Grim Old Conversations
Later, he could not have said what he had expected to find, but it certainly was not this. Passing Grimmauld Place’s entrance hall in a hurry, tired and quite nervous about the upcoming meeting, Remus made his way to the library, until now the only really inhabitable room in the whole house. He was supposed to meet Dora here an hour ago, to spend some time together before the scheduled Order meeting, but was delayed when Moody wanted a detailed report of some failed mission.
As it was, he hoped that the library was still whole and standing – something that was not guaranteed, with how badly tempered Sirius had been since arriving here. Remus could not really hold that against his old friend, but still feared what might happen if Dora was in a bad mood, too. Those two could tear the world asunder without ever breaking into a sweat. Black temper, the both of them.
So it was with quite a bit of apprehension that Remus opened the door – only to be met by his friends bowing over something on the table between them, seemingly carefree and – giggling.
“What –“ Remus started, only to trail off again. Neither of them were prone to giggle, having inherited the typical bark-like laughter of their ancestors. And, what was even more disconcerting, Sirius had not laughed once since being locked up in his childhood home. Instead he had hidden himself away, fire whiskey constantly at his side, preferring to spend his days in the past, brooding and feeling guilty.
Dora, too, had been atypically downcast these past weeks since the Tournament had ended and the outbreak of the next war was looming on the horizon. Understandably, really, seeing as the Ministry and most of her co-workers chose to live on in ignorance, denying Voldemort’s resurrection and missing all their chances to properly prepare. So Dora, as an Auror and Order member, did not only have to act all unconcerned at work, but was also running herself dry with missions and Moody’s additional training.
For weeks now she had been tired and irritable, torn between seeking solace in his arms like she had done for most of her life, and standing on her own feet, insistent on doing her part. At the same time she had been adamant that Sirius should not take unnecessary risks, wishing to keep her family safe, especially as he had only just been returned to them.
Finding them in such obvious harmony was therefore quite unexpected, a nice surprise, but Remus, ever the sceptic, was looking desperately for the catch.
“What are you doing?” he tried again, his voice more sure this time, though not even the normally so daft Sirius could miss the underlying nervousness. Twin mischievous expressions met his question, which did nothing to appease his trepidation.
“Well,” Sirius drawled, seemingly completely at ease within his own skin. “Nymphie and I had a very animated discussion earlier,” his cousin, while glaring angrily at the horrid nickname, flinched at his description.
They had had a ‘discussion’, and it had certainly been animated, though she was not too sure that anyone without Black blood would call it just that. In fact, they had both done their best to scream louder than the lovely Mrs. Black – who had been overjoyed at the entertainment they offered her.
Now that she was thinking about it, Dora was still angry. She knew the Black temper, knew the Black inability to remain at the sidelines, knew the gnawing pain being locked up in this of all houses. The whole aura of the house, the stuffiness, the dank and dirty rooms, the desperation still lingering in the wallpapers and furniture – she could feel it, could feel her blood sing out to it.
Maybe it was a Black thing, maybe she had entered the house expecting all of this and was therefore feeling it worse than other Order members. Maybe it was the boiling fury she always felt when thinking of her mother’s former family, when remembering her aunt Bellatrix and the words she had hissed when they had come across each other in Diagon Alley years ago. Dora had been very young, of course, but she still remembered that fanatical gleam in the familiar eyes, the obvious insanity.
So, yes, she could understand Sirius’ unwillingness to stay in this house, knowing that his aversion must be a hundred times worse than hers, seeing as he had a childhood worth of memories playing out inside these walls. But this was not only about him. He had family and friends to think about, who cared for him, wanted him free and happy and alive.
At least Remus had not been on time to witness their screaming because it surely would have hurt him. To her, Sirius was family, a long lost cousin come back to life. To Remus, he was more, the last tender connection to the life he had lived before her. And, because he always felt the need to play peace-keeper, Dora was certain, that they would have hurt him, too, hurling words at him that might have been unintentional, but cut nonetheless.
“So, in an attempt to keep the peace,” Sirius continued, oblivious to her inner musings. “We decided to get along.”
“You decided to get along,” Remus repeated slightly dazed, though the sarcasm in his voice was almost tangible.
“Yes,” Sirius agreed happily, then smirked. “We bonded over the one thing we have in common.”
“Apart from decades of insane ancestors and a knack for creating chaos wherever you go?”
“Exactly,” Dora chirped sweetly, sharing a mischievous look with her cousin, before both of them picked something up from the table and waved with it.
“You,” they chimed together, their relation obvious in the twin, slightly maniacal grins. It took a couple moments for Remus to register that the stuff they were still holding up were pictures. Pictures of their Hogwarts days.
“You were so adorable,” Dora gushed, expertly finding one where an eleven year old Remus was huddled into one of the armchairs in Gryffindor’s Common Room, wearing a too big sweater and his face scrunched up in utter concentration as he read in a thick old tome. His hair, he saw, was cut short for once, leaving him no chance to hide his sharp cheekbones, and the last remnants of baby fat that stubbornly refused to disappear until second year, despite him being otherwise skinny to a fault, due to his condition.
“I was just telling her about the incident in second year, when James accidentally emptied that cauldron all over you.” Sirius eyes were bright and the smile he wore threatening to cut his face in half as he held up another picture.
Little Remus was here covered completely in green goo, standing miserably in Myrtle’s bathroom while his ‘friends’ could barely breathe, so hard were they laughing.
“Accidentally?” Remus asked, his voice dangerously low.
“Of course,” the man-sized child insisted – and not very convincing at that. “We never would have done that on purpose. Not even if the potion we wanted to brew did not turn out as it should because we did not listen to you. Which you were telling us repeatedly. But that is not at all a reason to shut you up with drenching you in said failed potion.”
Looking from the glaring picture-Remus to the even more glaring real-Remus, Dora could not keep the laughter back any longer, falling backwards onto the couch and holding her sides in a comical imitation of the picture-Marauders.
“You are laughing at the wrong time, dear,” Remus said in a sickly sweet tone, that was somewhat negated by the involuntary twitching of his lips. “Maybe you have forgotten that I have quite the collection of pictures of your childhood, additionally to the ones Andromeda sent me regularly. And we all know how much your mother loves to embarrass you.”
That made her halt, her hair turning red at the tips. Eyeing him nervously, she asked. “You wouldn’t, right?” But then her gaze fell back on the goo-covered Remus and another laughing fit overcame her.
“You can bet that I will,” Remus regarded her almost benevolently for a moment, then turned to his friend, who watched the proceedings with a highly amused smirk. “Alas,” and here he sighed dramatically, “I’m not in the mood to go back to my flat and get those pictures. So, we’ll have to deal with you first.”
Sirius gulped audibly, knowing that particular glint in his almost-brother’s amber eyes only all to well. It was the same look he wore before executing one of his more ingenious pranks against those who wronged him or his friends personally. It was the look that made Slytherins run and Wormtail hide behind his curtains. It was the look, that had always promised the most fun to James and him – when it was not directed at them.
Finally sitting down at the table with them, Remus calmly searched through the heap of pictures. “Let’s see,” he breathed while sorting through years of jokes and adventures. “Say, Dora, have I ever told you about the day James and Sirius tried to break into the Slytherin dormitory?”
“Noo,” Sirius howled and jumped up, trying to snatch the very colourful picture out of Remus’ hands. But to no avail, as Dora had already seen it, eyes growing wide as saucers, while her laughter grew even louder.
Remus nodded and, with a predatory grin, he added, “The girl’s dormitory?”
“Do you want to grab some dinner and come over to my flat?” Dora asked, after the Order meeting was concluded and their fellow members began making their way out of Grimmauld Place’s kitchen, most wearing grim expressions or talking animatedly about recent events.
When Remus did not answer at once, she stopped her observation of the bustling activity and found him regarding her with a strange intensity.
“I don’t think that is a good idea,” he finally said, his tone carefully neutral which, naturally, set off alarm bells in her head.
“What do you mean with that?” Dora intoned clearly, turning around so she could give him her full attention.
“I mean that it is probably not a good idea for us to be alone right now.” Remus was clearly uncomfortable with this topic. “It might give some people the wrong idea.”
In a good imitation of her mother, Dora raised one eyebrow in scepticism. “We have spent time alone together since I was five years old.”
Remus cringed, before nodding curtly. “Exactly.”
He then avoided her gaze, busying himself with studying the scratched table in front of them. This, more than the probable meaning of his words, rendered her speechless. A small, but not insignificant part of her wanted to give in to the sudden rush of anger cursing through her, to snap at him and set him right. Another part, and that one sounded suspiciously like Remus himself, warned her to treat with caution. Lest she allowed her temper to worsen this situation.
“We never talked about it,” she then said softly, no judgement evident in her tone.
Feigning ignorance, which, Dora decided, did not suit him at all, Remus cocked his head to the side. “About what?”
“There is not much to –“, now obviously in denial, Remus still refused to look at her.
“About what Sirius said about us,” she specified. “About what is happening between us.”
“Nothing is happening,” he insisted, his voice so patronizing that something inside her snapped.
“It is not nothing,” Dora bellowed, attracting the attention of the few Order members that had not yet left. She never spared them a glance, though, but jumped up and dragged the unwilling Remus toward the stairs. Upon seeing that, Sirius wolf-whistled, but one patented Black death glare shut him up. Which, at any other time, would have filled Dora with pride. Now, though, she had bigger problems. The crumbling of her oldest and most precious friendship, for one.
“Dora,” Remus tried to calm her, putting up resistance as soon as they were out of their colleagues’ sight, but she only fastened her stride, gripping his hand even tighter, as if afraid he would disappear if she let go of him. And that was not even that improbable.
Only when the dark door of the library shut behind them, did she stop, looking at him almost pleadingly. “It is not nothing,” she repeated, her voice urgent.
“But what if it is?” Having expected loud protests and twisted logics, his answer surprised her, told her more about his struggle then his previous distance. Before she could regain her wit, though, he continued in that infuriating teacher voice of his. “It is only naturally that you find yourself interested in your male friends. You’ve done the same with Charlie and that boy from Auror training. You grow close and at some point you want to test your limits. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case –“
“I want to test my limits?” Dora asked incredulously, her eyes narrowed. Normally that would have been the point where he stopped, retraced his steps and tried his best to salvage the situation. Now, though, he pushed on, intent on getting over this delicate topic.
“Yes. But I can assure you, you don’t have to. I’ve known you your whole life and we are friends. Nothing more. No matter what else you believe you’re feeling right now.”
“Just because I, unlike you, am not a master in bloody self-denial, Remus Lupin,” Dora snarled, more upset than she thought possible, “Doesn’t mean that I want things just for the sake of getting them.” Huffing like an infuriated mother dragon, she pointed her finger right at his chest. “I know what I want, and I know why I want it and –“
“And I’m not going to risk some very good friendships for a passing school girl infatuation,” Remus cut in coolly, seemingly completely unmoved, but the expression in his amber eyes was flat.
“School girl?” Dora shrieked. “This is what you see in me? Some wanton girl lusting for a professor figure.” Taking the effort to straighten herself, she tried to calm down a bit, though the angry red did not disappear from her cheeks or her hair. “Sorry to disappoint, but you were not that impressive a teacher.”
Unfazed by her snide comment, Remus nodded. “Then we seem to agree on at least on thing. Maybe we can just put this whole ugly affair behind us then?”
Dora could not believe him, his cold demeanour. The nerve of this man. She knew – she had to be right in her guess that his feelings for her were not as inexistent as he pretended them to be. Well, that assumption was mainly based on Sirius’ observation, which should have been discouraging in itself – but they had both been Marauders. They knew each other. And Remus had not protested then.
Only now, after she had decided to go on the offensive, knowing full well that Remus would never do anything ‘untoward’ on his own. He did appreciate her and her parents’ friendships too much for that. But this vehement resistance was worse than she had feared. Especially now that their world was descending into another war and no one could be sure how much time they had really left.
“No,” Dora insisted, having to fight down the childish impulse to stomp her feet. “I will not. And if you’d only stop being stubborn for one bloody minute so we can talk -”
“There is nothing to talk about,” a distinct note of finality accompanied Remus’ abrupt tone and he turned around, striding towards the door.
“But I lo-“ Dora began, desperately wishing that he would just listen to her, understand that she was completely serious.
“Don’t say it,” Remus cut her off, sounding as if he was already miles away, as if not interrupting the confession of her feelings for him. “Because you don’t.”
“Remus,” she tried again, seeing him open the door but unable to move herself. Every step further seemed to raise walls between them, almost tangible in the tense air.
Stopping right in the doorway, he faced her once again, though his eyes were fixed on a point over her left shoulder. “Be so good to tell Andromeda that I will be unable to attend our weekly dinner tomorrow evening.”
Then he was gone, just like that, and Dora seemed to sink in on herself, all strength leaving her shoulders, staring at the space he had occupied mere moments ago. It hurt, she mused, being rejected like that. Rejected by him of all people. And, even worse, she could not even begin to think of a way to salvage this situation, their friendship. They had always trusted each other with everything. But how could they do that now?
And she was not even sure whom she was more angry at. Him, for being his usual insufferable but honourable self, doing what he thought was right instead of what might bring him happiness for once. Or herself, for complicating their relationship like that, for falling for the one person she never wanted to lose. She was sure of her feelings, but maybe it would have been better to keep them hidden, to wait whether he would realize himself what they might have. If he would only give them a chance. Maybe it would have been better to have at least part of him – the part she had come to love in the first place, because he had always been there for her – than pushing him away because she wanted more.
A sudden cough interrupted her thoughts, causing her head to snap up hopefully. Had he seen reason and come back?
But it was only Sirius, standing awkwardly in the door. His face was unreadable, so she could not surmise what he thought of the whole situation. “It seems, that didn’t go too well.”
Feeling the need to punch something, someone if her cousin dared to make another badly timed comment, she said lowly, but dangerously, “Out.”
An elegantly raised eyebrow met her command. “May I remind you that you are in my house and –“
“Out,” Dora roared, her eyes glowing furiously. Sirius, very familiar with her typically Black temper, raised his hands in a placating manner.
“All right, all right. I’m gone.”And then he was. And she was alone.