Remus, wrapped in a tattered quilt, sat perched on the arm of the sofa. He worried that if he let himself sit on the sofa proper, he would drift off in the midwinter quiet. Outside, snow lingered by the window before falling to the ground three stories below, and Remus cautiously sipped his peppermint tea. The steam filled his nostrils and he could feel it in his lungs. He looked at the clock: 4:28.
The shower had been running for a half hour. Exactly a half hour, actually, because Remus had checked the time as soon as he heard it go on. He shouted through the door, “Neither of us make enough money for the water bill you’re running up!”
“You don’t make any money!” Sirius shouted back, but turned the water off after another minute. When he emerged from the bathroom, toweling his hair dry, Remus shed the quilt, stood up, and stopped him, placing his free hand on Sirius’s forearm.
“That’s only technically true, and only this month.” He knew he had a dumb grin on his face; he seemed always to have a dumb grin on his face these days. He couldn’t help it.
Sirius gave Remus a quick kiss and took from Remus his teacup. “I know you’d provide for me in a hunter-gatherer scenario. Don’t worry about your pride.”
Generally, he didn’t, but the time between getting fired and finding a new job made it a little hard not to feel a bruised sense of pride, as Sirius’s admittedly modest income had to cover everything.
“You would be absolutely useless in that hunter-gatherer scenario, wouldn’t you,” Remus called as Sirius flitted into the bedroom, taking the tea with him.
“Oh, entirely. I’m far too used to lounging, which I don’t think would be very practical, but I look so good when I’m lounging that I just can’t help it.” He reemerged, tying a deep purple tie around his collar. “Fortunately, we’re not hunter-gatherers, and given your shockingly humble expectations I feel I’ve been able to provide just fine.”
Remus tilted his head. “Are you capable of lounging? I don’t think you can sit still long enough.”
“If that’s a challenge, it’s one I’ll gladly take.” Sirius adjusted his cuffs and faced Remus. “Do I look good?”
“If that’s a challenge…” Remus grinned, eyeing Sirius up and down.
The other man rolled his eyes. “No, seriously. Am I alright? Ready?” Sirius’s hands were frenetic, accomplishing little as they straightened and tugged and fiddled with his sleeves, his tie, his hair.
“You look fine. What are you so nervous for, anyway?” Remus grabbed his hands, stilled them. He didn’t want to laugh at Sirius, but it was sorely tempting. “You’ve known my parents for years. We had lunch with my mum in September. It’s going to be fine.”
Sirius screwed up his face. “No, you’re right, of course, but it’s Christmas dinner for Christ’s sake, and your mum is one thing, but Lyall Lupin, in his own home, on Christmas...I don’t know. Well, and I haven’t seen them since they learned I wasn’t just your most charming friend, but also the queer London toff who corrupted their son.”
Now Remus couldn’t help laughing. “Please. Don’t give yourself too much credit.” Sirius shrugged like he was shaking something off his shoulders and wandered back to the bathroom to check the mirror. Remus followed him. “Also, though, do you not think my mother knew when she visited?”
Sirius tilted his head and met Remus’s eye in the mirror. “She did?”
“She’s not an idiot. And you’re not as subtle as you try to be.” It was after that last visit that Remus had addressed the topic with her, though only after some not very subtle hinting on her part, first. “I’m just so glad to see you happy, Remus. And I’m glad that you have Sirius...that you have someone in your life you trust, who makes you so happy.” And when he had told her the rest, she had smiled softly, unsurprised, and hugged him tightly.
Sirius was still hyperkinetically adjusting his hair and clothes. “Well, and Lyall? You said yourself he was a lot less enthusiastic, and I’m sure he’d be even harsher towards me, given he doesn’t have any blood loyalty to me.”
“Dad’s a lot less enthusiastic about everything, Sirius. I think he was born nodding thoughtfully. Besides, he wasn’t...bad about it. He’s just not demonstrative.” Remus grabbed Sirius’s shoulders and steered him out of the bathroom. “We’re already late. Put on your coat and let’s go. I promise, we’ll have a nice time.”
Sirius shook Remus off irritably, shrugged on his coat, and yanked a scarf around his neck. “Do you know where I put the gifts?”
Remus scanned the room and saw two impeccably wrapped packages. He quickly grabbed them and stuffed them in Sirius’s coat pockets. “Okay. Ready?”
“Almost,” Sirius grinned impishly and glanced up, conjuring a sprig of mistletoe over their heads and giving Remus an unrelenting kiss. When he finally leaned back, he whispered, “Ready.”
Remus smirked. “You’re such a flirt.” And linking arms, the two apparated to Hope and Lyall Lupin’s doorstep.
Lyall was sitting in the same chair he sat in every evening before dinner. He liked that, that at 47 he could pass his nights as calmly as he chose. Today, though, he could barely focus on the book Hope had given him that morning. He checked his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time.
Walking towards the kitchen, he asked, “Would you like some help?”
Hope, wiping her hands on an apron, peered out. “No, dear, everything’s all set. Just waiting for Remus now.”
Lyall nodded slowly. “Did he phone to say he was running late?”
“You would have heard it ring if he had.”
“Right.” She was giving him a look that said she saw right through him as she always did. “Right, well, maybe I’ll pour us a glass of wine while we wait.” Something to do, at least. He edged past her into the kitchen.
Intellectually, Lyall knew that if Remus was happy, there was no reason to be uppity. That he was so acutely aware of this fact made it all the more frustrating to discover the emotional response he had to his son living with Sirius Black. Before anything else came the fact that he was a Black. There was always some sort of Black at Hogwarts when he studied there, and each was despicable. Of course, Remus had been friends with Sirius for years, and Sirius had been disowned by that dreadful family, but the fact remained that Lyall bucked at the very idea of Sirius coming into his home, especially as Remus’s partner.
Lyall also viscerally feared Remus bringing anyone into his life. He knew how absurdly unfair that was, of course, but all his gut knew was that his son was different, feared by most, hated by some, simply by nature of what he was. Lyall distrusted almost anyone to properly love Remus as a person, and this would have been true no matter who it was.
And yes, though in his head he distanced himself from it, he wished Remus weren’t bringing home a man. Hope was so good about almost everything, and this was no exception. She was unequivocally excited and had supported Remus before Lyall knew there was anything to support. Lyall thought about his father’s fierce religiosity; he thought about Susanna; he thought about everyone who would already spit in his son’s face before even learning he was bent. And with all that floating around, he felt in his gut some sort of fear, or disappointment, or regret.
But Lyall was never one to be ruled by his gut. He knew that it made no difference, he knew that this was what Remus wanted, and so he would just have to train himself to accept it all, to be better than he was.
And so when the doorbell finally rang, he put on a pleasant smile and followed Hope to the entryway, setting down his wine glass, already empty, on the counter.
“Remus, darling, it’s so good to see you!” In their narrow entryway, Hope hugged Remus tightly. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, mum!” A grin split his face as he extricated himself from her hug and placed a kiss on her forehead. He squeezed past her and reached Lyall, still grinning big as anything. “Dad, happy Christmas! Good to see you.”
Lyall returned the smile, feeling relieved as he did every time he saw his son alive. “Merry Christmas, Remus.” He clapped Remus’s arm, but Remus went for a full hug, and the softer part of Lyall melted a little.
Remus stepped aside, and Sirius approached. The boy really did look just like his father, Lyall thought darkly. Except Sirius, as he wheeled from Hope to Lyall, had this indescribable energy about him--in his smile, his stance, his hands. His voice, as he said, “Mr. Lupin, sir, wonderful to see you again,” and shook Lyall’s hand a little too tightly.
Lyall nodded, smiled, and responded, “You as well, Sirius. You’re so grown. It must be three years now since I’ve seen you.”
“Is it that long?” Remus asked, shocked. As he and Sirius and Hope discussed when the last time Lyall and Sirius might have crossed paths would have been, Lyall observed Remus.
Though never a keenly emotional man, Lyall had always worried for Remus, if only because at far too young an age, the boy reminded him so much of himself. It was much harder for him than it was for Hope to gauge, daily, how Remus was feeling, but long-term data told him that his son had been serious and solemn and sad more often than he ought to have been. And that when he was none of those things, even at his happiest, he held something back.
As they all drifted towards the dining table, Lyall saw his son laughing with his whole body. He saw Remus mindlessly put a hand on Sirius’s back, and he saw the way Sirius grinned up at Remus. Lyall felt a swelling in his chest.
He met Hope’s eyes, and she raised an eyebrow and nodded quickly, the motion not diminishing the fullness of joy on her face. Lyall’s emotional barometer was not tremendous, but he could always read Hope. More telling than anything he could pick up from Remus was Hope’s silent confirmation that this was good.
Lyall sat at the head of the table and Hope squeezed his shoulder before sitting to his left. As his son and Sirius took their seats, Lyall felt settled. Grateful. Joyful, maybe.
Sirius had to admit it was going well. Food was good, no foul looks in his direction, he had charmed Hope effortlessly. Lyall was harder to figure. The older man seemed impervious. But on the other hand, he was behaving exactly towards Sirius as he did towards Remus, and Remus seemed to take it in stride. So maybe that was just who Lyall was.
They rounded the corner of the meal and Hope brought out dessert. “Mrs. Lupin, I’m sorely disappointed you never trained Remus how to cook half as well as you do, though maybe you’ll give me lessons so that at least one of us has any skills in the kitchen.”
Remus shoved Sirius’s arm and laughed. “Oh, please. Mum, I cook far more than this man, for the record, and I try my best to follow your recipes.”
Sirius met Hope’s eye as she served him pie. He widened his eyes and shook his head exaggeratedly. She snorted. “Sirius, dear, I’m more than happy to give you any recipes you might want. I think Remus must come by his culinary ineptitude honestly.” She turned to Lyall, quirking an eyebrow.
Lyall raised his eyebrows and his hands in surrender. “I never claimed to be a maven in the kitchen. Indeed, I never claimed to be anything in the kitchen. Remus, there is no shame in being a poor cook, so long as you have an excellent one nearby.”
Remus glared at Sirius. “I am not a bad cook. This is propaganda. Sirius burns toast, for Christ’s sake.”
Sirius shrugged. “All I’m saying is that your mother outshines you a hundredfold, I’m not making any claims about me, am I?”
Sirius could tell Remus was struggling not to smile. Good. “It’s implied.”
Hope had served everyone so she sat down. Sirius gave Remus a meaningful look. Remus shrugged and nodded. Sirius cleared his throat. “Mr. and Mrs. Lupin, I want to thank you so much for having me to dinner, and I just have…” he reached into his pocket. “I just have a few things for you, for Christmas, I hope you like them…” he trailed off as he handed each of them their gift. Remus smiled encouragingly.
Hope beamed. “Sirius, dear, you didn’t have to! Thank you so very much.” She tore open the package. Sirius watched her carefully, and there was a feeling in his chest like a rubber band. Hope gasped and the rubber band released as her voice lowered in pitch. “Holy shit. I mean--oh, my. Sorry. It’s just--well, it’s beautiful.” Sirius could tell she meant it. Remus grinned at him.
“Let’s see, then?” Lyall leaned over to peer inside the small velvet box, and his eyebrows shot up. “Goodness. Holy shit is right, I think.” For the first time in the evening, Lyall really laughed. “Shall I put it on, then?”
He stood and took the necklace from his wife, clasping it around her neck. Hope reached out for Sirius’s hand and squeezed it. “Thank you, dear. This is beyond what I deserve.”
“Come on, mum. You deserve every nice thing,” Remus said, and the other two men assented as Hope fiddled with the new necklace. The pendant was elaborately sculpted silver, encaging an opal.
Sirius shrugged, trying not to let his face break into as wide a grin as it wanted to. “I’m grateful for you, all the things you do and have done, for me and for Remus, and I saw this and thought, perfect for Hope. I do--I hope you like it?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Sirius, please. I don’t swear in front of company. I love it.” Her face softened. “I love it. Thank you.”
The piece of Sirius that always stood next to him passively observing was skeptical. As most of him melted, that piece of him could see nothing but sixteen Christmases at Grimmauld Place, each worse than the last. “You’re welcome,” he replied. His mother banged down the door in his head behind which he kept her. What a piece of trash. Bought it at a pawn shop and you think it’s worth something just because you cleaned it up? Ungrateful boy. Horrid child. After everything I’ve--
“Dad, open yours,” Remus said. Sirius jumped a little in his seat and glanced at Remus. Who was looking at him. Worried. Because he noticed. He always noticed, everything. Sirius shook himself, drained a glass of wine, turned to Lyall. Go away, he told the mother in his mind. No one invited you.
Lyall carefully peeled off the wrapping paper and made a startled noise in his throat. “Sirius, thank you. This isn’t…” he opened to the publication page of the book in his hands. “Merlin, it is. First edition.” Again, a sort of half laugh. A laugh of disbelief. Lyall held Sirius’s gaze. “Thank you. This is incredible.”
“Well, what is it?” Hope asked.
“First edition copy of Lyubov Khoroshina’s History of Russian Magic. I’ve never seen a first edition of this. Where on earth did you find this one?” Lyall’s voice was excited. That was new. Excitement.
Sirius matched it. “Have you ever been to that used book shop near Bishopsgate, by Houndsditch?”
Lyall paused. Shook his head. “I can’t say I have.” His features grew almost affectionate. “You’ll have to take me when I visit London next.”
Sirius thought he would burst. “Absolutely, and there’s a wonderful curry place just upstairs from it we could go to, too, we know the owner, actually, and he always gives us free naan. If you visit, I mean.” Christ. He was such a love-starved little bastard sometimes. He bit his tongue. Hope leaned over as Lyall paged through the book, already engrossed.
Calm down . His father’s voice. Cold, disdainful. Please. You’re making a spectacle of yourself and driving your mother up the wall. Can’t you sit for two minutes together without making everyone in this house want to smother you?
No no no no. No. Sirius breathed in deeply. He screwed up his face. Get the fuck out. Let me have this.
Remus was so happy. His parents were, too. If Sirius helped make that happen, that could only be a good thing. This was a good night. This was a night to banish ghosts. Merry bloody Christmas. Leave me the fuck alone. And for the rest of the evening they did. Remus by his side, Hope and Lyall Lupin treating him like he mattered. What could be better?
After dinner, after pudding, after gifts were exchanged, and after a long, drawn out cup of tea and conversation, Remus started to rise. “We’d best go, I think. What a lovely Christmas.” In the bustle of hats and coats and scarves, and everyone thanking everyone else, Hope glowed at how happy they all were. Even--especially?--Sirius, whose fluctuating mood she had noted throughout the night.
Remus hugged her tightly. “Thank you, mum,” he muttered as she kissed his cheek. How light he was, how free.
“Merry Christmas, Remus. We love you so much.” They shared smiles, his outshining her own. That never used to happen.
Sirius stood awkwardly in the door frame, his broad grin belying his uncertainty at how best to say goodbye, but Hope would have none of that. She pulled him into an embrace that he returned enthusiastically. “I’m so glad you came, Sirius. Thank you again for the gift. And I’ll send you those recipes you’re after.”
“Thank you,” he said softly. “For everything.”
Lyall cleared his throat. Already having hugged Remus, he reached out and shook Sirius’s hand, adding a clap on the shoulder and a genuine smile. “Merry Christmas, Sirius. I can’t thank you enough, and I’ll look forward to visiting that book shop sometime.”
“Absolutely, can’t wait. Thank you both, really. Thank you. I--thank you.” Hope wondered at his pure kineticism, that unflagging energy that colored everything he said. He looked as though he was going to say something else, but Remus put a hand on his arm, and Sirius seemed to release something in his shoulders as he smiled.
“We’ll see you soon,” Remus said, “And happy Christmas. I love you.” And then the two spun on their heels and disapparated.
Lyall sighed deeply and looked at Hope. There was such deep feeling in his eyes, and she reached out to squeeze his hand. “I know.”
They drifted to the sofa, where Lyall sat heavily and leaned his head back. “I can’t believe--hm.” He paused, collecting his thoughts. “I have never seen our son so unburdened. Not since he was five years old. Five years old. I can’t believe the things I was thinking, before they came.” He turned and stroked Hope’s cheek with his thumb. “Thank you for being so very much better than me. You are so good, always.”
“I knew you’d come around,” she replied softly. “You’re also very good.” He was, perhaps the best person she knew. He took his time, which was a quality too often overlooked. “You can’t see Remus like that and not understand. But you hadn’t seen them yet, had you?”
Lyall nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose so, but I’m still embarrassed. I was deeply uncertain. Though I’m sure you already knew that,” he added with a teasing grin. And he was right; she had followed his rising and falling nerves as they prepared for this evening, and had watched over the course of the dinner as they seemed to settle at last. “I only wish,” he continued, “That things were easier for him. I only wish that this was not one more reason for some people to hate him.”
“That’s their problem, though,” Hope said forcefully. “Our only job is to--well, to do as we’ve done tonight. Give them a place, literally or not, that they know is safe.” She fiddled with the pendant on her new necklace as they sat in silence for a moment, Lyall’s hand resting absently on her leg. “That poor boy,” she finally said softly.
Lyall raised his brow. “Sirius?”
She nodded. “I can’t pretend to know everything, but Remus always implied his family was horrid. Given our son’s tendency towards understatement, and the fact that Sirius lived with James the last few years...I can infer the rest.”
Lyall gave a rough, dark sort of half-laugh. “His family...generations of rot. Absolutely. I once saw an aunt of his pulling teeth out of a house-elf for fun.” Hope shuddered. She had seen enough traumatized children in her line of work to recognize something of them in Sirius. She pitied him, and hoped that Remus could be as good for him as he was for Remus.
She drove the dark out of her thoughts and relived every sparkle in her son’s eye, every time he tried and failed to keep from grinning, every time he had squeezed his mother’s hand or shoulder. And it was all good. “They’re happy,” she smiled. “Our son is happy.”
Lyall returned her grin and kissed her temple. “Merry Christmas to us.”