Don't judge me. :P
He'd been expecting someone for nearly a week, pacing impatiently in the mornings and tidying in the afternoons - as if Sirius might actually care about the neatness of the place.
Which he wouldn't, obviously. But Remus, for some reason, did, and so he tidied.
When it came, he'd come to the point of himself, re-alphebetizing his bookshelves and re-arranging the stacks of papers on his desk. The knock jarred him from contemplation over whether or not to discard three months of unread magazines. After a moment of stillness, willing his heartbeat back into normal rhythm, he rose and answered the door.
She was one of the few people he'd seen recently who didn't look much older than they should - but then, she'd never shown her true age. She only looked thinner, tired, Muggle clothes under the cloak a bit threadbare - her freckles seemed less pronounced, as if everything about her had faded, a little.
She didn't look at him, at first. She stood in the doors, white fingers clutching the edges of her cloak. Her eyes were bright and uncertain, directed at his feet.
He spent several mental seconds trying to decide on the appropriate response, and then several more on savouring the irrational anger her presence inspired, and thinking he really didn't give a damn what was appropriate, and that it had been a long time since he'd felt in the mood for a good, healthy spot of screaming.
"If you're going to ream me out, Remus, I do wish you'd get it over with."
Her voice sounded tired, resigned, but the eyes she raised to his were anxious. "It's cold out here."
With a disgusted sigh, he turned away from the door, walking into the kitchen. A moment later, he heard the door close behind her.
He heard nothing for several minutes as he poured himself a glass of Firewhisky and went back into the living room, pointedly neglecting to bring anything back for her.
She was standing next to the empty fireplace, and looked at him for permission - he gave a curt nod - before reaching for her wand. A moment later a small fire was burning merrily on the hearth. He settled himself in the worn armchair, next to the worn chesterfield, and sipped his drink, and waited for her to say something. Finally, she turned to look at him, hands clasped before her.
"Dumbledore sent me," she said.
"I'd rather assumed," he said, shrugging.
"Sulking doesn't suit you, Remus."
He was very still for a moment, then looked at her. Her tone had not been scolding: it was the same tired, resigned voice with which she'd greeted him, and for some reason it angered him more.
"What exactly *should* I say, then?" he snapped.
She held her hands out at her sides, as if in invitation. "What do you want to say?"
He narrowed his eyes, set his glass down on the coffee table, stared at it, hard. "I don't think you want me to say what I *want* to say."
"Not especially." He heard her shuffle. "But it's better than the silent, angry... thing."
For a moment, there as silence, then she added, in a low voice: "I'm under no illusion that I'm blameless, Remus."
"You're damn right you're not!" he shouted, and although she seemed to have been bracing herself, she started, all her features tamped and downcast.
"What was it? What made you decide, suddenly, that I was - that I had - why?"
"Why, damnit?" he repeated, when she said nothing. She started again, closing her eyes.
"I'm sorry." And it was almost a whisper, apparently in an effort to keep her voice even.
"You're *sorry*?" His tone was incredulous. "Do you actually think that makes *any*--"
Her eyes snapped open, horrified. "No," she said quickly. "No, I know it doesn't."
For a while, he couldn't speak - he reached for his drink, sipped it as she crossed the floor, sat down on the end of the couch furthest from him. She sat there with her hands clasped between her knees, eyes on the floor.
He looked at her. "Was it because of the wolf?"
She looked up, scowling, her expression offended, but the sentiment was half-hearted. "Give me some credit, Remus." She looked down again. "That had nothing to do with it."
She didn't move. "I should have trusted you."
His answer was quiet, less out of gentleness than because he was finding his anger more tiring than he'd expected. "Why didn't you?"
She stared at him, eyes bright, and then looked back down at the floor. "Remus, you know how I..." she shook her head, as if trying to shake the words loose. "...how I felt about you."
He nodded, slowly. "What did that have to do with--"
"Nothing. Too much." She shook her head again. "It was my fault. I let it get personal. It affected my judgement."
"I don't understand."
"We... if nothing else, we were friends, Remus. I thought we were."
"We were." He surprised himself with the earnestness in the words.
"I thought I knew you. I knew you weren't-- you couldn't lie to me. You knew you couldn't. But you... you were keeping something from me, Remus."
He flushed. "That was nothing to do with--"
"I know." He stopped. The pain on her face stopped him, because he recognised it. "I know that, now. but you wouldn't talk to me, Remus. I tried. You were feeling guilty, and afraid, and you wouldn't talk to me, you wouldn't talk to your best friends... you wouldn't trust them, you wouldn't trust me. What was I to assume?"
"So you assumed I was working for bloody Voldemort?" His tone was incredulous, scornful.
"I didn't know for certain," she admitted. "But Moody asked me... I was the only one who'd seen you in weeks. you were avoiding the others like the plague. He asked if you'd been acting strangely, and... damnit, Remus. I *tried* to ask you."
"And I told you it was none of your damned business."
"And it wasn't. But how could I know that?" She looked down at her hands. "I told you, I'm not blameless. I know that." She took a slow, deep breath. "I'd gotten used to... trusting people, and then finding out I oughtn't have done. It got to be habit. And then when you..." She closed her eyes. "I let it get personal."
"What about the others?"
She shook her head. "I don't think anyone wanted to believe it. And they were closer to you than I ever was. I guess that made it more horrible. Made it harder to accept, but - given the circumstances - easier to believe. I think we convinced each other." She looked at him, face still, eyes still bright. "That was the worst part. I believed it."
He tried to summon a surge of anger for what sounded, for a moment, like self-pity in her voice, but at length, realized it was guilt. It was so identical to everything for which he'd been scolding himself, punishing himself, for a month, that suddenly his anger seemed ridiculous, childish - and very, very old.
She seemed almost to sense it, for as he sighed she looked up at him with a startled expression.
"I believed it was Sirius," he said, quietly.
She looked at him, still anxious.
"I didn't come here for forgiveness, Remus," she said, as if trying to reassure him. "I'm not asking for anything." She pressed her lips together. "I tried to talk someone else into coming. Arthur. Tonks." She shook her head. "Dumbledore insisted."
"Dumbledore does like his hand in things."
His wry tone almost startled a smile out of her: he saw the corner of her mouth twitch. But she didn't, not quite.
He looked at the Firewhisky. "It was a long time ago."
"It doesn't feel that long." Her eyes had followed his: he handed her the glass. She accepted it gratefully, if hesitantly, and gulped down half the contents. She gasped as she handed it back to him, wiping tears from her eyes.
"Still?" he asked her.
She coughed, delicately. "I never developed a taste for the stuff."
He looked down into the glass. "You're right," he said. "It doesn't feel that long." He drained the last of the drink, swallowed, set it back on the table. "I still feel old."
He looked at her; she was looking at his hands. "I just feel like I'm fading away, most of the time. Like there's nothing left to sustain me."
"Oh, Merlin, Remus, don't apologise to me." She looked faintly disgusted.
"I hurt you."
"I hurt myself." She scowled. "I shouldn't have expected... anything. But I wanted it, and I wasn't paying attention. If I had, maybe I'd have noticed."
She shook her head. "Maybe I did know."
"Are you angry?"
"Angry?" She looked frankly astonished. "How could I justify being angry, after what I cost you?" She bit her lip. "I was. For all of ten seconds. I know better now. It was why i was - afraid. To come here."
"Afraid? You?" His tone was one of gentle mocking, disbelief.
She glared at him, a reflex. It faded quickly. "I don't like not knowing what to expect. Especially when it's so important."
"Problems with control, both of us, I suppose," he said quietly.
She ducked her head, saying nothing. He murmured, almost apologetically: "I feel like I'm using you for practice - for something I haven't managed, yet."
She looked up, shrugging. "You're about to get the chance."
When he looked at her quizzically, she continued: "That's the reason - ostensibly - I was sent. Dumbledore thinks Sirius should get out of London - if you'll have him, that is." She tilted her head slightly, her expression very faintly mischevious.
Remus sat up, suddenly, very rigid. "You mean... here?"
She nodded. "Don't tell me you weren't expecting it?"
"No-- I was. It's just..." He slumped back into his chair, said faintly: "It's a great deal to take in."
He looked up: her face was carefully neutral, expressing sympathy, but he'd been a professor long enough to recognize the mask for what it was.
"I'm sorry," he said, and she flinched.
"Don't apologise," she repeated. "We're long past even." She seemed to shake herself, laced her fingers together in her lap, said: "He misses you."
"Sirius." It wasn't a question, but then he asked: "How do you--"
"I've been sitting next to his bed for four days, on and off. We've been taking it in shifts," she answered. "He talks in his sleep. About you, mostly. Sometimes about Harry. Sometimes, James." She looked at him. "Mostly you."
Remus sighed. "He never could keep anything to himself."
"More power to him."
"It has its negative aspects, believe me--" He stopped himself, started to reach for his glass, remembered it was empty. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her make an abortive gesture of placation.
"You don't have to... not on my account."
She raised her eyes to his, suddenly businesslike. "So, I take it that's a yes? We should send him along?"
"Yes! Yes..." He was stricken with uncertainty again, but was saved from dwelling on it as she stood, shaking out her robes.
"I'll let them know," she said, moving toward the door, setting her hand on the latch. "It shouldn't be more than a day or two. Moody'll be along tomorrow, to check on your wards, and everything." She opened the door, and then he stood, holding out one hand.
She stopped, half-turning back.
"We all made the same mistake. You weren't the only one."
She sighed. "I know that." Her voice was very quiet.
"I know, Remus. I know." Her eyes were soft and earnest. "You'll be... he'll be here, soon. And I'll be fine. I feel... a bit stupid, but I'll survive." She shrugged. "Never stopped me before."
"You aren't stupid," he said softly.
"Only in some things." She pulled up her hood, facing the evening, which had grown into the beginnings of a storm while they'd been talking. "I'll see you, Remus." She looked at him, one last time, and touched her fingers to her lips. "I wish you luck."
He saluted her with the empty glass, and she smiled as the door swung shut behind her. Moments later, the thunder rumbling up out of the West sounded, somehow, anything but ominous.
Three weeks later, Remus was with the group of Order members that found her, white and bloodless and cold, in the foyer of her London flat, broken wand clutched in one hand as if she'd been expecting her attackers. The Dark Mark burnt into the wall above the hall mirror left little question as to the how and why. No one had seen her for days, but she had been a solitary woman, and no one had worried. So many of the Order were "solitary" that Remus wondered any of them were still alive: in some ways, he supposed, it was safer. No entanglements.
Remus went home that night, and he and Sirius got riotously drunk in her memory. Sirius didn't know that, but he didn't ask. They laid together in front of the fire and talked about nonsense until the sun came up.