Harry put his index finger into the small circle and swirled around the dial on the rotary phone. Even the Dursleys had had a more modern telephone, but it did the job. He only had the phone for one person, anyways.
Matthew answered quickly. "I had a feeling you'd call today."
"Oh, did you?"
"Call it my magic power."
Harry chuckled. They were silent for a moment. "Brian called himself a replacement for Lupin, the bloke I fancy."
"Did he sound… I don't know… er, bitter at all or was it, like, flirtatious…?"
"He tried to make it sound like he was teasing."
"They say there is truth in every joke. Maybe I was wrong."
"Maybe you aren't just a baby gay that he's taken in. Any chance Brian feels something for you?"
Harry laughed. "No, not at all. That would be absurd. We have a really rough past. We've only just gotten past it."
"There is a very thin line between love and hate."
"Do you always speak in clichés?"
"Another one of my magic powers." Matthew laughed. Something rustled against the microphone.
"What was that?"
"Pulling on a jumper. Bloody cold out. I'm headed to the pub here in a bit. Care to join me?"
"I shouldn't. I think our friendship makes Brian feel left out."
"Left out, or jealous? It's no matter, bring him along."
"I'll ask him. Thanks for the chat. Talk later?"
"Of course. Bye, Jaime."
Harry pulled off his teaching robes and replaced the t-shirt he wore underneath with a white collared shirt, just in case Severus agreed to going to the pub after supper.
But when he walked into the Great Hall, he immediately got the distinct feeling that Severus wouldn't be interested in doing much of anything with Harry tonight. Severus had not waited for him by the staff entrance and so Harry pushed open the door and stepped inside. Severus didn't even lift his head to look at him. And as he stepped closer he saw that Severus had situated himself between Madame Pomfrey and Minerva. Harry looked along the table, the lone available seat was between Remus and Hagrid.
Harry held his breath as he pulled the ancient heavy chair away from the table and made himself comfortable. His heart began to race erratically. He wasn't sure if he should say hello to Remus. Would it be awkward? Or would it be more awkward if he didn't say hello? But, if he did say hello, would he be sucked into a conversation he didn't want to have tonight? And if he didn't say-
He released a breath of relief.
"I'm glad you're willing to sit with me again. Although, it has been nice to see that Severus has made a friend."
Harry nodded and spread butter over his bread.
"Or more than a friend?"
Harry nearly choked.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have asked. My apologies."
"No, it's fine. But, er, he did take me to a gay pub."
It was Remus's turn to look distinctly uncomfortable.
"Oh? Did you… meet anyone?"
"I made a friend."
"That's good. That's really good."
"Yeah. I guess so."
Remus sighed. "Harry, if this makes you uncomfortable, we don't have to do this. We don't have to speak until you're ready. We don't have to force things to go back to normal."
"Neither of us have ever been particularly normal anyways."
Remus snorted. "Right you are."
"And, anyways. ChristmasiscomingsoonandIwasthinkingthat-"
"Harry. Slow down. Say that again?"
"Christmas is coming."
"Yes, it is."
"And we will both be at Grimmauld, with Sirius, and maybe we should have that chat before then."
"That sounds nice, Harry. Come by to my rooms when you're ready."
The two returned to eating their meals. Harry glanced to his right out of the corner of his eye, to see Severus. But, he was gone. The staff door slammed closed.
Harry sighed. He'd lost his appetite, suddenly.
"Do you need to go after him?" Remus asked him, as Harry stared at the closed door.
He wanted to. He wanted to see what'd upset him. He cared about Severus. But this moment was the closest to normalcy he'd found with Remus since that night, and he was unwilling to walk away from it.
He turned to Remus and smiled at him. "No, I'm sure he's fine."
"Are you free for the next bit? Ready to have that chat?"
Harry wasn't sure that he was, but he followed Remus to his rooms anyways.
Remus picked up a biscuit and bit into it as he crossed his ankle over the other knee and made himself comfortable in his favourite chair.
"I didn't mean to ruin things," Harry said apologetically.
"You could never."
Harry ran his hand through his hair and rolled his eyes. "This is the part where you tell me you've always loved me like a son and nothing could change that- yeah, spare me. Can't we just be honest? I changed things between us that night."
"Yes. Things changed. But I'm glad that you were honest with me. I never want you to feel that you must keep things from me."
"But now I do. It took me a year to work up the courage to tell you those things."
Harry nodded and placed his tea back onto the coffee table. "I suspect I'd had these feelings longer than that."
"You still feel the same?"
Harry leaned forward, his hands worrying themselves in his lap.
"Of course I do. That won't change in just a month. I can try to make things the way they once were, but it'll take time."
"You and Severus seem close recently. Be honest with me, Harry. Is it more than friendship?"
Harry closed his eyes for a moment and reopened them slowly. "No."
Remus tried to take a deep breath but was overcome with a fit of coughing. He turned his head and placed his mouth into the crook of his elbow.
"You've been coughing for weeks now, Remus. Are you getting sick?"
Remus shook his head before being sent into another fit of coughing that left him bent over with his head between his knees. Harry rushed to his side and rubbed his back soothingly.
"Harry, I- how much do you know about werewolves?"
He shrugged. "As much as you've told me, I suppose."
"We don't... we don't tend to live long."
Harry's heart began to pound, fearing what would surely come next.
In an instant Harry found himself wrapping his body around Remus's. Harry held him tight. This couldn't be happening. It couldn't be true. He'd misheard, surely. Remus was young. He was too young. He couldn't be leaving him. Not yet.
"I wouldn't have... ya know. Told you- told you all of that if I knew what you were already going through. I shouldn't have burdened you with my feelings. Remus, I'm so sorry."
Harry relaxed his embrace and pulled away enough to look into Remus's eyes. He was crying. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen Remus cry, but he couldn't. Perhaps this was the first time. Remus ran the sleeve of his jumper down over his face.
"You're never a burden. I'm glad that you told me."
Harry placed his hand onto his chest, just over his heart. Remus lifted a trembling hand and put it over Harry's. They stood like that, searching one another's eyes, for a long moment.
Remus licked his lips and took a deep, ragged breath. "I suppose it's my turn to be honest. Harry, I've loved you... gods, I have loved you... for, for I'm not even sure how long. But your life has been so complicated, so marred by pain and loss. How could I have ever told you my feelings, even when you expressed your own so freely? I will not live long enough to see an evolution in our relationship beyond dating. I am too dangerous, even with wolfsbane, to be near you when a full moon approaches. I am too weak to make love to you."
It was now Harry who wiped away bitter tears. "I don't care about those things. Let me be with you as long as I can be."
"No, Harry. I do care about those things. If you love me, I need to see you moving on and living a full life before I go. Can you do that? Could you do that for me, Harry?"
He looked away angrily. Tears still welling up along his lower lashes. He begrudgingly nodded.
"How much longer?" He asked, still determinedly not looking at him.
"Weeks? A year? I don't know."
"Have you told Sirius?"
He sighed. "Yes."
"I have to oversee quidditch practice," he said suddenly. It was a lie. He hadn't exactly meant to lie, but it was the first excuse to come to mind. He couldn't take it anymore. He couldn't stand here and look at this man, hearing him say he was dying. But instead of walking away, before he could think, he'd reached out to pull Remus to him. He placed his lips to the older man's tenderly.
How often had he thought of this? This potential, but always hypothetical, first kiss between them. He'd wanted it so badly. But not like this.
Not with Remus's soft lips tasting like salty tears, not after admitting to Harry that he was not long for this world.
Harry's lips parted and he flicked a tongue into Remus's mouth even as a sob escaped his lips.
The muscles along Remus's spine rippled beneath his palms.
Harry pulled away and rested his forehead against the man's collar bone, still holding him tight.
Remus chuckled weakly. "I thought we were going to let things go back to normal."
Harry shook his head against his chest. "No. Nothing will ever be normal again."