"It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us family."
Molly meekly opened the door of Sirius' room, one hand clutched at her chest to hold her pink terry robe closed.
"Boys, there are so many people here, and I have five people to most of the rooms. Would you mind horribly if Remus stayed in here with you tonight?"
"Sure. Harry, is that alright with you?"
"Of course," Harry called from the bathroom through a mouth of toothpaste. Three Weasley boys had taken his room. And everyone else's living space was topsy turvey, as well.
"I gave his room to the girls since it has the only other king-sized bed in the house. Remus doesn't get off guard duty 'til 3 am, though, so I put a note on the door letting him know." She paused with a bit of worry in her face. "He's been looking so exhausted lately, and he's not eating. And with the full moon just two day past, I hate to see him trying to sleep on that second couch downstairs. He's too tall for it."
"Say no more, Molly. You know I sleep light. I'll grab him when he gets home. I was actually planning to do that, anyway."
"Thank you, Sirius. Harry." Molly made to leave and then popped her head in again. "And there's a plate for him in the fridge. And a pitcher of milk."
"We'll make sure he eats."
"Alright, good night then." Molly smiled and shut the door quietly as they both returned her good night.
When Harry came out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth, he looked thoughtful.
"Is Professor Lupin okay? I mean, Mrs. Weasley is right. He hasn't been looking well."
"He'll be fine…I think. Remus isn't very good about taking care of himself. And I think it's been quite a while since he's had anyone in his life to pick up the slack…But he won't be working any more double shifts. I had a little chat with Moody."
Harry sat on the bed with his arms crossed and his eyebrows raised. "I think I overhead some of that earlier. Sounded like more than 'a little chat.'"
Sirius smiled as he dug through his pajama drawer. "What can I say, I'm overprotective."
Remus trudged back to Grimmauld in the dead of night on Christmas Eve thinking, quite possibly, that it was the worst of his life. Bloody snowstorm, now of all times. How was it possible to feel nothing and everything at the same time?
He didn't want to draw attention with an impenetrable spell and walked miserably down the shiny sidewalk, sleet mingled snow crunching beneath his feet as he brushed wet ice from his eyes. A second Muggle patrol rolled by at a snail's pace, and the patrolman eyed him suspiciously as he passed.
No one wanted to work the holidays, so he had offered to take double, even triple shifts whenever possible. And he'd volunteered for most of tomorrow, as well, but didn't mind. Work kept him from focusing on the things he didn't have, the things that he thought about most on holidays - like family…and children. And a place to call "home." A paying job.
So he was doing himself a favor. Plus, giving those who had family a chance to enjoy time with one another. It sounded like bitterness to tally it up like that, but really it was rationale. Remus had become a master at finding the easiest emotional way to get from point A to point B, and a 110 hour workweek made for the smoothest path through the holiday season.
He passed several houses with soft colors emanating from their front windows --silhouettes of trees, menorahs and bright lights barely visible through the white-scratched air of the storm. All occupants tucked in their beds by now…. From his watch earlier, he had seen through every window families laughing, embracing, passing each other food and presents. It had kept him warm, seeing so many people happy and content.
But the weather had gone from bad to worse and with nothing heartening to focus on and the full moon just two days past, he actually had to stop and wonder whether he could make it back to headquarters. And odd, numb pain shot through his sleet-soaked body with every step, and he shoved his hands farther into wet pockets despite knowing he'd find no reprieve for them there. But one step at a time, he finally found himself in front of Number 12 Grimmauld.
Remus had known the house would be at maximum capacity tonight, but when he saw the scrawled sign on his bedroom door stating, "The girls are staying in your room," his head fell backwards with a sigh. He needed dry clothes but couldn't very well enter their room in the dead of night. It was rude. And since Ginny Weasley slept with a wand curled in her hand these days, he'd probably get hexed before he could identify himself. Oh well…
He wandered downstairs like a zombie to stretch out on the sitting room couch but found Moody, of all people, collapsed on it. And the second couch was barely more than a wide chair for a man of his height, but he scrunched up into it, pulling his arms around himself and had almost dozed off when he heard a voice directly above him.
"Oh, this won't do."
Remus looked up to see a shadowy outline of Sirius, who pulled him upright off the couch, helped him upstairs and opened the bedroom door carefully, wincing at the squeak and trying not to wake a lump in the bed.
"Harry. Molly put three Weasley boys in his bed tonight. Cor, Remus, you're freezing wet!" Sirius hissed and put a hand on his back to push him towards the lavatory.
When Sirius turned on the bathroom light, his eyes went wide with concern. Remus looked a step above death. And he didn't even shiver, a sure sign of hypothermia. As Sirius turned to draw a hot bath, Remus sat down automatically on the toilet lid then Sirius hunkered down to take off the soaking wet shoes and socks and tap his hands and feet with his wand. Remus felt an immediate lazy warmth travel through the frozen digits.
"So you don't scream like a banshee when you hit the water with that frostbite. Now get those clothes off. Molly has a plate for you in the kitchen."
"I'm too tired to eat."
"Oh, you'll eat. She'll have my head if you don't. Do you want a brandy with it?"
Remus looked like he could fall over any minute as he fumbled with his coat buttons, and Sirius reached forward to help him, but Remus pushed his hand away with a weak laugh.
"It's okay. I'm not so far gone I can't get my clothes off."
But Sirius lingered a moment anyway before going downstairs to retrieve the food.
The exhausted werewolf had managed to clumsily peel off his sopping wet clothes and settle into the steamy water when Sirius returned.
"Plate's on the dresser. Turkey sandwich and dressing. Two glasses of milk….Chocolate cake with orange icing. Molly made it just for you." He placed a dry folded towel, flannel pajama bottoms, and a white t-shirt by the tub and handed the larger of two brandy snifters he had poured to Remus, who took it gratefully.
"Orange frosting on chocolate cake? No one in this entire house likes that."
"No one likes it."
"Remus, you like it. Like I said, she made it for you.
Sirius dug around in the medicine cabinet and came out with two potions, which he uncorked and put on the edge of the tub.
"Drink those, too." he said, pulling a chair to the bathroom door so he could talk with Remus while giving him some privacy.
"Sorry about your room, mate. The house is full tonight with the Weasley clan here for Xmas tomorrow. Or..actually today," he said, glancing at the clock with a smile as he sat down in the chair and took a deep drink of brandy. "Plus a few extra from The Order who didn't really have any family to celebrate with."
Like me, Lupin thought idly. "It's alright. It's not really my room," Remus said with no bitterness.
Sirius sat silent for a moment, obviously hurt. "As long as you're here, it's your room. And this is your home."
Remus tilted his head around the corner and looked at Sirius then forced a smile and nodded his head uncertainly before sliding back to submerge beneath the hot water. When he came up and ran his hands slowly across his face with a sigh, Sirius looked into his glass and asked, "Feeling better?"
"Much. The weather is bloody awful out there tonight. I don't mind the cold. Or the rain for that matter, but put them together...Weather should be better tomorrow, but my next shift starts in five hours. Maybe the sleet will stop by then."
"You don't have a shift tomorrow."
"Yes, I have a double shift. Check the schedule."
"Remus…everyone donated two hours so you don't have to work. The Order just realized how many shifts you've been taking and wanted to give you a break."
"People need to be with their families tomorrow, Sirius."
"That's right. And your family wants to see you tomorrow."
When the silence was deafening, Sirius leaned forward a bit to see Remus slumped in the tub, his face just visible over the white rim.
Remus wore the neutral expression of a man who had been hurt too many times to invest himself concerning such things. And in that one expression, Sirius learned, without knowing the whys or the wherefores, that the last twelve years of his friend's life had been lonely and cruel..and oftentimes empty.
So Sirius chose his words carefully.
"Remus, what am I? And Harry. The Weasleys, Tonks…..We're your family. Everyone will have guard duty two hours tomorrow so no one is left out in the cold on Christmas….literally," he added with a smile. "You have presents under the tree that need opening, and your fingers and toes need a break. Plus, I think we have a chess game that we never finished…. And if Tonks is not kissed by you at some point, she may explode. We don't need that kind of mess, Moony."
"I don't understand." Remus sounded slightly alarmed, and Sirius had chuckle.
"I guess I should officially warn you. Tonks has hung mistletoe all over this house, and she's been fervently waiting for your return."
"She's probably had every man in this house walking about like a hunted animal," Remus said with a hint of mirth.
"Nooo, I believe Tonks is waiting for certain prey that's been notably absent in these parts, due to overwork. She's planning…" Sirius looked up, tracing his eyes, "'to catch the unsuspecting werewolf in his natural habitat and subdue him with a passionate kiss,' is how she put it."
Remus just shook his head and rubbed one of his submerged feet thoughtfully.
"What do you think of that?"
He stayed quiet for a long moment. "I think the woman is mad," he finally said, strong affection in his voice belying the words.
Sirius considered Remus then said gently, "Well, do you want to know what I think?"
The werewolf's silence was a timid response.
"I think if Tonks dreams of having a multi-colored litter and changing her name to Tonks Lupin, she's a wise woman."
"Sirius..." he said lowly, as if his friend had just said the most foolish thing ever.
"Does that surprise you? Everyone in The Order sees it but you, is that it?"
"She's young….and beautiful. She shouldn't-"
"Love who she loves?... Doesn't she deserve that freedom?"
For his own benefit, Remus shrugged noncommittally. "She deserves better."
"Well….whether you want to accept it or not, Tonks loves you dearly."
Remus looked downward, pensive for a moment then shivered in the tepid water as he pulled the plug in the tub and drained the brandy snifter.
"And so do I," Sirius added before putting the small chair back in its spot when he heard the tub water gurgling.
Remus emerged wearing Padfoot's flannel pajamas and t-shirt, and Sirius pointed to a corner chair with a whispered "sit." When Remus sat down, Sirius smiled and said, "Good wolf" as he placed the plate in his lap.
Suddenly, Harry started out of a deep sleep and sat up in the bed, looking toward the two shadows in the far corner.
"Are you alright, Professor Lupin?"
"I am now. I'm sorry, Harry, waking you up in the middle of the night like this."
"S'kay. Everyone was worried about you with the weather tonight. Mr. Weasley said you wouldn't use any spells to stay dry because you wouldn't want to draw attention, so we've been listening for you to come in."
He watched Harry's silhouette casually remove the good pillow from under his head to put it on Lupin's side and take the scraggly one in its stead before he scooted over to make room for him and soon after began snoring loudly.
Sirius looked over at him with affection and said, "Kid snores even louder than his dad did. James would be proud."
Remus chuckled and nodded in agreement.
He ate the sandwich carefully and appreciatively then dove into the orange chocolate cake with less control. A muffled whisper from him sounded like "Delicious."
"It's disgusting, Moony. But it's your cake."
They chatted in low tones, punctuated by the occasional stifled laugh. And when he'd eaten the last bite and put the plate on the table, Sirius got up with a tired groan.
"Well, kid, I don't think we need to floo you to St. Mungo's anymore, but I considered it there for a moment."
"I was just a bit chilled."
"You were halfway to frozen solid," he scoffed. Sirius looked at him carefully for a moment, relieved at the improvement as he curled a hand around Remus' arm.
"Let's get you to bed."
But Remus didn't budge and pulled his arm away gently, wanting to tell Sirius how he felt while he still had the inclination to do so.
Sirius…I'm…." He shook his head. "I'm sorry for…I don't know. Thinking I was alone. I've been so blessed this year, and I haven't really taken the time to appreciate it. You're innocent, and you're back. That's such a gift. I've dealt with nothing but darkness lately. And having to focus all my energy on it makes it easier to…focus on the darkness in my own life. Sometimes it overshadows things that it shouldn't."
He looked up at Sirius earnestly and smiled. "You are my family. I didn't mean to imply that you're weren't. You're the brother I never had, Padfoot."
Sirius squatted down in front of him, and Remus was surprised to see immediate tears shining in his friend's eyes.
"And you're mine." He held Remus' gaze for a while then grinned before patting Remus on the knee and grabbing his arm as they both stood. "Come on…off to bed."
Remus limped over to the bed and sat down, careful not to wake Harry; and Sirius dug through the closet for a heavy quilt, unfolded it and arranged it over the werewolf before ruffling his hair lightly.
"Happy Xmas, Moony. See you in the morning."
"It's good to be home," Remus whispered with a smile, which made Sirius grin broadly as he went back to his spot in the bed.
Remus had almost drifted into unconsciousness when he realized that night at Grimmauld wasn't so different from the evening Sirius had arrived on his doorstep over a year ago - the entreat inside as Padfoot sat outside the door, too exhausted to go any farther, the hot bath, the good meal, the alcohol, the provision of sleep clothes and a warm place to rest…
Sirius never let a favor go by unreturned, never forgot a kindness…and Remus knew that the similarities hadn't gone unnoticed by his friend. But he also knew that the past played no role in Sirius' decisions about the present. He was always there to help the people he held dear, consequences be damned.
Ghostly, austere Grimmauld was full of people who fit that bill…friends who loved Remus…who made horrible cake that only he enjoyed, who'd stand in the freezing rain for two hours so he didn't have to do it for sixteen, who'd wake in the middle of the night to take care of him when, whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not, he needed it most.
Sometimes when you least expect it, things creep up on you. Like love. And acceptance. And finding that you've carved a place for yourself where you're not only needed for your talents but you're valued for your heart. And that, Remus discovered, was a very beautiful place to live. It was a place he could call 'home'.
Author's Note: Hold on, I hear sirens outside. Oh no! The schmaltz police are here to run me in! Yes, I ended with a bit of fluff. It just felt like the right thing to do after chronicling some of the truly sad moments in Remus' life. Hope you enjoyed them and thanks for reading!
I'd like to say a very very special 'thank you' to those who reviewed! You all made this piece worthwhile for me. Thanks so much for your feedback and your words of encouragement. Truly, you guys were the only reason this thing got written in the end.
The line about an exploding Tonks making a mess was inspired by a scene in a Remus/Tonks fanfic… and I can't remember which one, but the line said Molly Weasley would not approve of the mess an exploding Tonks would create. If you're the author of that piece, please let me know and I'll cite you for the inspiration.
The "love who she loves" line was inspired by a scene in Lyra Lupin's "Take her in your Arms" in which Tonks states, "I love who I love who I love."
I may update this work again if Remus appears in The Half Blood Prince and/or Book VII. I love building on canon and don't want to venture off into uncharted territory with a story like this.
May you all be recipients of random acts of kindness when you need them most.
Cheers, peace, and well wishes to all,