A/N: Typically long time between chapters, I know. But the end is in sight! Only a few more chapters to go. I hope you like this next one! Love and thanks goes as always to my wonderful beta!
"I have an idea," Sirius declared as he walked into his living quarters, not entirely sure if Remus was inside to hear his idea or not but hoping that he was.
"Really?" Remus' voice asked from inside his bedroom, and Sirius felt himself grin in happy anticipation. "Shall I run for cover, then?" Remus said as he ambled out into the common room, an amused look on his face.
"No, I don't think so," Sirius said. "But there is always the possibility of danger with me, so you'd best be on your guard."
Remus snorted. "Duly noted. What's your idea?" Remus made his way over to his chair and lowered himself down into it, flicking his wand absently at the fireplace as he did so and setting a roaring fire crackling there. Sirius sat down on the couch as well, legs jittering in front of him.
"Is Harry in?" Sirius asked.
"No," Remus said, "He's with Minerva, making up some of the work he missed. I think he'll be all caught up by the end of the winter hols."
"Brilliant," Sirius said, pleased that Harry was not only feeling better and catching up on schoolwork, but also that Harry was at this particular moment not here, which for once suited Sirius quite well because Harry couldn't know about The Idea yet. "I think," Sirius said boldly, and slightly louder than necessary, "that I am going to buy us a house for Christmas."
Silence reigned after this statement, heavy and absolute. Remus sat frozen, face blank and body entirely still, as though he had been caught in time. Remus' stomach had abruptly clenched itself into a knot at Sirius' statement; he was being silly, he knew, to feel a sudden sadness wash over him at this pronouncement, but he couldn't help it. There had been a time when Remus had thought he would never see Sirius or Harry ever again; that they were just two more memories to stew quietly over, again and again, as he found refuge in the cold comforts of his mind against the bleakness that had become his life after November, 1981. He had come to terms with the fact that a part of him would always be empty, that he wouldn't ever feel warm or happy or content again. But Remus couldn't help but feel that for the last few months, despite the ever-present hardships that existed with having a war on, he had felt… full. Remus was surprised, now, at how strong the crushing sense of despair was at the idea that he would once again have to live alone.
Sirius was looking at Remus expectantly, eyebrows raised and looking distinctly like a puppy waiting to be praised. When no such praise was forthcoming, he pouted visibly and waved a hand in front of Remus' still stone-like features, making sure his friend hadn't been accidentally and mischievously Stupefied.
"Hallo?" Sirius asked. "What do you think?"
Remus blinked once at him, and then seemed to realize that he was, in fact, expected to say something. 'Get it together, Lupin,' he told himself sternly. It's not like he would never see them, he reasoned with himself. And this was something he knew would fulfill a desire both Sirius and Harry had both had since they had been reunited three years ago, and he couldn't bring himself to begrudge them that.
"You want to buy a house," Remus said, and winced slightly to himself at how vague he sounded, his voice sounding strangely distant even to his own ears.
"Yes," Sirius reiterated, more insistently this time. "Buy a house! For Harry and me and you."
"And me?" Remus asked, finally snapped abruptly out of shock and into the present. "You want to buy a house for us, as in you and Harry and me?"
Sirius cocked his head at Remus and a small, bemused smile made its way across his lips. "Of course you," Sirius answered, but then his face lost its happy expression and worry crept its way insidiously across his features. "I mean, only if you want to. You don't have to, I just thought-"
"No!" Remus interrupted hastily. "No, I do. I want to." Sirius stopped his babbling, and a large smile broke out across his face. "Sorry," he said. "I was just surprised, is all. I thought you'd want a house for just you and Harry."
"I want a house- my first real home- for my family. That includes you, Moony," Sirius said simply. "It wouldn't be the same without you."
Remus was silent again now but this time out of joy, out of disbelief, out of a gratitude so deep he didn't know if he could ever find the words to express it. He opened his mouth to say thank you, to say something, but his voice wouldn't form the words. Instead he felt his eyes sting dangerously, and he blinked them rapidly a few times as an embarrassed flush crawled up his neck and cheeks.
"Sirius," Remus finally managed. "I… I just-" He broke off, shrugging helplessly at his lack of words and sucking in a deep breath of air, trying to contain himself.
Sirius smiled softly at him, his eyes gentle in understanding, and it was a quiet look that was more peaceful and more content than any Remus had seen on him since before 1981, and Remus couldn't help but smile warmly back at him.
"Good idea, then?" Sirius asked, voice cheeky even as he reached out a hand and squeezed Remus' shoulder.
Remus laughed and nodded his head affectionately, completely and totally amazed that Sirius' ideas still had the ability to surprise him even now.
"Good idea, indeed," he murmured.
"No, no, you're doing it wrong, Ronald!"
"Well enlighten me, then, Hermione. How's it supposed to be done?"
"Like this." Hermione made a smooth gesture with her arm, and then grabbed Ron's elbow and jerked it around a bit. "Not like that."
Harry chuckled at them, a sense of ease washing over him at the familiarity of their actions. He was still scratching away idly at his parchment, making finishing touches on one of the Transfiguration assignments Professor McGonagall had given him today, but truthfully he had lost his concentration ages ago. The fire in the common room was burning brightly, lulling him into a warm, sated state, and he felt the tight knots of pain in his shoulders start to loosen for the first time since he had undergone the Legilimency with Sirius. Hermione and Ron were bickering beside him, the break for the winter holidays was only two days away, and Harry felt completely content to sit idly here in the Gryffindor common room, listening to his friends' chatter and watching the firelight play off of Ginny's hair, turning it golden.
"Staring is rude, you know," Ginny said in an undertone beneath Ron and Hermione's squabbling, not looking up from the textbook spread out in front of her.
"Yes, well, I'm a terribly rude person," Harry said seriously. "It's to be expected."
Ginny snorted in amusement and turned to him, dropping her quill. "Oh yes, you're terribly rude."
"The worst," Harry agreed.
"Whatever shall I do with you?" she asked.
"Love me despite my dismal manners?" Harry said cheekily. "Or pawn me off to a circus. Either one."
Ginny laughed, shaking her head at him fondly. "You sound more like Sirius everyday," she commented.
Harry grinned at her, pleased. "Can't be helped, I suppose."
"Seemingly not," she said. The smile stayed on her face but the edges softened a bit and her eyes warmed, her expression moving easily from amused to tender. "I'm glad you're feeling better," she said softly.
Harry felt himself sober slightly, felt some of his heaviness return as fleeting images of nightmares played across his mind's eye and his body shuddered slightly in the remembrance of splitting pain in his head, of fire that seemed to rush tirelessly through his veins. He clenched his jaw, pushing the memories away determinedly. "Me too," he said softly.
"I was worried," Ginny said, her words simple but with a depth behind them that made Harry's heart twinge painfully.
"I know," Harry answered. "I'm sorry I scared you."
Ginny tilted her head a bit, studying him. "You didn't scare me," she said. "It's the thought of losing you that scares me."
Harry felt his throat tighten, his chest filling at once with warmth at her words and with dread that they could come true; that even as he sat here, warm in the Gryffindor common room, there were a whole host of people trying to rip him away from the people he loved. He leaned forward in his seat, brought his hand up to her face and let his fingers trail down her cheek, then through her hair to rest at the back of her neck.
"You won't lose me," he said, voice quiet even as he felt a hard, steely resolve rise up within him. It raged inside his chest, angry and brutal, against anything and anyone that would take him away from her, from Ron and Hermione, from Sirius and Remus. "It won't happen," he promised her. She looked at him for a moment, eyes searching his with a barely concealed sense of desperation, and then nodded quickly in acceptance and closed the distance between them, pressing her lips to his softly.
"OI!" a loud voice shouted suddenly. "What do you think you're doing, snogging my sister in the middle of the common room?"
They broke away from each other quickly, and Harry felt a blush creep up his neck as Ginny scowled at her brother darkly.
"Nothing, you prat," she answered plaintively. "And you're still doing it wrong."
"…Bugger," Ron muttered to himself.
Hermione rolled her eyes and threw her hands up in exasperation. "I give up," she said, but reach out a hand and corrected Ron's wand-hold even as she focused her attention on Harry.
"Are you staying in the Tower tonight, Harry?"
He nodded at her. "Yeah, I think so. I've got to check in with Madam Pomfrey after dinner, but I think it should be okay."
"Good, it's been bloody weird without you, mate," Ron put in, breaking away from Hermione's grip absently. "When I snore Neville throws a pillow at my head instead of putting a charm on my curtains like you do. It's annoying, really," he said thoughtfully.
"You could put the charm up yourself," Hermione said, looking at him from beneath raised eyebrows.
"Well, yeah," Ron said, "but that's hardly funny, is it?"
Harry let out a startled laugh, and was gratified when Ron grinned widely at him as the girls sighed in exasperation.
"See?" he said, gesturing at Harry happily. "Harry appreciates my humor."
Hermione ignored him, turning to Harry once again. "How are your nightmares?"
Harry felt his grin slip off his face, and he swallowed thickly. "They're fine," he answered.
Silence met this statement as all three of his friends merely looked at him, waiting. It was Harry's turn to roll his eyes then. "Oh alright," he said, somewhat sourly. "They're not fine, but they're better. I've been sleeping longer before I get them now, and usually I wake up myself. Sirius hasn't had to wake me up in almost a week."
Hermione looked at him intently, slight lines crinkling around her eyes as she looked at him sympathetically. "That's good, Harry," she said gently, and reached a hand out to pat his arm.
"Thanks," Harry muttered, then addressed Ron. "I'll put up a silencing charm tonight, just in case… so I don't wake anyone."
Ron had started shaking his head before Harry had even finished his sentence.
"Don't do that, mate," he said. "If you make noise I'll wake you up, and then we can be awake together. Simple as that."
Harry looked down at his hands, picked at groove in the table absently as gratitude washed through him and made his breath shake as he sucked air in through his mouth. "Alright," he said softly, and looked up at Ron, hoping that his expression somehow managed to convey to Ron the rest of what he was feeling. It must have, because Ron quirked a smile at him and nodded at him once.
"You're coming to the Burrow for Christmas, aren't you?" Ginny asked, aiming her question to both Harry and Hermione, who nodded simultaneously.
"Christmas afternoon, I think," Hermione answered.
"I haven't heard anything about it from Sirius, but I can't think why not," Harry said.
"Are you staying here for the break?" Ginny said.
Harry nodded at her grimly. "We're certainly not going back to his parents' house," he said, his voice hard. "Not ever again, if I can help it. It makes him miserable."
"Makes everyone miserable," Ron said.
"Well that should be fun, Harry," Hermione said. "You'll have the whole castle to yourselves, and you'll be at the Burrow for Christmas anyway. "
"Yeah," Harry replied, and fell silent for a moment as he tried to picture his first Christmas with Sirius in which they were free to do whatever they wanted, not stuck inside a dark house as they had been last year. Harry was jolted out of his reverie as a roar of laughter suddenly erupted from across the common room, and Harry turned his head just in time to see Colin Creevey snap a photo of Dean as he toppled forward onto his head, dragged down by the weight of his nose that had suddenly and rapidly expanded. Harry laughed as he watched his friend struggle, and then froze as an idea struck him.
"Hey, Colin," he called. "Would you help me with something?"
Harry awoke the next morning to a faint, sharp tapping; he opened his eyes groggily, struggling to pull himself out of sleep's grasp, and reached an arm out to part his curtains slightly. He surveyed the room vaguely, but all looked normal; he plopped his arm back down onto the bed with a soft thwump and shut his eyes again, already feeling himself falling back down into slumber.
Tap tap tap. Tap. Tap tap.
Harry's eyes popped open and he yanked the curtain aside again, this time a bit farther, and put his glasses on his face with the other hand so he could see the room more clearly. Finally he located the source of the noise: a small brown owl, sitting on the windowsill closest to his bed and pecking at the window daintily but insistently. Harry immediately felt vaguely guilty as he saw it tremble slightly in the fierce December cold and he scrambled out of bed to opened the window. He shivered himself at the gust of wind that whipped its way through the dormitory and shut the window again quickly once the owl had hopped gratefully inside. Harry winced slightly in apology when Neville muttered in protest at the sudden cold, and took the small scroll from the owl when it held out a spindly leg towards him. He stroked its head in thanks, smiled slightly when it preened beneath his touch and nibbled at his fingers gently.
"You can stay and warm up if you want," Harry whispered, and the owl promptly flew to the top of the nearest four-poster and perched on top of it, putting its head beneath its wing for a nap. Harry crawled back into his own bed, pulled the blankets up to his shoulders and then opened the letter in his hand, recognizing Sirius' scrawl instantly.
Hope your first night back went well! Come and see me before classes if you can.
Harry felt himself still at the contents of the letter. The first line had jolted Harry into awareness; as far as he could tell, he had slept through the night. Harry grinned, a sense of elation rising up within him as hope blossomed within his chest. He felt as though an invisible milestone had been crossed. He knew there would be more bad nights, but last night had not been one of them. He had slept through one night without waking terrified and screaming, and that was progress.
Harry peered at the alarm clock next to his bed; it was early still- early enough that Harry was vaguely surprised that Sirius was awake- and Harry figured if he got up now he could catch Sirius before breakfast. He steeled himself for the chill he knew would sweep over him as soon as he pulled the blankets back; once standing, he hurriedly stripped off his pajamas and pulled on his clothes, grabbing an extra sweater and tugging it on over his head as he walked quietly out of the dormitory.
The halls of the castle were empty, most of its inhabitants still ensconced in sleep, and Harry made his way slowly to Sirius' quarters, taking the time to look out the windows at the snowy grounds as he went. Harry's heart tingled with warmth and he felt his eyebrows go up just the slightest bit in wonder; Hogwarts still took his breath away, just as much as it had when he was eleven. When Harry arrived at the portrait guarding his godfather's quarters he nodded hello to the sleepy guardian and knocked slightly before poking his head in.
"Sirius?" he called softly, not wanting to wake Remus in case he was still asleep.
"Harry!" Sirius' voice called out from his bedroom. "Come in."
Harry walked into the sitting room and sat down on the couch, glad for the fire that was blazing merrily and keeping the chill out of the room. He felt its warmth sink into his skin, and sighed contentedly. Sirius walked into the room then, pulling a charcoal colored sweater over his head as he did so. When his head emerged again Harry's eyebrows went up in surprise; Sirius was wearing nicely fitted black trousers, and the warm grey of the sweater brought out his aristocratic features, all chiseled cheekbone and sharp jaw lines. His hair was pulled back neatly into a small ponytail, and for once his eyes seemed bright and alive, not ringed with dark circles or worry lines. Harry couldn't remember a time when Sirius had looked healthier, and Harry felt a bemused smile break out over his face.
"Where on earth are you going?" Harry asked.
Sirius settled down into the chair normally occupied by Remus and arched an elegant eyebrow at his godson.
"Who said I'm going anywhere?" he asked cheekily.
Harry laughed. "No one I suppose, but it's just…. You're dressed up! I haven't ever seen you like this."
Sirius snorted. "Believe it or not, I haven't always looked like an escaped convict. I'll have you know I used to be quite pretty."
"Don't get him started, Harry," Remus said as he entered the room, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. "He'll go on about it for hours."
"Will not!" Sirius protested.
Remus snorted in amusement. "You absolutely will."
Sirius huffed and pointedly ignored him. "Now that you mention it, I am making a bit of an excursion. Remus too for a bit. I wanted to let you know before I disappeared."
Harry's breath caught in his throat, and he smiled in relief. "Thanks," he murmured, touched by Sirius' foresight. "I … I would have worried."
Sirius sobered slightly, but his expression was fond as he looked at his godson. "I know," he said gently, ruffling Harry's hair a bit. Harry ducked and brushed him away playfully, causing both of them to grin.
"Where are you off to, then?" Harry asked.
Sirius' face went innocently blank. "No where important. Just some errands."
Harry narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What kind of errand takes two fully grown wizards?"
"The kind involving helping Molly set up for Christmas at the Burrow," Remus interjected smoothly. "It's best to stay on her good side around the holidays, otherwise she keeps you from the pudding."
Harry chuckled. "It's best to stay on her good side all year round, I think."
"Right you are, Harry," Sirius said. "I'll be leaving after I teach my morning classes, and Remus will join me once he's done with the afternoon classes. We'll both be back by tomorrow night, though."
"Alright," Harry said, keeping his voice steady despite the sudden drop of his stomach. He was being childish, he knew, but for some reason the thought of Sirius being gone overnight made his chest tighten with worry. This would be the first time Sirius would be further than a walk away since Harry had found him again, and for some reason his departure- however innocent and brief- made Harry's shoulders tense with an anxiety he hadn't felt since September. Harry was startled out of his head when he felt a hand on his shoulder; Sirius had moved onto the couch beside him and Harry found himself looking into Sirius' knowing gaze, and then immediately felt himself flush in embarrassment at having been caught.
"I don't have to go, Harry," Sirius said, voice low. Harry noticed idly that Remus had taken a few steps forward and was leaning against the mantle, seemingly casual position belied by the sharp light of awareness in his gaze. Harry looked down at his toes.
"I'm being stupid," he whispered.
"You're not," Sirius said sharply.
"I am," Harry insisted. "I'm sorry. It's not that I don't trust you- I do- Only… this will be the first time you're gone and I just… I just…" Harry trailed off, unable to find words to express the knot in his stomach that seemed to twist itself tighter and tighter as Harry tried to imagine waiting for Sirius to come back.
The couch dipped suddenly, and Harry turned his head to see Remus sitting on his other side, looking at him seriously.
"I followed him around for days," Remus said softly. "This summer. After… after he came back. Any time he left a room even I would follow him. Not even to talk to him, just to see him. Make sure he was there. I didn't even realize it until he blew up at me when I accidentally followed him into the loo."
Harry let out a startled laugh. "You followed him into the loo?"
Remus nodded sheepishly. "By accident," he reiterated. "But the point is, you're not being stupid. You lost him. It's natural that the thought of him leaving makes you worried… because the last time he left he didn't come back. But this time he will."
Harry nodded and forced a small smile onto his face. "I doubt you'll bump into Bellatrix Lestrange while doing your Christmas shopping, anyhow."
Sirius' hand tightened reflexively around Harry's shoulder. "She never was the celebratory type," he agreed, voice gone momentarily dark. He seemed to recover himself though, and he sounded reassuring again as he said, "We'll be fine, Harry, I promise. I'll owl you tonight to let you know where we are and then we'll see you tomorrow."
Harry nodded, but couldn't stop himself from leaning into Sirius' side slightly. Sirius immediately wrapped his arm around Harry's shoulders, hating the way his godson's face had fallen, the way his presence had dimmed.
"It's a fun trip, kiddo," Sirius said, trying to lighten the tone of his voice. "You'll like the results, you'll see."
Harry smiled a bit and nodded. "Okay," he said. He then pulled away from Sirius gently and stood up from the couch, grabbing his bookbag. "Time for breakfast," he said.
Sirius nodded and stood as well, and when Harry hesitated in walking towards the door Sirius crossed the space between them in one stride and pulled Harry to him, hugging him tightly.
"Try not to get into too much trouble," he teased as he released him.
Remus chuckled, and moved forward to squeeze Harry's shoulder reassuringly. "Trouble's in his blood, Padfoot."
"That is true," Sirius conceded with a grin.
Harry smiled and countered, "You don't get into too much trouble."
Remus laughed outright. "It's in his blood, too!"
Harry smiled and shook his head fondly. "Also true. Be safe," he said as he walked out the door, "See you soon."
When he was out the door, Sirius turned to Remus. "He'll be alright, yeah?"
Remus nodded. "He'll be fine, Sirius. Ginny, Ron, and Hermione will look after him. And we're only an owl away."
Sirius nodded a bit absently, thoughts still obviously on his godson. After a few moments he seemed to shake himself out of his head and when he looked to Remus again his eyes seemed to sparkle from within, face alight with excitement. "Shall we proceed, then, Messr. Moony?"
Remus smiled. "We shall indeed, Messr. Padfoot. We shall indeed."