Disclaimer: I don't own anything. I just play with the characters. I mean no harm, all that.
Author Notes: There's mentions of SB/RL slash in here, so if you don't like that, go away. :)
Otherwise, please review!
At the sound of the doorbell ringing, Remus Lupin staggered through the corridors of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. One bloodshot eye struggled to stay open as he made a laughable attempt to flatten his dishevelled hair and even out the robes he had been wearing for the past three days. He considered withdrawing his wand and performing a simple Cleaning Charm, but he seriously doubted his skill at this hour.
Mrs. Black glared at him from her portrait, but her insults could not be heard. After his return from the Department of Mysteries, Remus had taken out his wand and shot spell after spell at the portrait until he had sank to the floor in exhaustion. When he had awoken, he learned that every bit of his frustration, anger, and sadness had caused the deceased Mrs. Black to become a mute.
Licking his chapped lips, Remus yanked the front door open. It revealed one white-haired Headmaster and one young, scared-looking boy of fifteen. There was a trunk between them. Dumbledore had a hand on the boy's shoulder, squeezing it. The boy swallowed, but determinedly looked into Remus's eyes.
"Morning, Remus," said Dumbledore. The recent events had taken the merriment out of the Headmaster's tone, and his eyes no longer twinkled. His voice was a failed attempt at sounding cheery. "Do you remember when I said that Neville would be staying at headquarters for a short period of time?"
Remus frowned, searching his whiskey-laced memory. The last thing he could recall was passing out in the study, a scrapbook on his lap and a firewhiskey bottle in his hand. Hadn't there been an Order meeting that day? Yes…no! Yes, there was, Mundungus had fallen asleep on Tonks' knees. But Remus couldn't remember anything about Neville being mentioned…
"I told you about a week ago," Dumbledore reminded him gently. His hand had not left Neville's shoulder. "Remember?"
Remus shook his head.
"His grandmother has pneumonia, and as she's staying at St. Mungo's until she gets better, Neville needs somewhere to stay. Somewhere safe."
Remus nodded. "Here, then," he muttered.
"I'll come and get Neville when Mrs. Longbottom is in good health," said Dumbledore brightly. He gave Neville a careful push in the general direction of the door. The boy nearly tripped at the sudden momentum, but regained his balance.
"Come inside, Neville," said Remus gruffly. His tongue felt heavy. He almost wanted to take a Muggle razor and shave off whatever was on his tongue.
Dumbledore gave Neville another gentle shove. Remus stepped aside, and Neville walked inside nervously. He dragged his trunk behind him.
"Good day," Dumbledore said, and with a tip of his hat, he Disapparated.
Remus closed the door, making sure the latches were in all the right places and that it was securely locked. When he was satisfied, he turned to Neville.
"Hello, Professor Lupin," Neville whispered. Remus smiled.
"I'm not your Professor anymore, Neville. Just call me Remus." He was careful not to stumble over his words. After all, he had been the boy's teacher. It wouldn't be very polite to show Neville that his ex-professor had gotten completely pissed last night.
"Okay. Um…where should I put my trunk…?"
"Oh! Erm…just pick a room. Any one will do. As long as there's nothing that'll bite you, you're fine."
"Bite me?" Neville exclaimed shrilly.
Remus shrugged. "I don't know how much cleaning Sirius did when I—when I wasn't here."
Neville's frightened features softened. "Oh. Um, I'll just go pick a room."
"I'll show you to one. Harry and Ron used it last summer."
They walked up the corridor in silence. Remus's head was swimming—who would walk this fast in the morning? He had never noticed how loud Neville spoke, or how annoying those deafening bells in his head were…
Neville poked his head in the doorway of the room, scanning its contents quickly. "Thanks," he repeated. "I think—I think I'll unpack now."
"Feel free to. I'll be in the study."
Remus walked off without another word. He heard the trunk open with a creak, the groan of the bedsprings as Neville sat down on the bed. His werewolf senses were still alert, despite the outrageous amount of alcohol that was still in his body.
He swayed into the study, heading for the familiar armchair. Remus dropped into the chair, holding the scrapbook in two hands. Sirius had made it in their seventh year, during his spare time. He had said that he wanted to remember everything from Hogwarts, and constantly asked people for copies of their pictures.
Of course, this was just one of the many volumes of photograph albums. Sirius had made four or five at Hogwarts, and when he didn't feel like cleaning the house or yelling at Kreacher, he had made more the past year.
One was unfinished. Remus wasn't sure what pictures were in it, or if there were any at all. He didn't dare touch it. It sat in the corner of the desk. There were various envelopes, photographs tucked away. It was something Sirius had been working on, and Remus didn't want to touch it. If it was Sirius's work, it didn't deserve to be looked at by his eyes. It wouldn't ever be finished. It could gather dust, for all he cared.
"Er—Prof—I mean, Remus?"
Remus wiped his eyes hastily before turning to the doorway, where Neville was standing shyly.
"What are you looking at?"
"Photographs," said Remus shortly. He would not cry in front of a child…
"May I… may I look?" asked Neville timidly. "If you want to be left alone, I'll go back to—"
"No, it's fine," Remus cut in. He beckoned Neville over with a wave of his hand, and the boy walked over. He sat on the sofa opposite Remus, who handed him one of the scrapbooks.
"It's heavy," Neville commented, holding the album with two hands. He opened it to the first page, eyes wide with interest.
Neville, according to Harry, was a nice, shy boy who was quite good in Herbology and was braver than he acted. His parents, Remus knew, had been cursed into insanity with the Cruciatus Curse. He remembered them from school. Frank and Alice, top Aurors in their time, had been sweet people that deserved better than what they got.
But they were in St. Mungo's now. Remus doubted that they would ever recognise their son.
Neville's voice interrupted Remus's inner flashbacks. The boy peered over the top of the photograph album, brow furrowed in concentration. Remus moved to the spot beside him on the sofa, looking for the picture that Neville was confused about.
"Who is it?" Neville asked again, pointing to the picture. "He—He looks familiar, but I can't place his face…"
Remus swallowed. He fingered the picture, as though touching it would bring the man in the photo back.
"That is Sirius Black," Remus whispered. "Age seventeen. He's in the library, for once. Studying for his N.E.W.Ts. The only time he ever studied."
Sirius's hands were in his hair, his fingers absent-mindedly stroking his scalp. His elbows were on either side of the book, and he lowered a hand to turn the page every once in awhile. His lips formed the words of the text—it looked like Potions, judging from the sour look on Sirius's face and how he seemed to be saying "manticore urine"—as he read, sighing heavily every once in awhile.
"You were friends with him, weren't you?" Neville inquired. "You and Harry's dad? Ron told me, after the—after the Department of Mysteries."
Remus nodded, his chest clenching painfully at the mention of the Department of Mysteries. "Yes, we were…So was Peter Pettigrew, but I don't want to talk about that pitiful excuse for a human being."
"Harry despises him."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "He should, but how do you know that?"
"I've heard him talking in his sleep," said Neville simply, as though that explained everything.
Neville turned the page. The pictures made Remus's throat close up. Oh, they were all of the day the seventh-years had left Hogwarts…And he was sure the next page was of the Leaving Ball, he'd bet on it…
"Who are these people?"
"Well…that's Lily Evans," Remus explained, pointing to the red-haired beauty. Her Head Girl badge was pinned to the front of her robes, and she held James Potter's hand as they waved to the camera. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, making her blush and hide her face in his shoulder. "And you can guess who that is."
"That's Harry's dad, isn't it?" Neville gazed at the picture. "Wow. He looks just like his mum and dad…what were they like?"
"Two of the kindest people you'll ever meet," Remus answered, and then paused. "Well, James was… er… pretentious. I'll admit it; he was a bit of a prat in our earlier years at Hogwarts. But he changed, and became the man that Lily Evans loved. And Lily… she was so lovely. A beautiful girl, and one of the smartest witches ever to set foot in Hogwarts. Excellent at Charms. Everyone adored them."
"Is that you?"
Neville pointed to another picture. Remus felt the usual embarrassment of seeing himself in a photo, the blush spreading to his cheeks. There he was, grinning and waving as he folded his robes. Sirius had taken that picture in the dormitory, while they were packing. And then they had—No, don't think about that now, you can't think about that now.
Neville flipped to the next page. Remus owed himself three Galleons, as the pictures were of the Leaving Ball. James and Lily were dancing, the light shining on their heads that made them look like they were in a spotlight; Wormtail with his girlfriend, Sally Something (Remus didn't even bother trying to remember her name); and—
"Hey, that's my parents!" Neville cried out. A smile spread across his face as he tapped the picture with an index finger. He gazed at the picture happily, his face glowing. "Frank and Alice Longbottom…"
But Remus was still looking at the pictures. There was one of himself and Sirius drinking punch, their knees brushing against each other under the small table. Sirius was waggling his eyebrows at Remus over the paper cup of punch. It had been spiked with whiskey from the Hog's Head, if Remus remembered correctly. Hadn't James poured the entire bottle into the bowl when McGonagall had her back turned?
"Let's turn the page," said Remus hastily, as the people in the pictures began doing something that Neville wasn't aware of. But his hands didn't work fast enough; Neville spied the picture just as Remus flipped the page. The boy looked up, flabbergasted, jaw opening and closing mutely. When he found his voice, it was high-pitched and squeaky.
"You…and him…were…kissing. At school. In public. At a Ball."
Remus pressed his thumb and index finger into his eyebrows, rubbing the pads of his fingers in circles. His palm shielded his face from Neville, who was still looking at him, dumbfounded.
"Does Harry know?" Neville asked.
Remus continued the slow massage of his forehead. He didn't want to deal with this now. He could barely remember the day anyway—Sirius, leaning in to whisper something in his ear, lips curving into a smile—and he didn't want to talk about this with Neville—that whiskey-tinged punch he could taste on Sirius's tongue—Why had he even bothered to show Neville the photographs in the first place?—hands pushing him into an empty classroom, fingers pulling on his robes—No, Neville should just leave him be—Sirius's hoarse voice telling him how beautiful he looked, how smooth his skin was, how lovely he tasted—
Remus started before understanding the voice had been his own. He then realized he was gripping his head with two hands, that salty tears were trickling down his cheeks, stinging his chapped lips. His elbows were digging into his knees uncomfortably, sending shooting pain up his forearms.
"Please…" Remus mumbled, squeezing his eyes shut. "Please… stop…"
"I'm sorry! I—I didn't know, I'm so sorry! I mean, I've—I've heard about Sirius, Harry's talked about him, but I didn't know you two were so close—I'm sorry, I'll leave—"
Neville was babbling now, growing increasingly hysterical as he continued to speak. Remus lifted one hand, and the talking stopped.
"No," Remus said softly. "No. I should be sorry. I—I don't know what's gotten into me…"
"Someone you—someone you care about died. I—I don't expect you to be happy." Neville's voice was quiet, yet he spoke quickly. He had used the present form of care, which confused Remus. Did he still care about Sirius, even if the man was dead? No, he's not, he's not dead, he's going to come back from under the veil, he'll come back—
He must have been speaking aloud, because Neville's face grew anxious.
"I'm in denial."
It felt good to say the words out loud. Remus almost laughed. Where was he, therapy?
"I was, too." Neville looked determined now, his eyes hard, hands clenched in fists. "I barely knew Mum and Dad, but…Gran and I always visit them. I used to pretend that they were just—just fooling the doctors until V-Voldemort returned, so they could sneak away from St. Mungo's and fight…fight as Aurors against Death Eaters. And then they would save the day, and they'd put Bellatrix Lestrange into prison. And the Daily Prophet would have a huge article on them. I used to make up headlines."
Neville was currently watching his feet, as though staring at the worn trainers would bring back memories.
"I—I wrote them down, too. Made up drafts of hundreds of newspaper articles that described how 'Frank and Alice Longbottom defeated the odds'. Gran found them, though."
"What happened?" Remus knew his voice was beyond quiet. Oh, if he had known, he surely would have pushed the boy harder in his classes to give him more confidence, maybe even encouraged Harry to include him more…
"She told me that it wasn't possible…That Mum and Dad weren't ever coming back. That there was no way that they could ever get their memory back, and that they were doomed to spend the rest of their existence in St. Mungo's. Gran…She tried to be gentle about it, you know. But I was only nine. It hurt.
"And I thought—I thought that maybe I should…try and curse myself into oblivion, like my parents. Then we could be together, you know? But I didn't want—didn't want to never remember anything, so I thought about death instead. It seems easy. One of my uncles is an Herbologist, and he works with dangerous plants. A few of them are poisonous. I've always kept vials of them with me…So—So when my parents finally die, I can join them."
Neville looked up. "I–I'm not suicidal, if that's what you're thinking. I don't hate life. It—It gets a bit…annoying at times, but it's bearable. I just—I just b–believe that I can be with my—with my parents in death, and I—I want to be able to spend time with them. And…if I'm dead, then…then, well, I've got…I've got all the time in the world, don't I?"
Remus's throat caught. Oh… He had no idea…Well, he knew that Neville missed his parents dreadfully, but he had no idea…
"I thought about following Sirius through the veil."
Remus was shocked to hear the words tumbling out of his mouth. He hadn't told anyone this, not even Dumbledore. It was his own private thoughts, which he was sharing with a boy who had similar feelings.
"I was holding Harry back, telling him that Sirius was dead, that he wasn't coming back…But I wanted to push Harry aside and go after Sirius. That veil really does mean death, you know. The Ministry used it for the death penalty before they could control Dementors."
"Binns talked about it once."
"Harry never mentioned that."
"Harry doesn't pay attention in History of Magic."
They were silent for a few minutes, except for breathing and the occasional sniff.
"I've done nothing since he died," Remus began. "Unless you count drinking enough to drown a giant. Or looking through this." He gestured to the photographs. "I change my clothes every so often. I don't wash the dishes. I killed Kreacher—that's a house-elf—last week. I ate the little bastard. Under the influence of the potion, too. Nasty thing."
Remus looked down at his hands. They were callused, dirty, and he could trace the intricate scars on his palms.
"I miss him terribly. And nothing can bring him back."
"Does Harry know?" Neville inquired again. Remus shook his head.
"Sirius didn't want Harry to know until he was older…It's too late now…"
"Maybe you should tell him."
They were quiet again.
"Can you show me who these people are?" Neville asked, motioning to the photo albums. Remus sniffed again, wiped his eyes and nose, and nodded.
"Sure. Grab that green one, will you? That's got the most pictures."
They spent the next few hours looking over the albums. Remus's voice had gone hoarse with telling Neville story after story, yet Neville's eyes became brighter, his smile wider.
"Who's this?" Neville would ask, pointing to one of the various pictures. Occasionally, one of the corners would be flapping up. Sirius never had been good with Adhesive Charms, Remus thought fondly.
"Well, that's Devon Boot. He was a Ravenclaw. Prefect, of course. Very good at Charms and Arithmancy. I'm telling you, the man is a genius."
"Er…yes, yes, I think so. Tall kid, brown hair and eyes? Always stares at Hermione when he thinks no one is looking?"
Neville would laugh. "Yup, that's Terry. He's quite nice, actually. And he is good at Charms. He's a true Ravenclaw."
Or Remus would spot a picture of himself and Sirius together, he would go red in the face and try to cover it with his hand. But Neville would eventually pry his hand away, and watch the picture with interest. There would be a slight flush in his cheeks at the more…erm…involved pictures.
"Did you love each other?" Neville had asked softly, watching one of Remus and Sirius in Hogsmeade during Christmas holidays. There was snow in their hair, clinging to Sirius's fringe and dripping off their noses. Their cheeks were pink in the cold, but the smiles were broad.
"Yes," Remus had answered, just as quiet.
When the clock started bellowing that it was time to eat something, Remus stood up stiffly, stretching to work out the kinks in his back. Neville looked up from the last scrapbook, but he carefully folded it back together and put it on the coffee table.
"What is there to eat here?"
Remus shrugged. "I'm not sure. The pantry is stocked, but I'm not sure what's in there. I've been living off whiskey."
Neville gave him a half-hearted smile.
"I suppose we could make a stew," Remus offered. "There's some leftover chicken from Buckbeak's breakfast, and I know there's some onions for flavour."
"Did you know that onions have no taste?" Neville remarked. "They just have a certain—"
His voice broke, and he stood up. Remus watched the direction of his gaze, and saw him looking at the unfinished photo album.
"Is that one finished?"
"No," said Remus, a little too quickly.
"Oh." Neville looked away. "Well, I'll go down and start on that stew…"
He left the room almost silently, the only audible noise being his footsteps. Remus swallowed the continuously growing lump in his throat and looked at the photo album.
Dare he look?
It was Sirius's, not his.
No, he's not!
Yes, he is.
Remus strode over to the desk and picked up the envelope of pictures. Carefully, hesitantly, he slid the stack out.
It was all…
"Me," Remus whispered. "They're all of me…"
Remus, cheering for Gryffindor at a Quidditch game; Remus, laughing as a hand at the top of the picture poured a bottle of butterbeer upon his head; Remus, sitting at the old headquarters with a stack of Ancient Runes books by his side and a code to decipher in front of him; Remus, holding the seven-month-old Harry—blatantly ignoring the Ministry's laws on werewolves and children; Remus, raising a glass of champagne to the camera and grinning…
Remus shoved the pictures back into the envelope and backed far away from the desk. No, he couldn't take this. Sirius had gathered all his pictures of Remus—of him—and had obviously planned on making on big photo album of just Remus Lupin.
He recoiled back, away from the photographs, away from Sirius, and sprinted down the corridor. He needed to get away…
Remus stopped at the end, clutching the stitch in his chest and breathing heavily. He loved Sirius—why was he running away? Don't think about it, don't think about it—He made a half-turn towards the room he had dashed away from—No! Don't go back!—Remus stopped mid-pace, his arm outstretched, as though he was trying to grasp something far away—
"Oh, Sirius," Remus murmured. He let his arm fall back down to his side, his head drooping. "Oh, Sirius…"
He sank to the floor, hugging his knees to his chest, and allowed the tears come.
When Remus awoke, he was lying on the couch. There was a thick blanket over him—it had come from Sirius's room, he recognised the smell—and two pillows under his head. It was dark in the study, but the fading sunlight still poured through the curtains. It cast eerie shadows across the room.
"Oh, good. You're awake," said a relieved voice from across the room.
"Neville," Remus croaked.
"Yeah. Are you…Are you feeling better?"
"I suppose." Remus coughed, trying to get rid of the aching pain in his throat. "I'm feeling a bit congested, but it'll pass."
Neville stepped up to him, carrying a glass of water. He handed it to Remus, who took it gratefully. As he gulped it down, Neville watched critically. He took the empty glass when Remus was done, placing it on the table.
"I'm not being a very good host," Remus confessed. Neville's face broke into an relaxed smile. "I should be taking care of you, not the other way around."
Neville shrugged. "I—I can take care of adults if I need to."
"But you shouldn't have to," Remus protested.
Neville reached over onto the table for something. Remus, his eyes not yet accustomed to the dark, peered blindly at whatever Neville was groping for.
"Here," Neville announced, pulling out a scrapbook. Remus's breath caught in his throat—it was the one Sirius hadn't finished, the one that was to be all about him—
"I found another envelope," Neville continued. He still looked shy, nervous, and unsure of what to do. A permanent look, Remus mused. "It was underneath the actual photo album. I thought you'd like to see them."
He handed the envelope to Remus, who took it with a trembling hand. As Neville strode over to open the curtains, Remus tugged the pictures out.
"Sirius," Remus breathed, holding the pile of pictures tightly. He flipped through them carefully.
Sirius, eating a Chocolate Frog while he scribbled nonsense in his Divination journal; Sirius, lounging in the dormitories with a book in his hands, one leg hanging casually off the side of his bed; Sirius, transforming into a dog and back into a man, then all over again; Sirius, leaving Dungbombs for Filch to find; Sirius, levitating Harry so that he flew through the air of James and Lily's home; Sirius, arriving at the front door, his arms laden with gifts…
"So many…" Remus murmured.
"I think he was making one with just the two of you," said Neville quietly.
Remus looked up. "Where's my wand?"
Neville furrowed his eyebrows at the odd question, but reached into his back pocket and handed it to Remus. "It fell out of your robes," he explained. "I didn't think you wanted it on the floor."
Remus took his wand and a picture of Sirius. Tapping the back of it, he whispered, "Splenium."
A smoky, purple light emerged from the end of his wand, enveloping the picture. When the glow of the light disappeared, Remus placed the picture into a blank page, holding it until it stuck.
"I'll leave you alone," said Neville. "Do you want me to make you that stew you were talking about?"
Remus shook his head. "I'm not hungry."
"Well, I—I am. I'll—I'll talk to you…tomorrow morning, Prof—Remus."
As Neville left the room, Remus continued using the Adhesive Charms. Yes, this was Sirius's project. But he was going to finish it.
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