Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
A pair of loud cracks announced the return of Minerva and Severus to the old Black house. Distracted for the moment, Remus glanced away from the nest of lepulvies he had been trying to subdue, and he immediately regretted it. Fifty tiny, winged creatures took flight, fluttering against his nose as he swatted futilely at the air, trying to clear the room. The gnat-like wisps grew more agitated and several of them let out puffs of dust that tickled his nose and made his eyes water. He sneezed, sending them into another frenzy, and danced away from the corner, still batting at the air.
Just as he was beginning to breathe normally again, he backed into a chair, and another cloud of the monstrous little insects rose from the cushion, attacking him from behind. He coughed and sputtered, digging in his pocket for a handkerchief, and finally giving up. He drew his wand, but between the coughing, wheezing and sneezing, attempting to speak the incantation was useless.
"Pulvitesi!" From somewhere behind him, a yellow glow swept into the room like a soft spring breeze and swirled against the walls, gathering the swarms of lepulvies into a spiraling vortex that compacted in on itself until nothing but a quivering sphere of dust-colored fuzz remained.
Remus turned around, swiping his sleeve across his face and sneezing half a dozen more times in succession before he could make out Severus’ form through his watering eyes. He sneezed again, then frowned as a scrap of white linen appeared beneath his nose.
Glancing at Severus again, he took the handkerchief and stared at it for a moment.
"I would have expected you to know that lepulvies are best faced with a handkerchief across your nose and mouth," he said as Remus wiped his eyes and blew his nose.
There was no response Remus could think of that wouldn’t be picking a fight or inviting scorn, so he didn’t respond at all. When he was capable of speech again, Remus shoved a hand through his hair and frowned at the handkerchief he was still holding. "I’ll launder this and—"
"Keep it," Severus interrupted.
An awkward silence settled between them as Remus pocketed the handkerchief. In his mind, he turned over various things to say—‘Did you want something?’ was the most tempting possibility, given that Severus was just standing there and looking at him. A half dozen other ideas presented themselves, but none were any better than the previous.
The minutes stretched on, and Remus began to shift his weight back and forth between his feet, becoming ever more aware that he was alone with Severus after almost a week of thinking about him. His mind summoned an uninvited image of Severus standing nude in the bedroom, wand raised, eyes narrow. Unbidden, the memories of how the other man’s skin felt beneath his touch stirred in his mind and he swallowed hard, but his mouth had gone dry. The longer the silence stretched on, the more difficult it was to keep his eyes on Severus’ face instead of allowing them to drop to his crotch.
"Thank you," Remus said at last, though in his ears, there was the echoing advice from McGonagall-- I’d find excuses to be alone with him, and then prove what a witty conversationalist I am. Well, he was alone with him, but this was far from witty conversation. His mind was blank.
"Don’t mention it."
The silence grew heavier, and Remus’ eyes shifted around the room, looking for inspiration. On the one hand, he had the distinct impression that Severus didn’t want anything to do with him. On the other hand, if he didn’t, why was he still standing there? Nothing was keeping him from leaving.
"How did your meeting with Malfoy go?" he asked after an interminable pause, hoping to put an end to the weighty silence.
"I’ll be reporting to the Order in fifteen minutes," Severus answered. "You’ll find out then."
"Tonight?" Remus asked, forgetting the awkwardness of the evening. "Didn't you just have a shift with Minerva?"
"And you have another in four hours—"
"Do you have everyone’s schedule memorized or am I just fortunate?"
"—shouldn’t you be sleeping?"
Severus hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "I was hoping for an hour with a pillow," he admitted. "It doesn’t appear to be in the cards, though."
"Do you want me to make your excuses?"
"No," he answered after a pause. "I’ll go back to Hogwarts and get some sleep if there’s time after the meeting."
Remus frowned a bit doubtfully, but nodded. "You know that you’re welcome to stay here any time you like."
Severus snorted. "I’m sure Black would have other opinions," he said dryly. "And this happens to be his house."
"Sirius isn’t all that bad," Remus protested. "He wouldn’t mind."
The softened expression hardened again. "I’m certain you believe that to be true," he answered. "If you will excuse me." Without another word or pause, Severus turned on his heel and stalked out, and Remus sighed.
Why didn’t you tell him that if Sirius had a problem with it he could take it up with you? he asked himself.
Fifteen minutes later, the members of the Order were gathered around the table in the basement kitchen, all eyes on Severus.
"To be brief," Severus said, "I have made inroads into securing a position with Malfoy again."
There was a pause as everyone waited for elaboration, but it did not come. After a moment, Dumbledore cleared his throat. "What will you be doing for Lucius?"
"Keeping him informed," Severus replied with a look of vague importance. "He’s interested in the happenings at Hogwarts. Giving him the impression that I am favoring Draco and his friends."
"Won’t be hard for you, will it?" Sirius muttered. "You already favor the Slytherins."
"And I’m sure that you have a reliable source for this information," Severus said.
"Harry Potter says a great many things, and at least half of them are erroneous," Severus interrupted. "And of the remaining half, half are simply lies."
"Are you saying that Harry is a liar?" Sirius asked, turning to face Severus across the table. Severus returned his glare with as much menace and hatred as Sirius offered.
"Can’t we move on?" Minerva asked, raising her voice above the two arguing wizards. Severus narrowed his eyes, then turned his gaze back to Dumbledore. Remus glanced at the table as Minerva affixed him with a pointed look. That had been his chance to take Severus’ side, and he could have. He knew that Severus didn’t precisely favor any of the students—he was just more reasonable with the Slytherins than he was with the others. No one overstepped the rules in his presence, though.
"Anything else?" Dumbledore asked.
"I’ve nothing else to report," Severus replied. "It was a tedious evening, and I fully expect that there will be many more such tedious evenings ahead."
"I don’t see how this is helping the Order," Sirius complained, making a point to not look at Severus. "Sacrificing a dinner of cold shepherd's pie in the company of your cauldron to enjoy filet mignon whilst hobnobbing with the most powerful and affluent wizards in our society? Someone explain to me again how this is beneficial for us?"
"Perhaps you should wait until Molly Weasley returns," Severus suggested. "She has more recent experience with explaining mildly elusive concepts to small children than do the rest of us."
"Are you implying that I am too stupid to understand this?" Sirius asked.
"Hardly," Severus retorted. "I’m saying it outright."
"And who had the better marks? Who earned twelve OWLs? Who earned five NEWTs? You could never hold a candle to me and James."
"Sirius, that’s enough," Dumbledore said in a quiet but firm voice. "It is time to put the past where it belongs. We all agreed that it is critical to have an inroad into Voldemort’s inner circle, and Severus is the most obvious choice."
"Perhaps dinner with the Malfoys won’t save any lives," Minerva added, casting another perplexed look in Remus’ direction before she continued, "but he is building a foundation that we hope will help us in the future."
"Did you glean anything of use at all from the meeting?" Dumbledore asked, looking back to Severus again. Remus exhaled slowly and glanced sideways at Sirius, who was scowling at the table in general. Standing up to Sirius was proving to be much more difficult than he’d thought it would be—especially since by the time Sirius became unreasonable enough to justify calling him down, someone else was already doing so.
You’re just going to have to do it. The next time they start, just tell Sirius to stuff it.
"Nothing. He has extended another invitation for Tuesday, though, so perhaps I will have more information then."
"What do you think you can learn from a dinner party?" Sirius asked, not hiding his skepticism.
"Sirius, please," Remus said, jumping on the opportunity. "Stop harassing Severus."
"Stop--?" Sirius repeated, gaping. "I was just asking—you know what, forget it. Forget I asked, and forget that I was ever a part of this fucking circus. And Remus? Fuck you." Sirius stood, then shoved his chair back under the table and stormed out of the meeting, leaving silence in his wake.
As a door slammed upstairs, the portrait of Mrs. Black let out a howl, then a stream of screaming swear words. A moment later, Sirius added his voice to the chorus of curses, and the house shook with the combined wrath.
"FILTHY SCUM! TRAITOR! DEFILING THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS! PALTRY EXCUSE FOR A SON OF MINE WHO TAINTS THE BLOOD OF THIS NOBLE HOUSE—"
"SHUT UP YOU GODDAMN HAG!"
"—RUINATION AND DEGRADATION—"
Slowly, the screeches and howls faded, and the silence settled again. Remus glanced up to find half a dozen pairs of eyes on him, including Minerva’s and Severus’. Severus’ gaze was calculating and discerning, and he was tracing his lips with his finger as he often did when he was thinking. Minerva had been right, it seemed; Severus had noticed that Remus stepped in on his behalf.
And of course you had to choose the one time when Sirius wasn’t doing a damn thing.
Bill cleared his throat. "Well," he said, "at the risk of another outburst, I’d kind of like to know the answer to that question. What do you think you can get from dinner at the Malfoy manor?"
Severus’ eyes lingered on Remus for a moment before he turned to look at Bill. "Lucius likes to boast of his foolproof plans," Severus replied. "He’ll let something slip." His eyes flickered back to Remus.
"Do we have anything else specific to discuss here?" Remus asked. "Severus and I are on duty in three hours, and I know I’d like some sleep before then."
"Of course," Dumbledore replied, pushing his chair back "We’ll discuss more of this later."
"Are you going to stay here and get some sleep, Severus?" Minerva asked, standing as well.
"I believe I shall return to the school," Severus replied.
"Will you be coming back here or Apparating directly to Privet Drive?" Remus asked.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Apparating directly from Hogwarts?" he asked. "Really, Lupin, I would have thought you would have known better." Without waiting for a response, he tossed a handful of Floo powder into the fire and stepped into the roaring green flames.
"I know you can’t Apparate directly from Hogwarts," Remus whispered as though Severus were still standing there. "I wanted to know if you would be back here first or if we were going to meet in Surrey."
"Well," Minerva said, placing a hand on Remus’ arm. Remus half turned to look at her, casting a wild and worried glance around the kitchen. No one else was paying attention to them. "I’d say your technique left a bit to be desired," she said. "And if I were you, I think I’d be patching things up a bit with Sirius. Honestly, Remus, I thought I could give you credit for realizing that when I said to take Severus’ side, I meant that you should do so when Sirius was taunting him. Not when he was asking legitimate questions."
"I’ll keep that in mind," Remus muttered, glancing around. There was still no one paying them any mind. "Am I beating my head against a stone wall?"
She smiled and patted his arm gently. "Don’t give up just yet," she whispered, pulling him into a hug.
"Do you know something I don’t?"
She laughed softly. "My dear," she said sagely, "I am more than twice your age. I daresay I know a few things you do not, and I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of the pleasure of learning them on your own." She patted his cheek, then turned to the fireplace and Flooed herself back to Hogwarts.
Remus took a deep breath, then made his way upstairs to search for Sirius.
Draped over the sofa in his quarters, Severus stared at the ceiling, his eyes open wide and his mind whirling to put a cyclone to shame. He'd thought that Hogwarts would be quieter than his own home, and there was no question that the sofa was more comfortable than his bed. He’d had every intention of going to sleep the minute he nudged his shoes off his feet, but that had been almost half an hour ago, and sleep had not found him yet.
What was Lupin playing at? Severus had given him every opportunity to say or do something in the lounge, but he’d just stood there until Severus had convinced himself that he was wrong. And then in the kitchen, Lupin had barely looked at him. Severus had decided that he had imagined most of the things that had been going through his head when out of nowhere, Lupin was telling Sirius to back off. Never mind that it had been the first string of halfway-civilized words Black had spoken to him in six weeks. There had to be an explanation for this.
He closed his eyes, trying to sort out his thoughts.
He hadn't been able to keep his eyes off Lupin tonight, and though that might not have raised many eyebrows among the others, Severus knew that the reason for his attentiveness was not the usual disdain and scorn. No, it had been Lupin’s eyes. Severus had never noticed before that Lupin’s eyes were blue. He’d always assumed that they were brown, like his hair, but they were not. It was an odd thing to notice, but having noticed his eye color, Severus had found himself watching the other wizard with far more interest than he should have.
A knock on his door startled him awake, and he scowled at the way he jumped. "Who is it?" he snapped, and after a moment, a feminine voice answered.
He hesitated, then pointed his wand at the door and opened it without bothering to sit up. She stepped inside, looking at him uncertainly.
"I didn’t wake you, did I?" she asked.
"Yes," he lied. "What do you want?"
"I just wanted to speak with you for a moment," she replied.
"The last four hours of my cheerful presence didn't satiate your need? By all means, speak away."
She was quite for a moment, then said, "Do you think it would kill you to be a little more civil towards Sirius?"
Severus rolled his eyes and draped his arm over his brow. "He's the one who was provoking me," he replied. "Even his favorite shadow called him on it."
"Yes, I know that he's throwing the bait, but you're rising to the occasion," Minerva chastised. "And you're leaving him just enough room to walk into your traps."
Severus smirked. "It isn't my fault he's so easy to predict."
For a long moment, she was quiet, and he could imagine her face turning half a dozen shades of purple as she tried to keep her temper while he was insulting one of her pets. When she did speak again, her voice was tight and strained. "We are attempting to win a battle where our odds are bad enough without the few of us who are fighting it bickering among ourselves."
"It is a war, Minerva, not a battle," Severus replied. "And as for bickering… I notice that you're here talking to me rather than there and talking to him."
"That's because you are more reasonable than he is by half," Minerva replied. "Or at least, I thought you were. Do whatever you like." The door slammed and Severus winced.
"Good night to you too, Minerva," he muttered, closing his eyes again and searching for the sleep which had been evading him.
Remus paused at the second floor landing and stared at the end of the hallway for a moment, debating whether or not to try and patch things up with Sirius before his shift began. There was a pool of light spilling from beneath the door. Remus leaned against the railing, considering his options.
"Of all the times to say something, you had to choose just then, didn't you?" he muttered to himself.
There wasn't much of a decision. Sirius was his friend, had been one of the first friends he'd ever had, and had been one of the most influential people in his life while he was growing up. The years Sirius had spent in Azkaban had been years of emptiness in Remus' life, and when the truth had come out, just over a year ago, Remus had been simultaneously overjoyed and ridden with guilt. How could he have ever believed that Sirius would betray James like that?
In some ways, Remus felt that he owed Sirius something, and the debt was not being repaid by leaving him to face the rest of the Order alone. Snape was a fancy, and one that would pass; Sirius was a true and honest friend who deserved better.
Remus shoved away from the railing and approached Sirius' door uncertainly. He hesitated a moment, then knocked.
"Go away," came the prompt reply from inside; Sirius sounded as though he were pouting, which Remus considered to be a good thing.
"Sirius? Open up. Let me in."
"I already told you to fuck off," Sirius answered, his voice muffled this time.
"Did that already, and now I want to talk to you. Open the door."
There was no further sound or protest, and after a hesitation, Remus tried the door handle. It wasn't locked, and he pushed the door open, then leaned against the frame. Sirius was lying in the middle of the moth-eaten bed, a pillow over his face. Remus glanced around. If Molly had been in this room with her cleaning and scourgifying spells, she hadn't had much impact. Curtains of cobwebs hung in the corners, a thick layer of dust on the floor. The four-post bed, which must have been beautiful once, was draped with tattered rags of a canopy and curtains. A white sheet was crumpled in the middle of it-- the only concession Sirius had made to making the room inhabitable.
Remus took a step in, and a cloud of dust rose from beneath his feet. Distasteful though it was, he sank onto the molding mattress beside Sirius and leaned back, his hands folded on top of his stomach. They'd spent hours lying side by side, in the grass, on a bed, on the lakeshore, on the Quidditch pitch… anywhere they could find a few feet. Those were days of staring up at the sky and watching the clouds, days when planning their next monthly adventure topped the list of necessary things to do. Somehow, staring at the shreds of velvet that reached down from the bed frame did not compare to staring up through the leaves of trees in the summertime.
"Thought we might work in here some tomorrow," Remus said after several minutes of trying to decide how to start the conversation. "The dust bunnies are getting vicious."
"Everything in this house is vicious," Sirius replied, tossing the pillow aside. "Everything and everyone."
Remus turned his head to find Sirius' hollow gray eyes staring at him from their sunken sockets. He shifted and looked up at the ceiling again. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have jumped on you like that."
"I expect it from the others," Sirius said, his voice hollow as his eyes. "But you? I thought you were my friend."
"I am," Remus said.
"Then why? Why did you jump all over me? You know, it's one thing when it's McGonagall and Dumbledore, but you. I can't believe you'd side with that greasy git."
"I wasn't siding with him," Remus protested, but he knew the protest sounded as weak as it was.
"Then what were you doing?"
He hesitated. "I was just…"
"You were always a shitty liar, Moony," Sirius muttered when it became obvious that Remus had no explanation.
Remus sighed. "Look," he said. "Severus and I have to be on duty in a couple of hours. I just wanted to get us both out of there."
"How touching that you care so much about him," Sirius sneered.
"I don't," Remus protested, more convincingly this time. "But I reckoned he'd be easier to get along with if he got some sleep. He's just off one shift, you know, and you know how pleasant he is to begin with." This last was said in a dry enough tone that it did seem to convince Sirius.
Sirius snorted, and Remus released a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
"Look," Remus said, rolling onto his side and propping his head onto his hand. "I know everyone was jumping on you. I'm sorry I joined in. I shouldn't have."
"It was just a question," Sirius mumbled, and something flickered in his eyes. He turned onto his side as well, tucking his elbow beneath his ear, his arm folded behind his head. The hollow expression had been replaced by one of pain, and his voice cracked suddenly. "Promise me something," he whispered hoarsely.
Sirius was shaking his head, his eyes shining. "Don't ever stop trusting me again," he begged, and Remus felt a stab of pain and guilt.
"Sirius, I didn't want to believe it, but…"
"I know it looked bad," Sirius interrupted. "But you know now. I'd never betray you. Promise you'll never betray me."
Remus exhaled slowly. Somehow, this promise sounded like the sort that ran much deeper than the words indicated, and the fact that Sirius had even asked it… That wasn't something a grown man asked. That was a promise that teenagers extracted from each other. He sat up, crossing his legs on the bed in front of him. "Of course I won't betray you," he answered. "When we were kids, I loved you like a brother, and I still do. Nothing will change that."
Sirius smiled a weak smile, but after a moment, the hollowness crept back into his eyes and he turned onto his back again, staring up at the ceiling. Remus wasn't sure if the hollow expression or the unbridled pain worried him more.
"You should get some sleep," Sirius said, his voice devoid of emotion once again. "Like you said, you have duty soon."
Remus frowned. "I took a nap this evening. Are you all right?"
"I should be the one protecting Harry. James would have wanted it that way. That's why he made me Harry's godfather, so that if anything happened, Harry would be taken care of."
"Harry is being taken care of," Remus assured him. "And we're not having to do much right now anyway. If he's in danger of anything, it's dying of boredom."
There was no answering smile or chuckle; there had been a time when Sirius and James would have had a hearty laugh at the idea that James' son might die of boredom on such a quiet and normal street as Privet Drive. Sirius flipped onto his stomach. "That's a sentence I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," he muttered, leaning his head onto his arms. His hair was growing long again, giving him a shaggy and unkempt appearance.
"We'll do something tomorrow," Remus said, frowning at the back of Sirius' head. It worried him to see his friend like this.
Sirius lifted his head and looked at him. "Do what?" he asked.
"I don't know," Remus replied. "Harry's birthday is coming up, isn't it? We could start working out something for him. Or maybe I'll sneak some beers back and we can spend the day in the attic. It'd be like old times."
He earned a snort that time. "Old times," Sirius repeated, but his smile faded quickly and he looked away. "Harry's birthday is tomorrow. Today. I should be taking him to Diagon Alley and spending obscene amounts of money on him. He's fifteen now."
Remus sighed, and there was silence for a moment. "Come on," he prodded. "You were always the one with the brilliant ideas. Surely you have some left?"
For a moment, Sirius almost looked like the old schoolmate Remus remembered. Only for a moment, though. "I don't know," he muttered.
"Well, think on it," Remus said. "And I solemnly swear that we'll get up to no good." He cuffed Sirius lightly on the shoulder.
Sirius lowered his head onto his arms again. "Go and get some sleep," he said, his voice muffled. Remus hesitated, a hand hovering above Sirius' shoulder.
What? You going to make a pass at him, too? Unwelcome though the voice was, it made him stop, and he dropped his hand to his lap again.
That was not something he'd anticipated—to start doubting the way he felt about those he already knew he loved. He'd loved Sirius almost the minute they met when they'd were eleven years old, and he'd always been comfortable with it. He and James and Sirius and Peter had been like brothers, and more because they'd chosen each other instead of being born with each other. Never once had Remus imagined there was anything more than that brotherhood and friendship, but now he did wonder. He couldn't help but wonder.
He sighed inwardly as he rose from the bed. "If you need anything, I'm right down the hall," he said. Sirius made an inarticulate noise that Remus accepted as acknowledgement. As he walked to his room, Remus' mind was delving into the quagmire of questions that had appeared in his life in the last few days. He wondered if he would ever begin to find answers to go with them.
Severus stood at the corner of Privet Drive and Wisteria Walk, leaning against the street sign. He'd been there ten minutes already, and had sent Molly and Arthur on their way five minutes ago. And Lupin still hadn't shown up. He was starting to grow annoyed.
Severus had spent the last hour and a half dreaming fitfully, and even now, after having been awake for a good twenty minutes, flashes of the dreams were still coming to him. He glanced up, frowning at the night sky, searching for the moon for reassurance that it was not full; Severus had checked the calendars three times—the next full moon was still two weeks away, and he knew that logically. Logic did little to dispel the haunting images that still flickered and flashed through his mind. He closed his eyes, leaning his head against the post.
It was dark. Too dark to see anything, and even with the faint light shining at the end of his wand, Severus struggled to keep his feet as he made his way through the tunnel. The packed dirt floor was uneven, and roots protruded at odd intervals, just begging to be tripped over. His heart was pounding, and there was a buzz in his ears as he pressed forward, sustained by the thought of what was at the end of the tunnel.
It seemed like hours, and he was beginning to think that there was no end to the tunnel, and he paused, leaning against the wall, peering into the darkness. He turned around and looked back the way he had come, and was a bit discouraged to find that the beginning of the tunnel was still visible behind him, opening into an empty room.
Someone touched his arm, and he whirled around, taking his wand light with him. The glow fell over Minerva's face, and she was smiling at him. "Nothing has changed back there. It's still empty. Go on."
He frowned into the darkness again, and he took another three steps. When he looked over his shoulder, he could still see the room where the tunnel began, bathed in light but nothing to see. He took another step away from it, and collided with something solid.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Snape? You've got to get out of here." James Potter, blocked his path, and Severus snarled at him.
"Get out of my way, Potter."
"Do you even know what you're doing?"
"Of course I do."
"You're lying. Go back to Hogwarts, where you belong."
"You're dead. You can't keep me from doing anything I want to do."
As though that had been his cue, James melted away and turned into Sirius Black instead. He reached out, his hands blocking passage on either side, palms pressed against the tunnel walls.
"I'm not dead," he said. "Get out of here. You don't know what you're doing."
"And I suppose you're going to stop me," Severus muttered.
"That's right, I am."
Severus drew his wand and shoved the tip between Black's eyes. "I don’t even need an excuse this time," he snarled. "Now get out of my way."
Black faded into nothing, and Severus pressed on for a few more steps, before he felt breath on the back of his neck and turned around. His eyes widened as he realized that it was a werewolf behind him, but before he could lift his wand, the beast had grasped his wrist and pulled him closer until Severus could see the eyes glowing faintly. He braced himself for a snarling bite, but it did not come.
Instead, the monster kissed him, a tender, gentle kiss that Severus surrendered to without question and without hesitation. As they parted, their lips still lingering close, the werewolf smiled a feral smile.
"The joke's on you again, Snivellus," he whispered, then suddenly reached around and wound his hand into Severus' hair. He yanked hard, and Severus felt his neck snap.
Severus' eyes flew open and he whirled, wand in hand, on his attacker. Lupin's hands were in the air, and the look on his face was a mingle of fear and exasperation.
"We're going to have to work on teaching you to say hello," Lupin muttered as Severus pocketed his wand again.
"Do not sneak up on me again," Severus snarled.
Lupin sighed and looked down the street. "I take it everything is all right?"
"Clearly," Severus snapped. "If anything were wrong, I would not be standing here talking to you, pleasant though the conversation is. Of course, if you'd been on time—"
"If you had seen fit to answer my question about whether you were returning to the house or coming directly here, perhaps I would have been," Lupin interrupted.
"I would have thought it obvious when I was not at the house five minutes before the shift began that I would be here instead."
"You might have been late."
"I am never late."
Lupin sighed again. "Forget it," he muttered.
Before Severus could respond, a cat appeared from beneath a bush, arching his back and rubbing against Lupin's ankles. The greeting was becoming familiar, and Severus and Lupin watched as the cat turned and trotted down the street towards Arabella Figg's house.
"Do you want a cup of coffee?" Lupin asked after a brief silence. "We'll only draw attention if we continue to stand here."
Severus frowned at him, watching him warily. His reticence must have shown, because Lupin rolled his eyes and folded his arms across his chest.
"Allow me to rephrase that. I am going for a cup of coffee, and you can join me, or stand there like a crow for all I care."
A crow? Severus glanced down at his clothing. He'd managed to acquire something a little less distasteful than the slop he'd been wearing on previous nights, but he was still dressed in Muggle clothing. He wore khaki trousers and an orange shirt with short sleeves and a collar. He couldn't imagine looking less like a crow. What the hell had Lupin meant by that?
Lupin was already across the street and several houses down, and Severus had to walk quickly to catch up to him.
"Decided to join me?" Lupin asked as Severus fell into step beside him.
"No," Severus replied. "I am not joining you."
"Then what are you doing?"
Damn good question. He didn't give a flip whether the werewolf walked away or not, and he certainly didn't want the forced civility of sitting with him in that café. So what was he doing? "I don't think it is wise for us to split up," Severus replied.
Lupin looked at him with a skeptical eyebrow raised, but shrugged. "Then you're joining me," he said after a moment.
"I am not joining you," Severus insisted.
"You're coming with me then."
"Are you this obstinate on purpose?"
"I am not obstinate."
"I suppose you aren't delusional, either."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"You're arguing with me about whether or not you're joining me!"
"I am not arguing with you!"
"Yes you are!"
"No, I am not. I do not argue. I state clear and quantifiable facts without resorting to juvenile tactics."
"Juvenile tactics such as assuming a position and staunchly refusing to budge even after it has become clear that the position is erroneous?"
"Are you joining me for a cup of coffee?"
Severus scowled. "No."
"Then why are you still here?"
"I told you, I don't think it wise—"
"Then you're joining me."
"I am not joining you for anything!"
"Severus?" Lupin stopped walking abruptly.
"You're arguing with me."
Damned if that blasted werewolf wasn't laughing at him. "I am not arguing with you," Severus growled. "I am not joining you, and I am not being juvenile, obstinate or delusional. And if you ever say my name aloud again where others can hear you, I will—"
"Shh," Lupin whispered. They'd reached the café and he had opened the door. A bell tinkled above them. "I'm sorry. I won't do it again."
"Have a seat wherever you want," called a waitress. "I'll be with you in a second."
Lupin nodded towards the booth they had occupied the last time they were in here. "Over there?"
Severus nodded, and they settled at the table. Same as he had last time, Severus moved the napkin dispenser and salt and pepper shakers, positioning them so that he could see blurs of movement behind him reflecting in their dull surfaces, then took a menu from the back of the table and opened it. He had slept through breakfast yesterday morning and hadn't been inclined to eat lunch, and had been on duty during dinner time—a nagging growl in his stomach was reminding him of his negligence. "Do you want breakfast?" he asked Lupin without looking up from the menu.
"Nah. I'm not hungry." A low rumble from across the table drew Severus' eyes up, and he frowned. Lupin was avoiding his eyes.
"Either the calendar was wrong about the full moon or you're a horrible liar," Severus muttered.
"I'm fine," Lupin replied, though his face was tinged with pink.
Severus looked at the menu again, shrugging a bit, and an awkward silence settled between them. After a moment, the silence was broken by Lupin's stomach grumbling again. "I do not want to listen to that for the next three and a half hours," Severus said.
"I said I'm fine."
"Now who's arguing?"
Remus folded his menu and slammed it onto the table. "I haven't the money for breakfast, all right? Is that what you wanted to hear? Unlike everyone else in the fucking world, I'm not independently wealthy."
Before Severus could reply, the waitress came over. "Good morning," she said, her cheery greeting sounding rehearsed and rote. "My name's Pam. What can I get for you two?"
"Coffee," Lupin replied, and Severus noticed that he wasn't meeting his eyes.
"And you, love?"
"Coffee," Severus answered. "And a bowl of porridge and a side of bacon. And the same for him."
"I told you I'm not hungry," Lupin said in a dangerous voice.
"And I told you that you're a horrible liar," Severus replied, then looked at the waitress. "Two bowls of porridge, two sides of bacon and two cups of coffee."
Pam nodded. "I'll be right back with your coffee," she said.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Lupin glared in Severus' direction. "I told you I don't have the money for—"
"I'll buy your damn breakfast," Severus snarled. "I told you, I don't want to listen to your stomach for the next three and a half hours."
Lupin turned sideways in the booth and leaned back, his head against the wall, eyes closed, feet propped on the vinyl seat. He was shaking his head and massaging his temple.
"You just keep giving me reasons to hate you, don't you?" he asked after a minute, and Severus frowned at him.
"What are you talking about now?"
"Here you are, gentlemen." Pam was back with their coffee. "I'll have your food out in a few minutes. Anything else I can get you?"
"No," Lupin replied.
"You don't have real cream, do you?" Severus asked, casting a sideways glance at the packets on the table.
"How about milk?"
"I can get you a glass of milk," Pam replied.
Severus nodded, and Pam was gone again. The two wizards sat in silence until she returned, and as Severus spooned a bit of the milk out of the glass and into his coffee cup, he had the sense that he was being watched. When he looked up, Pam was still there.
"You two were in the other day, weren't you?" she asked.
Lupin opened his eyes. "What?"
"Must have been… Wednesday. About this same time."
"How do you know that?" Severus asked.
"I never forget a face, dear," she replied, then grinned. "And you have a very distinctive one."
"Distinctive," Severus repeated. He was looking at Lupin, though.
"I'll go check on your order," she said, and as she turned away, Severus narrowed his eyes at Lupin.
"How many cafés do you suppose there are in Surrey?" he asked.
"I wouldn't have the slightest idea," Lupin replied.
"Dozens, at least," Severus speculated. "If not hundreds. So how is it that you find the one with the waitress who 'never forgets a face'?"
Lupin snorted. "I did it on purpose, you know," he muttered.
"I'm sure that was supposed to reassure me somehow," Severus muttered.
"Look, I'm no more pleased than you are, and if we'd just gotten our coffee like I'd intended, I'd say we should just leave. But if we do that, we're going to draw even more attention. Just shut up and pretend there's nothing wrong with her recognizing us."
"This was your idea."
"I'm not denying it."
"And I suppose you're also not denying that—" He stopped abruptly as Pam came back, a tray balanced on one hand.
"Here we are," she announced, placing a bowl of porridge in front of each of them, and then arranging the two plates of bacon. "Anything else I can get for you?"
Severus ignored her, reaching for a packet of sugar. Lupin sighed. "No thanks," he said. "I think we're set."
"So are you two new around here?" Pam asked, and Severus glanced at Lupin, whose face was blank. "Never saw either of you before, now twice in one week."
The silence was beginning to grow deafening, and Severus finally supplied the excuse. "Business pursuits," he offered.
"Ah," she said. "You out at the drill plant?"
Severus narrowed his eyes. "Do you mind if we save some of the questions for the next time you recognize us?" he asked. "I prefer my porridge before it gets cold."
Pam's eyes widened a bit, then narrowed, and Lupin delivered a sharp kick under the table. "Let me know if you need anything," Pam said, then walked away.
"Do not kick me again," Severus said in a threatening tone.
"Do you think you could try to be a little ruder next time?"
"What do you prefer? That she think we're rude or that she stand there asking questions we can't answer? I'll leave extra for the tip and she'll be fine."
Lupin scowled and jabbed his spoon into his porridge. "It wouldn't kill you to pretend to be civilized from time to time," he muttered.
"Do not presume to tell me what to do," Severus snapped.
"Fine. Are there any other rules I need to be aware of? Don't kick you, don't say your name, don't touch you, don't sneak up on you, don't tell you what to do—"
"Don't mock me and don't argue," Severus concluded smoothly. "Just eat your porridge like a good boy."
Lupin shot him a hateful look, but took a bite of his porridge. For several minutes, they ate without speaking, only the sound of spoons clinking against bowls piercing the silence.
"So what are you going to be doing for the rest of the day?" Lupin asked after a few minutes.
"Well," Severus replied, stirring his porridge, "I was thinking I might make a quick jaunt to Moscow and try to procure a bottle of decent vodka, then perhaps see if I can't make some inroads into discovering the meaning of life and possibly write another chapter of the next great novel and, if I have time, I'll also rid the world of evil." By the time he finished, he was looking levelly at Lupin. "Or, barring all that, take a nap. Given that I will have been on duty almost continuously for sixteen hours at that point, which do you think I'll choose?"
"You're the one who scheduled your shifts, so don't complain about it."
"I am not complaining, merely pointing out what should have been obvious, given that you seem to have memorized my fucking schedule. Why do you know my schedule?"
"I have a keen memory," Lupin muttered, breaking a slice of bacon in half.
They finished their meal in silence, and when Pam came back with the bill, Severus picked it up from the table. Lupin was already digging in his pocket, but Severus ignored him, taking a handful of coins out of his own pocket. He dropped several onto the table and then stood. "Come on."
"Did you put down enough?" Lupin asked, peering at the coins.
"More than," Severus replied.
"But you didn't even look at them," Lupin protested, picking up the six coins and turning them over in his hand. A couple of minutes later, he stacked them again and stood, apparently satisfied that Severus had done it right.
Outside, the first glimmer of dawn was beginning to glow on the eastern horizon, and the streets were slowly beginning to fill with traffic.
"Thank you," Lupin said after a moment. "For breakfast."
A number of responses somersaulted through Severus' mind, most of them biting and sarcastic. He refrained from pointing out that he was well aware of Lupin's state of employment, though, and after a brief hesitation, replied. "Not at all."
They walked quietly for a few minutes more, then Lupin asked, "How did you know which coins to use?"
Severus shook his head. "They look different," he replied vaguely. "And I only carry two kinds."
They said nothing as they walked back to Privet Drive and glanced at the Dursleys' house; there was movement in one of the upstairs rooms. A window opened, and a white owl came flapping out of the window.
Severus shook his head. "And we worry about drawing attention by sitting in a restaurant," he muttered. Lupin said nothing, and when Severus glanced at him, he was staring up at the window. "What?"
"Today is Harry's birthday," Lupin replied. "I was just thinking that it would be nice if we could do something for him."
"We're keeping him alive," Severus replied. "What more could he expect?"
Lupin sighed again. "You know," he said, "for the last few weeks, I've done absolutely nothing but think about you. Last night, I was plotting ways to soften you to the idea. I think I'll be spending the next six weeks plotting ways to never have to spend five minutes in your company again."
Severus opened his mouth, but Lupin was already stalking away. He watched him round a corner, considering his options. After a moment, he turned and walked in the other direction.
It was odd. He didn't give a slug's ear what Lupin thought of him, had no interest in cultivating a friendship or anything else with the werewolf, and after four days, he had his solitude that he'd been hoping for in the first place. He didn't like Lupin, didn't want anything to do with him, and he bordered on being offended that another man had just admitted to plotting ways to draw his attention. It was disgraceful. If he had entertained any ideas about Lupin, they'd been fleeting moments of fancy, and certainly nothing serious.
And that Lupin had just stalked away from him hurt far more than he intended to admit to anyone. This almost made him long for the days when his life was blissfully simple—spying on the Dark Lord and Death Eaters was easier by far than sorting out the complex collision of emotions that surrounded Remus Lupin in his mind.
A/N: lepulvies: dustbunnies, loosely translated.
Thanks, as always, to the talented and marvelous LariLee for her skills and services as beta. She's awesome.