Remus sat in his office, ostensibly grading a stack of fifth year papers. In actuality, he had stopped paying attention to what he was reading several minutes ago, and was instead watching his hands tremble and wondering idly as to what was causing it. He had two competing candidates these days. One hung outside his window, low and gibbous in the sky, four days from full. The other possible cause was nearby too, without question. Though Remus couldn't say exactly where.
When a knock came on his door, Remus answered with a casual, "Come in," knowing it couldn't be a student this late. When the headmaster walked in, however, Remus abandoned his casual attitude and got to his feet. "Professor Dumbledore. What can I do for you?"
"Oh, I wondered if I might trouble you for a spot of tea, Remus."
"Of... course," Remus said, somewhat bemused, as Dumbledore flicked his wand at Remus' cracked old tea service and sent it floating over to Remus' desk, already puffing steam, without waiting for Remus' reply. Apparently Dumbledore hadn't been going to take no for an answer.
That meant he had something he wanted to talk about.
Remus had more than halfway expected this conversation since Halloween night. Either the headmaster would interrogate him to see if he had helped Sirius get into the castle, or he would ask Remus to try to guess what was going on in Sirius' mind. To think back on the boy he had known and try to predict the man's thoughts, what he might do next. Remus almost dreaded the second scenario more.
Remus poured the tea out without saying anything. While stirring a large amount of sugar into his cup, Dumbledore said, "How is the wolfsbane potion treating you, Remus?"
"It's wonderful," Remus said honestly. "Like nothing I've ever experienced." Not even like being surrounded by a group of friends ready to bear the transformations with him, ready to catch him when he lost control-no, the potion allowed him to rely on himself, and Remus had learned that was far more valuable. "It's still painful, of course, but the loss of self is completely nullified."
"Any side effects? I've heard that some wizards experience a certain queasiness after taking the potion."
"That'll be the taste," Remus said without thinking. Dumbledore smiled. "No, no side effects."
"Severus will be pleased. It's something of a testament to his skill that he is able to brew this potion perfectly month after month."
He might be more pleased if it caused me to curl up in agony. I wonder why doesn't deliberately add some side effects of his own. Remus wasn't certain why someone who so clearly still hated him was going to such great lengths to help him, but he knew the answer had a lot to do with the man sitting in front of him.
Remus decided not to beat around the bush any longer. "Professor, I know Severus thinks I let Sirius into the castle."
"I do not." Dumbledore's tone was calm, but firm. He met and held Remus' gaze. "Severus lives too much in the past. Neither you nor he would be teaching here, had I any doubt as to either of your loyalties."
Remus nodded, swallowing past a sudden lump in his throat. James would have called him a ninny, getting emotional over such a simple statement. James never could have imagined how things stood in Remus' life today.
Dumbledore held Remus' gaze for a moment longer. Then, apparently satisfied with what he saw there, the headmaster gave a small nod and let his attention go back to his tea. "It can be challenging to be the one left behind," he said quietly.
Left behind. Oh, how perfectly that summed up Remus' feelings. He had failed to die with James and Lily and Peter, been left to carry on with something they were no longer part of. And Sirius had left him in a different way. Remus had failed to uncover the spy in their midst, and as a result had been left with Sirius' outdated, outgrown ideals, still holding dear to things that Sirius had brutally discarded.
"I wonder sometimes," Remus said softly, spurred to reveal his feelings by Dumbledore's pegging them so accurately, "why I didn't know. How many dozens of opportunities there must have been for me to know. What was wrong with me, that I couldn't see."
Dumbledore nodded again as though none of this surprised him. "I am going to tell you something," he said, "that I have said to very few people, but that I think perhaps I should have said to you a long time ago." Remus looked at the headmaster in surprise. Dumbledore's eyes were fixed on his teacup. "When I was seventeen," Dumbledore said, his voice falling into the measured pace of a storyteller, "I met a man. He remains to this day the most incredible person I have ever met. He was, if I may flatter myself, the only person in whose presence I ever felt I was not smart enough. I do not believe I fell in love with him the day we met, but it was a near thing. We spent an idyllic summer together, having the most thrilling conversations from before sunrise to after the day was a mere memory. And in retrospect, I do wonder, as you do. Why I couldn't see; what I might have done differently. How this man had the power to blind me to what ought to have been obvious.
"It ended for me as it did for you, with the death of someone dear to me." Dumbledore looked steadily into his teacup, not blinking. Remus was struck with awe at the idea that the great man was going out of his way to talk about something so obviously difficult for him. "And then he was gone," Dumbledore continued. "Vanished. And I felt left behind in every sense, struggling to understand what had happened and how I could ever trust myself again, having made so grievous an error."
"Did you ever see the man again?" Remus asked, glancing out the window at the gibbous moon and wondering how close his other enemy was.
"Yes. I met him in a duel in 1945. I won, rather famously at that." Dumbledore smiled slightly at Remus' expression. "Grindelwald," he confirmed.
All Remus could think to say was, "Thank you for telling me this."
"I considered telling you once before. When I first learned what Sirius had done. I don't know if that was the right time; you may have been unable to take it in then. But I certainly should have told you before now. It is always an advantage to know you are not alone."
A memory rose unbidden to Remus' mind; running through the forest, a stag pacing him on his right, a rat struggling to keep up on his left. A black dog leaping and bounding through the grass beside him.
"Yes," Remus echoed. "It's good not to be alone."
Maybe now. Dumbledore would understand why I haven't told him about Padfoot yet. He would understand better than anyone. But he would also understand how many times I've betrayed his trust, trust he's invested in me when no one else would...
"Remus?" Dumbledore was looking at him over the rims of his spectacles. His voice was gentle, inviting Remus to share his thoughts, or not.
Remus took a breath. And he knew that he would never, no matter how much he should, be able to bring himself to explain to Dumbldedore about the animagi. "I was just thinking, I suppose even the greatest mind can be overpowered by a weak heart," Remus said in defeat.
"A great heart," Dumbledore corrected. "It takes a great heart to love, regardless of the worthiness of the one who is loved. I will always throw my lot in with someone who has a great heart, over someone with a great mind."
Remus wasn't certain he agreed, but he did not feel he could say so. The headmaster excused himself shortly after that, remarking on the lateness of the hour.
Remus pushed his chair over to the window and gazed out at the moon, the fifth years' papers forgotten. He felt much better than he had before the headmaster's visit. To know that Dumbledore himself had once felt what Remus had, the soul-rending realization that the person you loved was not who he had seemed to be... even if it was shared sadness, it was good not to be alone. Remus could perhaps be a little less ashamed, a little more comforted by the headmaster's confidence.
But his hands still shook. And even as his mind wandered, recalling past statements he had heard Dumbledore make concerning the power of love, part of him listened for the howl of a dog on the grounds.