Remus was standing in front of the large fireplace in the living room of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. There was only a small fire lit, so the room was dark with shadows, the ancient furniture looking like some strange motionless animals.
Remus stared into the flickering flames, holding a glass of Firewhisky in his hand. It had been a long day during which he'd prepared everything for the Order's meeting, which would take place the very next morning. Now he was tired and his head aching, his temples sending out pricks of pain all the way down to the back of his head. He downed a good portion of the alcohol, half hoping despite better knowledge that it would help with the headache.
'At least I should be happy about teaching Defence again,' he thought.
Only he hadn't been happy – or just anything other than miserable – once since the day Sirius had died. Remus sighed and took another gulp of Firewhisky. Albus had asked him to return to Hogwarts in the first week of the summer holidays, and although the new term would start in three days, he hadn't even bothered to think about planning his classes yet. It would have kept him busy and distracted him from brooding over Sirius's death, just as spending the summer someplace other than Grimmauld Place, where everything reminded him of his dead friend, would have done.
And that was precisely the problem: it seemed that he wanted to brood. Finally, after uncounted days of uselessly wandering the grim rooms and sleepless nights staring up at the moth-eaten canopy of his bed, Remus had admitted to himself that he felt he should have prevented Sirius from leaving the house that night. He should have been here when it happened. He should have forced him to stay, for his own good.
'I should have known.'
Of all people, ihe/i should have known. Who else if not Sirius' so-called "best friend"? He should have known that Sirius wouldn't just sit here and wait until it was all over, but rush to Harry's aid. He should have known. But now it was too late.
"I'm sorry, Sirius," he murmured, when suddenly, all hell broke loose.
"BLOOD TRAITORS! FILTHY MUDBLOODS AND HALF-BREEDS! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, DISGUSTING RUBBISH!"
Someone had rung the doorbell. Shaking his head, Remus made his way to the dark entrance hall. The portrait of Mrs Black was fuming with rage, the heavy black curtains flapping wildly. Even after weeks, he still hadn't got used to it, and her shrieking did nothing to help his headache.
"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING IN MY HOUSE! LOUSY HALF-BREED! A WEREWOLF! DON'T YOU HAVE -"
The screaming stopped abruptly when he managed to drag the curtains over the portrait. He sighed with relief. Then the doorbell rang again.
"SCUM OF THE EARTH! SHAME OF THE WIZARDING WORLD! HOW DARE YOU - "
Remus angrily pulled on the curtains, making them screech over the rail. His head was aching even worse as he hurried towards the door and flung it open with a jolt.
"DO! NOT! RING! THE! BELL!" he yelled at the visitor.
"MISBEGOTTEN VERMIN! LOWEST OF THE LOW! THAT I MUST LIVE TO SEE SUCH DAYS! LOATHOME CREATURES! WORTHLESS..."
Groaning with annoyance and pain Remus rushed towards the portrait and, for the third time, drew the curtains shut.
"FILTY LITTLE HALF - "
Silence. Sweet silence. He buried his aching head in his hands.
"It seems the two of you are quite enjoying yourselves. As for me, I'd rather prefer a civilised conversation. Not that there is much I should wish to talk about with you."
The sneering voice was unmistakable. Remus looked up to face the man who was standing in front of him.
"Good evening, Severus."
Remus was lying in bed, having trouble getting to sleep. Like every night, going to bed didn't help to stop thinking of Sirius, and moreover, he was more than slightly annoyed with Severus. The man was arrogant beyond belief. Without even an appropriate greeting – not that Remus had actually expected it – he'd rushed into the kitchen and flung himself into a chair, leaving it to Remus to carry in his heavy suitcase. He then had demanded a glass of Firewhisky and drunk it without a word. Remus hadn't expected Severus to make pleasant small talk, but he could have stopped treating him like a house-elf.
"At least that stupid mutt had a good taste of Firewhisky if nothing else."
That had been the point when Remus had left in silence, gritting his teeth, his temples close to exploding.
Yes, Severus had to manage an extremely difficult and dangerous task, but that didn't give him the right to treat other people in such a way. Not that he'd ever treated anyone with respect – except Dumbledore – and he had always been annoying, but Remus couldn't remember him being quite so rude before.
It took what must have been an hour or two, but finally, the alcohol took its effect and Remus dozed off into a fitful sleep.
It was still dark when Remus awoke. There had been a noise or something, or maybe he had only dreamt it. He listened. Nothing. Yawning, he closed his eyes again, hoping to be able to go back to sleep soon. He really needed the rest to get through tomorrow.
There it was again! Remus almost fell out of the bed as he struggled to get to his feet as quickly as possible. Could there be an attack on the house? He grabbed his wand, tiptoed out of his room and then stood still, listening. For a couple of seconds there was silence, then muffled screams echoed through the corridor. They were coming from Severus's bedroom! Wand at the ready, Remus pushed the door open, prepared to hex the intruder he expected to find.
The tip of his wand flared up, lighting the room with a greenish glow. No one was there except for Severus, who was tossing and turning in his bed, groaning.
"What on earth…" Remus mumbled and stepped closer to the bed. "Severus?"
As an answer, Severus let out another of the screams that had woken Remus and began to sob weakly, eyes still closed.
"Merlin!" Remus rolled his eyes as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He grabbed Severus, who was drenched in stinking cold sweat, by the shoulders and shook him a little.
"Severus! Wake up, you're dreaming."
Severus didn't awake, but raised his arms before his head protectively, his thin body shaking violently.
"I… I'm sorry, F-father," he whimpered. "I'll be good!"
Remus was taken aback. He let go of Severus, who immediately curled up into a foetal position in bed. For some moments Remus sat there, staring at Severus incredulously. He'd certainly never expected to find himself in this position, and he wasn't quite sure what to do. In the end, though, he knew he couldn't simply leave again, and so, albeit reluctantly, he bent down and carefully wrapped his arms around the trembling man.
Father had been angry with him. Severus didn't know why – there could be so many reasons – but it had to be his fault, he knew that for sure. Or why else should Father be so furious?
He had tried not to cry when Father had been shouting at him. Father didn't like that; he didn't want Severus to act like a baby. But when Father's voice had become louder and louder and he'd kept on yelling, his head red with anger and his big fists clenched, Severus hadn't been able to fight back the tears.
Father had become even angrier then. When the punches had begun raining down on Severus, he'd said the only thing he could think of: He was sorry.
He was sorry for upsetting Father that much. He never wanted to upset him. He didn't want to make mistakes. But he had failed again.
'You're worthless'/, he thought, repeating what Father would tell him almost every day. It must be true. Father was always right.
Sobbing in pain and fear Severus was lying on the floor, waiting for what would come next. He expected more punches, but suddenly, he felt arms being gently wrapped around him. He flinched at the touch. Tender hands stroked his hair.
"Shhh, it's all right. It's only a dream."
"It's all right, you needn't be afraid."
Mother was here! He buried his head in her robes, crying with relief. He felt himself being rocked softly, and it was so soothing that he wanted it to never stop.
"Shhh, don't cry, you're safe now."
Severus knew he wasn't safe, because Mother was never safe herself. She couldn't protect him from Father just like she couldn't protect herself, but this time it had only been a dream. He snuggled closer into the tight hug. When, after some time, he finally could stop crying and had calmed down, he stayed still in her arms for some minutes, enjoying the warmth and the feeling of being held.
"Mother…" he whispered and opened his eyes.