Predictably Remus was sitting in the library, with five books stackedin front of him and buried with his face in a sixth. For anyone who knew him, this was a clear sign saying, leave me alone. Sirius, who knew the werewolf partly even better then he knew himself chose to ignore the flashing neon sign and placed himself in the opposite chair of the table and with a very innocent smile asked:
"What'sh you readin'?"
"Tibetan Mysteries: A Historical Guide to the Magical Orient" Remus said in a dull voice not even bothering to look up. This specific behavior, also known as the freeze out, was reserved for people who must have missed the big flashing neon sign and worked as another urgent encouragement to leave now or face the consequences. However, the head of the Order of the Phoenix should have known that trying to get rid of Sirius Black was like flying without a broom, you simply shouldn't bother trying if you knew what's good for you.
"So what's it abou-"
"Is there something you want Sirius?" Remus asked in his calm No-nonsense voice. Two people could play this game.
"No, nothing, I'm just bored and wanted to see what you're up too."Sirius met his gaze evenly with a boyish smile playing on his lips. Remus sighed in defeat; his friend didn't deserve his attitude, so instead of playing on Remus just looked down and shook his head.
"Look Sirius, I know what you're trying to do-"
"What am I trying to do?" Sirius cut in trying to sound taken aback. Remus would have none of it,
"you're trying to cheer me up, and I appreciate it, but isn't there something else you should be-"
"Of course I'm trying to cheer you up!" Sirius said, apparently determined not to let his friend complete any of his sentences, "You're my guest and it's my obligation to make you feel comfortable, now, how my I serve you today Mr. Moony?" It was a beautiful thing to see Sirius Black in such a care free mood. Remus knew perfectly well that it was mostly a display, but the fact that his friend would actually take it upon himself to make him feel better when by all rights it should be the other way around (after all Sirius was the one to spent a decade in hell not too long ago) meant a lot Remus, so he decided to let himself be distracted.
"Why, Lord Padfoot, you can serve me by telling me what it really is you came here to talk about." Remus answered and there was evidence of a smile on his face.
"Lord Padfoot is immensely pleased with himself for having achieved such a victory! For he just came here to figure out how long it will take to make Master Moony smile."
"Well, you've done it, and the price goes to the one and only Sirius Black." Remus' voice would appear normal and even slightly cheerful to someone else, but Sirius saw right through the cover, it was a mask, Sirius realized and he put it in place for my sake.
Sirius missed Dumbledore in many ways. His calmness, his strength, his ability to give out hope in the darkest of times; Sirius needed that. He needed someone to cling to. Mistaking Remus for Dumbledore was entirely too easy and Sirius reprimanded himself silently for falling into that trap. He had known his friend for the better part of his life and still made this mistake sometimes although he should know better. Why? Why do I make that mistake so often? Does Remus really appear so unbreakable? That's when Sirius for the first time fully appreciated the role his friend was playing in the greater scheme of events. Where would we be today without him? Weren't the last weeks the darkest we had to face in a long time? Without Hogwarts as a symbol of lightwithout Remus...
"You're maybe the strongest person I ever met." Sirius said suddenly, looking into the depth of Remus bottomless blue eyes.
"Look who's talking." Remus shot back, still with that slightly false cheerful voice.
This took Sirius by surprise "What?"
The headmaster let out a mockingly exasperated sigh "Here I sit vis a vis of Sirius Black, currently labeled as the light side's best hope of survival, thrice defier of Voldemort himself, very recently also known as the one who took it upon himself to rescue Kingsly and me from under the Dark Lord's very nose, and you want to tell me, I'm the strongest person you've ever met?"
There was a silence for a while in which Remus simply stared at his friend with amazement, all sense of cover forgotten. Sirius continued in a low voice "But you need to realize that there is no hiding from your friends unless you want to go through life alone." After a pause he added "I had to learn that the hard way."
After yet another silence, this one a bit longer, Remus finally lowered his eyes "We have no choice but to keep going Padfoot, I know you understand that more than anyone."
Sirius reached out to grab hold of Moony's hand "Look at me Remus."And so their eyes met again "We have to keep going. And we will keep going. This is what we do. But we are allowed to breakdown once in a while. You can't always keep on smiling and giving out hope to others without destroying yourself in the process." And by destroying yourself you would be destroying all of us. He didn't need to say it; he caught Remus' recognition without putting his feelings into words. He knows. There is no breaking this friendship until kingdom come.
Sirius continued:"Not too long ago you said to me that I should not shut you out to protect you; that you would be there for me no matter what. Let me direct this statement back to its source. None of us would ever let you down Remus, and we certainly won't just sit by and let you struggle with your experiences on your own."
The headmaster found himself unable to meet his friend's caring gaze any longer. Intently studying the surface of the antic table in front of him, he at long last found his voice.
"I don't know how to do this." he stammered. As he looked back up, Sirius was almost taken aback to see a lost and hurt expression replacing the mask. Is that what he has been hiding from us all this time? Or is this a result of the terrors he had to face at the hands of Voldemort? Sirius knew that he was very privileged to see his friend like this. Even among the Marauders Remus was a very private person, and certain things he simply took as a given to deal with by himself.
Not this. I won't leave him alone with this, no matter how strong he is." Just talk to me Remus." he said now taking both his friend's hands in his own and squeezing them lightly. "Tell me what happened to you."
Time to swallow your own medicine, Remus thought to himself. I made Sirius go through telling us all about his darkest demons, now it's time for me to face the music. So be it.
"I never experienced pain like that in all my life." he began slowly, cautiously. He gently pulled his hands free of Sirius' grasp, folded them in front of himself on the table and starred at them. "I thought I was going to die...after a while I wanted to die." He felt so ashamed of this. Hadn't Sirius survived this kind of abuse for more then ten years? And here he was ready to give up after only a week. He summand his courage and brought his shame filled eyes on Sirius, half expecting for him to look disgusted. All he found though was understanding, understanding on a level that only Sirius could have. What happened to you, friend, that you are so familiar to pain and sorrow? After a while Remus kept on going "I was thinking about you, all of you. The thought of our friendship made sure that I won't break, I'd have rather died..." he trailed off.
Sirius couldn't hold his own any longer, so he got up and gently pulled Remus to his feet. A heartbeat later he embraced him tightly, and Remus clung to him like a frightened child. Who knew Remus Lupin could be so fragile? A second later Sirius realized that he had always known, but Moony didn't have the luxury to show it to anyone. What would happen to the side of light if their steady rock would crumble? Remus knew his responsibilities all too well.
Sirius eyes began to water as he whispered: "You're not alone Remus. As long as there is life in me, in any of us, you will not have to stand alone."Remus remained silent, and only buried his face in his friend's shoulder, letting go of all responsibilities and covers. How much Sirius' gesture meant to the werewolf is something the other will never truly know. Quietly the Head of the Order of the Phoenix began to cry into Sirius' cloak, not holding back anything anymore. He cried for his lost students, for his lost friends, he cried for himself, he cried for the terrors some of his dearest friends had to face and he cried out of joy to have friends that would be there for him through all of it. How do I deserve this? What have I done to be granted friends like Sirius James and Peter?
"I will always be grateful to have had such friends" he murmured notrealizing he had said it out loud.
"Me too Remus, me too." Sirius whispered back and after a long moment Remus gently eased up and finally let go. Two set of eyes were still locked onto each others for a while and Moony couldn't help but smile at his friend. In a moment like this, words were unnecessary.
"So, would you like to play a game of chess?" the headmaster asked lightly a while later.
"Aw, you know my abilities at chess, are you sure you are ready to watch me fail?" the Auror answered playfully, inwardly glad to have achieved his goal in cheering Moony up.
"Come on Padfoot," Remus said, while pulling out his wand and making a chess set from one of the shelves set itself up on the table "the only way to fail is not to try."
With that said, they started playing. The further the game progressed the easier it seemed to get for Remus to talk about his time in Voldemort's hands. All Sirius did was listen to his friend intently with an understanding of every bit of hate and fury, betrayal and self-loathing, coming from his opponent. They talked about friendship and the war, they talked about nightmares and that there are no silencing charms among friends. Sirius knew Remus would survive like he always does. But the Auror wasgrateful to be human enough still to reach out to his friend, and his friend in turn strong enough to grab hold. Their friendship can't break, and it was a good thing to be able to rely on something in a world of constant change.