What is it?"
Remus put his hand against the door frame at Teddy's height, then nudged him away. There was about an inch between his hand and Teddy's 15th mark. He sighed.
"Wild," Teddy said, inspecting the difference himself. "Hey look, I'm taller than you now."
That was true, much to Remus' terror. His son was growing up and it was only happening too fast. "Yes," he said, looking up at Teddy. The height difference wasn't much, maybe half an inch, but it was enough. "We need to get you some new clothes. Those trousers are too short."
Teddy looked at himself, then looked back up in surprise. "Oh, yeah."
"How does your school uniform fit?"
"Fine, I guess." Teddy shrugged. "School's out soon anyway."
"Mh, yes. Well, we'll go to Tesco's tomorrow after school and get you something to wear," Remus said, calculating in his head. He hadn't spent this month's child benefits yet, and he knew they had offers on at the moment, and he would be able to get two pairs of jeans for twenty pounds -
"Do we have to go to Tesco's?" Teddy asked. "The others all wear Levi's and stuff."
"If you want a pair of Levi's jeans, you are going to have to pay for them yourself," Remus said. "There's nothing wrong with Tesco's jeans." He returned to the dining table and picked up his fork.
Teddy followed reluctantly. "It's only that it's not… I mean, they don't make fun of me or anything, I think, but it would just be nice to have something…" he pushed a piece of soggy broccoli to the edge of his plate. "You know." He shrugged.
Remus' heart ached. "Much as I want to be able to give you nice things, you know that I can't. I simply can't justify spending a hundred pounds on a pair of Levi's jeans that you're going to outgrow before the end of the summer."
"I suppose." Teddy shoved a mouthful of chicken into his mouth and didn't say anything further. They finished their meal in silence.
Small victories, Teddy told himself. Baby steps.
They were tired and hungry and still wet, but also sad, in that weary, deep seated way that couldn't be cured. There was no cure for grief. Teddy had left the pink candle burning by the memorial wall set up by SPI, and he'd been quiet the whole ride back.
As Remus was locking up the car and Teddy stood waiting by the front door, Sirius exited his house and crossed the street in their direction.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," Remus answered. Teddy didn't say anything at all.
"I've still got your plate," Sirius then said. "I was going to, ah, put something on it and bring it over, but...er, it occurred to me that you might not want anything...so...uhm. Are you hungry?"
"Yes," Teddy said, lighting up instantly. "I'm totally hungry."
Remus' lips curled up into a smile. "I won't turn down food," he said. "Give us a minute to change into something dry?"
Sirius' face split into a grin. "Great! I mean - of course. Sure! I'll be right over?"
"I'll leave the door unlocked," Remus said. "Just holler when you get here."
Remus changed quickly into a pair of dry trousers, socks and a warm jumper. He stopped by Teddy's door on his way back downstairs, to find Teddy sitting on his bed, unchanged. He looked like he wanted nothing more than curl up and sleep.
"Put your pyjamas on and come eat," Remus told him.
Teddy nodded. When he made no move to get up, Remus sat down beside him.
"Are you okay?"
"What is it?"
"I don't know." Teddy's lip wobbled. "I think I just miss mum."
Remus put his arm around Teddy's shoulders and pulled him close. "Oh, I know, Teddybear. I miss her too." He'd had a lump in his throat all day, and it was only getting worse now. Teddy sniffled, and Remus pressed a kiss to the top of his head.
"Mum used to call me sweetheart," Teddy mumbled.
"Sweetheart, honeybear, babytoes and, when she was mad, Edward Remus Lupin," Remus said into Teddy's hair. "I used to think she was yelling at me, too. Sometimes she did, you know. I got you into enough trouble when you were little." Teddy let out a small, watery chuckle.
The front door opened. "Hello?" Sirius called.
"Gimme a moment!" Remus called back. "Do you want to come downstairs?" he asked his son.
Teddy shook his head. "No."
"You'll feel better if you eat something," Remus told him. His son was tired and upset and chilled to the bone. Eating wouldn't fix his sadness, but it would warm him up and hopefully raise his spirits a little.
"I don't want anything," he said.
Remus squeezed him. "You don't have to come downstairs if you don't want to. Put your pyjamas on. I'll bring you something to eat and a cup of tea."
Teddy sniffled. "Okay."
He didn't move, though, so Remus gave him another squeeze and got up. He found a clean pair of pyjamas in Teddy's closet and put them on the bed, where they were within reach. "I'll be right back." He waited until Teddy nodded, then left the room and went downstairs.
Sirius was waiting awkwardly in the hall, Remus' plate, now loaded with homemade pizza, in one hand, and a pan with half a batch of brownies in the other.
"I'm sorry about the wait," Remus said. "I'm making tea, do you want some?"
"Actually, I brought beer?" Sirius indicated his pockets. A bottle of beer was sticking out of each pocket. "I didn't want to go twice," he said, at Remus' look.
"I don't drink - anymore - but thank you," Remus said, with a small smile. "I don't mind if you do." He took the plate and the pan out of Sirius' hands and took them into the kitchen.
"Since when don't you drink?" Sirius asked, following.
"Since a long time ago," Remus answered, putting the kettle on. While he waited for the kettle, he arranged a couple of slices of pizza and a slice of brownie on a plate to take up to Teddy. "Are you sure you don't want tea?"
"I'll have tea," Sirius relented. "I'll just put these in your fridge, then." He fished the bottles out of his pockets and put them away in the fridge.
"Mmh." The kettle boiled, and Remus made a pot of herbal tea. He poured a cup for Teddy and put the mug and plate on a small wooden tray; it was slightly crooked and painted in bright colours. Across the tray was painted HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD and on the bottom left corner TEDDY 11. He added a paper towel and a spoon to the tray. "I'll just take these upstairs, I'll be back in a bit. Bring the rest to the living room? The kitchen is a little chilly."
Sirius nodded his assent, and Remus went upstairs.
Teddy had changed into pyjamas and was curled up in bed, but sat up when his dad came in. Remus put the tray on his lap. "I'll be downstairs if you need me, okay?"
"Yeah." Teddy nodded.
"Okay. I love you." Remus squeezed his shoulder. "Brush your teeth before you go to bed. Don't forget to take your meds."
Teddy rolled his eyes. "I'm not a baby."
"No, you're not." Remus shook his head at his son. He left the door ajar.
"Is everything all right?" Sirius asked, once Remus had sat down.
"No," Remus answered, picking a blanket off the back of the sofa to pull over himself. "It was a difficult day. We went to Glasgow for Pride march," he explained. "We've been going every year since it started, and it's never easy."
Sirius stared at him. "You go to...Pride march? With your son?"
"Do you mean, does your son know that his parents are a pair of old queers? Because in that case, the answer is yes," Remus said. He picked up the mug of tea Sirius had poured for him, and took a sip. "Dora and I never kept secrets from him. He knows this stuff."
"Oh." Sirius fidgeted. "So, your wife…" The fidgeting stopped, and Sirius clasped his hands together. "I did wonder...I didn't see anyone else around. Are you divorced?"
Remus exhaled. "If only," he said. "I'm widowed." He looked down, then gave a little awkward shrug.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said.
The silence stretched between them, broken only when Remus leaned over to pick a slice of pizza.
"Me too," he eventually said. He drew in a deep breath. "Look. I have HIV. I infected Dora. Teddy has it too, she gave it to him when he was born." He looked Sirius square in the eye. "Dora died of AIDS. It's my fault. We go to Pride because we can't not go. Last year was the first time Pride included a minute's silence for people who died of AIDS-related causes. One day, that minute is going to be for us too."
Sirius' jaw worked, and he swallowed. "I…" He gave a helpless little shrug. "I'm sorry."
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone. Teddy's teachers know and Frank and Alice next door know. That's all."
"Is that why - is that why you moved up here? Away from London?"
"Yes." Remus bit into his pizza slice, almost angrily. In retrospect, maybe tonight wasn't the best time for company, and especially not -. He stopped himself, forcing himself to calm a little. He swallowed the bite. "All our friends died of diseases related to AIDS. When Dora's ex-girlfriend-turned-best-friend died we packed up and left, hoping we wouldn't be next. Teddy was six months old then. We wanted… a new start. We came here to avoid the stigma."
"I'm sorry," Sirius said. "I had no idea…" he drew in a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he finished, lamely. "It seems to be all I can say tonight."
They sat in awkward silence for a while, polishing off the pizza and washing it down with tea.
"How are you settling in?" Remus eventually asked.
"We have furniture now," Sirius answered, hint of relief in his voice. "The house is starting to look like a...house."
"I also got a job," Sirius added. "So...I suppose it's all working out."
Remus looked up in surprise. "A job? What happened to the infamous Black fortune?"
"I still have it. I'm the only one left, too, so it's all mine." Sirius shrugged. "But I'm not twenty anymore. I can't lie about all day smoking and listening to the Sex Pistols. If I'm going to be any kind of a good example for Harry, then I need a job."
"That's...fair." Remus cleared his throat. He never thought he'd see the day Sirius Black was going to take a job. "What do you do, then?"
Sirius smiled wryly. "I'm a dishwasher in a restaurant," he said. "Unsurprisingly, not a lot of places will hire you if you've got twelve years in prison on your resume, and little to no work experience to speak of."
"Right." Remus shook his head. "I thought you had to work in prison. What'd you do all that time?"
"Oh, I worked. I worked four years in the kitchen - washing dishes, no surprises there - and the rest of the time in the prison library. I liked that bit, that was nice." He looked away, then met Remus' eyes. "It reminded me of you, actually."
"Me? I was never a library rat."
"No," Sirius agreed. "But we spent a lot of time in the school library, remember? The books had this smell, like vanilla and dust and...cat hair. I just wanted to remember that. Things were good then."
"Yeah." Remus nodded, exhaling. "They were."
It was dark out now, and it was quiet upstairs, so Remus reckoned his son had gone to sleep and would be dead to the world until he had to get up for his paper round.
The house was silent and Remus leaned back on the sofa. It was weird, this, to have Sirius in his house. To be speaking to him again after all this time. It was weird in that awkward, hesitant way where they didn't quite know what they were to each other, anymore, and in that easy, friendly way where some things just fell automatically into place. Remus wasn't nervous to have him here, but he found he was at a loss what to talk about. Dredging up the past could do them no good, but somehow… he didn't want to talk about it, but maybe he should.
There were so many unresolved things between them, still.
"I'm glad you're not dead," Sirius eventually said. "I don't think I could bear it if - if -"
"I don't think I could bear it if I died away from my kid," Remus said, shortly. "So I don't plan to."
"No, of course not." Sirius finished his tea, and refilled his mug. His hands were shaking a little. "How old is he?"
"Fifteen." Remus smiled, relieved at the change in topic. "And taller than me, dear god...I had to buy him new clothes yesterday; he'd grown out of his old ones."
Sirius matched Remus smile. "That's good. I miss the times when that was all I had to worry about with Harry. He keeps trying to ask me for girl advice. It's horrible."
Remus laughed. "Girl advice? You?"
"I know!" Sirius shook his head. "Nevermind my twelve years in prison and subsequently very rusty relationship skills - not that I had any to begin with - I don't understand what that kid's problem is. He has a girlfriend. He has the girl! What does he need my help for?" He flailed despairingly. "For some reason he doesn't accept 'just talk to her' as an answer."
"Tough." Remus chuckled. "Teddy hasn't gotten there yet that I know of. It's a relief, to be honest. It's difficult enough raising a teenager as is."
"Do you remember when we were teenagers?"
Remus shook his head. Back to the past again, he thought. "Do I remember?" He sighed, looking at Sirius. He remembered it all too well. Maybe they should just get it over with. "I've got a shoebox full of photographs. Cut some of that cake, and I'll fetch it."
The shoebox was sitting on Remus' bedside table. He'd fetched it from the attic earlier; found it in among boxes of old clothes - Teddy's baby clothes were up there, among some of his and Dora's clothes that they'd stopped wearing when they moved out of London - and picture frames and books and old vinyls and pieces of furniture. His old combat boots and leather jacket had been in the box along with the box of photographs.
Remus grabbed the shoebox and went back downstairs, to find Sirius had cut them generous slices of brownie. "Got it," he said.
He put the box on the table, opting for the brownie first. He hadn't looked inside that box other than to confirm it was indeed the right box; he knew it was the right one from the size of the photographs; smaller than the standard, square, and the colours somewhat muted. Tinged red with age.
"May I?" Sirius asked.
The first photograph out of the box was one Sirius had taken, of Lily and James at their wedding. They stared at it, Lily's baby bump was clearly visible, and she was smiling, radiant and happy, and James was crying.
"Oh," Remus said. It'd been a good day - a beautiful day. He and Sirius had...Remus didn't finish the thought.
"Yeah." Sirius voice was thick. "Can I have a copy of this? For Harry," he clarified.
"Of course. I'll see what I can do."
The next few photographs were older. There was one of Remus in the library, one that Lily had taken of the four of them - bile rose in Remus' throat at the sight of Peter, in the centre of the picture.
Sirius put the photograph down without a word.
When Sirius unearthed a photograph of him and Remus, wearing each other's leather jackets and grinning at the camera, Remus smiled.
"Look at those wankers," he said. "Thought they were on top of the world."
"To be fair to our egos, we did live on Regent Street," Sirius pointed out with a grin. "Thanks to my father's excellent connections and deep pockets. We were fucking kings."
"We were assholes," Remus said, but he too, was grinning. "Good times. Oh, I've been looking for this." He'd spotted a photo of him with green hair. There was another one right beneath it, taken a month later - he and Sirius had swapped jackets again, and James and Peter were in the picture too. He couldn't recall who'd taken the photo.
"Jesus, I'd forgotten all about that," Sirius exclaimed. He studied the photos. "I have to say that green doesn't really suit you."
"You picked the colour. It was your bet I lost."
Sirius looked up, frowning. "What was the bet again?"
"Something stupid." Remus shrugged. He folded Peter out of the photo, so that only James, Sirius and himself were visible. "It doesn't matter what it was."
"Well - oh! I remember!" Sirius chuckled. "You had to ask McGonagall for a dance, or something of the sort, and if she accepted you won, if she didn't, you lost."
"Right." Remus shook his head. "Like I said. Wankers, the lot of us."
They went through the entire box, laughing at themselves and sharing memories, not all of them happy. There was a photo of Sirius' brother in there, taken at a party they'd had in their flat, and Sirius stared at it for so long that Remus just let him have it, no questions asked.
Sirius went home just after ten, leaving behind the brownie pan and the beers in Remus' fridge.
They spent the rest of the day outside in the sunshine, cycling around the village and the nearby town. Remus purchased a box of small, sour strawberries from Mildred, who lived at the far end of Teddy's paper round. She had a large patch of wild strawberries in her garden and gave them an extra box for free, on account of Teddy's being a charming young man.
The strawberries went into the basket hanging off the handlebar, and later into dessert, liberally sprinkled with sugar and baked into pie.
During the week, Teddy called upon all their neighbours in their little street, and offered to plant ecology lawn mix in their front lawns for a fiver, as he still had almost a whole bag full of seeds. Ten out of fourteen neighbours accepted, so every day after school Teddy busied himself in the rain, roughing up lawns and spreading clover seeds.
Friday afternoon he did Sirius' front and back lawns, and Harry came out to help him.
Teddy walked beside him, carrying the bag and his own rake. "It's for the bees!" he answered. "And it looks pretty, I suppose."
Harry's and Sirius' back garden wasn't much to speak of. Sirius had mowed the lawn in there, that'd been allowed to grow wild in the years the house had been unattended, but the rest of the garden was empty. There were a couple of thrifted garden chairs and a table on the patio below the window, but not much else.
It'd stopped raining while they'd been doing the front lawn, and the sun was peeking out from the clouds every now and then.
"I don't get it," Harry eventually said. "There's plenty of flowers and stuff in the field." He indicated the field behind his house. It was unoccupied land, far as Teddy knew, and stretched all the way to the rail tracks, which were visible in between the trees at the far edge of the field.
"Yeah, I know, but bees like all sorts of things and some places there isn't a lot of bee food and some places it's been sprayed with chemicals, which hurts the bees, so you know." Teddy shrugged. "I just want to make sure the bees have food to eat so that we also get food to eat and the earth doesn't die and we along with it."
Harry stopped, leaning on his rake with a puzzled expression on his face. "Is the earth at risk of dying?"
"Well…" Teddy put down his rake, having finished roughing up the lawn (he'd become really good at doing it fast), and picked up the bag. "Sort of? There's, you know, global warming and everything."
He showed Harry how to spread the seeds.
"Okay, but how are we helping?" Harry indicated the lawn.
Teddy sprinkled seeds over the last patch of lawn. "Oh. You see, first of all: This lawn mix doesn't require pesticides or fertiliser, right? So that's stuff that doesn't harm the bees. It also doesn't go into the ground or fuck up our water, right? And it makes so that people buy less chemicals and stuff, which then leads to less production of chemicals, ideally, and anyway you get a nice self-maintaining lawn that's pretty and feeds the bees without harming them and it's... nice…" he trailed off, uncertainly. "I mean, okay, it's small stuff, but I can't like, you know, go and build windmills myself or anything, I don't even know how to, so…"
Harry stared at him. "I'm not sure that's how it works?"
"Sure it is," Teddy assured him, with all the confidence of a self-appointed saviour.
"I don't really…"
"I'm saving up for a beehive!"
"...Of course. Of course you are." Harry shook his head, but he was smiling.
"Don't laugh at me." Teddy glared at him.
"I'm not laughing, promise." Harry held up his hands. "You remind me of someone I know, that's all. Really!"
Neville came round the corner in that moment, but he wasn't alone. A beautiful girl with long blonde hair was with him, looking around curiously.
"Speaking of the devil," Harry said, grinning happily. "Luna! Neville! Luna, meet Teddy, you two will get along splendidly."
The girl - Luna - turned her attention to Teddy, who suddenly felt very small and very aware of his dirty palms. "Hello," she said and smiled.
"I like your hair," Luna said. "It's very dashing."
"Tell Luna about your plan to save the bees," Harry said. "Nev, Luna, beer? Do you want one, too, Teddy?"
Teddy, feeling overwhelmed by Luna's attention was caught off guard by Harry's question. "I'm fifteen!" he blurted. "I mean," he added, hastily, "I...yes? But no?" He grimaced.
"Water?" Harry asked, then.
"Thank you." Teddy let out a tiny breath of relief. He was pretty certain that his dad wouldn't kill him if he had a beer, but he was also pretty sure that he didn't want to find out. Yet.
Luna was still regarding him. "Are you really going to save the bees?" she asked.
"I'm saving up for a beehive?" Teddy said. All eyes were on him - save for Harry, who'd gone inside to fetch the drinks.
"That's lovely," Luna said. Her smile was radiant and Teddy wasn't sure he'd ever seen anyone as pretty as Luna before. "My father has bees. They fetch their pollen from the heath and the apple orchard down the road. The honey is delicious. I should bring you a jar sometime."
"I...okay?" Teddy smiled hesitantly. "I'm not doing it for the honey, you know, I just...want there to be...bees," he finished, lamely.
Neville, who'd been following the conversation with an amused smile on his face, lit up. "Hey, do you want to share a hive? I've been meaning to get a beehive, but my folks are a little…" He wiggled his hand in the air. "Is your dad on board?"
Teddy felt his cheeks redden a little, and it was 90% because Luna was still looking at him. "My dad, uh, doesn't know. Yet." He glanced at Luna, then quickly looked away again. She was so pretty. He wiped his palms against his jeans, trying to subtly rub the dirt off them.
"That might pose a problem." Neville wiped the water off the chairs on the patio, then seated himself in one of them. Luna sat on his lap. "Maybe..." he trailed off, staring at the field behind the house. There was a calculating look in his eyes.
Harry came back outside, carrying a tray with a pitcher of water, glasses and bottles of beer. He set the tray on the table and then took the second chair, leaving Teddy to scramble into the third one.
"Harry, do you want to pitch in to the beehive?" Neville asked.
Harry and Teddy stared at him. Luna was the only one who didn't look confused. Teddy noticed she was wearing earrings that looked like radishes.
"What? Harry asked.
"The one Teddy and I are getting," Neville explained, grinning.
Harry looked between Neville and Teddy, and then finally shook his head. "I don't even want to know how that happened. Why do you ask? I don't give a shit about bees."
"You can't just not care about the bees," Teddy told him. "Right?"
Neville opened one of the bottles and handed it to Luna, then opened one for himself. "If you pitch in, we can put the hive on the field over there." He pointed with the bottle. "Teddy and I will have a little problem fitting a beehive into our back gardens. There's not a lot of space - it can be done, but it won't be comfortable, and our neighbours to either side and behind us probably will not be very happy. But you've got a nice open field right there."
"The bees would love the open space," Luna commented.
Harry looked over his shoulder. Then back at Neville. "Can we even use the field?"
"Sure." Neville shrugged. "It's public land. Tell you what, we'll put up two hives and plant a couple of apple trees, and nobody can complain."
"We can do that?" Teddy asked, excitement coursing through him.
"Yep." Neville raised an eyebrow at Harry.
"Yeah whatever, I'll pitch in." Harry shrugged. "What's it gonna cost me?"
"I'll work it out. You cool, Ted?"
"Yeah!" Teddy grinned. This was a lot more than he'd hoped for, and having Neville on board, and Harry, despite how reluctant he was, was awesome. His dad couldn't possibly say no, not when the hive (hives!) wouldn't even be in their own back garden. "We should get loads of different fruit and berry trees and all," he said, already planning ahead.
"Blackberries and cherries," Luna said. "And raspberries. They're my favourite. I'll trade you heather honey for raspberries. "
Harry looked like he wanted to give up on his friends. Teddy didn't care, and dragged his chair closer to Neville and Luna, and started planning. At some point they were joined by a redheaded girl in a muddied football uniform who Teddy learned was Ginny, Harry's girlfriend. Ginny also didn't care much about bees, but told everyone who would listen (which was pretty much only Harry) about the plans her teammates had for a low-key summer tournament with the rivalling football team.
When Teddy had to leave to go home for dinner, they'd made Plans, capital P. They'd start by planting fruit trees in the autumn and finalise by getting the hives and bee families in the spring. That'd leave him plenty of time to save up and convince his dad it was a brilliant idea.
Sirius evidently hadn't gotten the "you can't talk to your neighbours until you've nodded at each other awkwardly for eight years" memo.
The barbecue was smoking.
"Is it supposed to do that?" Remus asked. He'd come over early, at Sirius' request, to help with the barbecue. The potato salad he'd brought was in Sirius' fridge, and Teddy was at Andrew's house, and wouldn't come over until later.
"I don't know," Sirius answered truthfully. He frowned at the barbecue. "The manual said the smoke was supposed to come through here, and then stop." He gestured. "But it's - do you smell that?"
Remus leaned over the barbecue to inspect it. "Have you ever actually fired up a barbecue before?"
"Hm." Remus adjusted a lever and the smoke stopped. "It's fine now." He checked his watch. "Although, with two hours to go, it's a little early to fire up the barbecue. The coals only take half an hour to get ready."
Sirius looked sheepish. "I have more coals?" He shrugged carelessly. He probably meant for it to look careless, but Remus only thought he looked awkward.
He found himself not knowing what to say. What do you say to a man who was once your friend? What do you talk about?
"Do you want to borrow some extra chairs?" Remus finally asked.
Sirius eyed his thrifted chairs. "That might be a good idea," he said.
They fetched Remus' chairs and table from his back garden. They were out three chairs and could've used another table, but Sirius just shrugged.
"We'll stand around and stuff," he said. "It'll be fine." He glanced at Remus. "You, uh, want a beer? No, wait, you don't...tea? Water? I think I have juice…"
"Water is fine."
Sirius went inside to fetch their drinks and Remus seated himself in one of Sirius' chairs, leaning backwards. He turned his face up towards the sun and closed his eyes, letting it warm his face. The sun was about to disappear behind the corner of the house, but Remus was planning on moving his chair to the far end of the garden, up against the fence, before too long.
A soft thud and clink of glasses let Remus know that Sirius had returned, but he didn't open his eyes. "It's nice out here."
"You know, if you want to have morning coffee in the sunshine, you can come here. We get excellent morning sun," Sirius said. "Instead of sitting on your door mat. Unless that's your thing…?"
Remus opened his eyes and Sirius looked away hastily. Had he been staring?
"I might take you up on it." He stretched and got up. "I'm moving to the sun."
"You haven't changed at all," Sirius told him, moving his chair alongside Remus. "You used to lie on the floor in the sunspot and move with it. Like a dog or something."
"I've acquired a scrap of dignity since then," Remus replied. He set his chair against the fence, tilting it a little, and then sat in it. The afternoon sun warmed his face pleasantly, though he knew he would likely end up going home with a red face.
Sirius aligned his chair with Remus', then fetched the table with their drinks on it.
"How are you liking Wallyford?" Remus asked. Making small talk was a lot easier with his eyes closed.
It was a while before Sirius answered. "I guess it's okay," he said. "I don't really have a lot to compare with."
"Because you spent twelve years in prison?"
"Because I grew up in London."
"Ah, of course." Remus peered at him. "Naturally you chose to move to a village with only two thousand inhabitants."
"That was Harry's choice. He has friends here." Sirius shrugged. "Neville. And Ginny - that's his girlfriend - plays for Caledonia FC, so she moved up to Edinburgh."
"What are his plans after the summer? University?"
"I don't know. I think he sent in a couple of applications, but...I don't know, I'm not pressuring him to do anything. He can do what he wants."
"You're not letting him do nothing? That's not healthy."
Sirius looked vaguely guilty. "I'll cross that bridge when I get to it."
"I want you to know that I really, really want to say 'yes, that's my name', but I think I'll spare you."
Remus smiled. "Good. That saves me from having to throw my water at you."
"In all seriousness," Sirius said with a grin, then continued, "I want to let him have the freedom to make his own choices. His aunt's family weren't very nice to him. If he makes mistakes, then those are his mistakes to make, you know? I'll be here to pick up the pieces if need be, but...you know."
The sunlight made Sirius' grey eyes look pale, almost transparent. Remus swallowed a couple of times, trying to get rid of the sudden lump in his throat.
"I suppose that's okay," he said eventually.
"Yeah? I don't have fifteen years' experience parenting," Sirius said, hope shining out of his face. God, but his eyes were strikingly pale out here.
Remus resorted to closing his eyes again, leaning back against the fence. "If it's any consolation, it never stops being scary and it'll never be easy. Being a parent is...it's wonderful, absolutely. But it's also...you get used to the anxiety. You get used to worrying. You get used to loving another person so much you're afraid every day your heart will finally burst out of your chest."
It was quiet a for a bit, but Remus didn't open his eyes again.
"And you used to say you weren't a poet. Shit, Remus." Sirius' voice was oddly rough.
"I 'used to' a lot of things, Sirius. That was then." He sighed. "I'm not the same person I was when we were young. I don't expect you to be."
"I'm sorry," Sirius said. "I'm just...trying to get to know you again, I suppose. Only I don't really know how to go about it?"
He sounded so helpless and forlorn that Remus dared open his eyes again.
"I do wonder sometimes whether maybe there's no point," he said, softly. "I wonder if maybe we lost too much. All the magic's gone."
"No. No. I refuse to believe that." Sirius glared at him. "It can't have been a coincidence - this - my being here, you being here. I believe in second chances, Remus. I want to believe we can rebuild what we had. Or if not rebuild, then build something new."
Remus didn't answer. Did he believe in second chances? How many people were lucky enough to get second chances in the first place?
"If you don't want to -" Sirius stopped abruptly, mouth thin. He started again. "I want to know if our history matters to you at all?"
"Of course our history fucking matters," Remus said, more vehemently than he meant to. "It matters so much to me, that I'm not sure you can comprehend it." He drew in a breath, eyes glaring daggers at Sirius. "What you need to understand is that you showing up here - turning everything upside down - it's not. It's not easy. I see your face, and I feel the same punch in the gut I felt when they arrested you. Do you remember that, Sirius? Do you? Do you have any idea what I felt then?"
"No, I don't." Sirius picked up his beer, which he'd left untouched all this time, and took a large drag of it.
"Logically...Look, I know you didn't do it. But…" Remus trailed off. "It's not easy."
"Yeah. Me too." Remus sighed. "You know, I keep thinking about the last time we saw each other. Back then. The argument we had - well, the things I said to you. Shouted, more like…"
Sirius winced. "I'd rather not think about that."
"I just wanted to...apologise. Retract my words, actually, but...that's not going to work, is it?"
"I don't...look, Remus. You were hurting. I don't hold any of it against you."
"Maybe I do."
Birds tittered on the rooftop.
"I forgave you a long time ago," Sirius said, regarding him. "Maybe you should forgive yourself."
Remus didn't answer. He leaned back in the chair, eyes closed, facing the sun. He remained there, silent, until Teddy came bounding into the garden to find him. The other guests weren't far behind.
They restarted the barbecue, and soon enough there was lively chatter and what do you dos. The tension seeped out of Remus' shoulders as he helped dish out potato salad and handing out paper plates.
"Good morning," Remus said, pointedly.
"Mornin'," Teddy mumbled.
Remus pushed a small stack of photographs across the table to him. He'd finally gotten copies made of the photos Sirius wanted - finding the negatives had proven a challenge - and had gotten some for Teddy too. He'd found a few old photos of Dora as well, and he'd set one of those aside for Teddy.
"Remember when I told you about my green hair?"
"No way!" Teddy put down his fork to look over the photos. The first photo was one of Remus, curly green hair flopping over his left eye, shit-eating grin on his face. "That's you?" He looked up at his dad in disbelief, then back at the photo.
"That's me," Remus confirmed.
"It doesn't even look like you."
"It's still me."
The second photo Teddy looked at was the group photo. Remus had cut Peter out of the copy, so the photo itself was cropped shorter than the others.
"You were like, cool," Teddy said, staring at the photo. "What with the jacket and hair and all. Is that kohl?"
Remus smiled. "It is."
"This is so cool." Teddy grinned at his dad. "You look like a band and everything, especially with the jackets. You know, like Mötley Crüe?"
"Mmmh. That's Sirius' jacket, by the way. He's wearing mine."
Teddy consulted the photos, and confirmed that the jacket Remus was wearing in the first one was the same jacket Sirius was wearing in the second photo. He frowned at the group photo, peering at it closer. "Your jacket is cooler," he said. "Were you boyfriends then?"
"What?" Remus startled. "No. Why are you asking?"
"It's just that you look like boyfriends," Teddy said, shrugging. "He's all over you. And, like, you traded jackets. Andrew's girlfriend wears his jackets all the time, you know." He raised an eyebrow at his dad.
Remus' cheeks coloured a little. "We were like that all the time," he said. "We weren't dating. Sirius didn't date anyone in all the time I knew him, and I think I was…" He frowned. "I don't remember. We were sixteen or seventeen when that was taken."
"Mh." Teddy didn't seem satisfied with the answer, but he shrugged. "Who's that? The Indian guy? Is that Harry's dad? What's his name again?"
"Yeah, that's James. Harry's dad."
"He doesn't look anything like Harry," Teddy declared. "Isn't Harry supposed to look like him? I don't see it."
"He does," Remus argued. "He's got his mother's eyes, but then he's all James."
Teddy studied the photo. "No," he said. "Harry doesn't smile like that."
"Let me see that." Remus took the photo back and gave it a look. Meanwhile, Teddy grabbed the opportunity to shove more food into his mouth. "No, I suppose he doesn't," Remus eventually said and gave it back. He hadn't seen Harry smile a lot - actually, he hadn't seen Harry a lot to begin with. How was he supposed to talk to him? What was he supposed to say to him?
There were a few later photos, of Remus at nineteen at a concert with Sirius (wearing their own leather jackets), of Remus at twenty with James and baby Harry (Lily had taken that picture), then Remus and Dora on their third date, and finally one of Dora in the hospital with newborn Teddy bundled up in her arms and Remus sitting beside her. Despite the fear they'd both felt at the time, unsure of the future and whether they would survive and whether their baby had been infected or not, they were happy in the photo.
Remus didn't know why they hadn't shown Teddy this photo before.
"That was the happiest day of my life," Remus told him, when Teddy got to that photo. He felt the smile tug at his lips, and when Teddy looked up at him, eyes wide, he couldn't help but smile wider. His kid was pretty awesome.
"Not when you married mum?"
"At the time, that was the best day of my life," Remus conceded. "But then you came along. One look at that chubby face and we were sold. Complete goners."
Teddy was blushing and not looking at his dad. He held the photo carefully, as if it would break. "You look so young," he said. "And mum's hair is all weird."
"We were young. I wasn't always this old, you know. Even if it seems like it sometimes." Remus nodded at the photo. "Your mum didn't want to dye her hair while she was pregnant. Said the chemicals wouldn't be good for the baby. It was back to pink a few months later."
"Did she dye it back after she stopped breastfeeding, then?" Teddy asked.
"No." Remus sighed heavily. "She wasn't allowed to breastfeed you. But you had to stay in hospital for eight weeks, and your mum stayed with you. After that, it was some time before she found a spare moment for herself." He eyed his son. "Did we ever tell you the whole story?"
Teddy put the photos down. There was a half-full plate of food next to him, but he seemed to have lost interest in it. "You mean in how we all got sick?"
"You told me I was born with it."
"Yes, that's true." Remus paused, then ran his fingers through his hair. "We found out your mum was infected when she went to get her pregnancy test done. It's a blood test, and they also test for HIV. It'd recently become standard procedure. We hoped she hadn't been infected...she wasn't supposed to be pregnant to begin with, you see. We thought we wouldn't be able to have children at all." He smiled wryly. "We wanted to, but I was infected, and I didn't want to risk passing it on to Dora. We were careful, so we thought maybe there was a leak in the condom, or something like that. Well...as it turned out, she was infected."
"Well, our doctor asked if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy, because there was a huge risk that Dora would pass on her infection to the baby." Remus gestured as if to say it wasn't anything, but then let his hand drop.
Teddy startled. "They...really? Did you? I mean, did you think about doing it?"
"We did -" Remus cut himself off, lunging for Teddy's hands before the boy ran off. He squeezed them hard, looking into Teddy's eyes and willing him to understand. "We did think about it. It doesn't mean that we didn't want you. We wanted you so badly...we...it was hard, because people were dying. Babies were dying. I was on experimental meds, so was everyone else I knew, and your mum got on different experimental meds that were safer for pregnant women. Babies were dying, because at the time, nobody knew how to beat the virus. The doctor asked, because for some people it was a better decision to terminate the pregnancy than have a baby that would develop AIDS within a few weeks and die. What your mum went through when she died - that's what newborn babies went through back then, but worse."
There were tears in Teddy's eyes. "I don't think I want to know this story after all," he said, holding back sniffles.
Remus got up and shuffled his chair closer, so that he could put his arm around his son. "I know it's a horrible story, and I'm sorry. I'm...so sorry." He pressed a kiss into Teddy's hair. "Your mum and I made the choice to keep you. The doctors said there were babies that didn't get infected. They said there were new experimental procedures all the time. We took the risk. We thought it'd be better to have you, even for a short time, than not at all. We thought that if...if worst came to worst, then we'd be with you and you'd know you were loved until the end and beyond. No matter what, we were going to love you so, so much. We were going to make sure that you knew that. That however long you'd live, you'd know that."
Teddy was crying in earnest now, and Remus was rubbing his shoulder with his thumb, trying to choke back his own tears.
"The doctors did everything in their power to prevent you from being infected. Your mum had a cesarian, so that you wouldn't come into contact with her blood or anything else, and you were given a cocktail of experimental anti-viral meds for six weeks straight. Dora wasn't allowed to breastfeed, because the virus can be transmitted through the mother's milk. They tested you at eight weeks.When the test came back positive, they tested you again. I think they tested you five times because Dora and I wouldn't believe it." He squeezed Teddy. "You're our miracle baby, you know. You're still here."
"How come?" Teddy asked, wiping his eyes. "If all the other babies died, how come I didn't? How come you didn't? You told me before that all your friends and mum's friends died."
"They put you on the same experimental meds as I was on. Then better ones, and better ones...There were a lot of different types of experimental meds at the time. It was a new disease, and everybody was scrambling to find a way to treat it. We lucked out. Our meds worked better than the other meds. Some people I knew were on the same meds as I, but they still died. It was a...death lottery. It was horrible." Remus exhaled, taking a moment before he continued. "We were terrified, your mum and I. That we'd lose you, or that we'd leave you orphaned, or…"
"You might still," Teddy said, jaw trembling and his voice breaking. "You might still."
"I know." Remus squeezed him again. "I'm doing my best not to."
He didn't say anything for a long while, just held his son and peppered his head with kisses, until Teddy seemed calm again.
Remus glanced at Teddy's half finished plate of food, and the photographs left on the table. "Do you want to finish your breakfast?"
"Are you sure? It might make you feel better."
Teddy shook his head.
"All right. What did you want to do today?"
"I don't know." Teddy shrugged. "What are you doing today?"
"I need to finish marking some tests, then I thought about taking the old swing seat out of the garage and setting it up in the back garden. Do you want to help?"
"All right." Remus pressed another kiss into his son's hair, then stood up. "Help me with the dishes?"
They washed up in silence, Remus trying to think of something he could do to cheer up his son a little. He hadn't planned on having this conversation, and now he wasn't sure how well he'd handled it. Maybe there were things that should've been left unsaid.
"Did you like that leather jacket?" he asked suddenly, an idea forming in his mind.
"What, from the photos?"
"Yep. I still have that jacket. It's in the attic. If you want it, you can have it."
"Yeah! Totally!" Teddy smiled, delight shining out of his face.
"Finish up here, and I'll fetch it."
It didn't take Remus long to find the jacket. He also brought down his old combat boots; Teddy wore roughly the same size in shoes as he did.
"The jacket's a bit stiff, but it'll be fine with some wear," Remus said, holding the jacket against his son for comparison. "Looks like a fit. Try it on."
Teddy shrugged into the jacket and the inspected himself in the hallway mirror. It was an alright fit on him - a little big in the shoulders, but he'd likely grow into it soon enough. It'd been big on Remus as well, at that age.
"This is the coolest thing ever," Teddy told him, grinning happily.
"Good. Keep it."
Remus left Teddy to admire himself in the mirror, and settled on the sofa with the last few tests he was marking. After a while and some stomping about (seemed like Teddy also liked the combat boots), he joined Remus on the sofa.
"Thanks for the jacket." He pulled the blanket off the back of the sofa, and spread out under it, gangly limbs all over. His feet ended up in Remus' lap.
"You're welcome." Remus squeezed a foot. "I'll wake you in a couple of hours."
Teddy was fast asleep within minutes.
"Dare I ask?" Sirius glanced at the sky. The sun was shining merrily.
"Soak-the-teacher," Remus answered, bending down to lock his bike. "Today we celebrated the end of term. I was on soak-the-teacher duties."
"Oh." Sirius stared. Then cleared his throat. "Ah - I wanted to ask, do you want to have dinner with me?"
"Dinner?" Remus stood up straight again.
"Teddy can come too if he wants," Sirius said. "Harry will be there too, I think. I mean, tonight? Unless…?"
"Oh, uhm." Remus blinked. "Teddy is staying over at his friend's tonight and won't be home for dinner." He glanced at Sirius' house, then back at Sirius. He raised an eyebrow. "Did you lie in wait for me?"
Remus hid a smile. "I'll come to dinner. When do you want me?"
"Does half seven work for you?" Sirius asked, hope shining out of his eyes.
Remus looked at himself. Water was pooling at his feet. "Yeah, that should be fine."
"Great! I'll see you then!" Sirius grinned happily, now backing away. There was a bounce in his step. "See you!"
"See you," Remus answered, smile now on his lips.
He went inside and changed into dry clothes, then thought about calling Andrew's parents to let them know that they could reach him at Sirius' in the evening. He'd just picked up the receiver when he realised he didn't have Sirius' phone number, and that he wouldn't be in the phonebook until next year. He put the receiver down.
At half seven he was standing in Sirius' living room, trying not to listen in on Sirius' and Harry's conversation in the kitchen. He'd borrowed Sirius' phone to let Andrew's parents know where to reach him.
He hadn't been properly inside the house since he and Teddy had brought cinnamon rolls over, and he was pleased to see that Sirius had indeed acquired furniture. Some of it was new, but some of it looked thrifted, and they'd put up a couple of picture frames on the walls. Remus was studying one of Harry and Sirius that looked like it'd been taken a couple of years ago. Sirius looked gaunt and tired, but he was grinning happily. Harry was smiling.
Harry'd grown taller since then, Remus noted.
"That one was taken shortly after I was allowed to meet Harry for the first time," Sirius said, coming into the living room. Harry was right behind him. "That was also before years of dragging cases and child service interviews and whatnot."
"So not quite free, yet."
Sirius shook his head. Harry was quiet.
"We're eating in the kitchen, if that's cool with you? I didn't really feel like fine china and stuff," Sirius said, side-eyeing Harry.
Harry rolled his eyes.
"I'm okay with that," Remus answered, wondering just what had transpired between them in the kitchen. He decided not to ask.
"Great!" Sirius very enthusiastically urged them into the kitchen. The table hadn't been set, but there was a small pile of plates and cutlery sitting atop the table in there. "Sit, sit," Sirius fussed.
They managed, with minimal awkwardness and no accidents, to dish out the food and pass bread and butter back and forth around the small table.
Then silence descended upon them, and the only sounds were that of quiet eating.
"Harry," Remus eventually said, breaking the silence, "I hope you don't mind my asking - Sirius mentioned that you're thinking about studying?"
Harry nodded, hurriedly swallowing before answering. "Yeah, maybe. I'm not sure yet. My best friend Hermione is going, she got into all her choices and all. Oxford and stuff...I've accepted a couple of conditional offers, but..."
"Oh? What have you applied for?"
"Uhm." Harry cast a nervous look at Sirius. "My first choice is a bachelor's in social work in Edinburgh...my second is a bachelor's in politics." He shrugged. "I'm not sure which is best."
"I didn't know you're interested in social work," Sirius commented.
"I'm not," Harry said, with another shrug. "I'd just like to...change some things. Hermione says politics would be best, but Luna says I should know what the system is like and then change it from the inside out. Maybe I'll wait until next year and do it with her."
"Not now?" Remus asked.
"I don't know. I don't really know what else I'd do." Harry shrugged. "Professor McGonagall said I'd be good at this if I applied myse- what?"
Remus shook his head. "Sorry, go on. I didn't realise McGonagall was still alive, that's all. Can't say I'm surprised, I always reckoned she's immortal."
"I spoke to her at Harry's graduation," Sirius cut in with a grin. "She's still going strong. She asked after you, actually. Did I tell you that?"
"No, you didn't." Remus' throat was suddenly dry, and he took a large sip of water. "Maybe I'll send her a postcard."
Harry was looking between them confusedly.
"Best teacher I've ever had," Remus explained to him. "She's the reason I teach."
"To McGonagall," Sirius said, raising his glass. "An inspiration to us all."
Harry smiled and raised his glass. So did Remus.
"She knows what she's talking about," Sirius then said, to Harry. "If she thinks you can do something, you can trust her."
"You'll do fine."
"I won't get my results until next month, so…" Harry shrugged. "I'll know then if I got in or not."
"Are you nervous?"
Harry looked alarmed. "Should I be? I'm getting my driving license and I've got my birthday party to plan so it doesn't really feel like I have a lot of time to think about it."
"How's that going?" Sirius asked.
After learning all about Harry's problems with parallel parking, they talked back and forth about the sleeping arrangements for Harry's friends - some of them would be coming a long way, and would need a place to crash. Between Ginny's room in Edinburgh, Harry and Sirius' spare room, and Neville on the other side of the road, they would only be able to put up five guests.
Remus offered to let them have the spare room in his house; there was an old pull-out couch in there that wasn't too horrible to sleep on and could sleep two people.
"Reckon you could pitch a tent or two in the field behind the house," Remus suggested. "There's plenty of space out there."
Excitement lit up in Sirius' eyes. "That's brilliant, Moony!"
"Right, you've never gone camping, is that how it is?" Remus said, smile pulling at his lips.
Sirius pointed his fork at Remus. "You were the one who said it was stupid last time I suggested it. I'm getting a tent. And I'm sleeping in it." His eyes bore into Remus, or so it felt.
"Er," Harry said.
"I'm not stopping you," Remus eventually said. "Leave the house to teenagers, who have alcohol and access to things like, say...fire. And you're camping in a field..." He shrugged. "What could possibly go wrong?"
Something passed over Sirius' face, like he wanted to go off in a rage at Remus but also like he didn't want to cause a scene. Then it passed, abruptly, as he cracked up laughing.
Remus smiled back.
"You nearly got me, Jesus, Moony," Sirius said, putting down his fork. He ran a hand over his mouth. "Must you? Really?"
"I've had years to practise my poker face," Remus informed him. "I'd challenge you to a game if I thought you'd stand a chance against me." He finally let the happiness bubbling in his stomach manifest on his face in a delighted grin.
This. This was what he'd been missing.
"I spent twelve years in prison, mate. You've got nothing on me."
"Er," Harry said, again. He visibly slid lower in his seat as both Remus and Sirius turned to look at him. "Can I be excused from the table?"
His plate was like licked lean.
"Yes, yes, of course. There's pudding in the fridge if you want some. Moony, pudding?"
Remus leaned back in his chair a little. "Do I ever say no to pudding?"
"Hello," Sirius said. "Is your dad home?"
"Yeah! He's in the back garden, I think he's reading. Or just sitting in the sun, probably. He does that a lot." Teddy gestured at the lawn. "Nice, isn't it? Is yours coming along as well?"
Sirius looked at the lawn. "Uhm, I think so? I haven't really noticed."
"It should," Teddy stated. "All the ones I did are nicer than the rest, just look. Let me know if you see any bees in your garden? I still haven't seen any in ours. Anyway, dad's out back. Oh! You should see my strawberries, come on." He gestured for Sirius to follow.
Somewhat perplexed, Sirius followed him.
Remus was sitting in an old swing seat, facing the sun with his eyes closed. He had a book, but it was face down on his lap. There was a row of baskets full of strawberry plants hanging off one side of the garden fence.
There was plenty of red amongst the green, and Teddy exclaimed in delight when he inspected them. He picked one off and bit into it, then offered one to Sirius. It was sweet, with just a hint of tartness.
"Dad, hey, wake up. Want to taste the strawberries?"
"I'm awake," His dad said, but he didn't open his eyes. "They good?"
"They're very good," Sirius said, amused. "You should have a taste."
That made Remus open his eyes. "Oh, hello," he said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I quit my job, so I came to see if you wanted to hang out. Now that I have all this free time, and you're on holiday..."
"I see." Remus put a bookmark into the book and closed it. "Have a seat."
Sirius sat down next to Remus. They sat in silence for a bit, watching Teddy, who was inspecting his garden and pulling weeds out where weeds should not be. The chilis weren't doing great - they'd not borne any fruit at all.
"You didn't stick with the job for long," Remus said.
"Doing dishes isn't exactly intellectually stimulating," Sirius answered. "I'm looking for something else. In the meantime...it's summer." He glanced at Remus. His face was lightly tanned.
"Mmmh." Remus was looking at his son. There was a soft look in Remus' eyes that made him look younger. He still had wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, and the beginnings of grey at his temples, but when he smiled like that...he looked more like the man Sirius had known when they were young. "Teddy, why don't you pick all the ripe berries before the birds get to them?"
"Oh, yeah." Teddy brushed dirt off his fingers and went inside to fetch a bowl.
"Are you looking for anything specific?" Remus asked.
"What - oh, I don't know. I'll take whatever looks nice and will have me."
"Try the library in Musselburgh. I hear Mildred is retiring."
Sirius stared at him. "You know, I know this is a small community, but I'm frankly a little disturbed that you know details like that."
Remus laughed. "I spearhead homework cafes in the library on Thursdays, in the school season. I know Mildred because I've worked with her." He smiled. "It was Teddy who brought the gossip, though. She's on his paper round."
"That's a lot more reassuring."
Teddy came back outside and started plucking strawberries into a large white bowl with red hearts on it.
Sirius leaned close to Remus, speaking in a low voice so Teddy wouldn't hear. "My last day of work, one of the guys gave me a little farewell present. I've got a couple of joints, if you're interested."
"I - what -" Sirius stared at Remus, his unmoving and serious face. There was a twinkle in his eye that belied the seriousness. "you're joking!" He spluttered.
Oh no, Sirius thought, staring at the curl of Remus' lip, and the crow's feet at the corner of his eyes.
"Maybe," Remus then said, exhaling. "No promises."
"Fair enough. But if you feel like it...you know where to find me." Sirius wiggled his eyebrows, and Remus snorted.
"That didn't work on me then, it's not going to work on me now."
"Can't fault a man for trying." He stretched his legs, leaning back a little, causing the swing seat to move. He kicked at the ground, and the seat swung slowly, creaking from every joint. "This isn't going to collapse, is it?"
"I don't know," Remus answered. "Old thing like this…" he peeled a strip of paint off the arm rest. "Tell you what, when it collapses we'll know."
Sirius continued kicking the ground, the swing seat swinging back and forth ever so lightly. They watched Teddy at work with the strawberries, enjoying the sun and the light breeze, swinging and swinging, until Remus put a stop to it.
"It's making me nauseous," he explained. "That's enough."
"But we're barely moving?"
"Side effect of my meds," Remus explained, making a face. "I can't help it."
Sirius didn't know what to say to that, so he didn't say anything at all. The swing seat finally came to a total stop, and the creaking ceased.
Teddy had filled half the bowl with strawberries, leaving only the green ones still on the strawberry plants. He bounced over, presenting the bowl to his dad. "I think they're a different sort, or something, from the ones you can get from the market. Neville said something about this kind of strawberries growing in Sweden."
"They smell delicious," Remus commented, picking a large red berry out of the bowl. He bit into it, and as he chewed it down, inspected the other half of the berry. "These are really good, thank you, Teddy."
"What do you want to do with them?" Teddy asked.
"Eat them," Remus answered. "These are too good for pie." He scooped out a handful, then passed the bowl to Sirius.
Teddy grinned happily in response, and Sirius noted that he had his father's smile. Teddy took the bowl back from Sirius, then sat on the edge of the carrot box, cradling the bowl in his lap. His fingers were stained red.
"How do you feel about staying with your nan some time this summer?" Remus asked him. "She'd love to have you."
"When?" Teddy looked up. "I mean, Harry said I could come to his party and Neville is going too, so…"
"Next week," Remus said. "You'll be back before the party. If it's okay with your nan."
"Oh, okay then. Wait, you're not coming?"
"I actually thought I'd let you have her to yourself."
Teddy narrowed his eyes at him, then looked between his dad and Sirius. "You're going to stay here...alone? Aren't you going to get bored?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Remember last summer?"
"The one you spent the entire time complaining that you were bored?"
"I'm giving you the opportunity to complain about boredom to another person in another place," Remus said. "I'll be fine."
Teddy didn't look entirely convinced, but he did look sufficiently cowed. "Okay. But it's weird if you're not there."
"How about this," Remus said, giving his son a smile, "I drop you off at your nan's for a week, then I come down and join you for a couple of days before we go home?"
"Yeah. I'd like that." Teddy paused, then: "Will you help me with my hair before I go? I got one of those tubs of cotton candy pink hair dye like mum used to use, and I got more bleach too." He tugged at his hair to look at the ends, which looked pretty frizzy and dry. The bright electric blue Sirius had seen on him that morning in June had faded away, leaving behind a watery greenish blue. His roots were dark brown, nearly black.
"Of course." Remus gave his son's hair a critical look. "It might come out purple in places because of the blue," he said, "and we really need to trim your ends. It'll look nicer, I promise," he added at Teddy's protest. "Your hair will still be long."
Teddy acquiesced and they polished off the remaining strawberries.
Scotland was having one of her beautiful, sunny summer mornings, and Remus decided it was time to finally take Sirius up on his offer. He headed straight for the back garden, not even pausing to ring the doorbell or announce his arrival; it was Sunday and too early for sensible people to be awake.
The garden gate swung open with ease. Remus set his mug down on the table under the window, and then pulled out a chair.
It was quiet, aside from the birds chirping. The morning sun warmed his face, and Remus leaned back, turning his face upwards. Like a sunflower, he thought. Teddy had mentioned to him that sunflowers always face the sun and if they don't, they die. He'd said his dad was like a sunflower; always soaking up the sun.
Dora had called him a cat for the same reason.
There was a knock on the window behind Remus' head. To his surprise, it was Harry and not Sirius.
"Mind if I join you?" Harry asked, indicating the empty chair on the other side of the table.
Remus gestured for him to take a seat. A short moment later, the back door opened and Harry exited the house, carrying a huge plate of toast and a glass of orange juice. Looked like all teenage boys ate the same thing.
"Good morning," Remus said. "It's awfully early to be up."
"Look who's talking," Harry said, sitting down.
"I've an excuse." Remus unfolded the newspaper, unsure if Harry wanted conversation or not. "I usually have breakfast with Teddy when he comes back from his paper round. He's gone back to sleep. I, on the other hand..." He gestured at the coffee mug and the paper.
"Sounds nice." The toast crunched as Harry munched it down.
Remus sipped his coffee and started reading the paper.
The sun rose higher, the birds sang louder, and the first early train passed by on the other side of the field. It could only be glimpsed through the foliage lining the railway, but its metallic rumbling could be heard clearly over the distance.
"I couldn't sleep," Harry eventually said. His plate was empty. "I thought I might as well..." He shrugged.
"I'm familiar with the feeling."
"You were married, right? For a while?"
Remus looked at him. Harry seemed nervous, jittery. "I was," he confirmed.
"I was just wondering..." Harry frowned, looking at his nails. "If it's not too untoward? I mean, I asked Sirius, but his advice...well."
"Girl problems?" Remus asked lightly. His coffee was going cold, but he took a sip anyway.
"Sort of. More like boy problems, I think. Or both. I don't know."
"...interesting. What's the issue?"
Harry let out a deep breath. "It's kind of weird and complicated...there's this guy, right? We're kind of...well, not together, but sort of? I mean, he avoids the subject and we haven't really...I'm pretty sure that he's into me, but he just..." Harry made like he wanted to strangle an imaginary person, groaning in frustration.
Remus considered this. "I thought you had a girlfriend?"
"Oh. Yeah, I do. Ginny. She kind of hates Draco, and he's not her biggest fan either. That doesn't make it easier." Harry ran his hand through his hair in a gesture so reminiscent of James, that for a moment all Remus could do was stare. "I don't need them to love each other, but it'd be nice if they would be friends. Or friendlier, anyway."
"I can see how that would complicate things," Remus said. "Is this Draco reluctant to enter a relationship with you because of your relationship with Ginny?"
"In the beginning, I think so, yeah. Now...I think it's just an excuse. We have sort of a rocky history - he's pretty racist. Or used to be, anyway, he's better about it now. But his family would probably never accept me." Harry shrugged. "And not just because of that. They're uptight aristocracy and all."
"Family is a powerful thing," Remus told him. "I hope you know that you can't force him into anything. He may choose his family over you. It'll hurt, yes." He gave Harry a rueful smile. "But his choices are his own, whatever they may be."
"I suppose." Harry looked wrecked, tired. Almost hopeless.
"For what it's worth, I know for a fact that Sirius would always be supportive of you, regardless of your sexual orientation or career choices or whatever else you do. Perhaps...perhaps you could lend that support to your young man when he needs it."
Harry stared at him. His cheeks were red, like he'd only just realised that he'd effectively outed himself to a semi-stranger. He looked away, swallowing a couple of times, tugging at his hair. Eventually, he found his voice again. "I just want him to stop avoiding me and the subject and just...man up! There's nothing really stopping us, you know? Even Ginny is okay with it - she's not so okay with it being him, specifically, but she said..."
"She said what?" Remus prompted, when Harry had been quiet for too long.
"She said that we can't control who we fall in love with." Harry made a face. "I didn't even think it was possible to fall in love with two people at the same time until it happened to me."
"She's right," Remus said, making sure to keep a light tone. "We don't control who we love. We only make the best of what we're given. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't."
"Well," Remus said, emptying his mug. His coffee was cold and gross now. "I don't have any solutions for you, or magical fixes. But," he said, folding his paper together, "whatever you do, make sure everyone is happy. Talk to both of them. Communicate. Being on the same page as your partner is extremely important, and when you've got two to keep happy, it's even more important. Getting hurt is easy. Fixing it...not so much."
"Yeah," Harry said with a sigh. "I suppose you're right."
"So, what are you going to do now?"
"Call Draco, I suppose. Tell him that I want him at my birthday party even if it means I have to fetch him from Wiltshire myself." Harry's eyes had a familiar fiery look in them.
Remus smiled. "Good luck. How's the party preparations coming on?"
"Okay, I guess. Sirius bought a tent yesterday, he said he was going to put it up today to test it."
"He's really planning on sleeping in it?"
Harry shook his head, but he was smiling. "Looks like it."
"How many people are you planning to sleep in there?" Remus asked.
Sirius stuck his head out of the tent, where he'd been fiddling with some straps on the inside of the canopy. "Me and my beau, ideally," he answered. His hair was loose, falling to just above his shoulders. The few grey strands in his hair stood out more than they did usually.
"Your beau?" Remus asked, lightly, eyebrow raised. Something in his stomach pinched, but he couldn't quite account for the feeling - not now, in this place, in this time.
"Entirely fictional, of course. Unless opportunity presents itself. What do you say?"
Remus eyed him. "In your dreams." The words fell so easily from his lips, it was a little like he was transported twenty years back in time, a time where everything was easier and at the same time, so much harder.
"I'm just about done here," Sirius said, crawling out of the tent. "I'm testing it tonight."
"With Harry alone in the house?"
"Oh, no. Harry's going to Ginny's for a couple of days."
"He's going to Edinburgh alone?"
Sirius shrugged. "Yeah."
"He'll be eighteen in about two weeks," Sirius pointed out. "Age is an arbitrary thing. If he wants to spend some quality one-on-one time with his girlfriend, I'm not going to stop him."
"I gave him the safe sex talk over a year ago," Sirius told him. "It was horrible for both of us, but he's a smart kid. They'll be fine."
Harry came out of the house in that moment, rucksack slung over his back.
"I'm, uhm, off to the train station," he said.
"Already?" Sirius looked at his watch. "Huh. Want a ride?"
Harry gave him a weird look. "It's just a short walk."
"I'd be happy to take you," Sirius said, opening the small gate in the fence. Remus followed him back into the garden.
"I'm okay," Harry said.
"Call me when you get there," Sirius then said, pulling him into a squeeze. "And stay out of trouble."
Harry walked round the house and out of sight.
"One day that'll be my kid," Remus said. "Off on adventures and being all grown up."
"You don't look happy."
"It's been the two of us for so long, I don't really know what I'll do the day he moves out."
"You seemed pretty keen on packing him away with his grandmother the other day," Sirius commented.
"It's his nan, not a girlfriend in a big city," Remus argued. "And it's only for a week. It's completely different."
"Well, Harry isn't moving out anytime soon. I told him he could move into halls if he liked, but he wants to stay here and commute. It's only a fifteen minute ride with the train, he says." Sirius shook his head. "To be honest with you, I wouldn't have it any other way."
Remus smiled. "You only just got him."
"True. Listen, with Harry out of the house, I was planning to smoke a bit," Sirius said. "My offer still stands, if you want in."
Excitement and something that felt a lot like nostalgia and butterflies welled up in Remus.
Harry wasn't home, but this time he was across the street at Neville's watching rented movies.
"That's my last one," Sirius said. "There's no more."
"You're not getting more?"
Sirius shook his head. "Noooo." He gestured at the sky. Miraculously, it hadn't rained for a week, the moon was new, so the sky was dark and clear, and strewn with stars. "This is very nice and all, but..." He shrugged. Remus passed him the joint. "It's not very adult of me."
"I think you mean responsible," Remus told him. "Adults do stupid shit too."
"Have I ever told you," Sirius started, looking cross and pointing the joint at Remus, "that - that..." He frowned. "You're infuriating." He enunciated the last word very clearly.
"Probably." Remus grinned. "Doesn't make it less true."
"My days as a carefree partying bachelor are over," Sirius stated, staring at the joint. He took another deep drag. "This is my last hurrah."
"You're telling me that prisons overrun with drugs are a myth?"
Sirius shrugged. "All I got from my stint in jail are a couple of ugly tattoos." He rolled up a shirt sleeve. "I'm pretty sure that was supposed to be a wolf, but I honestly can't tell what it actually is. Maybe a badger. A horse?" He squinted. "A freaky horse."
"Lemme see." Remus leaned over, so close that his nose nearly pressed against Sirius' arm. "That's clearly a mythological animal. It's a wallaboozoo. Very fearful, venomous and all that. And poisonous. At the same time." He plucked the joint from Sirius' fingers and leaned back again. "Ah."
"You tricked me," Sirius moaned. "I've been bamboozled."
"I don't think that word means what you think it means."
"I thought you taught maths, not nitpicking."
"I teach maths , but that doesn't mean I don't know words," Remus pointed out.
"Facetitititous," Sirius said.
"Facetious. Fabulous. Ferocious."
Remus cracked up laughing. "Alligators have nothing to do with alliteration."
"Where the hell do you get wallaboozoo from anyway?" Sirius accused. "Gimme that back. Wallaboozoo's don't exist."
"Wallabies exist. In Australia." Remus took one last drag of the joint before he passed it back to Sirius to finish. "A wallaboozoo is it's terrifying cousin."
"Who doesn't exist," Sirius declared.
"It exists if you believe in it," Remus told him. "There's like, monks in Nepal who believe in things and make them exist."
"Do monks in Nepal believe in wallaboozoos?"
Remus shrugged. "I don't know. Do they believe in Australia, do you think?"
"I'm not sure I believe in Australia." Sirius stubbed out the joint in an ashtray. "Or England. Or the Queen."
"I've met the Queen so I totally believe in her."
Sirius stared. "Of course you have, of fucking course. How the fuck did you meet the Queen? You didn't fucking meet the Queen."
"I met the only Queen that matters," Remus said, nearly bursting with laughter. He leaned closer, whispering conspiratorially. "Freddy Mercury."
"It's true. When I was still in London. We had the same doctors, apparently. Ran into him one day."
Sirius shook his head, muttering. "Figures."
"Nice bloke, he was." Remus closed his eyes, smiling. "I should dig out my old records someday. They're all in boxes."
"You don't want to keep it in the past?"
"I don't know. You came out of the past." Remus shrugged. "I sometimes wonder what kind of skeletons will fall out if I open that particular closet."
"You calling me a skeleton?" Sirius looked affronted.
Clouds were beginning to move over the stars, darkening the sky.
"I'm not a skeleton," Sirius argued. "I'm maybe half a skeleton."
"I think it's going to rain," Remus said, looking at the sky. "Look, Cassiopeia just disappeared."
"I don't see anything."
"That's because of the clouds," Remus said, and scrunched up his nose. Rain had started to fall.
"Come on." Sirius stood up. "I'm hungry."
"Ohh, do you have scones? I feel like scones." Remus followed him inside. "Do you have scones?"
"I have scones." Sirius rooted through a cupboard, upending its contents in the process. "Aha!" He pulled out a bag. "Scones!"
He threw the bag at Remus, and then strode over to the fridge, and fetched a can of cream. "Clotted cream!"
"That's not clotted cream, that's a travesty," Remus informed him. "You should be arrested."
"Look, do you want whipped cream on your scones or not?"
Remus considered this. Then he pulled a scone out of the bag and held it out to Sirius, who sprayed a generous amount of fluffy whipped cream on top. "You should still be arrested."
"Shut up and eat your scone."
They'd gobbled up all the scones and cream in about twenty minutes flat.
"Travesty," Remus said, sighing. "But damn good travesty that was."
Sirius shook the can, then tried to spray the last bit of cream into his palm. There was nothing but a hissy sound of air and a few drops of cream. "Oh, damn it." He threw the can into the bin.
"I'm going to pretend I did not just see that." Remus was leaning against the counter, watching Sirius. He hadn't been this relaxed in a long time, and was actually little sorry that all the weed was gone.
"Thank you." Sirius leaned against the fridge. He looked tired all of a sudden.
It was silent save for the tap-tap-tap of the rain against the windows, and it was dark. Remus noticed that they hadn't bothered to turn any lights on when they came in. He looked around and found a switch. He flicked it, and a little light under the top row of the cupboards fluttered to life.
"You know," Sirius said, looking at him intently. "I was in love with you then. Did you know that? I was…"
Remus stared at him. There was an odd ringing in his ears.
"It nearly ate me up," Sirius said. "That's what it was like. I was...so...in love."
"That…" Remus swallowed. The ringing persisted. "You never said anything."
Sirius shrugged. "I know. I regret it. I should've. It would've been nice to...well." He looked up and his eyes locked with Remus'. "That was it, for me. Then."
"And now?" Remus asked, feeling faint. He wasn't sure he'd even said it out loud, but Sirius was shrugging again.
"I guess some things don't change."
"I -" Remus started, shaking his head. He didn't really know what he wanted to say, or do.
The front door opened. "Sirius?" Harry called. Remus startled.
"In here!" Sirius called back. He was still looking at Remus.
"I need to go," Remus said, avoiding to look at Sirius. "I'll talk to you later. After I get back - in a few days." He darted out and past Harry with a quick greeting.
He was shaking, he realised, once he was back in his own house. He didn't turn the lights on.
"What's wrong?" Teddy finally asked, frustration all over his face. "You're not paying attention and you're just." He gestured at his dad. "All weird."
"I'm sorry," Remus said. "It's nothing. You were saying?"
"You don't even know what I was telling you," Teddy accused.
"Bookshop," Remus prompted.
"That was twenty minutes ago," Teddy said. "You weren't listening!"
Remus drew in a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I was distracted. Tell me again, I promise I'll listen."
"That's no use if you're not going to listen the first time." Teddy kicked at a tuft of beach grass.
"I said I'm sorry, Teddy. I am sorry."
"What were you so distracted about anyway?"
"Things," Remus answered evasively.
Teddy's jaw hardened. "I bet it was about Sirius," he said. "I bet it's because you want to be with him and stuff." He kicked another tuft of grass.
Remus was struck speechless.
"I bet you only sent me here so you could have fun with him without me being in the way," Teddy added, resentful and angry.
"No, that's not true -"
"You so did." Teddy stopped, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Remus had rarely seen his son so angry. No, that was not correct, he'd seen Teddy's anger before. This was different.
"What makes you think I would do that?"
"You talk with him all the time and he's always got excuses to talk to you and you never talk to Frank and Alice anymore, and I thought Frank was your best friend, but you're always with Sirius and he's in love with you and it's so stupid and obvious, and you…" Teddy stopped for breath, but then stopped. Just stared at his dad defiantly, chin up, as if daring him to dispute what he'd said.
"I talk to Frank and Alice," was all Remus could say.
"Not since that barbecue Sirius had," Teddy said. "You just. You're always over there, or he's always at our house."
Remus was forced to admit that Teddy was right. He hadn't spoken more than a couple of words to Frank and Alice since Sirius moved in. How had he not noticed that he'd been neglecting his friends in favour of spending time with Sirius? Had he been neglecting Teddy too?
"So that's it, isn't it, you're going to just spend all your time with him and forget about everyone else and me," Teddy said, interrupting Remus' train of thought.
"No, Teddy, that's not true. I would never forget about you, no matter what -"
"What about mum?"
"Your mum is dead," Remus said, which turned out to be entirely the wrong thing to say.
Tears welled up in Teddy's eyes. "You don't care about her anymore at all!" he yelled. "Not at all!" His lip wobbled, and then he took off in a run, catching up to his nan.
"Well done," Remus muttered to himself. "Excellent. Just the way to handle an emotional teenage boy. You're a right genius." He sighed, and then started after his son.
Teddy refused to even look at him, once Remus had caught up to them, and simply stalked off so that he was a couple of paces ahead of his nan and dad at all times. Remus only caught a glimpse of his tear-streaked face.
"What happened?" Andromeda asked. "He wouldn't tell me anything."
Remus shook his head. "I met someone. Teddy thinks...he accused me of forgetting Dora." He gave Andromeda a rueful smile. "As if I could possibly forget Dora."
She nodded. "And this...someone?"
"We're not even in a relationship. I'm still thinking everything over. Weighing pros and cons. I don't want to start anything on a whim. Not after...everything. I can't."
"Not everything needs to be thought through. Some things just need to be done." She nodded towards Teddy. "Talk to your son. I know he only wants the best for you."
"He loves his mum," Remus said.
"Naturally. But I believe it's a valuable lesson to learn that one can move on from loss," she said. "He needs to learn that."
"Yeah." Remus rubbed his face. "But I don't want to hurt him."
"That might be unavoidable." She gave his arm a squeeze. "I think it would be good for you to do this, with your new person. You need to learn to move on too."
She shook her head. "Losing a child is different. There's no coming back from that."
Remus looked away, at Teddy who was kicking tufts of grass ahead of them. "I never want to know what that is like."
"I want to talk to you," Remus said. "I hope you'll give me the chance."
Teddy pulled his legs up and curled his arms around them. "Okay. " He didn't look at his dad.
"It's true that Sirius is in love with me," Remus told him. "He told me the other day. I didn't know, until then. You're smarter than I am."
"No," Teddy said. "I just pay attention."
"I'm sorry I didn't listen to you today. I was distracted because I was thinking about what would happen if I...took Sirius up on his offer. I was thinking about you, too."
This got Teddy to look up. "Me?"
"Yes, you. I was wondering what you'd think." Remus looked his son in the eyes, and when Teddy didn't say anything, he pressed on. "What do you think?"
"I think…" Teddy's lip wobbled. "I think you're forgetting mum and me and I think everything will be different."
"Everything will be different. I'm not disputing that. It'll be different for me too." Remus scooted forward a bit, closer to Teddy. "I will never forget your mum. That's impossible. You remind me of her every day. I never stopped loving your mum, you know. Dora is that kind of person. I can feel her love from beyond the grave - nothing can ever take that away from me. You understand that, don't you?"
Teddy nodded. "Yeah. It feels like that."
"But," Remus pushed on. "She's not the most important person in my life. You are. You always have been - here, come here." He opened his arms and gestured for Teddy. Teddy unfurled himself and shuffled over, eyes full of tears once again.
"I don't like how it feels," Teddy said, voice shaking. "It feels all wrong."
"Is it so bad that your dad might've found someone new to love?"
"It feels like you're replacing her and I don't want that, I don't want him to be like...like a new mum or a second dad or something, that's just, I don't want that, I don't want anyone else to come instead of mum," Teddy said, voice breaking.
Remus squeezed him, his heart hurting for his son. "I could never replace Dora. I don't want to even try. He's not going to come instead of your mum."
"But why then?"
"He's a different person. It's different…" He paused, considering. "It's a different love, I think."
"How does even that work?" Teddy sniffled, wiping at his eyes. He'd more or less stopped crying - it'd only been a brief thing. Remus realised that Teddy likely had spent all his tears on the beach earlier that day.
"I don't think it's possible to love two different people in the same way," Remus said. "It's different every time. It's how I'm still able to love your mum, even if she's not around anymore."
"Do you remember I once asked if you were boyfriends, before?" Teddy asked "You said no. Was that a lie?"
"No. That was true. We were never anything more than friends."
"But...were you in love with him?"
"Yeah," Remus admitted. "I was."
"But you weren't boyfriends? Why not?"
Remus shrugged. "I didn't think he was interested. He never dated anyone, so I thought he just wasn't interested in relationships at all. And he...never told me. Circumstances, I guess. I don't think things would've been much different now if we'd been together back then. He'd still have gone to jail and I still would've met your mum and we'd still have had you."
"How's it going to be, then?" Teddy asked. He was picking at a thread in his jeans, which Remus now noticed were holey. How Teddy had managed to wreck a brand new pair of jeans in so short a time, he couldn't tell.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know. I don't know if we're going to try, or if it's going to work out. I haven't seen anyone since your mum died, and Sirius has never been in a relationship with another person in his entire life. Between the two of us, we might just be a disaster in the making." Remus squeezed his son, giving him a soft smile. "But I think I want to try."
"I still feel weird," Teddy said. "Do you think that'll go away?"
"I don't know. Only you can know. It might not for a while. It might never. I want you to tell me if it doesn't feel right, okay? If something upsets you, or if things are happening too fast, or something. I want you to tell me."
Teddy looked up. "Is he going to move in with us?"
"I don't think that's likely. Are you afraid he will?"
"Maybe." Teddy shrugged. "I don't really know."
A door opened somewhere in the house, and the dogs came running.
"Looks like your nan's back. Are you okay? Do we need to continue this talk later?"
Teddy shook his head. "I'm okay."
"All right. Listen, I'm really sorry for not paying attention to you today, I -"
"It was stupid anyway. It was just this really cool bookshop."
"Show it to me tomorrow. I'd like to see it."
"It's stupid -"
"No, it's not. I mean it. If it's as cool as you think it is, then I'd like to go."
"Ugh, dad, just stop. Don't make it weird," Teddy said, shaking his head. "It's fine."
Andromeda came into the living room, cheeks rosy from the brisk wind. "Everything okay?" The dogs yapped at her feet.
"Everything's good," Remus said, but he was looking at Teddy.
Teddy nodded. "Yeah."
Remus avoided Sirius entirely.
He'd applied a thick layer of black kohl and was debating which of the three similar peach lipsticks he wanted to wear, if not the pink one or the purple one, when his dad walked past the bathroom door.
His dad backtracked, and stuck his head in. "Hey - preparing for the party?" he asked.
"Yeah." Teddy didn't quite meet his dad's eyes in the mirror, and instead chose to focus on the neat row of lipsticks he'd set up. The peach ones were the most used, with two of them being mere stubs.
"Is that your mum's stuff?"
"Can I see?"
Teddy turned around, feeling self-conscious. "I can't decide," he said.
His dad regarded him. "The eyeliner suits you. It's a little uneven - here." He picked up the kohl and beckoned for Teddy to sit. "Close your eyes. It's not bad, you just need a little more on this side to even it out," he said, carefully drawing the pencil over Teddy's left eyelid. "There, all done."
"You don't mind?"
"Why would I?" His dad inspected the kohl stick. "I'm actually pretty sure this one used to be mine." He gave it back. "Just be careful when you go out like that. Some types take offense. I don't want to have to pick you up in pieces from A&E."
"Have you…" Teddy trailed off, not sure he really wanted to ask that question, or know the answer.
"What, been beaten up for wearing eyeliner?" His dad gave him a wry smile. "Yeah. Some parts of London you don't want to walk down the street like that. I never got anything worse than a split lip or a black eye, but I had friends who had worse."
Teddy looked up. "Should I wash it off?"
"Do you like the look?"
"Do you think there'll be anyone at Harry's party who would take offense?"
Teddy considered this. He was pretty sure Harry, Luna and Neville would be cool. He'd known Neville since he was a kid anyway, and Neville was pretty chill. Probably Ginny too. But he didn't know who else was going to be there, or how many people Harry had invited… "I don't think so," he eventually said.
"Then don't wash it off." His dad looked over the lipsticks. "Are you going to put lipstick on too?"
"I think so. I can't decide. Maybe it's too much? And I don't know which colour."
Teddy considered the peach coloured lipsticks, and eventually picked one out. He put it on carefully, trying to ignore the fact his dad was looking at him.
"You look exactly like your mum," His dad said. "She used to…" He shook his head. "It suits you."
The lipstick was nice, but… "I can't do it." Teddy grabbed a napkin and rubbed it off.
"If you're sure." His dad squeezed his shoulder and ruffled his hair. "Have fun at the party. I love you. Take your meds before you leave, if you're planning on staying out late."
"I thought you were going?" Teddy smoothed his hair back down. "To hang out with Sirius."
"Maybe later." His dad shook his head, then left the bathroom. Teddy heard the door to his bedroom open and close.
He looked himself over, suddenly nervous. It'd be okay. He shrugged into to the leather jacket and went downstairs to find the boots.
Looking really cool was one thing, but being really cool was a different thing altogether.
Teddy looked himself over in the hallway mirror one last time, then called out a goodbye to his dad and left.
Somebody was standing on the sidewalk outside Sirius' house, staring at the house and fiddling with the sleeves of his blazer. Teddy was pretty sure he'd never seen anybody that blond before.
"Hello," he said. "Can I help you?"
The guy turned around. "Hello." He regarded Teddy coldly. "Is this Harry Potter's house?"
Teddy instantly didn't like him. "I suppose technically it's Sirius Black's house, but Harry lives here, yeah. You here for the party?"
"Maybe," he answered, turning back to look at the house. Teddy noticed now that he was leaning against an expensive looking car.
"I'm Teddy," Teddy said, pointedly.
"Wait - you are Draco?" Teddy blurted out.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Draco Malfoy said,sounding snappish.
"Nothing! Just. Not what I was expecting. Nevermind. Are you coming or not?"
Draco glared at him. "Maybe," he said.
Teddy glared back, but Draco didn't move. "The party is in the garden behind the house," he said, but Draco didn't even bother to answer. Teddy shook his head and left him be. It wasn't his problem if Draco was the weirdest person on the planet.
Enough was enough, he decided and put shoes on. He couldn't avoid Sirius forever.
The music from the house was louder outside. Frank and Alice were sitting outside their house, chatting, and keeping a casual eye on the party. They'd brought their garden chairs and table to the front, and had a lantern and a couple of beers.
"Evening," Remus said.
"Hullo," Alice said. "Going to fetch Teddy?"
"Just checking things out," he said.
"Let the kids have their party," Frank said. "He'll be okay if he comes home a little late."
"I'm sure," Remus said. He glanced at the house. "I'll just, uh. Go have a word with Sirius, or something. See if he wants company."
"I'm sure he wouldn't mind some company," Alice told him, lifting her bottle. "Cheers."
Remus gave them a nod, then strode across the street and let himself into the house. Teddy was in the living room, in deep conversation with Neville and a few others. From the sound of it, it was about bees. Hopefully his son wasn't planning on getting a beehive, he thought. That'd be just like him.
He let them be, and went through the kitchen to the back garden, on the off chance that Sirius was in the kitchen. He wasn't. He wasn't in the back garden either, but Harry was there, talking to a small handful of people, amongst them two Indian girls and a pale, blond boy.
There was light in the tent in the field.
Remus opened the garden gate quietly, and went to stand in front of the tent. The tent flap was open and he could see a pair of legs. "Hello," he said. "I would knock, but it seems like you don't have a door."
There was scrambling inside the tent, and then Sirius was there, looking out. "Remus," he said. "I'm surprised to see you. I was beginning to think I would never see you again."
"Can I come in?"
Sirius moved aside, holding the tent flap for him. Remus crawled in.
It was cosy inside; Sirius had put a thin mattress on the floor and covered it in blankets and pillows. An electric torch was hanging from the canopy, casting a soft, yellow light.
"It looks nice in here."
"Thanks." Sirius let the tent flap fall, but he didn't close it.
"How's the party?"
"The kids seem to be having fun." Sirius picked up a book that he'd left open, and moved it aside. "I was reading before you got here."
"I see." Remus shuffled a little, trying to make himself comfortable.
"Are we going to talk?"
"Yeah," Remus exhaled. "Yeah, we better."
Sirius nodded. "As I recall it, it's your turn to say something."
"Yes." Remus nodded. "I'm sorry about storming out on you like that. I just..." He gestured helplessly. "I wasn't prepared."
"I don't feel any more prepared," Remus said, looking up. "I don't feel ready for anything at all. And I don't want to rush into anything, either."
"But you do...want...something? With me?"
Something flickered over Sirius' face. "Say it, Remus. Just come out and say it. Whatever it is you feel - I need to know."
"I think I'm falling in love with you again," Remus said. "I'm pretty sure, actually. It's a bit like before, but also a bit different."
"Again? Did you say again?" Sirius paled.
"Yes. I wanted you, then. I just didn't think you...well, it doesn't matter now." Remus shrugged. "We're here now."
"Yeah. We're here now." Sirius was looking at him intently. "Where does that leave us?"
"I don't know. What do you want from me?"
"I'd like..." Sirius looked away briefly. "I'd like to get to know you better. I'd like to get to kiss you, go places with you, talk to you. I just...want you. More you. I don't care what you'd want to call it, I want it."
Remus nodded. "I think I can do that. I'd like that." He looked at Sirius. "It feels a little like I've known you my whole life, but also like I've only just met you. It's... It makes sense, but it's also confusing. I want to... I want to give us a try."
"Do you think we can?"
"We won't know until we try." Remus was very aware of the space between them, how close Sirius was and how far away he felt - it was a little like there was a giant chasm between them that he could only leap over.
It was terrifying.
"I came here to see if Teddy was about to come home anytime soon," Remus said, choosing to take the cowardly way out. He'd come this far, but he wasn't sure he could take the leap just yet.
"Oh. Okay." Sirius blinked, looking away.
He felt closed off, all of a sudden, and Remus wondered whether he'd just made a mistake. Maybe he should've taken the leap?
"I'll talk to you tomorrow," he said, getting up.
"I'll walk you out," Sirius said, holding aside the flap. He crawled out after Remus.
"You don't have to - I'll just go." Remus hesitated. The moon was only in its first quarter, and it was dark - most of the torches in the back garden had gone out. Sirius looked different, paler. Guarded. "Before I go -" he moved closer to Sirius, reaching for his face. "I mean, if you...?"
Sirius closed the distance between them. "Shut up, Moony, bloody hell," he said, and kissed him.
It was surprisingly warm and soft. Remus' lips were probably chapped, but Sirius didn't seem to mind. It was also brief - Sirius stepped back, giving Remus a worried look.
"I thought you were going to just walk out on me again," he said. "I thought we'd just...stay in this stupid limbo forever."
"No," Remus said. The chasm was gone. The leap was over. And now that he'd started kissing Sirius Black, he found he really didn't want to stop. "I'll see you tomorrow." He moved in for another kiss, brief and warm.
Sirius didn't let go of him just yet. "Come back into the tent with me. Talk to me. Stay. Until the party's over?"
"I…" Remus looked back. The kids didn't look like they were going to be tired anytime soon, loud laughter, conversation and music drifting out in waves. "Okay."