the present
Chapter Eight: To Win a Bet

Sirius paced the floor in front of the stone fireplace, his agitation finally getting the better of him. He’d listened to Remus piss and moan for over an hour about the extended list of obituaries, memories he’d almost lost and how he and Tonks had been doing the underpants Charleston for the last decade. While that was all well and good, what Sirius was most interested in (and what would prevent him from losing a bet to Hermione Granger) was why on earth Remus had taken to avoiding him at all costs. He let his eyes wander to the window, where the sun was beginning to cast a yellow tinged glow over the Grimmauld grounds.

He hated losing bets…especially to a woman.

Deciding a direct attack was his only chance, he sank down onto the couch beside Remus, placing a tight grip on his forearm. “If you are afraid of losing me again, Remus, I can understand that. I can’t promise it won’t happen, of course, but while I’m here could you at least pretend to enjoy my company?”

Remus hesitated. He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again. Sirius moved where Remus couldn’t avoid his gaze, though, and he finally faltered. “Do you know what it’s like, Sirius? To spend so many years of your life coping with the death of someone you love? Just to have them come back and do it all over again? Every time I think I’ve moved on, you magically appear and turn everything upside down again.”

“I do apologize for being so inconvenient in my struggles with the great beyond,” Sirius mumbled. “I seem to fail at everything in a quite flamboyant fashion. I’m rather surprised you thought death would be any different.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t give me the ‘woe is me’ crap. You wanted the truth and I’m giving it to you,” his voice softened. “I’ve never known you to shy away from the truth.”

Sirius moved away from him to pace the floor again, trying to calm the fears rising within him. It was almost as if Remus preferred him to stay gone. Was that even possible?

“I’ve never been blamed for my own death before either,” he returned with sarcasm he didn’t feel.

“Sirius,” Remus’ voice was steady but his hands shook ever so slightly. “We’ve never really understood each other. I don’t pretend to understand you even now.”

“How reassuring.”

“Will you stop?” Remus jerked him to face him. “This isn’t another prank, Sirius. For better or worse, you are back.”

“Worse?” Sirius fought to conceal the hurt that welled within him. “Worse,” he repeated more softly as the words took their full effect.

“I didn’t mean it like that and you know it. Everything is just coming out wrong,” Remus moved away, fiddling with the stray threads on his cloak. “Blasted Tonks,” he murmured. “I should never have listened to her.

Sirius hesitated. He wanted to sulk or hex Remus for his words but the mention of Tonks made him pause. “What advice?” he asked after a moment, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.

Remus dropped into a chair with irritation. “She suggested I share with you how I feel. I should have known better than to listen to her.”

Sirius couldn’t resist the urge to laugh. “Since when did you get so whipped you now take advice from someone who enjoys turning her hair bubblegum pink and blowing raspberries at the dinner table?”

“A man stoops to many levels for the sake a woman, Sirius,” he answered with a sigh. “Fortunately, the returns make it worth the effort.”

Sirius frowned momentarily, recalling a bet with Hermione was the only reason he was putting either of them through this blasted conversation in the first place. He shrugged it off as best he could.

“Yes, but is it worth the embarrassment?” he chuckled, dropping down across from Remus. “Don’t answer that. I’d prefer not to know.” He feigned seriousness. “Exactly how long have you been bedding my cousin, anyway?”

Remus sent him a mischievous grin. “You tell me what you were doing in bed with Hermione this morning and I’ll tell you tales about Tonks that you…”

“Ugh,” Sirius put his hands in the air. “Spare me the sordid details. A werewolf and a shape-shifter? My nightmares come to life.”

“And Hermione?”

“If I knew, I’d be happy to explain it to you,” he replied honestly. “Juliette, though-"

Remus nodded, a smile lighting up his face. “She’s an amazing little girl, isn’t she? Everyone loves her to pieces. Devilishly clever, though. She’ll sneak away from you and find trouble given half the chance.”

“Much like her father,” Sirius murmured. “The assumption that Ron is her father--”

Remus cut him off with a dark look. “It’s actually not discussed, Sirius, and I’d advise you against it as well.”

“You can’t be serious.”

Remus shuffled uneasily in his chair. “It’s never mentioned, Sirius. She loved Ron and they were to be married. Anything else isn’t our business.”

“But you see it, don’t you?” he shook his head. “How can you not see it?”

“Of course I see it,” Remus hissed. He lowered his voice. “But what purpose does it serve to accuse her of having an affair with Harry? He’s gone, Ron’s gone, it only brings back more hurt for everyone involved.”

“You aren’t giving her enough credit. She’s stronger than that. You are just allowing her to hide from the truth. You, of all people, should know that only causes more problems in the end.”

“It’s not something I have the right to confront her with,” Remus’ voice held a note of forewarning that Sirius chose to ignore. “When she feels comfortable, she’ll tell everyone the truth.”

“Geez, Remus, the child is going to be an adult before that happens!” he frowned. “Don’t you think Juliette deserves to know the truth?”

“At what price to Hermione, Sirius?” he lowered his voice, casting a wary look toward the doorway. “If you haven’t noticed, she is not the mentally stable person you once knew. If anything she grows more reclusive everyday.”

“Well, perhaps all of you are contributing to that by allowing her to drown in her own thoughts, have you considered that?”

“No,” he answered quietly, a feeling of uncertainty flowing over him. “You’ve been where she is, haven’t you, Sirius?”

“Don’t try and analyze me, Remus,” his eyes glinted dangerously. “I’m not nearly jovial enough to be so accommodating.”

“We’re okay, aren’t we, Sirius?” Remus asked off-handedly as he felt Sirius temper begin to flare under the scrutiny.

“Yes, we’re fine,” he answered huffing. “I’m just pissed off.”

Remus chuckled as he watched him stomp away. “And the world is right again.”

Author’s Note: I apologize for the length on this one but I tried combining it with the next chapter and it ended up well over 3,000 words so I decided to go ahead and split it. I’m putting finishing touches on Chapter Nine so it should be up within just a few more days. Thanks to everyone! I’m having such a fun time writing this thing!

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