“How about this,” Sirius said, his elbows sprawled on the breakfast table and his most winsomely persuasive gaze fixed on Remus. “If you do the washing up, I’ll pop over to Prongs and Lily and see if they need help getting set up in the new flat.”
“You berk,” Remus laughed, feeling fond warmth curling low in his stomach, a deep contentment. How was it possible, even with the war and the Order and everything they had to fight against, to feel so happy? “You want an excuse to go see James and Lily, now they’re back from their honeymoon. So how is that a fair trade?”
Sirius tossed his head, for all the world like a dog shaking off water – some Animagus habits, Remus had noticed, stayed with him even when he wasn’t transformed – then dipped a finger absently into the honeypot instead of using the perfectly good spoon that lay right there beside it. Remus rolled his eyes and moved the pot out of Sirius’ reach. Sirius ran his tongue along own honey-covered finger, which was highly distracting. And Sirius clearly knew it, to judge from the way he was smirking.
“Okay,” Sirius said, releasing his finger from his mouth with an indecent pop. Dark hair flopped in his eyes as he leaned forward, eyes dancing. “New plan: How about you do the washing up, I’ll finish off this toast, then we’ll both go see Prongs?”
Remus snorted, even as he shivered pleasantly at the low register to which Sirius’ voice had dropped. Surely only Sirius Black could make “I’ll finish off the toast” sound like a proposition. Surely, indeed, this whole life was too good to be true – waking up in their very own flat to the electrifying warmth of Sirius pressing soft kisses against his throat. Lazy breakfast together as sunlight poured in through the window. It was a year now they’d been living here, since they finished school, and the world hadn’t caved in around him like Remus had always thought it surely must do if he allowed himself to be happy.
Still, though, he had principles to uphold. He batted away Sirius’ hand, which was reaching for the honey again. “Or, seeing as I made breakfast, you could do the washing up, and then –”
“You made breakfast? All of it?” Sirius demanded, feigning outrage and waving his fork in emphasis. “Who made the tea, I ask you?”
Remus laughed. “Sirius, you only make me tea in the mornings so I’ll be awake enough to make the rest of breakfast.”
Sirius cocked an eyebrow at him. “And yet, I never see you complaining at the time.”
It was true, for all Remus pretended to moan about Sirius’ laziness, Sirius actually made very good tea, and had done so every morning since they’d moved into their flat, often slipping out of bed before Remus was awake just so he could surprise him with a hot, perfect cup of tea the moment he woke up. And then, too, there was the fact that Sirius’ offerings of tea came so reliably accompanied by warm, deep kisses. Remus had vaguely begun to worry he might develop a Pavlovian response to the mere smell of black tea.
Pavlov and his dogs…Sirius as a dog, as Padfoot, eager for any adventure…Sirius simply as Sirius, smiling that heart-stopping smile across the table at Remus.
Remus laughed and gave in. “Right, fine, I’ll do the washing up if you –”
From outside the front door of their flat, the proximity warning charm chimed, three trilling notes that sent a spike of alarm through Remus’ gut, because it was a sound they almost never heard. Anyone from the Order knew to announce themselves before they approached.
Sirius looked at Remus. “Expecting someone?”
Sirius shook his head, already leaping to his feet.
“Sirius! Wand!” Remus snapped. “For Merlin’s sake.”
Sheepishly, Sirius fetched up his wand from where he’d stashed it under his chair, then bounded out of the kitchen and through the living room. Remus grimaced, grabbed his own wand, and followed.
“No,” he heard Sirius say in the flat’s entryway, his voice so icily sharp that Remus, halfway across the living room, stopped dead at the sound. Then he dashed the rest of the way across the room, reaching Sirius’ side just as he slid the bolt home, the door closed once again against whoever had intruded on their peace. When Sirius turned to Remus his face was unreadable, but he was gripping his wand so tightly that his knuckles had gone white.
Remus skidded to a stop, sliding a little on the hardwood floor, and stared at him.
“Sirius. Who was it?”
“Oh, that? Nothing. Nobody.”
His voice was strangely devoid of…anything. Sirius, usually so buoyant it was impossible to keep him in one place for more than a moment, stood as white and still as if he’d seen a ghost.
“A nobody who’s left you this terrified?” Remus asked cautiously, his wand likewise at the ready and his body coursing with adrenalin, thrumming with the readiness for battle. Membership in the Order of the Phoenix had that effect, creating an ability to go from relaxed to ready to fight in the space of an instant. With every nerve in his body, Remus was prepared to defend Sirius from whatever was on the other side of that door.
“I’m not terrified!” Sirius spat. He too, had transformed almost beyond recognition in the few moments since he’d left the sunny breakfast table. “I’m furious! How dare he come here, to our home, how DARE he!”
From the other side of the door a voice, similar in pitch and just as angry, shouted, “I’ll stand here all day if I have to, Sirius! You have to hear what I need to tell you, whether you like it or not. I’m not giving you a choice.”
The voice…Remus knew that voice. He stared at Sirius in shock.
Sirius’ features twisted with rage, an uglier expression than Remus had ever seen on him. “Yeah,” he said, his voice so rough with scorn that Remus’ throat tightened in sympathetic pain. “That’s why it’s nobody. Nobody who matters to me, anyway.”
From outside the door, Regulus Black snarled, “Are you going to open the door, or am I going to wait out here until you get sick of being trapped inside?”
Sirius spun towards the door, pressing his palms flat against its surface, wand still clenched between his fingers. “GO AWAY!” he yelled through the wood. “You’re not coming in here. Never. Over my dead body!”
“But…he’s your brother,” Remus said, though he, too, was at a loss. Why was Regulus here, when he and Sirius hadn’t spoken in years? More ominously, how had he found out where they lived? It wasn’t a capital-S, Secret-Keeper-style secret, but members of the Order of the Phoenix were necessarily circumspect with their private addresses. Regulus must have been very determined to find Sirius if he’d managed to track down that information.
“He’s a Death Eater,” Sirius spat. “He’s not my brother.”
“I can hear you, you idiot!” the horrifyingly familiar voice on the other side of the door shouted. “And I’m not going away!”
“Maybe he –” Remus began.
But Sirius wasn’t listening. He screamed through the door, “GET OUT OF HERE, YOU BASTARD.” Then he flung himself around so his back was pressed against the door, arms braced to either side, as if that would help to keep Regulus out.
“Sirius –” Remus protested.
Sirius’ face was transformed with hatred. “I WILL HEX YOU IF YOU DON’T LEAVE US ALONE RIGHT NOW. I’LL KILL YOU!”
“Sirius!” Remus shouted over him, horrified, grabbing at Sirius’ arms as if that would somehow still his anger. “You are not going to kill your brother, no matter what! Have you gone completely mad?”
Sirius struggled against Remus’ hands. From outside the door, his voice so chillingly familiar and clear even through the layer of wood, Regulus said, “I have to talk to you, Sirius. I don’t have any other option or believe me, I would have taken it. So do whatever you like to me, but I’m not going away.”
Sirius panted for breath, his eyes half-crazed and fixed on Remus’ face. “I’m not letting him in.”
“I didn’t say you had to,” Remus said, trying to sound calm enough for both of them even as his heart pounded frantically in his chest. He couldn’t tear his eyes from the pain in Sirius’ face. When was the last time he’d seen Sirius in such pain? “You don’t have to. But if he just wants to talk…”
“He’s a Death Eater. Merlin knows what he wants, but it’s not going to be anything good. It could be an ambush.”
Remus shrugged helplessly. Yes, it could be an ambush. There was never any way to know until you were already in the thick of it.
“I’m not letting him in this flat,” Sirius whispered. “What if he hurts you?”
Remus stared back at him, shocked. All this protective rage was…for Remus?
They both breathed, Sirius’ harsh inhalations falling into a rhythm with Remus’ no less panicked ones. They stared at each other and kept breathing, as if all the world’s dangers might undergo a Freezing Charm if they could just stay still enough.
Finally, Sirius’ taut muscles slackened almost imperceptibly under Remus’ grip.
“Regulus,” Remus called softly through the door, watching Sirius’ face with every word, not wanting to overstep his rights here, because Sirius’ family was Sirius’ battle to fight. “We’re not going to let you in. Sirius isn’t going to open the door while you’re standing out there, it’s not going to happen. But we could meet, maybe, at a neutral location…?”
He raised his eyebrows at Sirius, watching for agreement or refusal. They were standing very close, Remus’ body nearly flush with Sirius’, both Sirius’ wrists still captured in his hands.
Finally, minutely, Sirius nodded.
Outside the door, Regulus growled, “Where?”
Remus looked to Sirius. Sirius knew Regulus better than anyone. He would be able to pick a place, Remus hoped, that might minimise the danger of this admittedly foolhardy plan, agreeing to a rendezvous with a Death Eater.
Sirius breathed once, in, then out. “The crypt,” he said, his eyes never leaving Remus’ face. “Tonight. Come alone.”
The words hung like something corporeal in the tense, electric air. Then, on the other side of the door, Regulus snarled, “Fine.” Remus heard a huff of breath, then footsteps stalked away down the corridor.
Regulus was gone.
Sirius’ body slackened all at once, slumping back against the door, and Remus caught at his elbows, afraid he would fall. But Sirius stayed upright, breathing hard, still staring at Remus like he’d forgotten how to do anything else.
“The crypt?” Remus asked in a whisper, though whispering was no longer necessary. “What’s that?”
Sirius smirked painfully. “Oh, just where the old family bones go. Not that I have any plans to end up there.”
Remus tried to picture it, a clammy stone chamber beneath a parish church somewhere, no doubt heavily charmed with concealments against Muggle eyes. The coffins of all Sirius’ noble and bigoted ancestors in tidy rows. Remus shuddered. “And that’s where you want us to meet your brother?”
Sirius started back in surprise, his head knocking against the door. “Us? You’re not going anywhere near that evil bastard. I’m meeting him tonight. You’re staying here.”
“No. Absolutely not.” Remus caught Sirius’ wrist again and gripped it, not hard, but firmly. “There is no way I’m letting you meet him alone, are you daft?”
Sirius opened his mouth to protest – and then he must have seen something in Remus’ face that changed his mind, and his protest died away. Remus wondered what he saw.
“Yeah, all right,” Sirius said, sounding defeated. “We’ll go together.”
Sirius tried so hard to pretend he didn’t have a brother anymore, to pretend he didn’t even care. And he managed it, most of the time, because James and Peter and Lily filled the role of family so well. But in those rare moments when the hurt slipped out, despite all the love Sirius’ friends could give him, it seared across his face like fire.
Remus slid his hand from Sirius’ wrist to his hand, caught it and brought it to his lips, and kissed the palm.
“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered, even though he had no way of knowing that. Nothing except his own determination to make it so.