A remix of Ekaterinn's Old Man Winter, written for the Remix...Redux II challenge. Many thanks to Hal for patient and indulgent beta reading.
Remus and Sirius in the first war.
A Late Frost
A cat jumped up to an empty window sill, open to the sky and the half-moon above. The window stood intact amid all the fallen stone around it, and it could have been the weathered survivor of a ruin except that dust still layered the ground and Remus remembered when Christchurch had been whole.
The night was late and mild and restless. Remus thought of the flat three blocks away, which would be cold and unlit and also restless. Perhaps it was just him. His shoulders itched.
Across the rubble, the cat picked its way down to a hollow between the stones, emerging some moments later on a moon-lit patch of grass. It fixed him with a stare that was as eerily human as it was cat-like, and licked its paws.
Remus turned and followed it.
"…One time so strong, now dropping decay," Sirius read, his tone skeptical, "Their strength destroyed--is this a spell?"
"No," Remus said, and helped himself to more curry. He carefully cut away the charred and blackened bits. The flat smelled comfortably of Sirius's cooking, though the smoky haze drifting from the kitchen made his eyes water. Better than the snowy cold outside. His ears were still numb.
"It's not a spell," he said. "There are, however, spells hidden within it, which if you were any kind of wizard, you'd have recognized."
Sirius dropped the thick scroll of Remus's notes onto the table, narrowly missing his plate. "Useless," he said. "Unless you're a poet or a masochist, and I'm neither." He finished the wine in his glass then reached over to drink from Remus's, playing idly with the stem and contemplating the deep red liquid as if absorbed. "Read it to me. Tell me where the spells are."
Remus retrieved his wine and finished off the last of it. "I felt the age had won; my sword was rotted." Their eyes met. "And there was nothing on which to set my eyes---"
"Lupin," McGonagall said. Her spectacles reflected the half-light of the moon, and he couldn't see her eyes. He wished he could judge her age with any accuracy; she was more cat than even she likely realized, her head held so still, her self shuttered firmly away. "Your owl came this morning. Is there any hope of recovering the texts?"
"No," he said. "The books were thoroughly destroyed. Even if you could find them." He gestured to the gaping hole of Christchurch and the crumbled rock that spilled from it.
She nodded, and Remus thought of them back at the castle, incorporating Voldemort's latest attack in their plans and strategies, waiting for the next owl with news written in sterile ink on innocuous bits of paper. He wondered if she even saw the wreckage.
"Who knew you were here?" she asked, her gaze leveled on his, as if she suspected he might lie.
"James and Lily," he said. "Peter Pettigrew. You and Professor Dumbledore, of course. Sirius---"
"---that was not a reminder of the end," and they were in the bedroom now, his lips bruised and Sirius's eyes black as pitch. He felt raw and wolfish and peaceful, and didn't try to reconcile the contradiction. "You've burned the saucepan again. I saw. That's the third this month."
"I'll buy a new one," Sirius said. "Singing for coppers at the market square. Isn't that what Muggles do?"
Remus rubbed his face against the hollow of Sirius's neck and bit the soft flesh. "You're remarkably uneducated for a pureblood."
She nodded again. "Were you able to retrieve anything before the books were destroyed?"
Remus shrugged. "Some spells too antiquated for our purposes. I have notes I haven't gone back through yet. A few complicated references that will need some teasing out."
"You should relocate for now," she said, and Remus didn't take it as a suggestion. "We have no idea what might have been revealed to Voldemort. Or who did the telling."
She turned to go, and Remus wondered if she'd apparated here, or if there was a portkey planted somewhere in Oxford; then she glanced back at him, and he thought he saw a flash of pity. "Is Sirius still here with you?"
It was why she'd come in the first place. Everything else could have been reported by owl.
"No," he said calmly. "I haven't seen Sirius in weeks."
It was winter, and the whole of Britain was sleeping.
Remus's eyes were dull and bloodshot from hours spent poring over texts, but he turned them up to the stars that shone clearly from an unreachable distance, until the ache disappeared and he felt human again. The trees were white with snow. It drifted down and got beneath the collar of his oversized Muggle coat, but he was already cold and numb and didn't notice.
Light spilled out from the front windows of the flat. He thought about blankets and hot cocoa. He thought about Sirius. The two of them, the sleeping winter with snow piled deep.
"I've burned the curry," Sirius said, when Remus closed the door behind him.