Wow, I wrote this forever ago. I think I started typing it up in February, originally, and kept putting off editing it. I think, possibly, Nyeren's "Inferences of Gold" inspired this one too, but as it's probably been about a year since the plotbunny first bit me...I really don't remember.
A Little Christmas Spirit
Remus has to imagine it, sometimes.
It's not quite the same as before, of course. Before, he used to wonder whether James and Lily knew, ahead of time, or guessed, and were afraid; what had happened to the families of all those Muggles who'd died; whether Peter had felt anything, or if the curse had carried him straight into oblivion. And then he would very firmly not think about Sirius, and Azkaban, because every time he did he drowned in rage, or grief, or guilt, or all three, and then fear and pain and a horrible helplessness; and sometimes if he was alone he might suddenly find himself weeping, or he might lie awake for hours, desperately, achingly empty of any emotion at all.
But Remus knows the truth now, and so he wonders different things. They are not pleasant either.
It's probably Harry's fault again: not that Remus blames him, that would be ridiculous, but seeing him here—even in the gloom of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, after the mess with Arthur and the snake, the Christmas spirit seems to have caught hold of him too, finally, and he's been smiling and laughing with everyone else…
He looks so very, very much like James.
Remus still feels an odd jolt in his stomach every time he looks at Harry, because he thinks, for the briefest of seconds—subconsciously, in the part of his mind that never really gave up—that James is back and all's right again. Remus can't help thinking this anyway, and today—just minutes ago, or maybe it was hours—he saw Harry and Sirius standing together by the fire, talking about Quidditch, Harry's hands painting pictures of Quidditch moves in the air and his hair even messier than usual, Sirius half-turned so you couldn't see the ghost of Azkaban in his eyes; and for one blind moment, something buried in Remus's mind awoke with a vengeance—
But that was wild hope and nothing else, and that horrible jolt in his stomach suddenly made him want to throw up, and he slipped out of the room and hurried down to the kitchen where no one would bother him.
He's sitting in here now, both elbows on the table, staring into his tea—no doubt it's gone cold by now—and brooding. No one else would know, of course; they'd just see Lupin, looking blank and sort of professor-like, probably thinking about something mildly intellectual, and Molly would fuss and tell him he needed to eat more. No one would know, because Remus can't brood like Sirius can, all haunted eyes and scowls and quick temper.
Remus thinks he would like to try Sirius's way, sometime, but he doubts he could pull it off. He isn't angry, anyway. The moon doesn't often leave him that kind of energy.
It lets him wonder about things that should stay buried, though.
Remus sips his tea rather gingerly, grimaces, and pushes the cup away. He thinks there has to be a spell to heat it up—Molly would probably know—but he can't think of one.
All he can think of is James, and Sirius, and Peter, and Halloween night fourteen years ago.
He wonders, now, what Peter must have said—because he can't bring himself to believe that Sirius would have doubted Remus all on his own. Did Voldemort tell him exactly what to do, or did Peter—somehow; he always seemed to need help in everything—think of it all by himself? Remus can imagine it: Peter, the little one, always afraid of things, running to Sirius and spilling out some tale of terror and betrayal—but what did he say, Remus wants to know now, and why, Sirius…why did you believe him?
Remus forgave his friend two years ago, and Sirius has paid for his mistake a hundred times over, but Remus thinks he knows anyway. Sirius has never talked about it—though no doubt he relived the moment numberless times in Azkaban—but Remus thinks he knows.
He never really knew, after all, what the werewolf was to the others. They never did fear him, not when they had transformed as well—but Remus thinks now that they should have done, would have done except for their own boyish ignorance and excitement. Youth, he thinks, must be blind, somehow.
But Sirius must have known, later. He might have feared, if only a little and subconsciously. He might have understood a little more—because Padfoot, after all, had a predator's instincts that the others did not.
Sirius would understand what a werewolf could do and say. Sirius would know enough to fear—
Because even when you'd trust your best friends with your life, you always trust the weaker ones—the ones who never quite belong—a little more.
Because when you think of betrayal, real betrayal, you think of the ones who never could betray you anyway—and you think about it until you're sick, because you know that only the closest ones can really destroy you, and you can't think of anything else, and you blind yourself, and you think what's the worst that could happen so hard that when it comes, and it isn't what you thought, you can't even see the truth.
Because Remus Lupin always was the werewolf, in the end.
He does not think he will ever tell Sirius this.
Instead he stares into his tea—wondering vaguely what sort of grim fate Sibyll Trelawney would predict from its dregs—and thinks If only, if only, if only…
If only he'd done something—anything—to convince Sirius and the Potters that he wasn't the traitor…if only he'd worked harder, before everything, to learn who the traitor really was—because he too couldn't comprehend Wormtail a Death Eater, nor Sirius either, and yet when the reports came in the newspapers, with Sirius laughing, laughing, laughing, he believed.
This thought drives the guilt deeper, the litany If only, if only looping round and round in his head—
And then he hears Sirius's voice, suddenly—"No, keep on with that, I'm going down for a drink, I'll bring up something"—and he jerks, tensing and realizing that his earlier thought was wrong after all. Sirius always knew when his Moony was brooding. Remus never tried to figure out why—it was just one of those Marauder things, a brother-something he hadn't shared with Peter or even James. Sirius will know now, still, after all these years, and Remus does not want to talk to him.
Sirius strides through the doorway, humming something indistinct, and catches sight of Remus. He draws up short, taking in the dim light, the tea, the way Remus's hand clenches against his cup.
"What?" Sirius asks.
Remus gives him his best "I don't know what you're talking about, young man" look, but it doesn't fool Sirius any more than it did back at Hogwarts.
"Right," Sirius says. He slides into the chair next to Remus and fixes him with a determined look. "You've got your tea but you're not drinking any, you were staring at an extremely uninteresting piece of wall when I walked in, and you clearly don't want me in here bothering you. This means you are mooning about something again." He grins in a self-satisfied way that Remus has always found both amusing and infuriating.
He tries to smile back, very carefully, but he can't quite make it; the expression on his face feels more like a grimace, and after half a second of silence he gives up the attempt as a lost cause. "I'm just…thinking."
"Uh-huh. I noticed. About what?"
There doesn't seem to be any point in lying about it, and anyway Remus doesn't know if he wants to. "James and Lily," he says finally. "I was thinking about James, Sirius."
Sirius's grin fades, his face darkening with a suddenness that's almost frightening to watch. "Yeah," he says quietly, "me too." He looks away, picks at a crack in the table's edge. "He should be here," and again, fiercely, as if challenging Remus to contradict him, "They should be here. All of them. This shouldn't—"
"I know," Remus murmurs, watching one wood chip crumble away under Sirius's fingers, then another.
Sirius carries on as if he hasn't heard. "Molly was right, you know…I mean, I know he's not, but—he looks so much like—Merlin, Remus, he even acts like James half the time—you must have seen him at Quidditch, he's got James's reflexes and everything…they would've…" He trails off, his eyes unfocused. A splinter catches under his thumbnail and he blinks, staring at it as if he wonders how it got there.
Remus can't think of a single thing to say to this. At least Sirius—he has dislodged the splinter and renewed his attack on the table as if it has done him some great personal wrong—doesn't seem to expect an answer.
"I would have died for them, you know," he says suddenly, looking up to find Remus staring at him. He lifts his chin, almost defiant. "I would have. I meant to, I think. I mean, who would go after little Peter Pettigrew, right?" He laughs, mirthlessly, and Remus flinches; the sound seems to claw at his ears. "I thought—I was so sure they would come after me—figured one of my loving relatives would fancy giving dear old cousin Sirius a last visit—"
"I could have taken some of them down with me," Sirius presses on, relentless. "I had the whole thing planned out, you know—go down fighting—kept imagining what Voldemort would do to them when he found out they'd gone after the wrong Secret Keeper, that would have made it all worthwhile…" He breaks off, his eyes fixed on the table's rough grain, and shifts restlessly in his chair.
Remus says nothing.
"Sometimes I think that's the only choice left," Sirius says. The glint in his eyes is almost feverish now, and Remus is quite sure he doesn't see what he's doing to the table. "I mean—not for them, there's nothing I can…but it would be fitting…" A particularly large piece of wood breaks off and tumbles to the floor. "If I killed James and Lily, then maybe I should die for their son. That would be right. That would—"
"Sirius—" Remus tries again.
"So I killed two of my best friends and there's nothing—I can't even—bloody—" He pounds one fist on the table, and cold tea sloshes over the edge of Remus's cup. For a moment Sirius is silent, and then he looks up, his eyes burning, and Remus can see nothing there but Azkaban, Azkaban, Azkaban. "That's what kept me alive and sane, you know—because I had to live for something—because I was going to find him and end it, finally—and I did it, everything, and I had him there, and—all I ever wanted was revenge, and I couldn't even—"
"Sirius," Remus says sharply, and the other man falls silent at last. He can only think in clichés, it seems, but he gives Sirius one anyway, because he doesn't have anything else. "Quit blaming yourself, Padfoot, it won't bring them back."
"I know," Sirius says, slumping back in his chair. He looks so young, suddenly, and Remus feels so very ancient; but this age brings only weariness, not wisdom. "I don't…ah, I sound like a teenager all over again…but I don't know if you understand…"
"I know what it's like to hate," Remus says, thinking of Greyback. Thinking of Sirius. He hears James's voice again: You've just got a furry little problem, mate… He rubs one hand over his face, fingers tracing uneven scars. "Maybe we've all got a monster inside us."
Sirius raises his head. "You can't possibly blame yourself for that."
"Well, I did, before—before Hogwarts, and—" He doesn't plan to say this, but it comes out anyway— "after James and Lily died."
It takes only a moment for Sirius to understand. "Oh, Merlin," he says helplessly, and then laughs again, that same dead, empty laugh. "We are a mess…"
Remus can't say anything to this either, and for long moments they sit in silence—Sirius toying with a splinter, Remus still staring into his tea.
"Do you think we should have killed him then after all?" Sirius asks quietly.
Remus sighs, feeling exhaustion descend on him tenfold. He doesn't need to ask what Sirius means. "I don't know…we just…" He closes his eyes and rubs them with one hand, but there are scars here as well. He finds he can only manage another cliché: "We don't know what might have happened."
"Things," Sirius suggests, "might be different," and the note of bitterness is back in his voice.
Different: Voldemort might not be back. Cedric might still be alive. Harry might not be so scarred. Sirius might not be trapped in this hellhole of a house. "We still don't know what's going to happen. We just can't…" He exhales. "There's always a chance…things might turn out better this way."
Sirius nods without speaking or looking up. Idly he flicks his wand and an empty butterbeer bottle on the table refills itself, but he doesn't drink.
"No," Remus says more firmly. "Harry was right, Sirius…James wouldn't have wanted us to become killers for Wormtail, not just for revenge. Later, maybe, in a fight, but—not that way."
Sirius nods again, without much conviction at first; but then he straightens and turns to Remus, the grin on his face sudden and surprising, and for just a moment the old Sirius is back. "James," he says, a wickedly mischievous glint in his eye, "would have wanted us to put Father Christmas beards on those awful house-elf heads in the hall."
"What?" Remus sputters, shocked to laughter. "You can't be—you're serious, aren't you?"
"Reparo," Sirius says, tapping the table's edge with his wand. He hauls Remus to his feet and out of the kitchen. "Come on, Moony, when am I ever not serious? A little Christmas spirit never hurt anybody…"
Remus allows himself to be dragged along, listening with growing amusement as Sirius rattles on about some false beards he's sure he saw the twins messing with, and he knows he can charm the beards to grow a little longer, and he thinks he saw Tonks come in a while ago with some Father Christmas hats, too, which would be perfect; and Remus realizes that he's still laughing, and smiling, and he thinks it's been far too long since he's had reason to do either, and wonders why this feels so right—because it's really very stupid, but maybe that's what makes it right and real; and anyway, Remus thinks, it's been a very long time since I've done something stupid, either, and stupid always did seem to come out right with Padfoot around…
Harry comes downstairs, then, just as Sirius is putting the finishing touches on the wretched house-elves, and the abrupt grin on his face is all James Potter. Remus finds he can smile back, this time, and somehow the jolt in his stomach feels less like nausea and more like the old anticipation before a moonlit night about the Hogwarts grounds: hybrid mix of unease and elation, far stranger and more unsettling than any potion.
And he follows Sirius and Harry back out of the hall, off to do Merlin only knows what, and he thinks—as Sirius breaks into "God Rest Ye Merrye Hippogriffs" again, and Harry and the twins join him, somebody slightly off-key—he thinks: Maybe. Maybe.
Maybe the world ended when Peter turned and the Potters died, and Sirius and his laughter were entombed in black stone. But maybe that wasn't the only world. Maybe there were others. Maybe there still are.
And he thinks: Christmas, after all, should be a time for maybes.