He eats all of it down to the bald tail, the wormtail, enjoying the crackling of small bones in his mouth, the taste of warm blood. He licks his chops carefully after, every drop of blood and smear of grease, thinking about catching another one. He decides against it. It's morning.
A startled whinny catches him unawares, and he skitters closer to the wall. There's a horse in the yard, a sleek bay with a blanket thrown over her back. A whip-thin girl in jodhpurs and a baggy jumper clings to her halter, feet skidding over the frozen ground.
The horse rears and snorts, the girl pleads and Padfoot turns quickly and lopes around the barn, out of sight. He hopes the girl didn't see him or she'll send her father out with a rifle to hunt down the stray.
But he runs, close to the ground in great, powerful lopes, his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth, his breath freezing into icicles in the fur on his muzzle.
Padfoot twitches and whines in restless sleep and Sirius, under doggy thoughts of rabbits and rats, dreams a man's dreams of revenge and hope.
It's cold. He's hungry. He can't think clearly - he knows where he's going, but not the way there. Muggle skills seem to have deserted his brain and all he can remember is don't look back, don't look back, don't look to see if they're coming.
The muttering is only half faked, and he shivers and pulls the robes closer around his shoulder. His legs ache and tremble and he can smell himself, grease and dirt and despair. He wants a bath, a cup of coffee, a cigarette. He wants one of the rats he eats to be Peter, little Peter only a lump in his belly, taking off his head, legs one by one, leaving the scabby, scaly, wormy tail for dessert, and then Remus will be the only one of them still alive.
Sirius stumbles and stubs his toe through the paper-thin leather of his boot. Hissing in pain, he remembers, surprised, that he's alive too. Free. Alive.
Thoughts are overrated, human form is overrated - he forgets this when he's Padfoot: all he remembers are the good things, whatever they are.
He lies under a bare-branched plum tree in the back garden, letting his swollen belly rest. He hears a door slam, a car start. Everything is quiet.
There's a dog flap in the back, but the smell in the yard is old and frozen. The dog is gone, but he left his way in, and Padfoot squeezes through, bigger than whoever the flap was built for, far bigger, almost stuck but he pushes and scrabbles on the clean linoleum floor and falls into a narrow hallway.
He stops and cocks his head. Silence. Sirius pushes Padfoot aside and takes off his dirt-caked boots, pads barefoot around the house, helps himself to half a loaf of bread. Upstairs, bathroom, mirror, and he flinches from his own reflection.
He'd seen the papers in Dumbledore's office, the photographs they'd shown on Muggle television. He hadn't recognised himself.
He barely remembers how to turn on the water, how to clean himself. He finds nail scissors and cuts off his hair slowly, cropping it into a strange, spiky, uneven shape. He still doesn't look like himself, but if he squints, he doesn't look like a raging lunatic.
Just a thin, sickly man with hollow eyes and sunken cheeks. Who is this? Remus had looked just like himself, the lines on his face in just the places they were meant to be, the grey in his hair blending into the brown without jarring. Sirius looks like someone meant to be dead, and he turns away from the mirror.
When he rounds the house, he goes human again and for the first time in longer than he cares to remember, feels human.
"Thank you," he mutters at the map, but it's a Muggle map and doesn't reply. He follows the unfamiliar streets through unfamiliar neighbourhoods. He knows the Tube or a bus would take him closer, faster, but he has no money and no wand to charm the Muggles into giving him a ride, so he walks and walks. There are uniformed policemen in the streets here, and he doesn't dare steal anything. The papers show him no pictures of himself, so he walks taller. He's tired of cowering like a sick cur.
It's still hard to dig out the good memories - what the Dementors couldn't find he's hidden so deep that even he can't search them out. He'd rather not think than remember the bad things.
He notices jolly red and green and gold in the display windows along the street, and realises that Christmas is coming. Or here already. He's not even sure what month it is. He remembers another Christmas in London, a young, red-cheeked Remus next to him, James' laughter, cramming dirty snow down the back of Lily's coat, arms catching him and swinging him around.
James' voice saying, "Oi, Sirius, you slag!"
To stop himself from thinking about James - how can thirteen years disappear like a mist and the return pain bright sharp cold clawing through him - he thinks about Harry. Lily's eyes in a face that's softer and prettier than James' ever was, but the hair is Potter hair and those same glasses that Remus and Lily said made him look like one of the Beatles. Sirius can't remember the names of the Beatles. Remus must know. He can ask. Soon.
He pushed his fingertips, inside his pockets, against the worn spot in the corner where he could feel the scratchy wool-blend of the robes through the cotton pocket. It would be worn through into a hole soon, the kind that loose change could fall out of. That would make three sets of robes, counting his dress ones, with holes (though he had mended those, when Lily insisted).
There was no better reason for him to like the feel of the cotton almost-giving around his finger, the stretch and pull, the impression of the threads on the sensitive tip of his finger where he'd gnawed a nail to the quick this morning to stay awake in Primitive Magic: An Anthropological Review-than there was for Lily to like the dusty scent of old books, or whatever it was she liked about the library. Certainly, not the thrill of almost-being caught. Or, perhaps not certainly. They had discussed it over the summer, high or almost-high, or still-partly high (when hadn't they been?). "The library, Remus," she had said, and giggled and leaned over to press her mouth to his, open and warm and wet, sloppy lazy kisses tasting of burnt sugar. Then, breaking the kiss, "It's so, so." And dissolved into giggles. "The LIBRARY!" and they they'd both been giggling again, although really, he didn't know what was funnier-the musty smell of the books, the spines pressing into his back-or Lily's shining eyes.
She snatched his arm when he walked past the third shelf (Arwegian's Floo Powder A-Z to Brisbane and the Cult of the Occult). With his hands in his pockets, a stumble would have made him fall over but for Lily's body against the shelves. She gripped his forearms to steady him and stopped a laugh before it could more than twitch at the corners of her mouth. "You're so disreputable," she said happily, "just think of it, walking just normally down the hall with your hands in your pockets and you might pass by Severus, or Dumbledore, or anybody and they wouldn't know you were on your way to--"
Remus laughed. "Your summer was definitely misspent."
"I keep a disreputable kind of company," she replied matter-of-factly, and kissed him in the same manner, her hands sliding steadyingly to his hips through the worn wool-blend. It was a familiar and comforting sort of kiss, tasting of scones and Earl Grey.
"I meant," he said, pulling back--and quickly dropped his voice to a whisper at her frown-- "I meant your activities."
She mimed smoking and grinned at him. "You never know what sort of black perversions werewolves will lead you into."
He raised his eyebrows, "Indeed." Lily had taught him to roll the joints, but she did it much more deftly. He remembered looking up to see her climb out of her window, silhouetted against the moon, with a damp breeze prickling the back of his neck. He'd told her when they were already high, or maybe as they came down, he couldn't remember. The moon hadn't been full yet, but he had felt it like an itch in the middle of his back even in the shadows under the darkest trees.
She'd been silent for a full minute at least before she said, "My parents even want me to be a witch!"
He'd waited patiently. Somehow he had known he would get this reaction. She'd taken another drag and handed the roach to him. "That's so much cooler, really wild," she'd said finally, and rolled over on top of him in the damp cold grass, so the white smoke twisting from her nostrils wreathed his face. He'd tried not to cough and smiled through it and she'd patted the top of his head, sisterly, and said, "Are you okay? I mean--"
And what was there to say to that? What use was there, even at thirteen, in being anything but okay?
"Should I lead you astray, um, further from the front of the library?" Remus suggested, covering her hands with his. It was nice and comfortable. Lily had pink lipstick, now smeared a little in the corners of her mouth, and eyeliner smudged under her eyes. She also had narrow tapering fingers with dimples at the knuckles from leftover baby fat, and neat-trimmed nails, all the same length, if not entirely clean.
She dropped her head onto his shoulder and giggled. Her hair smelled of rosemary--so she hadn't been smoking that morning. With Lily, silliness could mean a joint, or it could mean just... Liliness.
Near the restricted section, there was a stain on the floor that constantly (well, repeatedly) made Lily wonder if someone more daring than them ("Like Sirius," Remus had said dryly the first time last spring, and her eyes had widened before she fell back against the bookshelf, blinking and trying not to laugh out loud) had had the same idea. Lily dropped to her knees, grinning, and pulled her favourite book off the shelf, Jean-Pierre Marsters and the French Art of Animated Interior Furnishing. "Just don't read it out loud," he said, with, he thought, great restraint. The book made him wince. This bit of the library had always been a particular Thing he had with Lily, but sometimes he wondered wistfully about what Sirius--or James--would say.
She ignored him, of course. "A simple Transfiguration charm might be sufficient to achieve this result, however, our designer has something more complicated in mind: an armchair that not only responds to voice prompts and carries on conversations, but is capable of sexual excitement..."
Oh, by Merlin's beard--. "Lily, how long have you been a fourteen year old girl?"
"Remus," she retorted, "how long have you been a stuffy thirty-year old professor?" And dropped the book, and pushed her tongue in his mouth and her cold fingertips in the neck of his robe, to take the sting out of it.
He had been one of those for as long as he could remember, really. He barely remembered at all being little child, before the wolf bite whose silver scar he could still feel. "Why don't you check it out?" He asked curiously, when they were leaving the library again. Lily casually rubbed lipstick off his jawline with the cuff of her robes, leaving a garish pink smear. "Thank you. I mean, if you like it so much."
She said, "I don't know. It's no fun, that way."
He turns abruptly into an alley and comes face to face with an overflowing garbage bin. Better. Nausea tugs at his throat, but the hunger recedes.
He makes more turns, almost at random. There's an eagerness growing somewhere in the pit of his stomach, something that has nothing to with hunger. It feels a little like the excitement he'd feel every September, following his father through the Muggle crowd at King's Cross Station towards Platform 9 3/4. Even though he always saw James during summers, it was not quite enough - there weren't many good opportunities for mischief in quiet wizard villages, and Sirius' parents were old even then, and would put up with no disturbances in their peace. "You're a cosmic joke at our expense," his father had told him more than once.
Sirius had rather liked the thought at the time.
He straightens his back even more, folds down his collar and walks tall up the hill, past the dingy houses, counting house numbers. When he was still a child, he'd run like a whirlwind through the crowd at the platform, making sure to push every Slytherin a little harder than necessary out of the way. When he'd spot James, he'd catch him around the neck and whirl him around, already finding ideas growing in his head, great pranks and adventures to plan.
When he was a little older, he walked with a measure of dignity, and he grinned at the girls as he passed. Lily and Remus came together a few times and Sirius remembered James smoothing a bewildered frown off his face as he turned to greet them. Some things were meant to be.
Number 41 is Remus' door. It's painted blue, and the bushes outside are shaggy and unkempt.
It's the old cosmic joke again, Sirius thinks. His spine tingles. Missing James is like being caught on a fish hook and slowly reeled out of his mind. Missing Remus is a numb spot somewhere deep down, blankness hiding something worse.
"No more of that," he mutters and shakes his head sharply. "Sentimental old sod."
That moment, he can't remember what it felt like to be fearless. His knees quiver. His breaths come in short gasps. His head spins.
Exhaustion, he thinks, dismissively, but he looks around frantically, searching the street for shadows. He can usually smell a Dementor a mile away, but Aurors are sly and determined, and just as dangerous right now. Even more so because they are the good guys and he's not supposed to have to fight them. He's supposed to be fighting alongside them. He and James had thought about becoming Aurors. They'd included Remus in that thought until Remus pointed out that the day there was a werewolf Auror was the day Merlin returned and started teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts.
Issues of fairness should have stopped being issues with Sirius long ago, but he still, still wants to point his wand at the sky and curse time and space for being not fair.
Another unfair point is that he has no wand. They'd snapped it in two when they caught him. They might as well have snapped his spine.
He holds his breath and knocks on the blue door.
His hand falls on empty air and Remus catches it. Sirius' stomach drops. Remus always did have reflexes to put even the Quidditch champion Potters to shame.
They stand in silence, separated by the threshold, Sirius' cold hand still caught in warmth - the only warm spot on his body, it seems. Remus' hand is soft and strong and steady.
Sirius opens his mouth to say something, but out comes nothing but air, suspiciously like a whimper.
"Come in, Sirius," Remus says, letting go of Sirius' hand, the name on his lips a gentle reproach. "It's freezing."
"Moony," Sirius breathes. Thank you, thank you-- He steps over the threshold and into the comforting dusk on the other side.
"Dumbledore owled over a month ago, said you might be dropping by," Remus says. "Put your coat there-- I thought you might be here earlier. I'd almost--"
"Had to walk," Sirius says, oddly breathless. He sheds the coat and hangs it on a peg next to a ratty robe. The hallway is too narrow, and he bumps an elbow into Remus, flinches, tries to squirm past.
"Don't fret. I'll put on tea."
"I'm not--" he starts, but he has to concede the point. He is fretting. He feels every inch the deranged wanderer right now, confused and lost in polite company. "How-- How's Harry?" he asks, because Remus would know.
"Alive," Remus says and disappears through a door to the right. Sirius hears running water, the clatter of china. He stands frozen in the hall, letting his limbs thaw and his head clear.
The delicious smell of fresh bread and cheese hits his nostrils and he perks up. "Food?" he says, and there's a chuckle from Remus.
"No kitchen raids in a while?"
Sirius steps into the kitchen. It's tiny, like the hallway, but clean and cosy, with a candle flickering on the table by the window. "Rats," he says. "Mostly rats."
There's a short silence.
"Not too bad," Sirius goes on, desperately, not ready to get into this, not yet. "A little gristly, but you know dogs. Eat anything, the wretched things."
"Like growing lads," Remus says. The candlelight glows warm on his lined face, brings out the last strands of golden brown in his hair. Sirius watches, lets his eyes take their fill. A friendly face is such a rare sight, has been such a rare sight for years.
Not fair slips through once more before he kicks it into an imaginary basement (along with thirteen years! and why James?) and bolts the door.
Remus pours the tea and puts a plate with a cheese sandwich in front of Sirius. "There's more where that came from. I'm not wanting for food."
Sirius eyes the sandwich. "Just stop me before I put you out of house and home."
Remus doesn't answer, but Sirius has already shut down all thought processes, digging into the sandwich, tearing into it, and it beats rat and stolen stale bread, beats them by a million miles. The house smells like Remus and tea and books and food and warmth. Sirius eats. A new sandwich appears on the plate and he doesn't even stop to say thank you.
He does say it once he's thoroughly satisfied, and there is no more bread to be had. Remus sits across the table, sipping on his second cup of Darjeeling, looking out the window at the dismal weather. Every now and then, the room is lit sharply by headlights, and then the smudged red of taillights. The red lingers in Remus' eyes.
"Would you like to use the bathroom? It's through there--"
"Do I smell?" Sirius asks, trying to suppress a grin.
"--no," Remus says after a little pause. "Yes. You smell like you haven't showered in a few days."
"Because I haven't showered in a few days."
Remus gives a lopsided shrug and points at a narrow door next to the fridge. "It's tiny, of course, and I think there are new civilisations arising under the sink, but I don't have the heart to exterminate them."
Sirius chuckles and steps into the bathroom.
It's the size of a broom cupboard - the size of a cell, with a tiny hole posing as a window, there are even bars, and Sirius backs out again, short of breath.
"Sirius?" Remus asks. He looks tense, Sirius notices now. He's been tense the whole time; not really speaking. Sirius hasn't paid attention because he's been too hungry and weary.
It's over, he tells himself and squares his shoulders. No Dementors hiding under the sink, no Aurors lurking outside the window hole, no bloody monsters in the wardrobes here unless Remus put them there himself.
"Never mind me," he mutters and goes back in, closes the door behind him with too much force. A bottle of shampoo falls from the mirror shelf into the sink.
The pipes make an unholy racket as the water warms up, slowly. Heat seeps into his bones. He closes his eyes. The walls may be closing in, but it's worth it, isn't it? Warm and clean and scared to death is better than cold and dirty and scared to death.
The clanging and booming and whooshing of the pipes reminds him of the plumbing at Hogwarts, the systems of layers upon layers of arcane magic heating and moving the water. Ghosts in the pipes, goblins in the drains. The laughter of boys. James loved water; he would stand for hours in the shower if Sirius didn't drag him out. It was his idea to go swimming in the lake, and Remus almost got himself killed by a Grindylow - a very surprised Grindylow - and Peter came down with pneumonia after and had to spend two weeks in the infirmary. Another little prank they all lived to re--
He turns off the water and looks for a towel. His clothes are a sodden heap on the floor. "Bugger," he whispers. "Bugger, bugger, bugger," with growing desperation, feeling stupid and losing it right here, the walls closing in.
The only towel he can find, scrabbling half-blind over the pegs by the door, is slightly damp and rose-patterned pink cotton, but he just wraps it around his waist and almost takes the door off its hinges ripping it open.
Remus flies to his feet and his chair falls over with a clatter. His teeth are bared in a snarl. Sirius freezes.
He waits until he's sure his heart isn't going to fall out of his mouth if he opens it and says, "That time of the month, eh?"
Remus scratches himself on the neck and bends to pick up the chair. "I'm sorry. Full tomorrow night. Are you all right?" His eyes seem to glide over Sirius without stopping on any one place. Sirius plucks at the edge of the towel where it rests on his hip.
"You don't have any extra clothes, do you?" he asks. "Mine seem a little damp."
"And filthy," Remus adds. He seems about to turn away, but stops mid-movement. "What was wrong with my bathroom, Sirius?"
A car passes outside the window and the light snakes over Remus' face, cutting sharp lines over his cheekbones and the arch of his eyebrows. "Just...reminded me," Sirius says, his voice sticking in his throat and coming out hoarse. And saying that brings the memories closer; James and Lily whispering over a book in the common room, Prongs bowing his proud head, the house at Godric's Hollow--
Sirius closes his hand into a fist.
"I haven't--" he grits out, "I never got to--"
Remus stays quiet, his face closed.
James had been lying on his back, his face caught forever in a worried frown. Sirius wanted to close his eyes, lay him next to Lily, hold his cold hand and cry, but there was no time, no time ever to stop and mourn, and he'd left James' blue eyes open, staring blindly at the daisy-yellow ceiling that Sirius himself had painted just weeks before.
He whirls and lets out a sound that tears at his throat, and punches the wall hard enough to crack the plaster and leave a dent. He feels bones snap in his hand, but the pain is pathetically distant.
There are hands on his bare back, grabbing his shoulders, swinging him around. Remus' hands, shaking him. "Don't, don't, don't-- Sirius, don't--"
James would have hugged Sirius, patted his head, smoothed his hair and whispered soft nonsense, but Remus and Sirius never knew how to comfort each other, always at odd angles and somehow hindered by...something.
"I'm sorry," he mutters. "The second I slow down, it catches up."
Remus pats him awkwardly on the shoulder, pulls his hands back too quickly. "I understand," he says. "I still get that - something will remind me, even after all these years."
"I miss him," Sirius says. It doesn't feel like stating the obvious; it hurts to even finish the thought. "Them," he amends. And the thought of Lily, again, brings up Harry. "How is Harry?"
"You already asked," Remus says. He takes Sirius' broken hand gently and reaches for his wand. "Now be still, I'll get this sorted."
"You only gave me half an answer," Sirius says, hissing at the snap and crack of the bones realigning. Remus turns the hand over and bends the fingers one by one.
"He'll pull through," he says, not looking up. He lets go of the hand. "It wasn't an easy year for him, but he's--"
"So were they," Sirius says harshly.
"And he's alive." Remus' eyes grow soft. "So are you."
"I'm not putting you out of your bed," Sirius says, even though he's drooping and can think of nothing better than to put Remus out of his bloody bed right this moment and get some sleep.
"I'll sleep on the rug, don't worry," Sirius says. Remus frowns. "Padfoot will be delighted to sleep on your rug, Remus."
"I'll call someone about the fireplace tomorrow," Remus says, rubbing his face. "I've not had...houseguests in some time. Or ever."
Why are you so lonely? Sirius wants to ask, but there's no good way of putting that. "Have you had this place long?" he asks, instead.
"A few years," Remus says. "I can't afford it, really, but I, ah. Put a glamour on the landlord."
Sirius feels his eyebrows creep upwards. "Twenty points from Gryffindor for criminal behaviour."
"How many points for harbouring a fugitive?" Remus says dryly. "We do what we have to do. Don't we, Sirius?"
"I'm reminded why I never got a pet," Remus says from somewhere behind him and Padfoot spins around, caught in the sheets. He attempts to look sheepish. "I'm not even going to ask."
He's wearing shorts and a Muggle shirt, a dark one with a picture of a young man and something written underneath - Padfoot has to concentrate to let Sirius read it and understand: REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.
He laughs a doggy laugh and lies down. Remus' legs are thin and knobbly and scarred. Padfoot looks up along them and sees that the rest of Remus is thin, knobbly and scarred, too.
"Good night," Remus says.
Padfoot sleeps and dreams of a moonlit forest and the soft crackling of hooves and paws on dead leaves. He twitches and whines, he runs in his sleep.
It's dark when he raises his head and looks around the small room. Outside, London is awake, rumbling like a great beast, but inside, the only sounds are the ticking of the old clock on the wall and Remus' soft breaths. Padfoot stands up and stretches. Remus has pulled up his knees to his chest. Familiar, so terribly familiar. Sirius remembers yanking bedcurtains aside on chilly Hogwarts mornings to see those same knobbly knees - smaller then, and not so scarred - sticking out from under the messy sheets.
... and of course, James behind Sirius' back, hands on his shoulder, voice a breathless whisper in his ears: "Go on, then, tickle him!"
Padfoot puts his forepaws on the edge of the bed. Remus' hands have a white-knuckled hold on the edge of the sheet. That, too, is familiar. Sirius never had the heart to wake him with tickles or screams or frogs conjured stealthily under the bedsheets. He saved that for James - never anything too rough for James, who'd merrily repay in kind and hex Sirius' hair blue, or make all his clothes three sizes too small, or tell Agnes Bulstrode that Sirius fancied her.
--and James' eyes wide and innocent behind his swot's glasses, claiming that he had no idea Agnes had a brother in the seventh year, honest.
Remus whimpers, and Padfoot climbs into the bed and settles down, curled into the too-narrow space between the fold of Remus' knees and the wall.
Padfoot sleeps, and dreams slow dreams where clouds march lazily across bright skies.
"Almost there?" She inquired solemnly. Remus chewed thoughtfully on another bite of mashed potatoes. Of course it was Sirius' they were transfiguring, and of course it was because Sirius had volunteered, but--in the end James was going to be the one with edible food on his plate, most likely. Sirius had a stash of chocolate frogs to console himself with, and James might give him some potatoes if he thought of it, but whether Sirius would take them was another matter.
James frowned. Sirius frowned and darted an incomprehensible look his way. Remus fingered the corner of his pocket and decided to ignore it.
The moon was waxing, and it would have risen already. Lily liked the Gryffindor common room, luckily, better than the Astronomy Tower or anywhere else isolated and full of windows.
He found himself rubbing his temples and caught an inquiring look from Lily, with her head tilted a little to the side. It was the end of the day; the damp had made little curls of hair stand up in a wiry net around her head, like a rather confused copper halo. Her hair was naturally painstakingly straight.
"I think it just needs more cream," Sirius was saying, while James tapped his chin thoughtfully with the tip of his wand. It was a nervous habit of James' that Sirius had teased him about for nearly six months, until he did it himself once in laughing demonstration and turned his nose red by accident. James hadn't been able to explain how he did it, but he didn't stop, and he didn't trans- (or dis-)figure himself, ever. Sirius looked at James, probably noticing the habit, possibly thinking the same thing Remus was. He gave his head a rapid little shake, gnawing his lower lip, and brandished his own wand again. So much lanky hair had fallen in his face that he probably wouldn't be able to see the tiramisu, if he ever managed to make it. "Cremus--"
"I don't think you're supposed to make up the Latin," Lily said sceptically.
"--Solidificus," Sirius finished firmly. The brown quivered a little, and a tinge of purple started creeping up the left side of it. Remus stifled a laugh.
"Well, and even if you do that how are you going to get in the biscuits?" Said James.
"Ladyfingers," Remus corrected absently.
"Wait, that's tiramisu?" Lily almost shrieked. James took a bite of his ordinary mashed potatoes; Sirius' purple ones started to liquefy, slightly. At least that was probably why they were spreading towards the edges of the plate.
Sirius was determined not to give up, and it took nearly twenty minutes for James (and finally Remus, since James was getting nowhere) to persuade him otherwise. The candlelight fell on a mostly-empty Great Hall; they could hear poetry being read aloud in--no, not Latin. The Ravenclaw table. Finally, at the reminder of chocolate frogs, Sirius brightened somewhat. He'd eaten a few bites of James' potatoes (without asking), and three extra rolls while he was working. Remus doubted he remembered any of them. When he was changing for bed he might shower crumbs on the floor and frown for a moment and then shake it off easily, and forget. Of course he would leave the crumbs on the floor.
"I really think that if you want tiramisu you should buy it, Sirius," Lily said, falling into step beside him on the way to the common room. She'd lingered with them, and her girlfriends had long ago vanished upstairs.
"Pity to entirely give up hope already," said Remus mildly.
"You could pay me to make it for you," Lily continued.
James looked thoughtful, Peter curious and Sirius, nonplussed. "You can make it?"
"You were trying to," said James.
"You don't even know how it's made," Lily said. "My parents are muggle. They eat it all the time." Now she had the undivided attention of the whole group. Remus shook his hair back idly and glanced up at the ceiling. The flagstones in this part of the hallway were worn smooth with hundreds of years' worth of the steps of students, full-bellied, walking to and from the Great Hall.
It was different walking with all of them--"Oh yes, nearly every day," Lily was saying--than with just Lily, his arm easily linked with hers, or with just his three friends, a knot of scuffling or scurrying energy. Sometimes he felt like a ghost with them, and then sometimes James or Sirius would fling an arm over his shoulder like a--a crown or a ribbon. They'd found out he was a werewolf in second year, and James had been very solemn, Peter sympathetic and solicitous, Sirius confused, so that he didn't touch Remus for a few days, and asked him at odd moments if he was all right. Lily (who had admittedly been more than a little mellow at the time) had never seemed to notice much of a change, except that she might ask him, at some times of the month, if he felt well enough instead of ordering him to the Quidditch field or the library or the common room at midnight.
Before Peter or Sirius could wrangle an invitation to live with Lily and eat tiramisu every night ("It's really that simple!" Sirius marvelled. "And I never--") they had reached Gryffindor Tower.
"Of course it takes some practice," Lily said, still with a perfectly straight face. "I mean, with the brandy--"
"Rain of toads," James said to the Fat Lady. He was starting to look sideways at the conversation.
"And the ladyfingers," Remus said helpfully.
"That's what the brandy's for," Lily replied with a little look that was certainly not a frown.
"Brandy..." Peter sighed. "How much brandy?"
There was barely a pause. "Not too much." James met Remus' eyes and twitched an eyebrow. Remus said nothing.
"How much do you want for a batch?"
Lily turned to him, grinning wickedly. "What's it worth to you?"
Remus flopped into a vacant chair and let his eyes drift partially closed. There were worn spots in his robes that he could feel more when he was sitting, but curling up in the chair did something to ease that. Listening to them was harder than simply blanking his mind, and as he contemplated stirring the fire, Jack Erwing did it for him. The heat had licked across the floor to him in its slow studied way by the time Sirius figured out that Lily didn't know how to make tiramisu.
"Wait--never at all?"
Lily just laughed.
"You can still buy it," Remus remarked, "just not from Lily."
"A muggle store?" said James. Lily seemed surprised to remember that Remus existed, or possibly surprised that he was awake. She sat down on the arm of his chair. His elbow had to make room. The scent had faded from the afternoon, but there was still a hint of rosemary to his heightened sense of smell. It was halfway through the month, not really so very close to full, so his nerves weren't drawn painfully tight, but the scent made the back and sides of his tongue throb.
"A restaurant, I think," said Lily.
"Right." Peter brightened visibly, but Sirius was still annoyed.
"Do other Muggles make a lot of tiramisu?" he persisted.
"Every family but mine," Lily said solemnly, and then buried her face in Remus' hair and giggled. He could feel her breath puffing on his scalp, a tickle or an itch. The smell was stronger and he had to hold his breath until she picked up her head.
"We could go to a muggle restaurant next weekend," said Peter happily. "Just ANY muggle restaurant would do, Lily?"
Sirius was still fixed on Lily's family. "It's not--a muggle thing?"
"Well, Sirius," said Lily, smiling, "it's Italian."
"Oh." Which explained the pronunciation, Remus could hear him thinking. Lily's arm resting on his shoulders wasn't too heavy, but he shifted a little under the weight anyway. She settled more comfortably on him--he could smell the rosemary still, and he found he had to deliberately focus his attention on the crackle of flame in the fireplace to take it away from the intrusive smell, now further away but not gone, and from the slight irritation.
Lily wasn't going to be offended, because she thought Sirius' single-mindedness, his impulsiveness and thoughtlessness, were amusing, if not charming.
"But you've had it a lot," Sirius persisted, disliking to have been fooled, "in Italian restaurants? Do Muggles eat Italian food a lot?"
"An Italian restaurant then," said James hopefully, rubbing his hands together.
"That would be ideal," Remus said hurriedly, but the change of subject was not to be.
"More or less," shrugged Lily, who was now watching Sirius with a dangerous smile, and Remus almost winced for what she would say later.
Sirius knew his strengths, if not his weaknesses, and he played his charm the way he handled a broomstick on the Quidditch field. Being made to look ridiculous didn't agree with him, but if he couldn't make fun of Lily in return yet he would have to join the joking gracefully, apparently. There was something, not precisely dishonest, but--so very self-centred, there, which often irritated Remus. Perhaps it was the phase of the moon.
Now Sirius was talking to Lily, standing behind Remus' chair. "What are Italian Muggles like? If you eat in their restaurants so much."
"Well," said Lily solemnly, "I've heard the girls never wear stockings under their dresses."
Sirius looked suitably impressed.
"Makes you wonder about Italian witches," she continued cheerfully, and glanced down just in time to catch Remus rolling his eyes.
"Lily," said Sirius sweetly, with the air of one stumbling upon a glorious truth, "since you know so much about Italian food, maybe you should--" A hand fell in Remus' hair, not one of Lily's but larger, with a broader palm and long cool fingers, slender. He could feel, in fact, the knuckles as distinct pressures though the fingers were spread, moving slightly to disarrange the shaggy fringe he hadn't had cut for several months. Sirius' casual touches were one of many things about him without artifice. Unlike his straightforward pursuit of what he wanted, his physical expression was never in the least obnoxious. Sirius was poetry in motion, with a kind of grace that was going to lose its unawkward angles and become smooth and liquid within the next couple of years. "--maybe you should take us to a restaurant. Don't you think, Moony?"
"I wouldn't leave it to Lily by herself," Remus said casually to the hand in his hair. The fire was receding from awareness; Lily had shifted away from him slightly on the arm of the chair. He could smell Sirius at this range and this time of month, very faint but easily identifiable through long familiarity. That smell was going to be in his hair, now. "It's Christmas, after all, and for Muggles..." He let the sentence trail away.
James pushed his glasses up his nose. "Oh, Lord, I'd forgotten."
"Christmas," said Peter solemnly. "Christmas is very important for Muggles? Won't there be a lot of chocolate and--"
"It's sort of a giant festival in the muggle world at this time of year," said Lily thoughtfully.
James nodded, "I've been into London in November before. It was incredible."
"Mm," said Lily politely. It was already December eleventh.
Sirius' hand had stilled in his hair for a bit, but it was still there. Remus had been sleepy until five minutes ago, soothed despite the odour of Lily's hair by her presence; now he was wire-taut and wholly awake. He didn't know if he felt heat or cold, or anger, or--what? "We can make a whole Muggle outing of it!" said Sirius suddenly, excited, and his fingers flexed a little.
When, Remus wondered, would Sirius remember where his hand was? "That should be fun," he said, looking to Lily for her approval--she'd glanced away, at James and Peter, but looked back quickly--without moving his head under the weight, the slowly-growing heat of Sirius' careless casual hand.
Padfoot lies still and waits. There's power in the arms, raw and brutal. He whines softly, and the arms tighten; cut sharply into his windpipe. The smell is still sleepy, Moony is asleep, troubled and tense and the moon will be full tonight. Padfoot is a large dog, but the strength in Moony's sinewy arms unsettles him.
Sirius stretches out of dog-form. His human body fits better, slots into the angles of Remus' body.
There's a soft growl in his ear, now, and his heart lurches and races. He should say something, he knows, nudge Remus out of the dream, but he's pressed between him and the wall, caught and locked in, hardly breathing. He can't make himself move to stop it. His palms lay flat against the wall, bracing him, and Remus' forearm cuts across his windpipe, Remus' fingers dig into his shoulder.
And then, between one heartbeat and the next, the dream-slow strength melts away from him and there's only the push and shift of Remus scrabbling backwards out of bed.
Sirius turns gingerly, catching his breath. He looks over the edge of the bed. "All right there, Moony?" There are heated patches on his body, in the places that remember Remus' skin.
"Fuck," Remus says, indistinctly. "All right." He raises his eyes to meet Sirius'. "I'm not even going to ask."
There's a sound downstairs, a crackle of magic and a thud, and Sirius jumps out of bed as he changes back. He hears Remus' voice, vaguely, but his hackles are raised and he takes the stairs five steps at a time, his claws catching in the carpet.
Severus Snape stands in the cramped hallway like a crabby black stork, his cloak billowing like wings around him with the residue of the Apparition magic. Padfoot pulls his haunches under himself to leap.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Remus cries behind him and he falls, betrayed and stunned, to the floor at Snape's feet. Remus steps over him, and perhaps he sends him an apologetic glance before he turns to Snape and says, "My apologies, Severus. I was still asleep and couldn't catch him in time. He's a little nervous around strangers."
Snape's look is the very antithesis of apologia. "I wouldn't have thought you'd need a canine familiar, Lupin."
Padfoot, still stretched out on the floor, aching inside and out, sees Remus' neck stiffen, his back straighten minutely, his fingers twitch. "He's not a familiar," he says. "Just a dog. Company."
"I made it just before I Apparated," Snape says, ignoring the terseness in Remus' tone - takes some courage, Padfoot thinks reluctantly - and unfolding his hand around something tiny. He whispers a quick spell and he's holding a covered cauldron, still steaming hot and reeking of poison. "It will cool by evening."
"Thank you," says Remus softly and takes the cauldron. "Let me--"
Snape's lip curls in disdain. "I wouldn't dream of asking anything in return, Lupin. Two mouths to feed now, too. The last thing I want is you and that mangy cur haunting the streets."
Tension returns immediately to Remus' stance, but he says nothing. Padfoot struggles against the limits of the spell, but it was cast firmly and he's helpless. Snape nods curtly to Remus and produces his wand. He Disapparates. Padfoot's fur crackles lightly with static.
Remus puts the cauldron down and kneels by Padfoot with his wand. "Finite incantatem," he says softly. Padfoot springs to his feet, growling. Remus gets up abruptly. "Don't be ridiculous, Sirius. You were about to take his face off."
"Damn right!" Sirius says, shaking off the dog form and stalking after Remus into the kitchen.
Remus turns at him, wild-eyed - Sirius almost takes a step backwards. "Don't," Remus just says, but Sirius can see angrier things held back. The smell of the potion makes his stomach turn. Remus is pale and there are dark smudges around his eyes, but he seems tense rather than tired, thrumming with it.
"Hmm," Sirius says, awkwardly, his own anger shrivelled into nothing. He wonders how it feels for Remus now, the transformation, with Snape's potion poisoning the wolf into submission. He remembers howls of pain and rage and blood, but also the exhilaration of running in a pack, Moony's panting breaths in his ears, teeth snapping at his ruff. Howling together as Prongs snorts and stamps and shakes his great head, almost dislodging the tiny figure clinging to his crown--
He blinks and meets Remus' eyes. "Nostalgia," he says. "We can't run tonight, can we?"
"I think Muggle-wizard relations may suffer from werewolf sightings in Hyde Park." He puts his wand on the table and starts running water for tea. "I've a shed in the back, with Muggle wards and silence charms, the whole thing. It's just me and a few surprised toads, most months."
"I can--" Sirius starts, but he doesn't know if he's welcome to suggest anything. Remus has arranged his life here after his own head.
"It's really not large enough for two," Remus says, and Sirius has to touch him - hand on the bony knob of his shoulder, right on the spot where the scar turns to run down his arm. He can feel the uneven knots where flesh torn clear off the bone never healed right. "Sirius--"
And Sirius pulls at the shirt collar, to see. Remus stands impassive, lets him run his fingers over the jagged, silver-shiny patches of tissue.
"It's faded," Sirius says, numbly. Time would do that, and so much time had passed.
"The Wolfsbane potion does that," Remus says. "It's only in the last few years, really. It's stopped hurting, too."
Sirius takes his hand back reluctantly. "I see why you put up with that greasy pillock, then."
"Severus isn't so bad," Remus says, but it seems rehearsed. The corners of his mouth twitch minutely.
"You don't believe that yourself."
"He helps," Remus says and starts rummaging through the breadbox.
The clock on the kitchen wall chimes brightly and says, gruffly, "You're late for work again, you lazy sod."
"Shut up," says Remus conversationally.
"You shut up," the clock says and stops chiming. Its face is set in a sullen pout.
Remus follows Sirius' glance and says, "A present from Albus."
"You have a job?" Sirius blurts. "But--"
"A Muggle job," Remus says. "In a flower shop down by the tube station."
Sirius tries to picture Remus making wedding bouquets and comes up short. He can picture Remus taking a Muggle job because no one else would hire him, though. He takes a slightly stale roll from the bread box and nibbles ineffectually at it while he waits for the unfocussed frustration to subside.
"I'm also late," Remus adds. "I trust you can entertain yourself for a few hours." He disappears upstairs. Sirius thinks distractedly about getting something to put on his bread.
Remus seems utterly disconnected from the wizarding world. Sirius wants back, he wants Remus back there, with bells on and fanfares and a cortege of winged horses, possibly. Harry away from the worst Muggles in the world - oh, why not Voldemort dead, James and Lily resurrected and Peter roasting over a low fire in the courtyard at Hogwarts.
"If wishes were horses," he mutters, eating the crumbs slowly, "if wishes were..."
"Sirius," Remus says from the door. He's dressed in Muggle clothes - a really ugly coat and a bright red cap pulled down over his forehead.
"Remus," Sirius says thickly. "Walk tall, mate."
Remus nods, and a few seconds later, the door falls shut behind him and Sirius is alone.
Remus has left his wand at home. Sirius stares at it, flabbergasted - parting with one's wand voluntarily seems like insanity of the highest degree.
He misses his own - a sleek and light eleven inches of white pine with a tail hair from a Thestral. Powerful and perfect for complex transfiguration spells.
It takes him a while to remember what Remus' wand is made of. He touches it gingerly. His fingers tingle softly. Yew, he thinks and picks it up. It's pleasantly springy.
He wonders how much magic he's forgotten. Thirteen years wandless - and to handle Remus' wand feels like pulling on someone else's clothes, the right size but not a real fit.
"Hmm," he says and searches the cluttered desk for something to experiment on. He taps a broken quill gingerly and whispers, "Restoratum." The quill shudders and the edges of the feather curl up, singed, but the crack seals up.
He puts down the wand and a sheaf of parchments fall over the edge of the desk and flutter to the floor. He thinks about trying the wand again, a little Wingardium leviosa or something to that effect, but instead he crouches down and starts gathering up the parchments by hand.
One has gone under the desk and he pushes the chair aside.
There's a box there, cardboard, with a cheerfully grinning banana painted on the side. And he can't help but see - really, he wasn't looking - that there are photographs in the box.
Wizard photographs, a closer investigation turns up, and he laughs in surprise at the first one, of a young Remus with his Gryffindor colours twined around his head like a turban, rolling his eyes and grinning as snow gathers on his shoulders.
The next one makes his face grow numb and cold.
James' bright smile and his myopic blue eyes squinting at Lily, who holds his glasses over her head, laughing. Remus has caught her around the waist and is pressing his face into her hair - and behind him, a black, jagged hole in the picture where someone has been slashed out with a knife, violent gashes and the paper curling up pitifully around it. The remaining figures sometimes stop their game and look over their shoulders at the missing piece, but soon go back to grinning and mugging again.
Sirius shivers and rubs his chilly face. He thinks he should leave, but his hands stray back to the box, picks through the photographs. There are many, as if Remus has put all his memories in this box and shunted it under his desk. Sirius can't find a single intact one of himself. He tries to imagine Remus with a knife, viciously hacking him out of every picture he owns. He thinks about Peter - having a picture of him, a knife, and of course it makes sense.
There are more pictures from that same snowy day - when was that? he wonders. His memories are hazy and indistinct, and some have holes in them, hacked out by Dementors. He looks at the picture of Remus in the snow. Fourteen or fifteen, perhaps. The good-natured frustration on Remus' face. Sirius must have taken that picture, although he can't remember it. He tries, staring at the picture as if it might tell him. Remus just grins and gathers snow. Sometimes he opens his mouth to catch a snowflake on his tongue.
Sirius remembers the taste of snowflakes and the smell of wet wool and mud. A winter day at Hogwarts, not too cold, and the ground treacherous under the snow. His feet slipping as he almost fell off his broom after a long practice.
Such nostalgia, that. How he'd thought getting himself covered in mud and bruised to the bone was the height of pleasure. Harry'd understand.
He puts back the pictures with one last look at Remus' smooth, boyish face. It feels distant and unreal, as if all of his childhood happened centuries ago, on another continent.
There's a creak in the stairs, a sort of muted song of woe as he descends. The carpet is one of the most hideous he's seen since...ever. There were no carpets in Azkaban, of course, but he remembers the Potters' Muggle house, Lily's unfortunate love for psychedelic tablecloths. She claimed they were all the rage in the Muggle world, those big blobs of colour splashed over the fabric, swirly patterns and starbursts and everything clashing horribly.
The memory is chillingly sharp, suddenly. Remus and Lily laughing at him because he said something that didn't agree with their Muggle fashion sense - what was wrong with a proper wizard kit, anyway? Scarlet robes were stylish and you were never ignored in a room full off muted greens and blues. Didn't mean you had to go to extremes. "It's an acid thing," Remus said and his eyes shifted quickly to Lily and back to Sirius.
"None of this debauchery in our house," James said behind Sirius. "Not in front of the child."
Lily's face softened, and Remus smiled, gently, but his eyes were still on Sirius' face.
And it becomes another time, a younger Remus, snow in his hair - Sirius can't capture the moment, not quite, but Remus had smiled and the air smelled of wet snow and chocolate.
He finds the back door unlocked and steps outside.
The back garden is small and overgrown. Ivy crawls up along the fences and trees, almost meeting overhead. He can see why Remus would choose a place like this.
It's started snowing, big watery flakes that melt in the mud. He looks up and lets the snow fall into his face. The air is damp and biting cold. He smells dirt and dead leaves.
The shed, propped slyly against the fence and looking like it might fall over with a good shove, is tiny and covered in ivy and brown, rumpled ash leaves. Sirius stands in front of it for a while, as cold water seeps into his boots.
He knew that it might let him kill it, because otherwise, after all, would it speak to him? Or as well, he could die. The smell of its blood pricked the wolf's nose and mouth, made his tongue loll on the cold air. He narrowed his eyes at it and waited while it pranced and tossed its head and finally planted all four hooves in the ground and said contemptuously, "There is nothing for you here." He opened his mouth to snarl back, and the Unicorn deliberately bent its head as he rose dizzily from his haunches in a near-leap. There were fingers of ice--not real ice, only the wind--cutting through his fur and drawing blue patterns on his skin.
The gold of its horn and the grizzled grey of Moony's throat, then his chest, met with the same kind of impact, the same satisfying crunch, as his teeth closing over the spine of a small animal. It tossed its head, once, and he did not howl; he thought his neck was broken. He slid down, down, to lie in the spreading stain in the snow, and the Unicorn lifted its head with his blood dripping down the length of the horn and spotting its forelock, bleeding wetly like it did in the snow.
Remus woke up gasping, sweating and shivering at once under a heavy weight of blankets. The pocket of air under them was warm; the windows were iced with white between the bars, though, and when he turned his head his ears were cold.
James' whisper, "He's awake," was all the warning he had before Sirius landed clumsily on his bed, sock-footed under flannel pyjamas with his hair in disarray. It must have been quite a leap, either from the floor or from Sirius'--he glanced sideways--unmade bed.
"Good morning," said Remus, raising his eyebrows and remembering belatedly to smile.
"Get up, slug-a-bed," said James, jerking the duvet from his shoulder as Sirius jumped as neatly back off the bed. He landed almost-steadily and caught himself on the cold windowsill and winced. Remus grabbed the blanket back from James and slapped the hand good-naturedly while he was at it. James went away laughing to get dressed.
But Sirius paused next to him when he was making up his bed, the flagstones turning the soles of his feet as cold as the dream. They were going to have to walk outside from here to Transfigurations, although not for very far. By that time of morning the snow would be either melted or full of muddy footprints. "We were afraid we hadn't got up early enough to wake you," said Sirius: normal, yet inane. And in a worried tone of voice. Remus glanced up at him, smoothing a red wrinkle in the coverlet. He was usually up the earliest, and done with his homework first, and the one who disliked the most to be late to class (which was still, perhaps, not a great deal).
Remus smiled. "You almost didn't."
"Were you dreaming?" Sirius blurted, glancing around furtively, as though Severus Snape or someone might be lurking to learn the Marauder Secrets, as if those might be revealed in the details of Remus' sleeping habits. "Is it, you know," and he twitched awkwardly in the direction of the window.
Remus bit his lip. "It's much too early in the month for that," he said carefully. "Just--a bit of a bad dream, is all."
He was pale through breakfast and all through Transfigurations, despite having walked outside (in the muddy footprints of the other students), and apparently looked not quite as frightful as he would in a few weeks but decidedly frightful just the same. "So," Lily demanded, leaning companionably against his shoulder, and brushed some hair behind his ear.
Her fingers were cold, but where they walked leaning together was starting to warm up a bit. They didn't do that so often, but that was Lily: a thousand times more affectionate when she was concerned for something. In the summers in Surrey, it was chilly and unrelentingly damp, so that when it was not raining, it was still universally squishy, clammy, and sticky. If you wanted to hold hands walking down the streets, it became an event when you decided to pull your hands apart again, humidity and cold sweat commingling into a suspicious mixture whose residue would come off only in a hot bath, not a shower. It didn't stop them from stealing away for snogs anymore than their class schedules did now, but it meant casual contact, like James and Remus and Sirius' arms all linked together, like a hand on your shoulder or in your hair, wasn't so common. His mind filled like a tub, if he let it, with images of the dull den in Lily's parents' house, and of her reading a book in the field two blocks from his, with her back propped against a tree.
"It was just a dream," he said uneasily, "and I didn't sleep well." After all, it was just a dream: one of the most disturbing nightmares he'd had in months, but just a dream all the same. He could interpret it as well as a book or a professor or the serious contemplation of his friends could (he made a face at the thought). Lily petted his hair until he relented, "It was--it bothered me. Maybe later."
He got a quick kiss in the corner of his mouth for his trouble. "You're so responsible," Lily said affectionately, and hooked her elbow through his to drag him faster towards lunch. "Where are Sirius and James and Peter?"
Hm. "Well," he said apologetically, "sometimes, when they see you--"
Lily just laughed. "Right, right. Girls! Kissing! Ew!"
Remus laughed unexpectedly. "No interest in girls or in kissing. At least, not fully-clothed--" She hit him.
He quashed a sprout of annoyance before it could unfurl and took a rapid step back from the Great Hall doors as they swung out. Mary, Silvia and two Gryffindor first years stormed out, all with purple hair. Lily blinked. Silvia stomped on Remus' foot, the first years scurried past with their faces covered, and Mary growled to Lily: "Don't eat the fish and chips."
Remus rolled his eyes and walked gingerly through the door in Lily's wake, as his foot was a bit sore.
Lily slammed her books onto the table between Peter's and Sirius' plates, upsetting Peter's bowl of soup. "I want fish and chips for lunch," she said distinctly. "And I hope my hair will be unaffected by that." She raised her eyebrows and levelled a look at Sirius, who grinned cheekily.
"Which tray were you going to take them from, then?"
Remus sat down on the other side of Peter and tapped the table. "Accio napkin." He handed it to Peter. Lily's books seemed to have a waterproofing spell on them. The same couldn't be said for Sirius' hair; Lily had one hand on his shoulder with her pink fingernails digging into it and Peter's dripping bowl in the other. "Well, perhaps whichever is closest," she said pleasantly, examining the bowl. "Since I'm apparently going to have to detour to the dormitory on my way to Potions. I seem to have passed one of my best friends on the way in looking like she'd had an accident with some pickled beets."
Sirius looked mildly surprised, and took Lily's hand gently off his shoulder. "Which one is your friend, then--one of the weeping ones, or Miss One Eyebrow, or Miss Knows It All?"
Lily gritted her teeth. "Sirius Black," she said, "take the charm off the food. I'm going eat lunch and you're not going to get in my way with your stupid pranks, and the next time you want help in History of Magical Creatures, don't ask me. Mary helps me study."
He kissed her hand, while Peter mopped at the stain on his robes and James studiously ignored the whole thing. "Sweet lady, as you wish." A wave of his wand covered, Remus noticed, both the platters on the table.
When Lily's hand had left Sirius' shoulder her fingernails (kept long and polished, and coloured a multitude of ways) had left a little rent in the fabric of his robe. What peeped through was a plaid flannel jersey that Remus knew well--slightly worn, slightly too large for him, red with stripes of green and blue and black. Sirius liked to consider it a muggle garment, and wore it to Hogsmeade at nearly every opportunity.
Lily ate a plate of fish and chips the way she'd eat a plate of her mother's green beans, like she was too polite to hold her nose but couldn't stand them, or like she was racing her Dad to see who could finish first. Lily's Mum always looked on this activity with mild disapproval; Remus had never been able to tell, though, if that was just because they had "guests" (him). Lily's little sister would pick dutifully at her green beans, tight-lipped, even at age eight, and regard them with disapproval when he and Lily left the dim yellow glow of the kitchen for the black out-of-doors (only, of course, at the proper times of the month). Lily stopped behind him (on her way to the dormitory, presumably) to whisper in his ear, "I'd like to turn him purple," with an audible gritting of teeth, and stalked out with dignity.
Sirius chuckled to himself as the door swung shut, and when Remus darted him a look he was shaking his head slightly. Which was just like him, really: the question was always about Sirius, not about Mary or Silvia's hair or Lily's ruffled feelings or even James' or Remus' or Peter's, although that he might do something about, if he noticed, because it would be an inconvenience. Now he said, "If she'd just been a little later--!" And chuckled again. James pushed his glasses up his nose, then changed his mind and removed them to wipe them on the sleeve of his robes. Peter had stopped mopping up the spot and charmed the damp away, after he remembered the proper spell; now his wand was lying askew between his plate and Remus'. Remus' wand was tucked neatly in his pocket and he could feel it like the itch of the silver scar on his shoulder and upper arm, sometimes, at the full moon.
"She says she doesn't like the colour of her hair," Peter said. Sirius laughed again and Remus bit down too hard and bent the tines of his fork. He had to push his plate back and leave for class early. By the time he'd finished carefully placing the silverware on the edge of it and gathering up his books and edging away from the bench, he had a better grip on himself.
It still made his head hurt.
In History of Magical Creatures: Fact and Myth, Remus was possibly the only person in the room paying Professor Binns any attention whatsoever. Peter on his left was busy drawing Linda Pearson from behind, in robes that seemed a bit clingier than could be accounted for by anything but wishful thinking. James and Sirius on his other side were reading a book under the edge of the table without whispering for once--he looked. Advanced Transfiguration. His eyebrows climbed a little at that, but you never know with James and Sirius. Maybe they'd charmed Witch of the Week to look like it. Near the front of the classroom, in the Ravenclaw section, Eunice Brighton had slumped over against Erin Taylor's shoulder, and Millie Waterhouse's head had tilted forward suspiciously. He remembered Lily being quite envious of Millie's hair, which was not only stick-straight and long (like Lily's), but straw-gold (unlike Lily's, which was a hated orange colour as she called it).
James' glasses were falling off the end of his nose in that way he had, where he'd never notice. Sirius was following the same trajectory as James' glasses. He'd eat with his face inches from the plate, mix potions with his face wreathed in dubious-looking multicoloured fumes (more than once Remus had yanked him back from the cauldron by the back of his collar). He read in the same manner, although of course, he was supposed to be listening and not reading. His back arched gradually till Remus could count the thrust of vertebrae through his robes at the top--one, two, three--with his neck bent until the disreputably shaggy hair parted around his white neck, exposing the tender nape. His forehead would come close to the tabletop, lips working too swiftly to make anything out, and then he'd remember and jerk upright again.
Remus eyed the book again sideways. "As with all spells of Advanced Transfiguration, the proper set-up is essential both in the mentality of the wizard and in the--" It didn't seem to be Witch of the Week. Then again, if they hadn't told him yet, he doubted he could get anywhere with questions.
"I'm sure," droned Professor Binns, "that all of you are quite familiar with William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which, though a muggle work of literature, deals extensively with magic, and in particular with these creatures--nymphs or fairies. Wizards and Fairies have had very little contact over the years, as Fairies are a reclusive and very strange species who seem to dislike contact with humans, though they live quite abundantly in some parts of Great Britain such as Ireland, Wales, and the Moors of Devon and Cornwall."
None of them were quite familiar with the play in question, although Remus knew he'd heard references to it. Two rows over and one forward Lily was braiding Mary Burns's hair (for the most part brown again) in little tiny ribbons, tapping them periodically with her wand to turn them rainbow colours. Professor Binns's eyes slid right over it as though it wasn't even happening. If he'd been playing with Sirius' hair in class--
Which, now he thought of it, made his nose itch and his tongue tingle again; Sirius hadn't washed it that morning or the night before, and at Dark Moon his sense of smell was always painfully sharp. Not precisely dirty, but a thick Sirius-smell composed of boy and sweat and the sleep on his pillow.
Half the class went to sleep during the part of the lecture focusing on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Remus himself found his mind wandering, and he caught snippets about the whimsical untrustworthiness of the fairies (or nymphs?) in the story. Dryads (not the play, surely; perhaps they were speaking of real nymphs now?) were known to have an utterly alien sense of humour, and to occasionally grant wishes to the chagrin of the wisher. They were thought to be relatives of the wicked will o' the wisp, another being with a wild sense of humour whose favourite pastime was luring people to death by drowning. As far as Remus could tell from the lecture, however, the antics of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream consisted mainly of love charms and something about an animal transfiguration.
Actually, under "partial transfiguration" in his notes was a confused sketch of a watering can and three arrows with some scribbles, so perhaps he'd fallen asleep after all. "...and I shan't keep you forever," Binns was saying, which he followed with a wheezing chuckle, and another tangential speech about the differences, in Greek mythology, among various kinds of nymphs, although these were now known to be all one race.
When he ducked his head into his own shoulder to hide a yawn, Remus' eye caught a glittering line James had drawn with his wand across the page of Advanced Transfiguration, if, indeed, that was what it was. He elbowed Sirius in the side, at last overcome with curiosity, and raised his eyebrows.
"Naturally," said Binns, "most of you will never experience for yourselves the wonder--or the misfortune, as it were, heh heh!--of meeting with a nymph in person."
James thrust the book deeper under the table and Sirius smiled somewhat wildly and whispered, "Shh!" Some hand motions which communicated absolutely nothing were accompanied by a very earnest look. James, behind his shoulder, was shaking his head and frowning.
"Sorry," he mouthed.
Their professor had no sooner intoned, "I suppose that's our class time for today..." than half the Ravenclaws were on their feet. Three Slytherins in the back corner of the classroom were still muttering, and Lily, her hair unsullied, had her head pillowed on her arms on the desk. Mary shook her shoulder and they walked out together a few steps in advance of the Marauders, while Peter handed his crumpled sketch to James. Remus got a smile from Lily over her shoulder--sleepy, smeared mascara, her face paled in the indoor light. Sirius' hand was on his elbow, breath near his ear as he murmured,
"Don't worry about it, Moony. Just a prank, eh." Indeed.
He gives it a last bash and gives up. Remus stands in the living room door, covered in wet snow. "Do you actually know which way that turns?" he says, putting a brightly coloured plastic bag on the floor. Sirius can glimpse various items of a culinary nature poking out of it, and his stomach rumbles.
"No," he says and puts the andiron down. "But I thought if I hit it hard enough, it'd tell me. You'd be surprised to know how often that works."
"So far, it seems content to spit soot at you and mock you with its silence." He cocks his head. "Is that my wand?"
Sirius squirms a little and surreptitiously attempts to wipe some of the soot off the wand. "I can't use it," he says. "I can't remember what you have in it, but it doesn't agree with me."
"Griffin feather," Remus says. "You had a Thestral tail hair, didn't you? I remember Lily found that passage--"
"--about how they bring bad luck--"
They both fall silent, abruptly. Sirius holds out the wand, and instead of a summoning spell, Remus comes towards him and takes it out of his hand, his shoes leaving wet stains on the carpet. "Some bad luck," he says.
"I need a new wand," Sirius says. "Something that brings good luck."
It was usually Sirius himself, though, and somehow, in these years, he's lost his ability to babble. James would be appalled.
"Hm?" he says around a mouthful.
"Sort of a shady type, really," Remus says, carefully shovelling a precise blob of potatoes onto his amputated bit of cod. "He's good at what he does, though. Trained by Ollivander himself."
"But can I trust him?"
"Of course not. He's a criminal. He's wanted by the Ministry." A crooked smile. "For selling enchanted toys to Muggle children. Among other things. He'll stab you in the back if you turn it, but he won't bring the Aurors down on you."
"I used to enchant Muggle things," Sirius says.
"Not like this. He especially liked animated dolls."
Sirius thinks about it and shudders. Curiosity pokes him in the ribs but something stops him from asking Remus how he knows this unsavoury character.
"We'll go tomorrow evening," Remus says.
"So, Remus, does John Major have a younger brother named John Minor?"
"That wasn't funny the first time I heard it," Remus says, looking up from his part of the paper, which he's been reading quietly. His eyes are dark, though, and his hands shake. Sirius doesn't think he's really reading. He's waiting.
"I've lost my edge," Sirius says. The Muggles are fond of acronyms, he has learned. "What is the WHO? I suppose it's not the same as The Who. I rather liked them."
"They're old," Remus says. His paper rustles furtively.
Sirius opens his mouth to ask whether the EU (the eu, the ew, the euuugh) has any Wizarding committees, but he's pre-empted by the sullen clock.
It's not sullen this time, though. "Time to get into lockdown, you bad boy," it says, leering.
"Indeed it is," Remus says, putting down his paper on the table. His chair scrapes over the linoleum. He's hunching his shoulders already. "Goodnight, Sirius."
"Remus--" Sirius starts, but Remus shakes his head.
"Goodnight," he says. He drank his potion after supper, keeping a straight face until Sirius looked away, and then making a disgusted grimace. Sirius had caught his reflection in the window.
When Remus leaves, Sirius follows.
In the dark garden, Remus turns to him and says, "I thought I said goodnight, Sirius."
"So you did," Sirius says. "I just..." He waves his hand at the still, wet night, at Remus.
"I've done this alone for years," Remus says, with an edge in his voice. "I don't really--"
--need me, Sirius thinks, and says, "Let's see that shed of yours."
It's small. Really small, a little coop, hardly big enough for a turkey. It smells like wolf and soil and small, dead things.
He takes a few steps away from it. "Why do you live here?" he asks. "You'd be more-- In the wizarding world, it wouldn't--"
Remus stands next to him, suddenly, right beside him, and some scattered lamplight catches in his eye and turns it to yellow glass. "Don't be stupid," he says, already less patient, less gentle. "They'd have fire up to the Registry inside a second from the first howl. It'd be the same thing."
He's unbuttoning his shirt with sharp, frustrated gestures, and Sirius stares at the wedge of bare skin on his chest, something waking in the back of his brain. His memories are waterlogged and heavy, and hard to drag to the surface.
"Since you're here," Remus says, "you can take my things inside and bring them out in the morning." He glares at Sirius and moves restlessly in the sodden snow. "Any minute now," he mutters. His nostrils flare, and Sirius remembers that from before. Remus would raise his head and wait, feeling some pull Sirius had no inkling of. Sirius, with James and Peter right behind him, would fill his head with Padfoot and wait for the last possible second to change, because he wanted to see it happen with human eyes. Curiosity, he thinks now, and something else.
"Hey," he says indistinctly. "Remember?"
Remus narrows his eyes and kicks at the snow. "Go inside." He pulls off his shirt and thrusts it at Sirius. Sirius takes it and curls his fingers around Remus', too, gives them a good squeeze - for comfort, he thinks. Remus' hand is warmer than it should be. Sirius is cold through and through, it seems, and the damp is creeping under his skin, but Remus is fever-hot, his skin lightly flushed.
"Oh," Sirius says, tugging at elusive memories. Remus keeps still, his hand stiff in Sirius' grip. His palm is smooth and soft, like it was when he was a boy.
The scar on his shoulder seems sharper and fresher now than it was just this morning, and Sirius reaches out with his other hand to feel it.
Remus growls and grabs his hand hard. Sirius steps closer automatically, to save himself from a broken wrist, or maybe just to catch a bit of the heat. More than a decade in a cold cell, and this heat was what he would have wished for if he'd been able to wish for anything at all other than Peter Pettigrew bleeding dry at his feet.
Memories crowd him with smells and sounds. Peter trudging behind him through deep snow, muttering about cold feet. Remus' voice, a little breathless: "We learned a heating spell just yesterday," and the sound of James throwing himself into the snow to make an angel. Snowballs and cold noses and dripping gutters and hot breath on his frost-bitten face.
He drops his head onto Remus' shoulder. "Fuck," he whispers to the scar under his face, turns down and feels it with his mouth.
Remus quivers under him and pushes him, hard. He loses his footing on the soft ground and staggers, but Remus catches him again and pulls him straight. As if he weighs nothing. He is almost five inches taller than Remus, broader across the shoulders, but the moon is hovering just under the horizon and Remus is two hundred pounds of beast packed into a slightly built five feet and eight inches.
Remus hardly ever got into fights, Sirius remembers, whereas Sirius and James were constantly sporting split lips and sore ribs. Then Remus tugs him closer and kisses him, and he remembers other things. Quidditch and the grey light of morning and laughter in the background somewhere, closer and closer, tongue and teeth, hands much gentler on his arms.
Heat blooms in his chest and he opens his mouth, kisses back clumsily, first time touched in so long it might as well be the first time ever. But he remembers the first time. The sharp points of Remus' teeth scrape against his tongue, and his heart races, his pulse pounds in his throat.
Remus quivers again, bone-deep, and his hands on Sirius' shoulders tighten painfully. The kiss ends in a rattling growl. A convulsion runs through Remus and nails turning to claws slash across Sirius' chest. He pulls in a sharp breath, but doesn't cry out. Remus spins around and runs into the shed, a choked howl rising in volume and then cut off abruptly as the door slams shut.
Sirius, every breath rasping painfully through his throat, stands in the middle of the garden and stares at the silent shed. It's started snowing again.
He rubs slowly at the gashes on his chest. It's dark here, despite the rising moon, and he can't see if there's blood. It stings hot and angry, worse than a scratch. His mouth is still warm, but the rest of him is fading into chills. Perhaps if he were younger, he could just jump up and down for a while and carry on. He remembers what it felt like to have a body in perfect shape; he remembers sleek muscle and the ease of moving. He's like something dead and resurrected now, bones sticking out at stubborn angles. Skinnier than Remus ever was, and he has a tingling sense memory of running his hand over Remus' ribs, feeling them sharp and distinct under his palm.
When was that? He pushes his hand under his shirt, skids his fingers over his own ribs and finds an uneven and painful edge, wetness, and he knows he should go inside and do something about the cuts.
His fingers are rough and callused and feel nothing like Remus' hands. The shed sits quiet and secretive, hiding Remus inside its locked bowels. Somewhere inside Sirius, Padfoot lifts his head.
His teeth start chattering. He stops poking at the wound and stuffs his wet hands into his pockets.
"Bugger this for a lark," he mutters at the snowy garden and goes back inside.
He sheds his jumper and undershirt. The cuts aren't going to kill him, but they've slashed neatly across the left side of his chest, gouging deeper over the ribs. Tendrils of blood trace smeary red paths down his belly, but it's already thickening and slowing down.
He dabs at the blood with the ruined shirts. His teeth are still rattling around in his mouth like demented castanets. He touches his lips with cold fingertips, tries to ignore the taste of blood and think, instead, of the memories of Remus, new and old. The taste of chocolate, clear and present on his tongue.
He goes upstairs on weak legs, listens to the stairs creak out their lament at the weight of his footsteps. Remus' bed is neatly made, but he tears at the sheets and burrows down, presses his face into the pillow and crosses his arms over his stinging chest. He closes his eyes and the taste of chocolate fills his mouth again, sweet and rich and milky.
Quidditch, he thinks. Flying's like having sex, he'd told James once with perfect confidence, although he'd almost certainly never had sex then, hadn't even got close. Fourteen years old, he and James were more interested in flying than in sex. They'd sniggered about Remus and Lily behind their backs - and wasn't that a laugh, Remus and Lily, joined at the hip and then suddenly, and so obviously, it became James and Lily as if it had never been anything else, and never could be. And Remus hadn't minded. Had he?
Was that also in third year, or was it later? Sirius digs through the rubble of his memories and finds snatches of conversations, tastes and shapes - cold wind, but the ground not frozen, that was in third year. His first kiss, he should have remembered that. He'd told James later, a lot later, carefully leaving out details like chocolate and Quidditch and the morning light turning Remus' hair grey in patches. James, full of excitement and Lily, Lily, Lily, had just slapped Sirius on the back with a mittened hand and laughed - "Had to happen, even to you, Black!"
Flying is really nothing like having sex, but almost as good. He doesn't count clinging to the hippogriff like so much ballast, so he's done neither in over thirteen years.
Lily's voice, with that cant of sarcasm that means she has once again proved to herself that no man can match her wit, saying, for some reason, "Like riding a bicycle."
Sirius can't ride a bicycle, and he falls asleep wondering why he never bothered to learn, and then, his motorcycle and flying, the sound of the engine a comforting rumble, the wind whipping against his face.
"Sod it, stupid muggle--"
"Sirius..." and a little laugh.
--but James and Sirius were another story. And he wasn't on the Quidditch team. He slitted his eyes open to watch them struggling into underlayers--Sirius' mother had sent him a white silk turtleneck, far too hot for playing Quidditch in, really, once you got about, moving; even Remus could have told her this, and he didn't play. He thought briefly of the icy wind fingering the ruff of his neck in the dream, the smell of unicorn blood. He'd been as hot with the smell and the run as the wind was cold.
Sirius had slit the neck of the turtleneck halfway open, and was wearing it with his red Quidditch trousers. He couldn't find his hat, and James wasn't letting him out of the room without it--"You'll get frostbite," he insisted. Remus wriggled sleepily under the covers, now cleanly awake, but not too keen on speaking or alerting them. He glanced to the side, and yes, there was more snow even than before, the whole world iced in white like a gingerbread house decorated by an enthusiastic girl (he can't help thinking of Lily's sister Petunia).
Two sets of red and gold Quidditch robes lay on James' bed (probably because it's the one made), one in an uneven slithery sprawl and one in an unapologetically tangled pile. James, with his scarf tucked into the neck of his jumper, held out a spare to Sirius, raising his eyebrows. Sirius snatched it with a growl and thrust it back into his drawer. "Why do they waste your comic talents on the Quidditch field?" He mock-wondered, and Remus turned his face sideways into his pillow to watch the snow sifting down--still falling, like powdered sugar--and let the sounds his friends made fade away in the background. He smiled a little to himself--he'd got a new wizard camera and was going to baptise it with pictures of James and Sirius on their brooms. The snow would make it all better, like an enchanted Christmas greeting.
They never slammed the door. Sometimes Remus thought some morning he would watch to see that--Sirius forgetting and James catching it, or James dashing away and Sirius slamming it, and then dashing back to stop it with his hand, maybe wincing as his fingers got caught--Remus smiled a little maliciously, wiped the smile off his face again even though there was no one there to see. He opened his eyes all the way, and sighed.
He couldn't remember what he'd dreamed about.
Some mornings when he got to the common room he'd find Lily studying--she liked to leave her homework till the morning and get up early and do it on the hearthrug there. Last spring they had had a few of those awkward moments sitting less than a meter apart, and afraid for anything to touch, tingling all over like mad with nerves. That stage hadn't lasted long with Lily. He wondered if he'd ever have another best friend like her, like Sirius had in James.
He dressed quickly, a long-sleeved shirt and a jersey and his robes, and woollen socks. Glanced about, and the nearest to hand was Sirius' scarf dangling from the corner of his drawer--he had two because first year he'd lost his for two whole weeks and finally McGonagall had taken pity and given him another. Remus wrapped it around his neck and his face--reached to the top of the dresser for the camera, which he tucked in his sleeve--and clattered downstairs. The dormitory door didn't slam behind him, either. Peter still snored faintly.
Everyone walked quick and quiet through the corridors at this time of morning--not like Muggle schools he could remember around Christmas, where everything had been bright with extra lights and the children all dressed in red flannel, with necklaces made of bells. They had a photo--a muggle photo, not animated--of him wearing one, when he was a baby. Students at Hogwarts scurried,and the only ones up at this hour were the Ravenclaws studying over breakfast and the Quidditch players, and Remus, who slipped into the Great Hall with the borrowed scarf already wrapped around his nose and mouth in preparation for the icy air. Sirius switched scarves indiscriminately, and this one smelled almost freshly of him; he must have worn it only a few days ago. With his whole face swathed in it the odour was much stronger than he was used to, but the moon had begun to wax from its dark state, and he could smell it, sharp and distinct, but it didn't hurt his tongue or give him a headache.
The scent was, he thought, rather soothing, and he poured three mugs of hot chocolate to take out to the Quidditch field.
He was glad of the scarf immediately when he stepped outside--that and his other layers. Remus was perhaps less sensitive to cold than a human, but when the wind blew hard and damp and cut through layers he was as uncomfortable as the next fellow. He never wore a hat. Steam curled above the three cups, which he levitated along at the tip of his wand--a waste of energy, rather, but you couldn't point the wand in a hand holding hot cocoa to levitate the other one; it was much easier this way, he had found. An icy blast made him burrow his face deeper in the scarf, almost up to the eyes. Sirius' scent, like a thing alive, seemed to sense his discomfort and wrap more securely around him. Or maybe it was not comfort after all; there was a distinctly uncomfortable catch to it somewhere that he didn't like to probe too carefully. He liked the smell.
Around the corner and the Quidditch field spread out before him, the red and gold shapes on their brooms flitting like birds. The air was almost cold enough to swathe their shouts in a thin glamour of silence, like they were coming through a pane of glass. When snow blew into Remus' eyes he blinked, just slightly, and this was literally his downfall--a depression in the ground made deceptively smooth and even by a layer of snow caught his ankle, and he took a step into a puddle. He could feel the icy water creep into his shoe, between the sole and the leather. It slowly, slowly soaked its way through his sock. Remus picked up his foot and shook it, and swore under his breath; the water continued its inexorable path up his calf.
He'd learned through years now of watching Quidditch practice to distinguish his friends by movement. James was very controlled, very deliberate. Very, very skilled. And Sirius was that darting blur, almost a headache just to look at, wild and unpremeditated and thoughtless. Sirius thrived on impulse; he ran through life, and he stumbled frequently. Sometimes he didn't even notice he had.
The smell of him in the scarf matched perfectly--the Wolf said, instinct inside climbing his throat, curling his fingers tight around his wand--with the shape of him in the air. Wild, both of them brilliant valiant impenetrable creatures. After three years, he knew the spicy and tangy and sour and bitter bits, all the musky hints of the scent in this scarf, but sometimes he felt he didn't know Sirius at all.
In the blowing snow, dizzying dancing eddies, the Quidditch practice continued and Remus stood, charming the hot chocolate warm, with his foot getting progressively colder and colder, his thoughts more and more maudlin. He wouldn't leave, of course. He could wait. By the time practice was over, his foot was numb.
Peter appeared in the first wave of students on their way to classes and drifted to the edge of the field to clap James on the shoulder, even though he hadn't seen much of the practice. James' cheeks were ruddy and bright, his eyes sparkling. He ripped his own hat off after all his admonitions to Sirius, holding his broom loosely in the same hand. He took the hot chocolate from Remus and drained half of it in a gulp that must have scalded; his throat muscles were working and Peter was chattering, "If you still have time for breakfast, when I was there they had those jammy dodgers you like--"
Sirius landed a bit later in another little flurry of snow. Wet flakes blew before him like some sort of bizarre trumpet blast, and clung to the scarf and Remus' eyelashes. He stumbled getting off his broom, probably the force of the wind around them, still so strong and steady that it pulled back the sleeve of Remus' robe and his shirt underneath and tickled at his wrist. Sirius caught at the outstretched hand and didn't quite fall. He looked up and his eyes lit on the chocolate. "Moony," he said, grinning and looking right at Remus, "you're my God for the rest of today." He cradled the cup in both hands and took a savouring little sip. His eyelashes fluttered down. Most of his hair was hidden, but some stray wisps, flattened to his forehead with the stocking cap and glued there with sweat, showed through the same colour as the spiky eyelashes.
It wasn't that Remus expected an apology; in any situation like that, any where he needed one, then it would have been James who remembered and Sirius who forgot. Sirius was utterly without social grace and utterly without artifice. What he said, he meant. Another sip, and he licked the corner of his lips. Remus had been saving his chocolate; he took a drink now, and he thought it tasted better for sort-of being shared. Sirius smiled at him again, or maybe it was at the chocolate, but it was a smile in his direction--a dreamy, disconnected one. Definitely for the chocolate, Remus amended, with perhaps a side note to him for having brought it. None of which stopped him from appreciating it.
James was gesturing expansively with his broomstick and nearly knocked the mug out of Sirius' hand-- "He's clever, sure, but he's not as quick as I am. Evelyn's got the move nearly figured out, and we were practising today, and surely I can beat it the next time I see it on the field if I--"
Sirius scowled protectively and edged away. Remus followed, wet foot and then dry, watching the broom from the corner of his eye and attempting to judge its trajectory. He didn't stop until he was well out of its way, although he was relatively certain--now he thought of it--that he'd have had no trouble catching it before it hit him.
His flirting with the drink over, Sirius dispensed with sips and dipped his face closer, inhaling deeply. When Remus took a breath in sympathy, the air rushed into his lungs so fast that it was still cold through the folds of the Sirius-smelling scarf. A deep, long drink then, enough to probably drain the rest of the cup--
"They should make those mugs bigger," Remus remarked coolly, and thought perhaps his reflexes depended a little on how occupied his attention was with other things. It was the Wolf and the smell of the scarf combined. They were making him crazy. And his foot was still numb, which, though it might not be a cause of insanity, went right along with it. He took a deeper drink of his own cocoa, though not enough to polish it off, and covertly watched the muscles work in Sirius' throat. The other scarf had slipped down into a loose yoke around his neck, one end of it untucked from his robes.
The rest of the team were tramping by, now, the shed having been locked again with the practice balls in it, and the pristine snow turned to mud and slippery slush. "Thanks, Moony," James said, gesturing with the cup, and ruffled his hair on the way past, "I'm going to run to breakfast."
"You'll be late to Transfigurations if you do that," said Sirius with what seemed uncharacteristic and unwarranted censure.
"You take notes," said James, and went off with Peter. Remus looked back and forth between them; Sirius frowned a little, shook his head and shrugged and turned back to the cocoa. He seemed exaggeratedly, comically disappointed to discover it empty. Remus still had an inch or so, and could have offered it; he considered it for a split second, watching Sirius shiver a little and wrap his own scarf higher so it covered his chin. Then he drained the rest of the cocoa. He could feel the thick chocolatey dregs sticking to his lower lip. It would get in the scarf if he wasn't careful--he lifted the sleeve of his robe, so often used to clean his mouth of traces of lipstick, and wiped it carefully away before nuzzling deep into the folds of the scarf again and taking a deep breath.
Insane. It was the only explanation.
They turned, walking slowly along the wall, though they'd nearly a half-hour to get to the dormitory and back now, since they weren't going to breakfast. "You're not wearing a hat!" Sirius suddenly discovered.
Self-consciously, Remus touched his hair. Even through his mitten the strands were ice-cold. "I never wear a hat."
Sirius snorted. "Too good for one, are you?" He jostled into Remus' elbow good-naturedly.
"Better than you," Remus retorted, smiling down at his wet and dry shoe and the trail of muddy footprints they followed.
He was almost warm enough to feel his foot again. Sirius suddenly, recklessly, tugged free the end of his scarf. "What are you doing?" Remus laughed.
"Covering your head, heathen," came the somewhat muffled retort, as Sirius, rather than unwinding the scarf, was pulling hard on one end, the stripes stretching taut away from him. Finally it sprang free and he stopped Remus with cold hands on his shoulders. No mittens at Quidditch practice. He held the end of the scarf with the fringe at Remus' ear and twined the whole thing around in a sloppy turban. It could've taken five seconds or five minutes, except Remus held his breath the whole time, and he didn't seem to asphyxiate.
When Sirius stepped back, chuckling to himself, a fold of the turban slipped down over Remus' eyebrow rakishly. The new scarf smelled muchmore strongly of Sirius. If the other one was incentive to insanity this new smell, the fresh and muddy and musky smell of it drifting down the few inches to wreathe his nose and his face, to stay in his hair, he was sure, for days, if he wasn't lucky (or was) he would still smell it at the full moon--
--this was purest unadulterated madness.
"Damn," said Sirius suddenly, laughing with him, "the only Maharajah werewolf in Hogwarts and me without a camera."
It took a moment for that to process. Then Remus blinked, and remembered. He'd not taken any pictures after all. Well--he pulled the camera out of his sleeve. "I have a camera." As it changed hands it occurred to him to wonder whether this was wise. Sirius grinned as cheerfully as ever. His fingers had been cold through the mittens. Remus thrust his hands in his pockets, put his back to the wall of the castle as Sirius instructed, set about wiggling his fingers free of their encumbrance.
"You have to smile," said Sirius.
Remus, surprised, opened his mouth to say, "but I am smiling," because how could he not be? Just then Sirius snapped the picture.
"The only Maharajah werewolf/fish in Hogwarts for sure!" Sirius was becomingly smug. Remus pulled his hands free and reached out, he thought, for the camera back. His fingers, now bare, felt every spark of dampness and kiss of snow in the blast of cold air. And somehow they found themselves at Sirius' ears, the hair behind them. His fingertips burrowed under the edge of the hat and he clutched convulsively before instinct could shrink aside and reason could make him let go. "Wha--" and the rest of it stopped against Remus' mouth.
There was a moment of stiffness, and then Sirius was relaxing and had stepped closer. He didn't seem very adept at this, thought Remus distractedly, probably from not much practice. His tongue was tentative and clumsy, thick, but warm, and his mouth was filled with the taste of chocolate and the scent of the scarf that had been driving Remus mad all morning. He curled his fingers around the back of Sirius' neck where the scarf had been. They made cold stripes and Sirius yelped and stepped involuntarily closer until they were burning hot all up and down where they touched.
It was still snowing, but the snow melted as though it had been rain on their faces. The smell of mud churned up under their feet was almost as sharp as the slick points of Sirius' teeth, as pervasive as all his flavours.
"What," Sirius said again, but he only tilted his head and opened his mouth further, so Remus assumed it wasn't a question. Under his jaw was a soft spot, a spot that had been hidden by the scarf where the scent was thick and ripe. He pressed his face there, making some kind of sound, and he didn't know he'd bitten until Sirius' startled yelp.
The last surprise of the day was when the hands clawing his shoulders pulled his mouth back up instead of pushing him away. "Sirius," he muttered, obscurely angry--why were they still kissing? Where were they, and bugger, would they be--
--but he muttered it into Sirius' mouth. Those were Sirius' cold hands fisting in his robes, his awkward hand on Sirius' chest. Any time, said the bit of sanity remaining in his head, though the eternal kiss had only lasted a few breathless seconds. Any time, you can stop.
Sirius pressed his chin up experimentally, murmured confusedly, "T'wr."
Remus pulled back and turned his head away gasping. The longer he kissed, the longer the insanity lasted, the harder it would be, he knew, to forget. He was already walking away with one foot normal and one cold and wet and numb, both muddy, ripping off both of the damned scarves with shaking fingers.
He kept walking. "Oh, God." It was what his mother said.
His wet foot started to regain feeling when they got inside--the doors let them in with what felt like a furnace-blast after the iciness outside. "Oh God," he muttered again, with, he thought, more feeling. A cold bump in his back, and he turned. He'd left the mugs out and Sirius was levitating them back for him; one had gone into his back when he froze. He shook his head rapidly, ran to the nearest set of stairs.
Sirius' face had looked very pale and bewildered, but red and very very kissed about the mouth. Remus knew where to look, too, and he could see the prints his teeth had made on the smooth neck, nearly the colour of Sirius' flushed cheeks. Something primal clawed in his gut, but it wasn't the Wolf. He could have bitten hard enough to draw blood right out there in the snow. Still wanted to. Finally he closed his eyes, as though the images there would go away that way--and stubbed his mostly numb toes on the step.
The pain was delayed a bit by the cold, and then attacked in a debilitating wave, until the delicate muscles in the arch of his foot were cramping. Remus gritted his teeth and ran the rest of the way up the stairs. Feeling slowly returned to the cramped-numb foot, and every impact of it was like heavy wet meat, only with a stinging shock in the sole of his foot.
There was a draft by the Fat Lady, and when Remus stopped in front of her, breathing hard with his mouth open, the cold air sparkled like stardust over his open mouth, like another kiss. His lips were bruised. And Sirius was right behind him, silent at the top of the stairs, but his smell filled the whole hallway.
"Hippogriff hoof," said Sirius, and the painting swung aside for them. Remus walked in first with dignity, without looking over his shoulder. When he lifted his legs high to step in, the soaked ankle of his trousers slapped wetly against his leg and he shivered. There it was, the warm hand on his shoulder. "Remus..."
They were still in the common room. "Dorm," he said tightly, and tore himself away from the touch for the stairs.
The fringe of one of the scarves, he didn't know which one--though he could have told with a sniff--trailed on the flagstone steps. He wondered if Sirius would take them back, or if he could get away with putting them down while Sirius was distracted. He could see himself returning to them later--he wondered how the smell might be preserved in the bottom of his trunk. He was developing a definite fondness for the dark and dirty smell of Sirius.
He pushed blindly through the dormitory door, and flung both the damp smelly scarves across his neatly made bed. Rather than turn and sit on its edge to remove his shoes, he stood on one foot and grasped the soaked-through shoe in both hands. "Look, Remus," said Sirius.
Tension walked on tiptoes through every muscle of his body and he didn't turn, and after a moment, when he wasn't touched, returned to his shoe. It was like ice, and the knot in the laces had contracted, slimed over with muddy water. He rolled his eyes, but he couldn't get out his wand without putting his foot down, so he jerked hard at the knot and broke the strings. More muffled sounds behind him could have been Sirius swearing at his robes, or could have been rehearsing for what he wanted to say--to apologise or to demand an apology? Or--
He cut the thought short there. The wet shoe hit the floor with a cold hard sound, not the sloshy splot he half-expected after wearing it. That was reserved for the sock. Behind him he could hear rustles and footfalls. Sirius was probably pacing and undressing simultaneously. Bugger. He took off the other sock too and pulled his robes up over his head. The wet hem went like a shiver over his bare forearm where the sleeve of his jersey'd gotten pushed up.
When he turned around and went to his trunk for a fresh pair of trousers, Sirius was bootless and hatless, with one arm out of the Quidditch robes. He was fumbling in the pocket of the snug Quidditch trousers with that hand--muddied white silk falling over his wrist--for his wand and muttering. The robes hung askew about his neck.. Remus didn't realise he was looking until Sirius' eyes flashed brilliantly to his and he said distinctly, though his voice was not by any stretch even-- "Since it's your fault, Moony, that I can't unfasten my robes, would you help me?" Sarcasm poured on heavier, then. "You needn't touch me."
His trousers unfastened, Remus stopped with his mouth open. Could he walk across the rug and touch the frogs at Sirius' neck--a scant few inches below the bite marks--and not touch the pale skin? He flushed. And went.
Probably Sirius had wanted the wand to charm the robe unfastened so he could pull it off. If his fingers were still shaking, well, so were Remus'. He'd just broken a shoelace and left its bits lying on the floor; he could only fix it to the proper length, after all, if he found them all again. He managed to get the robes unfastened--not without two knuckles brushing Sirius' Adam's apple, which bobbed at a quick swallow in reaction. His mouth was horribly dry, but it still tasted of chocolate and--blood? When he glanced up, he could see the raw mark on Sirius' lip. He didn't even recall making it.
The robe out of the way, Sirius said, "Listen, I don't understand--"
"Sirius, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that 'you needn't touch me,' with you, doesn't mean you're going to keep your mouth shut for five seconds," he snapped before he could stop himself, while the voice inside clamoured for him to turn around and walk away. Away. Not closer--though it was Sirius who was moving.
Sirius was stubborn. "I didn't do anything to you. And I didn't--well, you turn around and run away like an offended virgin--"
"Oh, that's what I was like," Remus murmured to himself, eyes narrowing.
"Goddammit, Moony, what's the matter with you!" Sirius shouted, dropping his wand unheeded on his unmade bed with one hand and stripping off the silk shirt in one move of breathtaking fluid grace with the other.
"You can't just--" Remus said, crowded obscurely--he wasn't taking any steps back for the ones Sirius took forward, though there was plenty of space behind him. "Sirius, it's not, I'm not offended," a lie "and I'm not accusing you of anything--" only his smell, blast it. "You have to think," he said, exasperated, though he knew that held no meaning for Sirius. There was no mud anywhere on his chest, only sweat glistening in the hollow of his throat and over the planes of his torso. The silk had clung as he stripped it away. The smell wasn't the same as the scarf's--this was the sharper muskier sweat, and it was making him light-headed.
"What does that even mean," said a wounded (shirtless) Sirius just before he backed Remus up against the edge of his bed and pressed their mouths together again. The plea went beyond words, and into entirely different things that neither of them understood. Remus was trembling slightly, even though he was letting Sirius pin him up against the bed. Sirius made a noise of protest in his mouth--he was so distracted chasing the thread of blood-flavour through Sirius' lip, the roof of his mouth, the points of his teeth--he'd closed his hands around Sirius' wrists, thick tight bracelets. He could snap bones if he wasn't careful.
Sirius pressed closer, and the only place to go was up--Remus slid awkwardly onto the edge of the unmade bed. His worn flannel shirt was too, too hot, and it was going to smell like the hollow of Sirius' throat, the trail down the centre of his belly, the heady potion under his arms. Remus had never smelled anything like it. He was conscious acutely of his pants being unfastened, but barely registered that the left leg was soaked through halfway up his calf.
He moved his hands to Sirius' shoulders, where he could leave bruises, perhaps, but nothing worse, and let his nose lead him to the side of Sirius' face. He was burying it in the hair there, nipping at Sirius' earlobe--biting! He'd bitten twice today, had never bitten Lily in almost a year--insane, he was clearly insane. Sirius stepped closer, pressed up between his legs until painful hardness, oh, was pressing against painful hardness. His legs went easily around Sirius' slim hips. The tight Quidditch trousers were cold through Remus' own against his knee and his thigh, and would smell of snow, if any smell but dirt and sweat could have reached him.
Sirius, who couldn't manage the neck of his own Quidditch robes, now wanted to make a go of Remus' flannel shirt--yes, make both of them half-dressed of course--while Remus pressed his face against the neck and took the tendon in his teeth. He could nearly taste the blood. Sirius grunted. His fingers were cold.
"I'll do it myself." He was still angry, and he tightened his grip on the slick shoulders before moving to make short work of the shirt. Sirius only grunted, but then he seized Remus' chin in his hand to force his head up for another kiss. Shirt half-on, half-off, Remus growled and pushed back until their teeth clicked and his hand fisted in the sweaty tangle of black hair made Sirius whimper.
"Don't--" Sirius started to say, but he didn't break the kiss.
Remus bit down warningly on the tip of his tongue, then circled the wound curiously with his own--he could barely feel it properly; with his eyes closed, all a kiss seemed like was a vast confused slickness, burning hot, with the taste of blood and he could feel where the broken vessels were closer to the surface under his tooth marks, but when he licked deeper he couldn't tell if his tongue went left or right. Sirius pulled his head back and Remus had to force himself to let him, to make his hands relax, though his knees were probably going to bruise Sirius' hips. His left ankle was getting very cold.
"What was?" Sirius demanded, and then changed his mind, "I thought you were angry but I think you're not--but I still don't understand about before--" this last was lost, as he finished tugging the cuffs of Remus' shirt over his wrists and braced his hands on the bed behind Remus' back and dove into another kiss.
You'd think kissing would get boring after a while--well, tiring, at any rate, if you did it too energetically--but the hunger wasn't going away now. Every time Sirius bent closer so did the smell of him, and Remus' skin crawled and his throat hurt, obscurely. He knew the feeling of desire, the desultory warm glow of sex and snogging, and this was not it. There was nothing lazy, nothing glowing about this--it was directionless, it was like walking by a window at the full moon, only he couldn't predict it. He thought he'd swallowed some of Sirius' blood, and here he was biting hard at the other boy's lip again. Somewhere in his stomach he could feel it, burning a hole.
Or perhaps a name. "Sirius."
A curse. "Beast."
Whether he was angry with himself or with Sirius was immaterial, in the midst of a kiss. Their noses wouldn't stop bumping no matter how many times they did this--he wasn't counting, but the fact he'd lost count must say something--everything got clumsier and not easier, Remus stumbling falling back on his elbows and Sirius falling on top of him. There was a deep fold in the rumpled bedclothes just behind him and he was half-lying on top of one of his hands, the fingers starting to go numb. Now when Sirius pressed their chests together he was sweating and shivering too, and their chins bumped almost painfully and their lips wouldn't match and Remus almost snarled. It should not have been happening, none of it. He wouldn't apologise to Lily for this; and he knew that Sirius would never apologise to him.
His hands on Sirius' sides and back kept slipping, from the sweat, not all the way dry. Sirius was impossible to keep hold of.
Apologies weren't in his nature because he couldn't understand them.
Remus was already sorry when Sirius' mouth slid down his neck to his shoulder. His tongue burned, like a curse or a charm, a spike of fire--it really hurt--on the silver scar of the werewolf's bite. Remus thought he would yelp, but his mouth only fell open, because then, as if through layers of cotton wool, he felt the distant pulse of sensation through the scar and it was--
--Gone. Because Sirius had mouthed his shoulder for an instant, traced the outline of the scar with his free fingertip, and then realised just what he was touching and gone blank, stiff, sitting straight up. Their eyes met. "Transfiguration," Sirius breathed. "Transfiguration." The words tripped over themselves coming out.
"What--" Remus scrambled awkwardly after him off the bed, and immediately remembered his cold trousers. Sirius was already stripped to boxers and putting on pants with his free hand. He was dressed by the time Remus had his trunk open. He felt dazed, and he might not have gone to Transfigurations at all--he couldn't take notes like this, and if he paid attention he might not ever remember to think about this properly. There were another pair of trousers lying folded on the top. His hand rested on them, fingers spread.
"Do you need to borrow something?" Sirius said impatiently. Remus shook his head and stood to get dressed. His second set of robes needed darned by the hem--he supposed they would wait until next summer, when he was home with his mother, though. A threadbare spot made Lily poke at his heels and giggle. They were dry, though, and they weren't as warm or as fine as Sirius' spare set--but they also weren't as large. He could imagine himself in Sirius' robes, with the hem trailing and the sleeves falling entirely over his hands. He'd look like a child--anyone's glance would show it, how out of place he was in that sort of robe, not to mention the size. Anyone who knew him and knew Sirius, well. He might as well carry the silver scar outside his clothes.
He's awake, and he's in Remus' bed. The curtains are open and a pale and hesitant December sun is paving an indistinct, grey-white path through the room.
The light reminds him of Hogwarts mornings. He would, on some weekend mornings, be allowed to sleep until he simply woke up. Not often, mind - James was not fond of early mornings, but he hated letting time go a-waste. Sirius mostly agreed, but sometimes, sometimes he needed to think, and he did that the best when he was warm and comfortable and horizontal.
That's where he first found Padfoot - he'd been lying half-asleep and thinking about that passage under the Whomping Willow and Remus and what he'd been hiding.
"I'm a dog," he'd said out loud, and in the bed next to him, James had sniggered and said, "You sound like you just realised that."
Later, his thoughts might have been more Remus and less wolf. Thinking about telling James about that. "Oh, hey, Potter - you know how you fancy Evans? I think there's still hope for you..."
Clever Potter figured that one out on his own, though.
He stretches and realises he's slept sound and long, just like last night. After all these years of rough sleep or patchy sleep or no sleep at all, he's slipped back into his schoolboy pattern. As if he has nothing to fear.
Losing my edge, he thinks, and crawls out of bed.
He scratches his chest distractedly and a scab comes off. Quick, clear pain slices neatly across his ribs, and his throat constricts at the memory of teeth - or claws? - or tongue?
He turns back to the bed. There are scattered stains and blots of dull maroon on the white, smeared into the grain of the fabric. Bugger. His mother was always on about how blood and chocolate were right 'orrible to get rid of, even with Pearson Flowerpotts's AllStainsGone cleaning potion.
She also told him he would go blind if he ever looked at the books in his father's private bookshelf, and he still has perfect vision.
She also told him he'd end up either dead, in prison or stinking rich.
He heads downstairs, trying to avoid the creaky steps. They seem to be louder than before now, wailing under his feet like long-tailed cats.
It's freezing in the hall, and he wishes he'd looked for something to wear. He's barefoot, bare-chested and his skin pulls into goosebumps in protest.
He stumbles over a pair of muddy boots at the bottom of the stairs and barks his hip against the banisters. Rubbing the sore patch, he follows the muddy prints back through the hall to the back door. It's locked. He goes back, looks into the kitchen - it's empty and looks exactly like it did last night.
Remus is curled up on the couch in the living room, grey-faced and tense in sleep, still wearing his muddy jeans and the even muddier jumper. There's a smudge of dirt crowning his cheekbone like a bruise. Sirius takes a soundless step closer and sees that there is a bruise under the dirt, the edge of a blossoming shiner.
"Moony," Sirius says, sotto voce, and Remus twitches, sniffs and sits bolt upright. Sirius flinches and feels guilty, but he's skittish these days. These days, meaning all these days that have passed since he was a young man whose main concern was getting his motorcycle to fly and his friends to help him break into the Slytherin dorm and steal their Quidditch robes on the night before the Slytherin-Gryffindor match--
Remus stares at him with blank eyes. Sirius remembers days at Hogwarts when Remus would stumble around the halls, hardly aware of where he was, bumping into people and stopping to lean against the walls and breathe slowly. It's not as bad now, but he looks old and he looks worn threadbare - thin, somehow; insubstantial and wraith-like.
Remus moves his shoulders gingerly and looks up at Sirius, his eyes narrowing. "What--" he starts, his hand twitching as if he's stopping himself from reaching out. Sirius looks down and sees the scabs running across his ribs, the shiny wet bit where he's scratched off the scab, the faded smears of dried blood on his belly.
"Oh," he says, "that. Just scratches."
Remus rubs his face with both hands - he seems to press his fingertips hard against the bruised cheekbone, and Sirius feels a sting of sympathetic pain - and mutters, "Just scratches. All right, then. Scratches, stupid--" His voice is sleep-thick and there's a throaty rasp to it, something that sounds like whiskey and smoke and murky barrooms.
Sirius shifts. It's biting cold in the room, and he rubs his upper arms, trying to smooth down the goosebumps with his palms. "Why'd you sleep down here?" he asks. "It's like a meat locker in here. You need to get that fireplace sorted. Unless you really like camping. You could put up a tent, perhaps."
"Sirius," Remus says. Some of the tightness has fled his face, and he looks like amusement is hiding right behind the weary expression. "You were in my bed."
Sirius thinks about Remus staggering upstairs, wet and muddy and exhausted, and turning away from the bed to go back down to the meat locker. "I'm sorry, I fell asleep," he says and shuffles backwards. He needs to find something to wear or he'll turn to ice from the feet up.
"--and the whole room smelled of--" Remus says, so quietly Sirius almost doesn't hear it - he really doesn't hear the end of it. He's not sure Remus even articulates it.
"Smelled of what?"
"This is surprisingly comfortable," Remus says and heaves himself out of the sofa, with a sigh and a wince like an old man. He weaves precariously and Sirius steps forward automatically, catches him. He means to just - what? - push him back onto the sofa, steady him, something, but his hands don't want to let go and Remus falls against him.
"Maybe you should--" he mumbles, but Remus' dry-grass hair is in his mouth and nose and he loses his words halfway. Remus' fingers feel skeletal and weak around Sirius' arms, and his breath is a warm, damp wash over Sirius' throat.
"I stood up too quickly," Remus says. His voice is gentle and muffled, but there's a sharpness somewhere behind it, and his mouth against Sirius' skin moves in a scrape of teeth. Sirius freezes, caught. He's felt like this before, felt this heavy wash of heat, this-- Remus' thin body tenses and jerks back, and he's gone, shuffling into the kitchen to make tea.
Sirius breathes chilly air until the last of the warmth has leeched from his body. Then he goes upstairs to steal a shirt from Remus' wardrobe.
"All right?" he asks.
"You know how it is," Remus says and sips, or rather gulps. It must be scalding hot - his face screws up briefly in pain. "Can't get warm. It takes a few days."
"You could go back to bed," Sirius suggests. "It's warmer up there."
"No," Remus says, quickly. His wand is on the table next to him, and he gives it a quick wave and his teacup refills itself. "We need to go soon. Mac doesn't stay in the same place long, and I only know of a few of his holes." He shrugs and rubs his shoulder, his fingers digging into the muscle where Sirius knows the scar must be aching.
Offering a backrub would probably be bad form right now, Sirius thinks, so he says, "Your illegal wandmaker--" lifting an eyebrow and waggling it, "--tell me again how you know this person?"
"I didn't tell you the first time," Remus says, draining his tea as if it weren't two degrees below boiling.
An elderly lady smiles at Padfoot at a zebra crossing. "Who's a good dog then?" she asks him.
Not me, he thinks and narrows his eyes.
"That's a big'un you have there, young man. Part wolfhound, perhaps?"
"Hmm?" Remus says, his voice sounding hoarse and unused. "Part wolf." He manages a pleasant, if weary smile at her, and Padfoot leans his head against his leg. The light changes and the lady is gone. They walk on.
Remus coughs, his thin frame shaking. "You need to change back for this," he says and taps the door twice with his wand.
It feels exposed to do it in the middle of the street, and Sirius realises, as he stretches and shakes his head, that he forgot to put on a coat.
"No one sees anything here," Remus mutters. "You could cut me down right here and they wouldn't notice."
Sirius looks around. The street is empty. All windows have the curtains drawn. "How do you--" he starts, and the door opens with a drawn-out creak.
Sirius is pretty sure the creak is a sound effect, but it makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up nevertheless.
There are dolls on the shelf right inside the door. Their eyes slide over him, blind and unfocused, and still aware.
The rest is just a room, the walls lined with boxes in precarious stacks, a threadbare easy chair right in the middle of the dusty floor the only furniture. In the chair sits a young wizard with pale orange hair in angelic curls around his soft face. His eyes are almost colourless and very sharp.
"Lupin," he says, conversationally. "I thought you weren't coming back. And with a friend, too?"
"A customer, Mac," Lupin says. He's standing with his back straightened and not a trace of weariness showing in his face.
"Indeed," Mac says. He can't be more than twenty years old, if that, but his voice sounds far older than he looks. He's not holding a wand. "You've been holding out on me. You never told me you were the one who sprung Sirius Black from Azkaban."
Sirius doesn't think he managed to suppress his flinch completely, but he's still standing. Good enough. "--me," Remus is saying, perfectly calmly. "We've come for a wand."
"Oh?" says Mac. "A wand for Sirius Black." He seems to be tasting the name, with evident pleasure. Sirius feels an irrational urge to take it back somehow. "That must be something quite out of the ordinary."
Sirius opens his mouth to snap something, but Remus' hand lights briefly on his. He closes his mouth again and waits. The smell in the shop has been tickling his nose all along, but now he recognises it as a dilution of the miasma of a potions lab after a particularly explosive class.
"Yes," Mac goes on, idly waving his hand. "Something suitable for a tendency towards, shall we say, murder and mayhem?" A wand appears, mid-air, in front of Sirius. "Made to order, but the customer never claimed it. A necromancer. I think he conjured up something nastier than himself. Try it."
Sirius picks it gingerly out of the air. It lies stiff and dumb in his hand. "No?" Mac says. "Too bad, I really liked that one. Ironwood, completely rigid, ten inches and a basilisk breast scale."
The wand vanishes with a muffled pop. Sirius looks down and sees scuffed chalk marks on the floor under his feet - pink and blue and yellow. He squints. Flowers?
Another wand, and Mac's voice distracts him from the swirls of colour. "An experimental work. Thoroughly illegal, I assure you. I think the Ministry has an entire chapter devoted to banning animal-based materials for wands. Ivory and a tail hair from a rogue centaur, taken after his execution with the killing curse. Feel the spring in it - you can't get that with any wood. Perfect for breaking protection spells, and of course the unforgivable curses, goes without saying--"
The wand feels slick and hot to the touch, and when Sirius' fingers close around the shaft, a deep tingle, almost painful, runs down his arm and through his body. "No," he says, a little too sharply. After it disappears, he has to stop himself from rubbing his hand on his jeans. Remus looks at him with narrowed eyes.
"Something I don't know about you, then," Mac says, a frown pulling at his cherubic face, hardening his eyes further. "I can peg any wizard in under three tries. Something here..."
"Just get him a wand, Mac," Remus says. There's a harsh command in his voice that is unfamiliar to Sirius, yet another reminder that he doesn't know Remus like he used to.
He expects Mac to retort, but instead he just snaps his fingers and a new wand appears, bobbing gently in front of Sirius' eyes. It looks like wood, but he hesitates.
"Something really special." Sirius could swear Mac winks almost lecherously at Remus.
"What is it?" he asks. It's a fair wood, not too thick around. Plain.
"Go ahead," Mac says smugly. "Give it a go."
Sirius takes a breath of stale air and grabs the wand firmly.
There's a second of silence; the world waiting quietly around him. Then his ears fill with a hum, as of a great choir all clearing their throats in key, or waves breaking against cliffs, or a thousand-headed pack of wolves growling softly.
He trembles and holds on. He feels heated from the inside. Steaming, almost, vibrating with energy. "Yes," he tries to say, but his voice comes out a croak. He coughs. "Yes. This one."
The hum dies down to a gentle, pleasant murmur. He wants to try his wand. He wants to make things fly, he wants to make things burn and turn into frogs and he wants to grab Remus and get some of this heat into his scrawny body. His palms agree, itching for skin. Another thing he's forgotten: how good magic makes him horny. Always a problem when he was a teenager. Getting the motorcycle to fly was the worst, and he couldn't quite explain that to James, not all of it. Riding it with Remus, oh, what a bad idea--
"Is it?" says Remus, and Sirius' attention snaps back through the years. Mac's nodding, his eyes glowing.
"A true Dark wand, despite its innocuous appearance," he says, and Remus stares at him, frozen. "Hawthorn, springy, thirteen and a half inches - that part's standard, good basis for transfiguration and all sorts of mischief. And a patch of fur from a full-grown werewolf."
The wand has chosen Sirius. It feels like it has an agenda.
"Not just that, but the only fully trained wizard in the werewolf community--"
"Mac--" Remus says, but Mac's eyes are alight with pride.
"Special, this one. Special. I trained for Ollivander's, did he tell you that? I can tell when a wand is where it's meant to be. This one was made for you, Sirius Black." He rubs his hands together. The gesture is comical with his chubby hands and sweet face. "I'm happy to see it in such capable hands. Happy--"
"If you're so happy," Remus snaps impatiently, "maybe you could give us a happy price rather than a victory speech?"
"How about a trade? You have anything for me? I've been working on my hobby--" he points at the dolls, sitting in their mute row by the door, "--and I'm trying to train them a little. Simple jobs. I'd like some more hair and claws."
"That was a long time ago," Remus says, but Mac goes on, still sounding rather happy with himself.
"Now, now, consider it. Unless those togs are part of some elaborate fashion statement, you two couldn't afford this wand without selling at least one soul - do werewolves have souls, by the way? I can't remember a thing of that class."
Sirius could swear the wand moves on its own, but it's his mouth that forms the words that push the chair over. Mac lands in a clanging heap.
It feels wild. His heart pounds at his breastbone and he thinks he must be glowing, surely. Mac tries to get to his feet, but it's easy to hold him down. Sirius can feel him, though - he's powerful, pushing back.
"Sirius," Remus says. His voice is tired and rough, but when Sirius looks at him, there's a sparkle in his eyes. He was a boy once, too.
Sirius slips the wand into his sleeve. It fits there, snug against his arm. Leaving without it is unthinkable.
"You'll find me hard to intimidate," Mac says from the floor.
Sirius feels Remus' hand on his arm. He takes a second to enjoy it. "I'm not trying to intimidate you," he says, trying quite hard to sound intimidating. "I lost my temper."
"I'll pay for the wand," Remus says, gently. There's something ferocious about the gentleness, though, and Sirius feels goosebumps spread down his arms.
Mac has got to his feet. He's not looking intimidated, but his eyes arenarrowed and Sirius can almost see him working things out, looking for clues. Sirius wants to get out of here, get Remus away from this place. Get himself out of this place that reminds him of years when he wasn't around.
"We can negotiate," Mac says, and Sirius crosses his arms, pressing the wand against his skin and doesn't - as a mad impulse suggests - push Remus against the nearest flat surface. This giddiness is new and crazy. Or old, a reminder of oversexed teenage years. Remus stands cool and still next to him and keeps his eyes on Mac.
"Let's negotiate then," Sirius says. "Remus?"
Their eyes meet, and Sirius tries to communicate. He lifts his eyebrows. He thinks, "let me handle this," very loudly. Remus blinks and hands him a small pouch.
He looks into it. Mac stands stiffly next to his fallen chair. He's very good, but Sirius has smelled fear every day for years. He knows the stench. "How about three galleons?" he asks.
James was walking, now dressed in his normal robes, with both his arms stretched high above his head. He gripped his left wrist with his right hand and twisted and arched a little. "Ah," he muttered. "What I could really use right now is a hot bath."
"After you skipped Transfigurations," said Sirius, sounding offended. He was carrying two classes' worth of textbooks and James' arms were empty, and now by his sides again as he shook them loosely.
James shrugged, "Well, you made it." He didn't know about their lateness, unless Sirius had developed telepathy recently and, well, maybe not even then. (Sirius was the sort who wouldn't be able to project his thoughts without staring fixedly, and possibly mouthing the words or wriggling his eyebrows in a kind of pantomime. That image occupied Remus for a moment and had him smiling.) James apparently considered the subject finished there, because he continued dreamily, "like in the prefects' bathroom--"
"I think the second half of McGonagall's tangential lecture on the magical properties of mice was long enough for two or three bubble baths," said Sirius irritably. He'd been scribbling furiously through the whole thing. Remus had wondered what was so terribly important, and even for a moment considered the possibility that he was planning to write an essay for extra credit.
Lily poked Sirius in the side with a book. "Don't worry, Black. All the punishment he needs will be having to study from your notes."
James clapped Sirius on the back companionably. "Need a bath too, Sirius?"
Remus, on the other side of James and a step behind, could still smell Sirius distinctly--and James as well, but not as well. Probably because he didn't have any of James' sweat on his skin. Or perhaps his nose had been sensitised.
"You can't get into the prefects' bathroom," said Peter, who had tried many times.
"No rest for the wicked," said Sirius firmly. "I've all the classes this afternoon to think about besides exams." And more. And if Sirius was thinking of exams, something was very wrong.
"You're not entirely wicked," said Peter with a wink in his voice. "You went to Transfigurations."
Sirius maintained a righteous silence. "I could make a bubble bath anyway," James said into it.
"Why not just go whole-hog wicked," said Lily cheerfully. "Skip Divination, and all of you take baths." She wasn't, Remus noticed, letting go his arm, though. Not that he was going to skip Divination.
"Well, then they won't be allowed to rest," Peter pointed out.
"Maybe breakfast was good enough to justify skipping," Remus said dryly, thinking about Sirius' neck. "I mean, if they had James' fairy cakes."
James hastened to assure them that it was, and Sirius twitched a little. When his back stiffened completely, Lily nudged Remus and they exchanged a look, but he'd already seen for himself. He smiled a little, but it must have been too little or too late (or both), because he'd arrested her attention, he could see in the way her eyes lingered to the side even when she turned to face forward again.
It was a quality of Sirius' that he disliked to disagree about things, and especially with James. It was another quality of his that he didn't like to talk about things, and another still that he was easily distracted, so it didn't take him long to either forgive James and Peter or forget about it, whichever came first, as they had the same effect. "Well, I foresee the full time in class today spent wishing for a hot bath," he remarked, conciliating, as they passed a tall picture frame.
The knight who was often to be found near the back door Remus and Lily liked to take to Herbology stood up suddenly from his lounging on a split-rail fence and yelled, "Pettigrew!"
"Oh," said Peter, stopping, and of necessity the rest of them stopped too.
"Is that a tea-table behind you?" said James, squinting into the field to the knight's left.
The knight straightened--rather like Sirius--and harrumphed, "I don't believe we've been introduced."
While Peter tried to soothe him, Lily took the opportunity to pile the rest of her books in Remus' arms, smooth out her hair with both hands, and attempt to communicate to him by arching her eyebrows and cutting her eyes subtly at Sirius' agitated pacing either that she knew what had happened, she wanted to know what had happened, or that Sirius was a git and on an unrelated note, Remus didn't seem in top form. Or possibly that her eyebrow itched, or that there was something she wanted him to say to or about Sirius. Remus ventured a smile.
But all she said out loud was, "I guess we'd better think about where we're going to go now. When it gets closer to exams we'll be far too insane to plan muggle outings."
"Well," Remus hazarded. "London? You could go home, and everyone else could stay with me, and then we could take them back to King's Cross. If we still want to do this."
Sirius stopped in mid-pace and turned to face them. "Is this about the tiramisu?"
"As common as it is in the muggle world, I thought we'd have better luck with Italian restaurants in London than if we just set out wandering," Lily explained.
"You want good tiramisu," said Remus helplessly, to change the subject, and tried to stare silence into Lily. She had apparently got the idea from somewhere that Sirius deserved to be pounded into the ground. Which Remus wasn't entirely certain about, but it certainly shouldn't happen before Transfigurations, and Lily didn't even know. Unless she had now developed telepathy or something too, which was possible, but not terribly likely.
Peter was talking to the painting. "--without falling asleep," he was saying glumly. "And we do want good tiramisu. If there's bad tiramisu--" he seemed doubtful "--we don't want it."
James didn't say anything, perhaps feeling that agreement was implicit, but Sirius added forcefully, "We still want to go."
"To London?" said Lily earnestly to Sirius. "I mean, it seemed like a good idea, but if you think--"
You had to give it to Sirius; he recovered quickly. He took a little bow with a flourish and said, "Sweet lady, I defer to your judgement," which made Lily giggle and appear mollified. Remus wasn't so sure, though; as they went through the door she tugged on the back of his sleeve sharply. Again, it could have meant any of twenty or thirty things, but it mostly meant he was going to have to meet her in the Library and be talked to.
This was not an uncommon occurrence, and really, Remus looked forward to it more often than not. He could make fun of Lily for getting a thrill out of kissing in the Library, but he'd spent long enough giggling about it with her in the summers to remove any sheen of innocence. Lily was a stable pillar in his life. In Divination they sat behind Sirius and James, and got a first-class view of the notes exchanged to make up gaps whenever one or the other nodded off. The first Quidditch game of this season, James and Sirius had been glowing with pride in their new bright wool robes, and James' balance had wavered when he leapt off his broom and set off for them. Before he could fall there was Sirius with a shoulder under his free hand, and then together they were leaping at Remus and Peter with loud whoops and sweaty faces and mud-stained hems.
Remus wasn't the sort to stumble, but he was quite used to having Lily tucked under his arm, anyway, a security against the eventuality. This time she wasn't lurking behind any bookshelves--which probably meant no kissing. He didn't know if he'd have stomached it so soon anyway. Instead, she was seated with a few sheets of parchment, chewing the end of her quill, and when she saw him, she looked up and indicated a chair pulled close next to hers.
"I thought we'd go ahead and write our parents to ask, get it out of the way. What do you say just the day the trains get back to King's Cross, and they could pick us up at the station again later that night?"
"I think they should be able to eat their fill of tiramisu between mid-morning and late night," Remus replied, raising his eyebrows a little.
Lily laughed and her pen scratched, The Lupins would get us at King's Cross, of course, because Remus' friends would have to stay with him, but I'm sure they could drop me by before bedtime, and we'd have plenty of time to go out for dinner and tea and show the boys around a bit. "We've got to go into a department store. I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when they see toasters and telephones."
Remus opened his mouth and closed it again. She did have a point. "Alright," he said, and reached for the other piece of parchment. "We can go to the Owlery on the way back to the dormitory before dinner." Dear Mum and Dad, he wrote.
"If we're done in here in time," Lily agreed casually. When he looked up all he saw was the light falling on the crown of her head.
"What do you mean?"
Her pen scratched away. They're very nice boys. "Mmnh?"
It was probably a lost cause at least until she'd decided what to do with the rest of that paragraph. The boys and I would like to make a little trip to London this holiday. Lily and I thought we could show them about just a bit, the afternoon our trains arrived at King's Cross, if you could put them up for the night? I know it might be a bit crowded. "Are you all right?" He ventured.
Another short few scratches--Lily had neat handwriting, but she was fast--then a long one--her signature. "Of course I'm alright," she said exasperatedly, "I'm worried about you. What happened?"
Oh dear. Remus looked up, abandoning his letter in the middle of a sentence after If you think--. "Happened?" There was a little quiver of doubt inside him, but his hands were steady as he met her eyes. He knew the worried frown creasing her brows well, and he knew if he let his confusion show he could have her shoulder to cry on. The temptation was strong, for a moment.
Her eyes narrowed, "What did he do? Last night after I left, wasn't it? What did he say?" At least she was so far off.
"No, no. Sirius didn't say anything!" He said quickly. That was the easy part. "It's--he wouldn't do that. You know Sirius."
"I do," she said, in a tone indicating she didn't see his point.
Remus paused, pushed the parchment aside and leaned forward over the table urgently. "Maybe he would say something if he didn't think about it but he wouldn't mean anything. And I don't mind, you know? If he's not trying to--"
Lily snorted, but her lips twitched and she reached out to push her fingers through his hair and ruffle it affectionately. "You really mean that, you wanker. All right. I believe you. Sirius Black may not be a saint, but he's not a total black-heart."
Remus laughed weakly. A giggle was what he needed just then. She dropped her eyes, then, to his relief, and released him. Perhaps, if he was lucky, the conversation could be finished, and he returned to his letter.
It wasn't until they were climbing the stair to the Owlery that she said anything else. "So if he didn't say anything and he didn't do anything, why are you watching him like he stole your girlfriend?" She said it quietly, and didn't slow her steps when he looked quickly at her.
"You?" Remus couldn't help laugh again. Lily wouldn't keep her temper for more than a good hour or two around Sirius at a stretch.
But she was still solemn, "Remus," all tremendous eyes and a hand on his arm forcing him to face her in the cold twisting stairwell. A draft of cold air smelling faintly of owl and other less savoury animal things drifted by them and stirred her hair. He could feel her fingers wrapped tight like a band around his elbow, not each finger, not for their warmth, but for the solid reaffirming pressure.
He looked down at her hand on his arm, and thought about Sirius' there in the dorm this morning, and Sirius' elbows and his bare chest, gleaming with sweat, and his mouth on the scar. Remus'd had an idea of the scar's odd tingly nerve-centres--Lily had discovered it last summer--but you were never prepared for a breathless, arch-you-up-off-the-bed feeling like that. Sirius pulling back and the cold look in his eyes, the distant panic of a someone waking from a bad dream. "Look, Lily," he muttered, "He didn't do anything. Sirius didn't do anything. It's--not him. It's me. The problem is me." And he wouldn't meet her eyes until her hand went under his chin and lifted his face up. One fine golden eyebrow lifted, her lips parted in question.
"You mean," she gasped.
"It's just a," he said, and waved his hand miserably, a futile little gesture. "It's fine. It's nothing."
All the breath and the gasp seemed to go out of Lily at once and she melted across the distance between them, and she pulled his face into her neck. "Oh," she said, half-mournful and half-relieved. "Oh, Remus." Her neck was warm, but her hair on his cheek was as cold as the cold breaths of air drifting by. "It'll be okay."
After a while, he notices that the tide of human legs make quite a detour around him. He opens his mouth a little wider to show more teeth, and the bubble of empty pavement in front of them grows.
If he'd been in human form, he would have laughed out loud. "The laugh of a madman. A laugh to give a grown wizard nightmares," the Daily Prophet had once called it. He growls softly, and hears a snatch of conversation fade behind him in the din of voices: "--shouldn't be allowed." "It must be some sort of fighting dog--"
He shakes his head and the collar strains at him. It does take a bit of getting used to. Padfoot was not born to be a good dog. Walking next to Remus makes him want to jump and bark and run in circles. In a forest, a forest full of animals and secret paths, rough ground under his paws and all the smells clear and unscrambled by fumes.
He turns his head a little to rub his nose against Remus' leg, to catch the scent better and censor out all the other things he's not interested in. He filters sounds, concentrates on the steady fall of Remus' feet, and not on the unholy racket of cars honking and screeching, loud voices, doors slamming.
When he was a boy, he thinks, he would have been fascinated. He remembers, in a quick succession of images, being fascinated, gawking around with wide eyes, tugging at Remus' sleeve to point and ask stupid questions.
They cross a wide street, walk through a gate and there's the smell of grass and bird droppings and dog piss. Padfoot turns his face into the wind and it's almost like a forest, almost. The traces of dogs that came before him lie like coloured bands in the air, criss-crossing the paths and the edges of the grass, running up along every tree and lamppost and bench.
"Hey," Remus says and there's a very careful tug on the leash. "Let's sit for a while."
Padfoot snaps at the leash and catches it in his teeth. Remus lets go of it and sits down on a damp wrought-iron bench. Padfoot looks at him, distracted from his victory over the leash and the buzz of energy inside. Sirius, under fur and fang, wants out to put his hand on Remus' grey face and feel for a fever. Padfoot just leans his head on bony knees and whines. Remus strokes his ears slowly, staring out across the park. There's an explosion of furious barking as two dogs meet and greet somewhere along the path. Padfoot's haunches twitch, but he stays still, pushing his nose against Remus' hands.
"There's a good chap," Remus says distractedly. His hands are very thin. Padfoot steps closer, licks at chilled skin and finally puts his forepaws on either side of Remus' legs on the bench. Remus smiles, quickly and brightly, his hands tangling in the fur on Padfoot's neck. "If you lick my face, I'll--"
Padfoot knows a challenge when he hears it, and he licks the raspy stubble on Remus' jaw, the sharp angle of his cheekbone, the softness of his mouth as Remus laughs and doesn't resist. Padfoot is a large dog; he can hold Remus pressed against the back of the bench with the weight of his body. And the laugh is thrilling and digs fingers of nostalgia into his ribs - good old times in that, a boyish laugh and the taste of his skin. Chilly face, but his throat has been tucked sensibly into the collar, and there's warmth to be found. Remus' hands rub his fur steadily, scratch and pet, and the laughter runs through his body in waves.
The smell of him is strong here, in the crook of his neck, in places that have been hidden under thick fabric. It's tugging at memories that have no Padfoot in them, only Sirius. He wants to kiss, but the dog opens its mouth and rests sharp teeth against soft skin. There's a lingering feral taint in the scent, a warning that this isn't all there is, and he burrows closer, quivering.
Remus' breath huffs in his ear, and his hands have curled into his collar. Sirius wants to say something, but it comes out a muted growl. The scar is right out of his reach, its smell separate from Remus, colder--
Remus stiffens under him. Padfoot can smell the change, both fear and anger, and he scrambles backwards and is untangled and alone on the ground. He shakes his head and licks his chops and waits.
"I have some things to do in Diagon Alley before..." Remus says vaguely. He looks faintly debauched with his coat open and his scarf falling off his shoulders. There's a flush on his cheeks and a wet spot on his throat.
Padfoot doesn't feel guilt, but Sirius hides.
"Come on, Sirius," Remus says, his voice sharp now.
There are footsteps on the path, a strange voice, and Padfoot snaps around with his teeth already bared. "--keep your dog leashed, si--"
Remus is fast, really fast, not with a spell now, but his hands catching the leash and yanking it tight.
"All right," the man says. He wears a uniform. Remus holds the leash in an iron grip and Padfoot wants to cower and crawl.
"You can punch me for this later," Remus says. Padfoot whines.
"Fuck!" the girl yells and yanks her poodle along. "Bloody monster!"
Remus walks even faster, then, but his smell changes subtly. Sirius wants to tell him to knock it off, shrug it off, remember who he really is, but Padfoot is mute and useless. He tries to stop and there's a brief tug-of-war before Remus gives up and stands, doggedly staring ahead.
More people pass them, giving them wide berth. Finally, Remus sags and relaxes and says, "You can stop glaring at me now, Padfoot."
Padfoot demonstratively keeps his eyes trained.
"Tomorrow, the students leave for their Christmas holidays," Remus says, conversationally. "Harry is staying at Hogwarts."
They walk. "Perhaps we could write a Christmas card." The leash hangs slack between them. "Tell him that you're safe."
Padfoot stops again. Being back, this way, close to Remus and full of new and old memories, he'd forgotten. Ignored the world, effectively.
"Of course you're not safe, but warm and dry, at least. Harry will want to know."
Padfoot longs for Harry, then. Harry's quite straightforward. Even depressed and shocked, he's still uncomplicated. And these are un-canine regrets: Sirius regrets never having the chance to talk to Harry when he's not shocked or depressed. He wants to tell Remus.
James was uncomplicated, too.
The weather is, surprisingly, turning: the clouds crack and dissolve overhead. In the brightening light, the shadows around Remus' eyes sharpen, but his steps are steady and long.
Sirius never tried it - it didn't make sense to him: who'd want to smoke things that made you dizzy and sleepy? - but he knows the smell of it, knows it from Remus' clothes. He can conjure it up, so clearly it almost makes him sneeze, sweet and piercing, imaginary smoke tickling his nose. It brings sound, too - laughter, of course, always that. And Remus without those grooves on his face, and Lily gesturing eagerly, her hair the brightest thing on a grey day. James, his cheeks almost as red as Lily's hair meeting Sirius' eyes under that unruly mop of hair. Sirius had begun mocking James for his crush on Lily...when? When his head was turned around over hot and cold running Remus, or before that--
Harry might be amused to hear about his mother's misspent youth, but Sirius doesn't think he can tell those stories without giving too much away. Perhaps Remus can; he's had more time to live with it all.
The bus jostles them closer and even Padfoot's sharp nose smells only rain and dust on Remus now.
He stays as Padfoot, walks around the house. He follows smells from room to room. Remus leaves traces of his moods behind on the furniture and the carpets. Lunar tension there, melancholy there, anger there, calm there. The living room is just as bare as it looks; the kitchen and bedroom are the only places that seem to have Remus' personality. The chair by the bedroom desk is wide and comfortable, with a worn sheepskin on the seat.
Remus doesn't comment; instead he stays in the kitchen, making tea and leaving Padfoot to his own devices. Sirius is hiding in dog shape because he doesn't want to look at Remus with a man's eyes, not with Remus in this closed-up mood. He doesn't know what Remus is avoiding.
Finally, in the privacy of the bedroom, he shrugs and folds out his legs. The world of smells fades into the disappointing humdrum that a human nose senses. Colours and shapes come into sharper focus. He always feels a little awkward and bumbling just after transforming back; Padfoot doesn't feel his age quite this heavily. Sirius never thought he'd feel ancient at thirty-five, but there you have it. His joints creak and his back aches distantly.
He stands in the room without moving for longer than he can quite justify, but he needs to collect himself, prepare himself, brace himself.
The scent of Earl Grey draws him downstairs. Remus sits in the kitchen, looking out the window at the bleak and hesitant winter sunlight. He doesn't smile when Sirius comes in, but there's a suggestion of warmth in his eyes.
"We could write that Christmas card now," Remus says.
He waits long enough after those words that Remus frowns and leans forward. "What do you want to tell him?"
Sirius takes a sip of his tea and pictures Harry at Hogwarts. Hogwarts doesn't change much, it probably never will, but Harry is not quite like Sirius was at the same age. Fifteen years old. Harry is perhaps more like Remus. James and Lily hadn't suffered yet, then, and they had no reason to grow old too early the way Harry has. No reason to take life so seriously. Harry is not a prankster.
He must like Christmas, though.
"Have you forgotten how to spell?" Remus asks wryly after another lengthy pause.
Sirius realises that he doesn't have a present, and no idea what Harry would want.
"A book that doesn't try to eat him, perhaps," Remus suggests. "Although he's not the kind of bookworm I was. And he doesn't have your and James' motivation to learn everything faster than everyone else."
I'm well. I hope you are, too.
"I don't know him."
"No, you don't."
I wish there were a safe way for me to see you.
That sounds too maudlin, and he scratches it out. Writing quick notes to be sent by exotic bird post was easier - jotting down a few helpful platitudes and well-wishes. Now he's not running and has to think about what to say.
"Anything useful I could say can't be said in a letter." It wouldn't make this easy to write, perhaps, to not have this secrecy to deal with, but it would make it possible.
I'm staying with a mutual friend of ours. He sends you his best wishes.
But Remus is looking out the window again, and Sirius pushes the quill and parchment aside.
"I would have asked Severus for news about Harry if you hadn't attacked him," Remus says. "Of course, the account would have been rather hard to decipher. Severus isn't too fond of Harry."
"Wonder why that is," Sirius says, tersely. He doesn't like to think of Remus casually discussing Harry with Snape.
"Young Potter is still milking his martyr status for all it is worth, and his sycophantic little minions form a wall of sickening Gryffindor loyalty around him," Remus says in a fair impersonation of Snape's contemptuous drawl. "Which I took to understand that Harry is depressed, but his friends are standing by him."
Sirius grits his teeth and says, "When did you get that nugget out of him?"
"Last month. Perhaps you should attempt to be the bigger man and let go of the grudge."
"My grudge is fine, thank you."
Remus turns to him, looking a little weary, but there's a twinkle in his eyes. "You'll have to work with him sooner or later."
Sirius ignores that and says, instead, "Harry's not quite the prankster James was."
"No, he isn't," Remus says. "He's not as-- He's not Lily, either." He turns back to the window, and there's a silence. Sirius tries to think of something else to talk about, but James and Lily are there now, their shadows hovering in the room.
He needs to stop being surprised at how much it hurts. In Azkaban, everything was a continuous blur of misery, but these sharp stabs - mourning, he thinks; it must be mourning - sneak up on him here, where he's feeling safe. Almost happy with his wand lying on the table next to him and Remus sitting only a tabletop's width away.
He'd not told James the details of the...Thing with Remus, but James was always well-tuned to Sirius' moods and had figured out a lot on his own. "You're being daft," had been his assessment of the situation, sometimes around Easter their third year. He'd been pink-faced and bright-eyed, on his way to see Lily. And that had been that. Sirius had laughed and said, "Daft is my middle name, Potter," and James had thrown something at him - perhaps something Quidditch-sweaty and unsavoury - and there had been a scuffle and then they hadn't talked about it again. Not until far, far later, when the carelessness of fourteen had become a distant and slightly nostalgic memory.
Which brings to mind less nostalgic things. Sirius drinks tea and wonders when they'll talk about reality. He's not going to bring it up.
"We'll all go mad with waiting before You Know Who finally decides to make a move," his mouth says, bringing it up anyway. He thinks he sees Remus flinch, but that might just have been a tic, or a trick of the light.
"The longer he takes, the stronger Harry will be," Remus says. Sirius doesn't like that calm acceptance - as if Harry's the one expected to do battle while the rest of them stand there with their thumbs in their mouths.
He says as much, and Remus shoots him an annoyed glance. "Harry is what's different about this time, Sirius," he says. "It's personal now."
He knows that. Doesn't mean he has to like it.
"It's bloody well personal for me as well," he mutters. "It's infuriating, I should be right next to him, like--" He'd not helped James, though. He'd only been there to see his dead eyes.
The kitchen's unassuming dinginess feels too colourless for his anger. Remus' entire home is colourless, as if he's camouflaged it. The curtains are pale beige, darker along the sides where the sun hasn't bleached them.
"You've settled," he accuses. "For so little."
Remus' eyes narrow. "I was never destined to go down in a blaze of glory," he says, but his expression softens immediately. "I'm sorry. I didn't--"
"No, you're right. James and I... we were going to end up dead or in jail, weren't we? And of course we did."
"You didn't deserve it," Remus says. Sirius picks up his quill again and writes, I will contact you again before the end of the holidays. Look out for stray dogs on the grounds.
Remus picks up the parchment. "You're bursting with holiday cheer, I see."
"I really am," Sirius says and takes it back. Puts it down and touches Remus' hand, quickly. He feels moved to utter some unhelpful platitude; It will be all right, or We'll get through this. It's a little disturbing.
"I'll pick up a plum pudding on my way back," Remus says and gets out of his chair. "Unless you want to bake?"
Sirius snickers, surprising himself. He tries to remember if he ever baked anything. Sometimes, he had helped Lily in the kitchen. Lily learned how to make tiramisu at some point, and she would make it while Sirius watched. She baked the Muggle way, with no magic. "It doesn't get better with magic," she claimed, and Sirius had to admit she was right. The tidying-up after did get better with magic, though.
He touches his wand, and a little shiver goes through his hand. He's not used to it yet, even though it feels like it's part of him. He picks it up. "I'll wash up," he says. "Give this little chap a twirl."
Remus wrinkles his brow. He hasn't shown any interest in the wand, in fact, hasn't so much as looked at it. Sirius holds it up. "Go on, Moony. It's not--"
"Don't rub it in, Sirius," he says, tiredly. "I'm going to work."
Sirius sits in the kitchen with the wand in his hand for quite a while after the front door slams shut.
The wand feels heavy with promise. Powerful. He loves it already. The wood on the shaft is silky and polished, the handle covered in intricate runes. The very end has a cap made from a wood in a red hue - cherry, perhaps.
He lifts it, a little gingerly, and gives his teacup a light tap. The cup falls neatly into two halves. Cold tea spreads in a pool over the table.
A tap on the table, and the pool vanishes in a cloud of steam. The shards of the cup, and they clatter and knit themselves back into a whole.
He doesn't remember the spells until they fall from his lips, and the wand heats in his hand and seems to grow heavier. Cups and saucers fly through the air, water pours into the sink. Sirius sits frozen in his chair, hardly moving the wand.
He wants to do more. He makes the chairs dance across the floor. He lifts the chair he's sitting in - a trickier spell than one would think, since it requires a balancing force somewhere or he'll dislocate his wand arm trying to lift himself with it. He grounds the spell in the wall and floats serenely above the table.
A car passes in the street outside and he realises that he's parading magic in front of any Muggle who might look through the window.
Remus would-- If Remus knew--
He feels stupid, as if thirteen years in Azkaban has taught him nothing about caution. He'd forgotten about that doing silly second year magic and getting caught up.
He puts down the wand, regretting the loss of its eagerness. He feels cold without it already, like it's grown into his skin and he must expose flesh and tendon to remove it. Remus is gone, but he left his disapproval in the air, and Sirius doesn't quite know where to go.
He gives in and picks up the wand again. The living room fireplace can probably be fixed somehow. Remus has developed some odd indifference to comfort, but Sirius knows that he loves heat, loves to cosy up to a fire, close enough to make his face flush red and his eyes turn glassy.
At least he did when he was young. Sirius is - again - reminded that those days are gone. This fireplace has been blocked for a long time. He leans into it, muttering "Lumos," under his breath. The honest truth is that he knows next to nothing about fireplaces, but this seems fairly straightforward. The damper is caught on something... He sticks his hand up the chimney, ignoring the cloud of soot falling into his face.
What the hell. "Elongate," he tells his arm, and it stretches into the pipe, knuckles scraping against years of fossilised soot. His fingers bump into metal and he feels around the edges, feels the place it's twisted and stuck.
Once he knows where the problem is, it only takes a simple spell to untwist it and push the damper out. There's a wail as of a cat caught under a rocking chair, and then a rather lionesque growl and his face is suddenly pelted with more soot, even more soot and finally, something indistinctly wet and slimy. The chimney harrumphs and is still. Sirius backs away.
The rug in front of the fireplace is... well, it's probably, at some point, been a rather worn but clean shepherd's rug, beige like most of the furniture. Now it's pitch-black with a few depressing patches of pale brown peeking through the soot.
"Purgo," he suggests, and it shrugs off the soot violently. It seems whiter than before, too - that may be because the floor around it is completely black. Cleaning was never his idea of fun, and there wasn't much cleaning to do in Azkaban, at any rate. "Abstergo!"
He doesn't think the floor is used to being this clean. It shines. It sparkles. His wand hums smugly in his hand. Sirius himself is still filthy, and he leaves black footprints behind when he walks across the room. He can see his reflection in the shiny surface.
He turns on the lights in the bath with a flick of his wand. Now, charming Muggle appliances is fun.
He peels off the ruined jeans and jumper and drops them unceremoniously on the floor. The bath is chilly and damp.
He doesn't flinch from his reflection; instead he leans closer. His face - he knows his face by now. Rather gaunt, but not a death's head. If he squints, he can imagine he looks romantically wasted, his cheeks hollow just so, his cheekbones sharp just so, his eyes dark-ringed just so. Girls would call them 'piercing,' but he rather thinks they've passed beyond that into 'scary' now. He won't be breaking any hearts.
He remembers breaking hearts with impunity - a period of hormonal insanity that started in fifth year and continued until he left Hogwarts. Everything led to sex, or at least thoughts of sex - eating, sleeping, playing Quidditch, studying, staring at the walls.
And there was Peter-- He scowls at his reflection, and the reflection scowls back, dumbly, the shadows around its eyes deepening. He'll have to think about Peter sometimes, without punching a wall. He should start now.
He doesn't punch any walls, but his hands knot themselves into tight fists. He turns away from the mirror. Peter had been-- Peter was a friend, then, probably hadn't even thought of-- Hadn't.
He turns on the shower. The water comes out brown and rusty at first, but he steps into the spray anyway, ignoring the cold. He thinks about the baths at Hogwarts, the imposing stone walls and the pristine taps. He'd been into the girls' bath a few times, with Peter, sneaking in after curfew. James was the constant, Best Mate, best company, best partner in crime and the one to talk to, but James and Lily were attached to the hip. There would be no girl-watching with James. "I don't need to see the girls' bath, fellows," he'd say, smugly, implying all sorts of things. And Remus, Remus would surreptitiously disappear whenever the topic of conversation turned to girls.
It occurs to Sirius now, slightly belatedly, that perhaps Remus simply didn't care much for girls. There'd been Lily, of course, but he'd let her go so easily, let her slip away like nothing tied them together.
Sirius can't remember looking at boys again. Even now, the thought only brings the image of Remus, quick, hazy blinks of sensation, hot skin under chilly fingers, too-sharp hipbones and knobbly knees.
"Euw," Peter had said - perhaps it was over a Bowie album cover. "Good thing Moony scared you off the lads--"
That was as far as that conversation went, because next thing - and Sirius doesn't remember the in-between, just before and after - Peter was sprawled on the floor with a bloody nose and Sirius was stalking out, rubbing his sore hand.
That feels better to think about, guiltily - but perhaps he should have hit harder, broken something. Perhaps he beat the evil into Peter.
The water's suddenly too hot, burning his shoulders. He bites the inside of his mouth and stays. After he hit Peter, perhaps the next day, he'd apologised, and Peter had apologised, and they'd bloody well made up and promised to be mates again. And Sirius had made a solemn vow to Stop Being A Prat.
Thing is, he thinks now, his pulse racing from the heat and his heart pounding like a fist against the inside of his ribcage, thing is...
Frustration, then, because he can't remember how things went anymore. There were girls, and Peter, and more girls, and always Remus somewhere, soft-spoken but there. It didn't destroy them. It couldn't have, or he'd remember.
Perhaps... perhaps it was Padfoot who saved the day. Padfoot and Prongs, and perhaps even bloody Wormtail, although Peter hadn't been much help, not much at all. Sirius had laughed at him, a lot, the first time, when it was evident what he turned into. Even James - who was far more good-natured - had some trouble mustering sympathy.
"Wolves eat rats for fun," Peter said. "One bite and I'm an appetiser!" He said it again, later, when it was time for the real thing. Over and over as they trudged across the vast lawn behind the castle, huddled together, hunched and skulking in the fading light. Sirius remembers being nervous, enough to feel sick and clumsy, but Peter's whinging spurred him. And James said, "Moony's not going to eat you," and his voice was rough-edged but still steady. "Besides, wolves eat deer, too. You're not alone."
Sirius stumbled on a branch hidden in the grass. He fell on his face, his fingers digging into icy mud. It was a viciously chilly spring night - after one of those March days that will fool you, with bright sunlight and pink on the cherry trees, into taking off your winter cloak and your scarf, only to turn evil and biting the minute the sun disappears.
They were all nervous, but Peter had already vomited twice. It made Sirius feel braver, and he rubbed his numb fingers together and said, "Wolves kill dogs for sport." The Whomping Willow was a skeletal, restless shadow against the wan sunset. Sirius tried not to think about portents and omens and other nonsense they'd learned in Divination. "So we're lucky because Moony's not a bloody wolf and let's just get there and do what we came for."
"I've just got a bad feeling," Peter muttered.
Sirius wants his past self to turn and punch Peter again, but of course that's not what happened. His memories have been obscured, but they've never been malleable - what he recalls is fuzzy, perhaps, but unchangeable. Moony is there - not the boy, nor the man, but the beast. The first time he'd seen it. And it was an It, certainly. The last light was fading in the shed, and Sirius stood in the middle of the floor, in his sweat-damp clothes, his legs weak and shivery. James and Peter behind him, just harsh breaths and quivering warmth against his back, and Remus sat naked on a cot, and his eyes--
They hadn't told him. They wanted it to be a surprise. Sirius thinks, now, that Remus would have appreciated not being scared witless by their sudden appearance. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, of course.
"Don't worry, Moony," James said, but he was too cold and nervous, and his voice broke and the words came out stuttered between clattering teeth. The memory of Remus' face is sharp and still like a Muggle photograph. Sirius wanted, then, to touch him, pull him close, put muddy handprints on his back. Instead he said, "You'll love this."
And he had. Sirius had, wildly loved it, madly loved it. The wolf was terrible and ferocious and beautiful, and Padfoot would have rubbed himself against it, licked it all over, if he hadn't been busy running and running and running and running.
These memories run together in a stream of exhilaration, stark black and silver and the chilly yellow of Moony's eyes. Sirius leans his head against the dingy bathroom wall and shivers despite the heat of the shower.
His own body feels awkward and bony under his hands. He's not made to be this thin, not like Remus, who's simply slightly built, narrow across the shoulders and right that way. Sirius remembers a time when there were muscles on these jutting bones.
It doesn't stop him, though. It's been... forever. Longer than what's strictly natural, no doubt, and he has a moment of manly panic - what if it doesn't work? What if Azkaban turned the plumbing dodgy?
For the longest time, he felt guilty, thinking about Remus like this. That's back now, when Remus left in anger and clearly wants distance and peace. Sirius has spent a lot of time with guilt, though, and he doesn't allow it any purchase.
Skin on wet skin is as it always was, heat and pounding blood and the single-mindedness of it - every sensation concentrated in one spot. His plumbing is fine, but after, he feels raw and spent, as if he used a cheese grater instead of his hand. His head pounds with each heartbeat, but his mind has stilled and reality has faded to a gentle hum.
The water has gone cold, and he turns it off. He grabs his wand and walks naked and dripping through the house, mouthing careful drying spells on the floor behind him. His skin pulls into goosebumps all over. He thinks briefly of neighbours with spyglasses and has an image of some elderly Muggle woman ringing on the doorbell and letting Remus hear a piece of her mind about decency. The imaginary look on his face brings a laugh. It skitters through Sirius' throat, choppy and a little too shrill.
It feels almost natural.
And then he woke up a little bit more. Other things started to intrude, like a sound like a muffled laugh and then, somewhere above his head, Lily's voice. Oh. His head was in Lily's lap, and this was her camel-coloured overcoat he was drooling on. "Well, Muggle children don't drive cars," Lily was saying.
"I'm just so used to having a broomstick, I suppose." That was James' voice, and the pause that meant pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
Lily giggled. "Though by the time they're our age, some of them are 'borrowing' their parents'."
"I don't suppose Remus will have driven one," said James. Another giggle. "More of a Sirius sort of thing--" The train went over a bump, jarring his hip-bone and shoulder against the train seat, and Remus thought very hard about the muscles in the back of his shoulder and willed them to relax. He tried counting to five, gritting his teeth, and meanwhile conversation murmured on.
"--you would if you hadn't met Sirius. If he were there, the car would never be seen again, and you'd both miraculously wind up with your heads un-smashed."
"And Remus would be there to say we didn't mean to do it and frown at us."
There was a silence, and Lily said in an odd little voice, "He might."
It was odd the sudden sensation, when he thought about the fact that he was lying still with his eyes closed, of clothing and pressing and benches all along his body, right down to the hyper-awareness of the insides of his eyelids against his eyes. And that faint snoring in the background would be Sirius. Perhaps the faint counterpoint to it was Peter.
Remus wanted to go back to sleep. The tone of Lily's voice had gone suddenly solemn, and he'd never quite heard James sound like that, and he had the sudden feeling that he shouldn't be listening to their conversation. This wasn't to say he hadn't noticed anything before, now he thought of it. He'd not noticed himself noticing, surely, and he wondered whether James or Lily had either.
He didn't even start wondering about Sirius.
When the train pulled into King's Cross and he was stretching and blinking, and Lily was smoothing her hair and tucking her scarf into the neck of her coat, he didn't look at Sirius, either. Except once, a quick look, because he had to look at the door of the car, and there was no point going out of his way not to look; and again, maybe once or twice, just by accident, as they were filing out, jostling with the other students on the platform. Their breath steamed immediately in the air. Sirius' cheeks were red, and he'd got a black muggle overcoat on with his Gryffindor scarf draped loosely around his neck, one of the ends tucked in and the other not. They wrestled all their suitcases out onto the Muggle platform and into a small dingy room with a copper key that was dirty enough, apparently, to make Lily wrinkle her nose, so it went in James' pocket, as he happened to be standing there. Remus blinked at the door, which had 69 painted on it in a mustard colour that might have been intended for gold.
This close to Christmas there was at least greenery, if not ribbon, visible from anywhere on the streets of London you cared to stand, if you had a moment to look about. After they got off the tube in the West End and crowded out under the snowy sky, Sirius and Peter perhaps overestimated the amount of time available for looking, and had to be dragged along by the elbows. Whether they were ogling the holly and mistletoe and shop-window paintings or the telephone booths and the traffic was not entirely clear.
Sirius was taller than all the rest of them and walked a little hunched over, his big shoulders shrinking inside his dull winter coat, black like his robes, as near to looking like them as it could be. Remus had met Sirius' parents at King's Cross before. They looked like they picked out his clothes for him, although he knew from Sirius that this was only partly true, and only because mostly he couldn't be bothered to pick clothes for himself. His mother had small eyes and a large mouth, and his father had a thin nervous face, and robes that were obviously specially-tailored to be long enough. He and James' Dad smiled loudly and spoke softly and clapped each other's forearm with impressive familiarity. It made you understand a lot about Sirius, watching them.
Everyone's hair was collecting snowflakes, and the sky was turning dark prematurely, not from sunset, but just from a blustering pile of dull silver-grey clouds. James' hair, the untidy mop, was mostly hidden under a stocking cap, where the flakes melted; they showed up for an instant on Sirius' cold black hair, tiny white pinpricks, before they started to melt. When he turned his head and craned over his shoulder after a sloppy painting in a shop window--"What did that say? What about--?"--they were caught in his eyelashes too, his mouth chipped and cracked pale with cold.
Remus licked his lips and looked down at the black footprints on the pavement. He fitted his own feet into first James', then Sirius'. Peter was trailing on the other side of Lily, hardly watching where he was going. In one notable moment he stumbled off the kerb and got the hem of his pants dirty-wet in the brown slush of melted snow filling the gutter. "What is that?" He asked worriedly.
"Slush," said Lily succinctly, linking her arm with Remus' and walking more briskly. James and Sirius had a tendency to gradually walk faster and faster until they were near-running, if left to their own devices. They didn't think about it. It was just because they had long legs, and lots of energy racing around in them. Made for Quidditch, they were--or something. Aurors. Like wands, almost, like if you weighed Sirius in your hand you could tell what he was good for and how powerful. A good, sturdy wizard. Full of life, impossible to stifle, without a proper direction of his own--
James stopped in front of them.
--But well capable of finding one.
Sirius stopped too. James was peering up into a window, probably some old granny's shop or a fretted instrument workshop crammed into the little attic over a grocer's. Sirius looked over his shoulder, and his eyes collided accidentally with Remus' for a moment. Then he looked down, in a quick sweep, and turned carelessly to look up where James was squinting. There had been a cold pink flush all along his cheeks, just invading the very tip of his aristocratic nose. For days Sirius had looked tired and ill-used. In the cold and the snow, you didn't see any bags under his eyes--just the black glowing eyes, the pink tip of his nose in his thin, nervous white face.
Even though he looked like his father, you had only to watch his mum for five minutes or so to see his mannerisms brought to life, uncannily, on a delicate and feminine, though not exactly pretty, canvas. He rubbed his hands together in front of him, rotated his shoulders when he was restless, looked down and shook his head briskly. His mother, all of it, Remus thought detachedly. It somehow didn't look the same on them, though. James, now, James was like his father all the way, and Lily's parents were sweet enough, but she was the swan among ducks, not like either of them except in the smallest of ways.
Peter took advantage of the stop to bend over and look more closely at his trouser, frowning worriedly. "What did you say it was again?"
"It'll be fine," said Remus heartily, sacrificing his handkerchief.
Peter muttered, too low to expect an answer, "Thanks. What is that stuff." Remus ignored him. Of course as soon as they straightened up, he noticed that everyone had stopped and demanded, "James, worn out already? Shall we take turns carrying him, boys?"
Sirius butted into Peter with his shoulder, and while they were engaged in grunting and lurching across the sidewalk, Lily poked James' sleeve with a gloved finger. She was beginning to get impatient. "Potter. What is it?"
Sirius got in a good jab and Peter stumbled back, laughing, off the edge of the path into the cleaner white snow on the grass, where his shoes left crushed dirty grey marks. Sirius fell back, smiling, right into Remus. "Magic in that flat," James muttered. Lily's eyebrows rose. The bump almost put Remus off-balance. He swayed a little and almost had to step back. Watching all four of them abstractly, he'd not registered the nearness.
Sirius' shoulder was solid, warm through the four or six layers of cloth between them. Startled, he looked over, blinking. "Sorry," Sirius muttered.
Remus tried not to let his lips twitch, and then they pinched closed of their own will, when Sirius stood up and tugged at his coat consciously. Lily had left off trying to leach the whole story of his frown out of James with her best frown and turned to Remus again. "Where to first again?" he said with a weakly placating smile.
"We're near John Lewis," Lily replied, raising her voice a little. "The department store. It'll probably be a blizzard by the time we get out."
"But maybe if we're lucky," said Peter hopefully, "not by the time we get in?" James laughed and tousled Peter's hair, and they all fell into place again with Lily and Remus in front this time.
Motor cars squeaked around the corners with their windshield wipers going super-fast, and ladies with their scarves pulled up around their eyes clutched the mittened hands of children, scurrying along the sidewalk. They darted rather desperately across the street in a black and camel-colour woollen huddle, and came up on the sidewalk at the other side rather breathless, between two parked cars, a tiny Mini pale blue with frostbite and a crouching Aston Martin, staidly dark blue.
Remus kept glancing over his shoulder to be sure they were still there, Peter twitching his nose and staring around with his blue eyes gone huge as saucers, James muffling the odd laugh in his scarf as he tucked his chin down, Sirius' hands bare of gloves or mittens gesturing expansively through the frozen air, white backs, stark tendons, long, long fingers. Sirius looked, in small parts, much more fragile than he was. You had to see all of him, his sturdy shoulders and the proportions of his torso over his long legs and the wiry strength of his thighs, to have an accurate idea of how powerful he was.
Those white fingers started reddening almost immediately with returning blood when they entered the department store, Remus noticed, tugging his own scarf down looser around his neck and pushing his knit mittens off in his pockets. Peter's eyes were growing wider and wider, and James pushed him forward after Lily with one hand, his own glasses up the bridge of his nose with the other forefinger. There had been, among other things, wigs on white Styrofoam heads, Christmas stockings and fuzzy red and white jumpers, kitchen timers and glazed white dishes with geese on them in the window.
"Oi, James," Sirius hissed loudly, "Muggles sell their hair," and Lily turned around to glare daggers at him. Remus walked faster, crowding his friends between himself and Lily. If they were lucky, no Muggles would hear them the whole time. Lily threw him an amused look, and a rotund lady in a pink angora jumper tried to give him a cologne sample on a bit of paper. Sirius wrinkled his nose and his forehead at the stench, and he was opening his mouth, no doubt, to ask what made the smell. Remus trod hard on the back of his foot, and they started walking.
Remus was sweating by the time they made it into the housewares.
"Pots and pans!" Peter whispered, mock-astonished. Sirius giggled outright, James behind his hand. Remus closed his mouth firmly and met Lily's very tolerant smile with a straight face.
"They sell plates and cups too, Peter," she said sweetly. "And books."
"Books?" he said, looking about as if he didn't know what that was. Sirius cuffed him on the side of the head.
"Cooking books?" James said with great presence of mind, as they walked past a small sales counter.
Lily didn't miss a beat, and sounded appropriately puzzled and thoughtful. "Somewhere around here, yes," and glanced down an aisle of pepper grinders. James peered over her shoulder, black coat and hair over her tawny camel and copper-penny colours.
The store's speakers could not quite handle all the weight of the jingling bells they were attempting to project, and unfortunately there was one set in the ceiling just over the aisle with the toasters, when Lily found it. Then a high-pitched chorus joined in, and before you knew it, there was a very cheerful baritone warbling in his best kindergarten-teacher voice about angels, St. Nicholas, the Christ child and the bloody mistletoe, and all the other lovely things that Muggles didn't shut up about starting in late October.
There was a ball of mistletoe at the intersection of two white-linoleum stripes in the floor, a bit away from them, where a large display of electric mixers on one side vied for attention with a precarious stack of painted holiday tins on the other. "Aha," Lily was saying, having found a display toaster. She looked around. No clerks in sight. She pulled a slice of bread out of her coat pocket.
Peter hooted. "You're carrying bread in your pocket?"
"Yes, and you can't have any," Lily retorted calmly.
Peter pouted; James wrapped a reassuring arm around his shoulders. "Don't worry, we'll be at dinner soon." Sirius' stomach grumbled on cue, and they all laughed as Lily pushed the lever of the toaster down. The atmosphere was not so relaxed when it popped up again. Peter squeaked, James gaped, and Sirius jumped noticeably.
"What--?" Said three voices, or a close enough approximation.
Lily bit off a corner, looking around quickly again for a saleswoman. Remus hid his face in his hands and chuckled. "'S toast," she said brightly, holding it out. Nothing would stop Peter, but James reminded him of her earlier response, and while they were talking, Sirius ate the rest of the piece.
They walked down the aisle trailing crumbs like Hansel and Gretel. Sirius brushed at his collar and his scarf cheerfully, his jaw working the while. Remus had fallen into step next to him somehow; he was close enough to see the flex of muscles under the smooth skin. His hearing wasn't so bad just now, either. He could feel hairs standing up on the back of his neck. He could hear each crunch of Sirius' teeth, could hear the difference between crust and bread. Could hear each and every swallow.
Overhead, the music shifted, thankfully, to an instrumental Bach. Lily was fiddling with a shiny red telephone, Sirius humming some previously unknown Latin words to the Bach only partly under his breath, oblivious. James elbowed him, hard. "Oof," Sirius said, but at least he was quiet. "What's that?"
They had heard of the mythical beast, but not seen one. Peter nearly got shoved out of the way as James and Sirius' larger frames crowded around Lily's slender silhouette, with the handset dangling from her fingers. The clicking noises when she dialled a random number made Peter crowd nervously closer to James. "How does it do that?"
Remus could see hairs standing up on the napes of their necks now, all three. "You talk in that part and they hear you?" said James, adjusting his glasses again. Only Remus saw Sirius' shiver.
Lily confirmed this, with some smugness hidden behind a sweet smile. The speakers blasted "Angels We Have Heard On High." Sirius couldn't sing along with this, and anyway, he was staring too intently at the phone. They all three smelled faintly of fear. Not a hint of red anywhere on Sirius' nose or--he looked--fingertips. All gone white. Remus wanted to hum along himself. Either that or be sick.
He could pick out their smells, and Sirius' nervousness lingered after Peter and James were relatively calm again. There was a bit of perspiration, like a smudge of oil or water applied with a thumb, along Sirius' upper lip. His mouth was tightly closed. Lily looked sideways to her left where James and Peter stood, laughing slightly as they poked at the phone, the dials, the cradle. James' eyes were as wide as Peter's and he didn't seem to notice his glasses sliding down his nose until the last moment, when he stopped them with a forefinger. Lily shook her head at this and turned to meet Remus' eyes over Sirius' head. His stomach steadied a little. Lily might not even smell entirely like herself, and Sirius might smell afraid and that might remind him of--what it would, but Lily's smile for him was always going to be the same.
They walked hand-in-hand out of the department store, letting James, Peter and Sirius trail along as they would, laughing and bouncing off of god-knows-what and humming along with the Muggle Christmas carols. In fact, Sirius carried on humming tunelessly right out the door and for a few blocks down the street, and when they ducked into "Antonio's," had somehow made the transition to what sounded suspiciously like either "Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall," "The Witch at the Down-Home Pub," or some unholy combination of the two.
He probably would have hummed all through dinner if James hadn't kicked him under the table when the waiter appeared. He glowered across the black-and-white checked tablecloth, candlelight from a bottle covered with melted wax dancing up over his features. He looked positively demoniac in the dim room, swimming with stale cigarette smoke under a low ceiling and lit with strings of little white bulbs.
"Order?" Repeated the harried waiter.
Remus tore his eyes from Sirius' face and rushed into speech, "Spaghetti. For all of us, please." Lily snorted, and turned it into a ladylike cough. When Remus spared a glance his eyes met a curtain of flaming hair as she bent sideways to root in the pockets of her overcoat.
The waiter counted, his eyebrows barely twitching. "Four... five... spaghettis. With meatballs?"
Peter, who was busy drinking at the time, choked in his rush to say "Yes, please."
"All of them," said Lily, smiling, "if you would." Sirius was blinking at the menu. Remus pulled it out of his hands, tweaked James' from under the edge of his plate, and took Lily's when she offered it helpfully. He handed the stack to the waiter.
"When," said James, in what he probably considered sotto voce, "do we get the tiramisu?"
Sirius didn't even seem to be paying attention for the answer again, whereas Peter practically bounced out of his chair. No, Sirius was gazing rather blankly down at his plate, candlelight painting some of the rose back into his face--more than the cold air had done. It wasn't just the tip of his nose reddened, or that and those dashes along his cheekbones, but his whole countenance, even his hands, bathed in the warm light. His face might have been flushed with excitement, or from the warmth of the restaurant and his wool jumper. Or, then, it might not.
It was not a particularly bad time of the month; he was coming out of the period where his senses were sharpest, not yet close enough to full moon to make him nervous and twitchy. Of course, his sense of smell was always pretty sharp; the scent of the meatballs, though, swathed the table, and protected him to some extent from--Remus looked up, through a warped curtain, like taffeta and water, of candle flame--other smells.
After all of everything, you really might have expected the tiramisu to be something of an anti-climax. There was little easier than firing up James and Sirius' imaginations. Matching them with reality was another matter.
Remus should have known, though, that you can't go wrong with chocolate, cream, and Amaretto. Bad tiramisu might have gone over; mediocre tiramisu certainly would. And this tiramisu, which Remus was forced to admit (to the sound of a chorus of sensual "oh"s and "mm"s) was not at all bad, went over like fireworks.
Their audience loved it, so much so that James inhaled his, without his attention wavering once, and Sirius actually paused to savour a few bites. Peter was nearly silent. Perhaps it wasn't possible to let down his expectations. From his face he might have been tasting a dream, or more likely, the thousand things he'd managed to imagine about tiramisu, instead of the slightly sodden mass on his plate, where the ladyfingers were oozing out the side a bit under the pressure of his fork, and what were meant to be chocolate curls were more like melted chocolate drips.
Lily had obviously had better, although she didn't say anything, or make any sort of face, or allow her nose to twitch. She smiled, and ate daintily, which tipped Remus off. It wasn't that Lily never ate dessert daintily, but he'd seen her with home-made chocolate cake, with ice-cream mounded with baked apples and caramel syrup. This reaction didn't match that. Sugar was a more powerful drug to her delicate system than to James' or Peter's or Sirius', though--he glanced about--she might behave more decorously under its influence.
She was still in complete control of her faculties. The tiramisu clearly hadn't got her yet.
She smiled, though, when Remus met her eyes, and only then did he realise he was smiling. Peter eating in a happy daze, Sirius savouring each slow bite, James lapping driblets of chocolate from the tines of his fork--all of them were smiling, a Peter-smile, a James-smile... a Sirius-smile. And whether they remembered the tiramisu or the Muggle outing, right now, at least, it was one of the most amazing desserts any of them had ever had. You could see it written in their faces.
With that in mind, Remus took another bite.
Perhaps there was something a bit special about this chocolate. His nostrils flared, and he licked a crumb of chocolate off his thumb: yes, definitely something special, if only its half-melted quality and the warm glow of the candlelight, and the chill emitted by the window off to their left. Streetlights in frosty globes of falling snow outside hung in the night air like particularly garish Christmas tree ornaments. Another bite, and that time the cream and chocolate swirled together around his tongue. Remus felt his eyes widen in surprise, and he met Sirius' gaze through the candle, his head tilted low near the plate the way he always ate, looking up from under black eyebrows and a fringe of eyelash. Sirius smiled a little, as though he knew exactly what Remus was thinking.
Remus took another bite and felt the fork bend between his teeth.
"Are we going to the movies?" James asked, poking with his fork at his plate. Both were entirely clean, sparkling. He must have licked them carefully.
"We were," said Lily.
Only two of the tines of the fork were bent, jabbing sharply away from the rest. Remus probed at it with his tongue while Lily tried to remember what might be playing.
"Is that bloody?" Sirius said innocently. The bent tines jabbed into the roof of his mouth. Wincing, Remus pushed at them with his tongue. There was barely any give.
"Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street?" James was doubtful. "Doesn't sound it."
Sirius grinned rakishly, "It depends what sort of miracle!"
Even Lily chuckled at that. "What about Eleven Harrowhouse?"
"Didn't you see that last summer?" James asked. "It's still playing?"
"Is it bloody?"
"It sounds bloody," said Peter hopefully. Remus' tongue was beginning to bleed, just a little. He tried biting the fork again and succeeded only in bending the tips back the wrong way. Lily was giving him a curious look.
"You told us about it, didn't you," Sirius said to Remus.
Lily, not done with the curious looks, nonetheless came to his rescue: "It's a comedy."
"Probably," said Peter regretfully, "Not much blood then."
Remus shook his head.
Sirius had been watching him. "I should think you've got the last molecule of chocolate by now." He would have smiled wanly, but for the fork in his mouth. Under the guise of fiddling with the handle, he got it so the two normal tines were pointing straight at the back of his throat, fit to stab him, probably. Or so he hoped. He tugged the fork back until he met resistance and bit down, hard.
"Murder on the Orient Express," said Lily suddenly. "Mum mentioned it in her last letter. Sounds bloody."
"Will you like it, Lily?" Asked Peter, having sudden compunctions.
Lily smiled and showed her teeth. "Don't worry."
The fork, meanwhile, seemed to be mostly bent back into shape. Remus didn't prod it too closely with his tongue. He set it down on his plate gingerly, and didn't look at it. His teeth rather hurt.
Outside he kept his lips firmly shut, just in case the snowy air had ideas about making his teeth hurt more. His camera was around his neck again, and at first he thought this would be a welcome distraction. It could be his job, to make sure the whole expedition was properly chronicled for all of them. In years and years from now, they could pore over these pictures and laugh. Snow sifted like powdered sugar, like white freckles, over Peter's upturned nose. Click. Peter turned and winked, then spoiled it trying to lick a snowflake off his nose. Sirius came into the viewfinder, laughing, shoving at Peter with his shoulder again, and Remus turned away. Lily side-stepped the fuss neatly and shook her hair over her shoulders, and shivered a little when wind got up under it on the back of her neck.
"Cold?" said James, and he took a picture of their heads together. It was an image he thought he would want.
He didn't want a picture of Sirius and James' heads together, really. His finger twitched. Then James dropped a wet handful of snow in the back of Sirius' collar. Sirius yelped, rather pitifully, even, and dove at James.
Peter's eyes lit up and he jogged into Remus' elbow. "Who wins?" He whispered. Remus smiled a little, and resisted the urge to take a picture. Bugger this--he was going to end up with a roll of not-pictures of Sirius. His damned pink nose and the white puffs of his crystallised breath were making Remus' finger on the button itch.
"Not in the street," said Lily scathingly, and James and Sirius broke apart, still jostling and giggling. He edged around them on the sidewalk. She'd slipped an arm through James' elbow and one through Sirius' (though she might have been squeezing a little hard on that side, and Sirius might have winced). Click. Lily looked a bit demented, displaying her gritted teeth ostentatiously, and Sirius looked--Remus looked again. Uncomfortable. He looked uncomfortable.
That look intensified when Lily, on the pretext of leaning closer to feel his damp collar, squeezed his arm nearly hard enough to cut off the circulation. Remus knew that grip. It had been known to cause him brief discomfort. Sirius winced. Oh dear. Hopefully his arm wasn't broken.
Remus' nose twitched: no, he would have smelt any pain like that. Sirius was just confused and uncomfortable, and boyish and excited. Remus could smell his hair and that little bit at the side of his neck both from this distance. He hurriedly took another picture of James, grinning absently when he saw the direction of the camera.
Peter came forward too, pushing at Lily and James, with the happy side-effect that Lily let go Sirius' arm before she could do permanent damage. "Here, Moony," he said jovially, "you mustn't take all the pictures--no one will know you were with us."
Sirius hooted. "If you took them all, we'd know by your finger in the edge."
But Remus gave Peter the camera anyway, after he snitched a last picture of Sirius' head thrown back with laughter. Lily was a little in front of him, walking briskly so the edges of her hair blew back and pulling a lipstick tube out of her pocket.
The snow came down not at all like rain, more like you'd gotten very high and your vision was fuzzy, or otherwise affected ("What are those little white things?" "Giggle--What's that on your nose?"). Remus' hair was starting to get wet from the flakes that had already melted in it. He'd lost Lily from his arm while he had the camera to occupy him and now he was shiftless and rootless, like a werewolf meeting a real wolf-pack in the forest (and he shivered thinking about it). Lily could look perfectly possessed walking by herself, but Sirius was a bit like Remus, there. He was either totally on, bouncing and laughing and talking and waving, or off complete with an "off" smell, tucked and curled tightly into himself.
And Remus, walking now without a camera and without a sleeve to cling to, let his eyes skate over Sirius musing aloud and humming to himself, Peter taking pictures of the pavement, Lily patting her hair, James ineffectually telling Sirius to be quiet, Sirius smiling and laughing and James' quizzical look at Remus, and Sirius humming again, and then singing outright.
Remus smiled at James. It was a shockingly beautiful night, not too cold in the snow, which was new-fallen enough to have iced over everything without having been too marred with grey and brown footprints. The stars were hazed over with cloud, perhaps, and the store fronts were not all clean, and the only music in the air was Sirius' (now gone to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," with strategic words wrong).
"Shut up, wanker," said James, hitting Sirius sharply over the head, and Remus stepped between them.
"Now, now, you two, let's not do each other too much damage," he said good-humouredly, looking at James (and not at Sirius). James looked back. Peter had managed to take three or four pictures of real people, by now, and was positive they were ready for a pose.
Remus looked up doubtfully at a store window. "20 per cent less," said a hand-lettered sign. There were handprints on the glass and a dilapidated, sun-faded awning spotted with mildew and bird-droppings was sagging lumpily between the metal ribs holding it up. "Here?" he asked. The awning blocked what light a quaint street lamp provided, if they stood under it in what seemed like a rather suspicious square black puddle, but was actually simply a dry patch of concrete not yet reached by the snow fluttering in their faces.
Sirius muttered, almost tunefully, "If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do, if you haven't got a ha'penny..."
Lily came unexpectedly to Peter's defence, "It's a good idea. We'll stand out here in the sidewalk, though, Peter--no, not under--" Sirius and James had both automatically gone under the awning, as if on cue from a comedy scriptwriter.
"Out of there, louts," he said, taking pity on Lily before she could turn more than two colours.
She popped over his shoulder, not in the least in need of his pity. Full of surprises tonight! Remus made a wry face, and Lily nicked James' glasses from right off his nose and stepped back into the falling snow with them.
"She got you!" Sirius stopped singing long enough to say in admiring wonder. "Good show, Evans."
"Out here," said Lily.
"I can't see," James complained pitifully.
"The longer you stay over there," Remus pointed out, hands in his pockets, suppressing the urge to whistle to fill the sudden musical void, "the less you'll be able to when you get them back." They were, indeed, starting to fog over, and snowflakes were falling on them.
Peter was fiddling with dials on the camera. Remus only hoped they were dials meant to be fiddled with, and didn't look too closely. Peter, biting his lip and lounging against the lamppost, seemed to be happy. Sirius was laughing and punching James' arm.
"Bugger," said James.
Peter lifted the camera to his eye and seemed surprised to see how everyone stood. "I can't take a picture," he said, "if you're not all together."
"Or in the dark," added Remus pointedly. "Under the awning. Photos need light. And it's rather dark out."
"Oh," James muttered, and Sirius laughed.
"Good luck finding your way out, mate. Maybe if you walk towards the light--"
James reached for him again with a scowl and ended up stumbling out into the light, incidentally, clinging to Sirius' sleeve, which Sirius dusted off, stepping back to stand by Remus. "Are they broken yet?" said James.
Lily ostentatiously checked. "Not yet!"
Sirius snorted. "How long?" Remus turned, obscurely startled to have been addressed. Sirius was standing just next to him, smiling mischievously down with the corners of his eyes crinkled just as if a week's worth of messes had not happened. For a moment Remus wished, with startling clarity, that they hadn't; in the next, the thought made him sick.
James' voice was oddly flat, not quite acid, not really defeated, not really sarcastic--"I have your word for that," and he made a snatch at them.
Lily held the glasses over her head and leant sideways, giggling, and his hand closed on empty air with abominable aim. Peter was shifting around, trying to get all four of them into the frame, and Remus took a helpful step forward, trying to come near Lily without getting hit by her waving arm.
Hot breath on his ear and Sirius whispered, "Thank whatever Gods you please that he plays Quidditch with the glasses on." When had Quidditch become such a blastedly unsettling subject? Remus stepped away like a skittish kitten, clutching desperately at Lily just in front of him, and buried his face in her cold hair.
The safe scent of Lily was still comforting--but he knew he wasn't really safe,--click--and Lily, though she must have known he was there, didn't even turn around. He waited, his arms around her waist, with a kind of detached curiosity. He knew the moment had to end soon--James would snatch his glasses, or Sirius would move or some muscle in Lily's slender body would tense to tell him that she felt him there, her head would turn in inquiry. Of course she would want to know at once what was wrong, though she wouldn't say anything straight off.
Which of these happened he didn't quite know with his face in her hair, but the next he knew James was wearing his glasses again and boxing Remus' ears, he supposed as the nearest available male ones. He ducked out of James' grip and shoved at his arm, "Ow, Potter." Lily smiled at him, just slightly, and twitched the corner of her mouth. This was clearly Lily sign-language for something, but he doubted he'd ever know what it had meant. He was breathing cold air again, his lips cold and damp, and a snowflake landed on the tip of his tongue.
Peter took a picture of James wearing his glasses again, with some melted snowflakes still dripping down onto his cheeks. James grinned wryly. Sirius tackled him almost so hard that he lost the drippy glasses, and Remus watched them wrestle briefly. "Hah, Potter, I could get them off you again--oof," said Sirius, the last a bit breathlessly as he took an elbow in a vulnerable spot. They were standing too far away, in too many layers and too much cold, for Remus to sort out all of the scents properly, but he seemed unconscionably boisterous.
James playing Quidditch with his glasses! Of all the things to say and all the times to say it. Just as if nothing had happened. Or as if it had, possibly, but as if what had happened to Sirius had been very different, like perhaps Remus was a very nice girl, say, a shy Ravenclaw, who had accepted a date to dinner, but they hadn't gone yet. And Sirius, of course, would naturally breathe on the ear of a shy Ravenclaw girl because he would need to see if he could seduce her. No Ravenclaw girls, Remus was willing to bet, had ever come close to drawing blood from Sirius' neck on the Quidditch field, at least, not with their teeth.
And Sirius, who would have no trouble whatever seducing a nice Ravenclaw girl, had even less trouble with Remus. In fact, Remus wasn't exactly sure where seducing came into anything, because there had been Remus going mad off the smell of him, with the wolf almost surging up entirely out of him in full daylight, near the new moon, even. He knew better than to think the wolf was just the Wolf, though, the werewolf who thrust claws through his fingers occasionally. He was so much more than that, and impossible to hide from--and he didn't think in terms of seduction at all. It had just been Sirius, sweat, the fresh white throat, the scent of his hammering pulse and his excitement and fear steaming out of him.
Remus had just barely stopped himself from breaking some part of Sirius, hadn't he? And Sirius certainly didn't have any idea of what he was thinking if Remus didn't. If anyone was to do any thinking for either of them, it was clearly going to be him.
He couldn't forget arching up off the bed under the touch of those lips on the scar. Oddly sensitive and dead at the same time, it was mostly a ripply piece of flesh which would sting with cold and whiten with heat, and throb when Lily kissed him, though he'd wriggle away from her touch when she outlined it with a fingertip. Sirius, though, had dipped his head to the curve of Remus' shoulder, had licked it--he'd felt the scrape of teeth and something in him had gone numb and fiery all at once. There were nerve endings in it, oh, yes, buried though they might be. And there was probably more to it than that--which, of all the things for Sirius to understand, he clearly did.
The universe was full of things which passed by him without notice or comment; Sirius wasn't the sort to look about him for sources of displeasure, unless he was already irritated about something. His character was simple, simply satisfied. And yet this he knew. He felt it, the scar, and he knew as well as Remus what it meant. Maybe better. Remus was a Dark Creature, after all. Maybe for a human there was more to understanding that than he could ever know.
But Sirius knew, and he didn't have to face it, or not; Sirius had seemed, at least in the heat of the moment, if not later, perfectly capable of not-facing it for him. He had pulled back when he had and Remus had not bitten the sloping tendon between neck and shoulder, the curve of his bicep, the soft hollow under his ear, or any one of a dozen places his mouth had found in the past week alone. He had the sensory memory of each, the taste and smell and the touch--
Sirius had understood well enough, clearly, to stop. To not be bitten, claimed, marked, or otherwise broken.
What did Sirius do now but seize his arm, after breathing in his ear, after smiling at him just as though nothing had happened, or everything had. What was he doing, and what did he want? And how dared he do it?
Couldn't he have kept thinking for just a little longer? The rest of the week. The rest of tonight, and tomorrow, and then he would be gone, and perhaps the danger would be, too.
He shook Sirius' hand off his arm under the pretext of jogging faster to catch up with Peter--"Take a picture of the theatre front," he said, when he could as easily have called forward. Peter was obedient.
James pointed to the marquee. "Murder on the Orient Express." Lily's eyes were shining.
"Lily, do Muggles use--" Peter started to ask. Remus, who happened to still be closest, trod on his foot.
"I'll pay," Lily said with a half-hearted glare, and she and James crowded up to the box office window.
The poster showed a great white dagger with drawings of faces clustered around it, a moustached man staring grimly from under lowered eyebrows, a red-haired woman in three-quarter profile with eyes narrowed, a balding gentleman, two ladies in hats, a young dark-haired man with a forward-jutting chin, glaring aggressively across the span of the knife at a proud woman (or perhaps it was at the balding gentleman). Agatha Christie. His mum had read it. Remus looked at it blankly some more.
Bugger. His hands twitched in his pockets and he almost wished for it to be the full moon, so that he would be alone. For once not trailing James as far as he could, Sirius had hung back and was so close to his shoulder that Remus could smell him again, even at this low time of the month--only Sirius, only Sirius could be this foolish.
"Look," he said softly. Remus clenched his teeth. Peter was hanging just behind James with the camera. "'T them," he continued just as if Remus had spoken to him. "Looks like Lily really knows what she's doing."
Remus closed his eyes.
The voice came closer. He felt breath on his face.
It would serve the idiot right if he did bite him. Remus opened his eyes and bit the word out instead. "What."
Sirius couldn't rival Lily for sign-language, certainly, thought Remus distractedly. He'd moved to position his whole frame between Remus and the others, his back to them entirely unconcerned, his face red and his hair untidy with wind and snow. Peter was completely masked behind his shoulders. "Lily's enjoying herself." His eyes were trying to convey, perhaps, a runic alphabet via a Morse code of sideways jerks.
Remus suppressed a sigh and the urge to step back. He could smell the separate scents of the hollow of Sirius' throat, the spot under his ear, the other on his shoulder... he could smell blood straight through the skin, at this range.
"So is James."
A stony stare would surely be enough? No. Now his eyebrows were twitching too and he'd put a hand on Remus' shoulder.
"So, listen, Remus, I think if you--"
More words to bite off, and every time his mouth opened he increased the danger that some bit of wolf lurking in him would lose patience, cast off its chains and take what it wanted. "Not. Here." He said.
The door to the cinema was opening, and he blinked glazed eyes. James was waving at them, Lily was giving them a look. "Be right there," said Sirius, with a perfectly believable cheeky grin (where had he gotten it?). Just like that, the door closed and they were outside alone but for the pale ticket window.
"Remus," Sirius was saying, "I think you really ought to talk to Lily--you can't just let her--do you want someone else to say something to her?" He was stuttering, making not the least bit of sense.
Remus liked to think he was waiting patiently. He wasn't, of course. His fingernails were scoring little crescent moons into the palms of his hands. "No," he replied with great presence of mind.
Sirius jerked a hand, frustrated and stiff, through his hair, and the moonlight played a slithery little game in the jet strands for a moment.
He couldn't even close his eyes. He took Sirius' arm in one hand, uncaring of his grip, and pulled. "Not here. We're not going to talk about this here." And dragged him out from under the awning, past a brass plaque on the wall and a light and a dark window, right to the corner of the building and into an alley, where rubbish and snow were vying for precedence on the ground, and a groove down the centre had been worn of brown slush.
Of course, Sirius at once opened his mouth again. "I can't believe James. I can't believe he would ever do that. If he knows! But Lily! She knows! What's the matter with you?" Suddenly angry eyes turned on Remus, and it was so much worse than if he'd no idea what Sirius was babbling about, because while it made little enough sense, he was following it perfectly. He was not blind; he'd seen Lily with James all day, all week, even. Perhaps it had been too much to hope for that Sirius would be.
"I know," he tried to say, through his gritted teeth, and his hands were out of his pockets now. Somehow. Out of his mittens as well, and Sirius, Sirius smelled quite strongly of distress from all the bits of his throat and his neck and why, in a thousand moons, would Remus think about Lily right now, if someone weren't yelling in his ear? He bit his lip, desperately.
Sirius didn't hear. "Can you just let her? She'll think you don't care--" And that was finally it.
He wasn't moving; there was no Remus; there was no wolf; there was just, in one moment, Sirius standing there, and in the next, only Sirius' wool-covered shoulders between his bare hands and the brick wall. His fingers were clenching round a bit, in fact; through the layers of cloth he could feel his ability to break a collarbone. It was giving a little, in stress, and Sirius had gone frozen, but he was sweating and now he smelled of fear and blood.
It took several moments for Remus to realise why the scent of blood was suddenly much sharper--Sirius' lip had split, and his head rested against the brick, his whole body pinned there and not moving. Remus had to look: yes, his feet were still on the ground. Sirius was only staring at him, his lip bleeding where he must have bitten it when he hit the wall.
An experimental squeeze produced a wince, and Remus opened his mouth to tell Sirius very scathingly to shut up, to stop being a stupid git, to leave him alone, to make up his mind, to--he'd really no idea what, or whether he could even speak.
But it didn't matter, because no words, no sound, no movement, no Remus and no wolf, again, stood between two moments--maybe not even any time. The only thing he knew then was the taste of the blood that had been tingling its smell along his tongue, lapping it from the wound with short careful strokes, drawing the wounded lip into his mouth...
Then the top lip. Sirius' shocked cold mouth opened, blood and chocolate and the scent of fear, and, faintly, behind that, the cold stinging their ears, the wind on the back of his neck, the press of Sirius' shoulders unmoving under his hands. His mouth was cold, and Sirius was warm and tasted just as he smelled. And Remus tore his mouth away with a movement as savage as another bite, and let go the same way he'd taken hold of the shoulders, turning away without watching, counting the panting breaths burning into his throat and his lungs.
There was not a sound but the skitter of a bit of rubbish which the wind kicked idly over the snowy pavement.
The linoleum in the hall is freezing and he tries to walk on his tiptoes and remember at the same time, thinking about memory charms - he knows how to make someone not remember, but how about bringing out misplaced images, things stowed away for safekeeping and then lost in the rubble? He hardly remembers how to research spells anymore.
There are boys in the yard, throwing sodden and muddy slushballs, fashioned from the last vestiges of snow under the rosebushes, at the back wall. Sirius squints out through the tiny square window on the door. There are three of them, maybe fifteen years old, dressed in baggy, colourful clothes, no hats. Two of them have dark skin to hide the flush, but one is pink-cheeked and red-lipped, and Sirius' brain lurches and produces an image, fresh from the archives, of Remus' lips looking raw and a little sore, and the air nipping at his cheeks, or Sirius' cheeks, laughter and a burn in his lungs that wasn't just chill.
He opens the door. A snowball - or the most pathetically English excuse for one - lands at his feet. The lads stare at him. He realises that he's still naked, save for his wand - and that's hardly something you want to wave about in a place like this.
One of them laughs, a raw and uncontrolled sound, puberty ripping mercilessly at his vocal chords.
"I'll thank you to leave the wall alone," Sirius says in his best schoolteacher voice, even though he's feeling the cold in places that would do best kept snug and warm.
They stand and stare at him, and he knows, about a second before the boy himself does, which one will throw first. He raises his wand, or the wand flies up on its own accord, however you like it, and the snow melts mid-air, and he's pelted with a lukewarm spray of muddy water.
Beyond stupid, but the looks on their faces...
"Run," he growls, baring his teeth at them, and they scramble to get out of the garden, leaving footprint-gashes in the patch of lumpy lawn.
He stands in the door until his teeth start chattering. The boys don't return, and the evidence of their presence slips sluggishly down the wall.
Upstairs again, and how was it that he'd nodded off, sitting bare-arsed on Remus' unmade bed? He'd held his wand tightly in his sleep; there's still a little groove in his palm.
He digs through Remus' wardrobe, making a right mess of it. Remus has a singularly dull taste in clothes, but he's so much smaller that what's baggy and unassuming on him is snug and figure-hugging on Sirius.
He doesn't borrow any underwear, and it gives him an evil little thrill to slip into Remus' soft-worn corduroys with nothing but skin on underneath. "And I'll start acting my age any time now, mum," he tells his own reflection - preening a little, because the trousers cling nicely to his hips. He remembers billboards with advertisements for clothes, the young men posing in jeans or just briefs precisely this sharp of rib and hollow of stomach. It must be in fashion, he thinks, and misses his well-fed Quidditch-strong body.
James called him vain a few times, and so did Remus, but Sirius never minded that. If it was vanity, let it be that, then. He liked his own body, what he could do with it, what he could have other people do to it. James had a different kind of vanity, a need to be clever and on top of things - James never left anything to chance, obsessive with learning, but not for the reasons Remus or Lily were.
He puts on a dark blue jumper - the only item of clothing that isn't in some way brown. The wand fits up the sleeve and that's all he needs, then. Socks, and his stolen coat off the peg by the door, and boots.
The door falls shut behind him and then, of course, he remembers that he doesn't have a key. Remus has probably barred the door with wards, too, just to be difficult.
It doesn't budge with a simple alohomora, at least. He stands there staring angrily at the innocuous blue with the number 41 in brass hanging a little lopsided because one of the screws has come loose. He nudges it straight and jams the screw back and twists it in with a short command.
"Bollocks," he says, indistinctly, and puts the wand back up his sleeve. A large, shiny car rolls by slowly, its sides fairly vibrating with a heavy, thumping beat coming from inside. Popular music, Sirius surmises, has changed somewhat since 1981. He catches rapid-fire poetry over the beat, peppered with obscenities he doesn't even completely understand.
It wouldn't do to run after the car and knock on the dark-tinted windows to ask what band that was, what song, what kind of music. He shrugs and thinks fondly of Led Zeppelin and Queen and The Who.
He ambles along the street, listening for more music. The world indulges him, and there are jingles coming from every shop, beats following every passing car, passers-by even humming snatches of songs under their breaths. He finds himself humming along, as if he can really follow the tune. And music brings memories, of course, and he can almost feel James' hand thumping into the back of his head and his voice hissing, "Sirius, if you don't stop the humming I will turn your tongue into a slug," and perhaps, somewhere a little off, not touching him, very carefully not touching him, Remus, and Remus saying, "He can do it, too."
"Don't you think I know?" Sirius mutters, the tune lost somewhere. A tempting waft of fresh bread-scented warm air tickles at his nostrils and he realises he's hungry and he just passed a bakery.
He ducks through the door before he can second-guess himself, and warmth and the most welcoming smell in the world greet him. The young girl at the counter greets him, too, and there's something very odd with her teeth - he manages to check the impulse to lean in and squint.
"Can I help you, sir?" she asks politely, and he sees metal threads tied around her teeth, right across the front. It looks bizarre, but he decides it must be fashion, too, like the rings he's seen in lips and noses and eyebrows, and the chains hanging from belts and pockets.
"I was lured in by the delicious smells," he tells her, making his voice soft, but not too soft, his smile wide but not too wide.
"What's your fancy?" she asks, the politeness giving way to a genuine smile - he still has it, then, the famous Black charm. "First contact to done deed in oh-point-forty-five seconds," Peter'd say with a distinct tint of envy, and the rest of them, who weren't interested in charming the knickers off anything that moved, would laugh with some derision.
She's roundly curved and her hair is a rather startling shade of red, and he doesn't have to think of England at all to find the right mood, the mix of desire and earnestness that would soothe all her apprehensions and make her want to keep his attention. It takes him far too long to realise that he's not twenty-one anymore, that he's very nearly old enough to be her father. He takes a step backwards and sees her smile falter.
"Just realised," he says, hastily. "I left my purse in the other coat. It'll have to wait, love."
Outside, he only needs to take a few step in the deepening chill of the evening before he's calm again, having to hide a snicker at his own presumption behind his hand. He could go back now and charm that girl into handing over the baked goods, see if he could get it done in less than ten minutes, perhaps. "And no wand, you cheating berk." Remus' voice this time, because it was always Remus who wanted things to be fair - Remus was Not Amused by cheating. Even James could stoop to cheating if it had to be done.
It occurs to Sirius, as he resolutely turns away from the bakery, that Remus might have changed his mind about that since things went to hell in such a spectacular way.
He follows a small crowd across the street, past a bus stop (another crowd there, young faces set in broad grins mingling with older faces pinched tight in frowns of disapproval) and another row of shop fronts. He has to stop outside a display window full of shiny metal tubes, boxes and racks. A few of them are recognisable as televisions, although he's not seen them like this before, big and unwieldy and the images moving on the screens sharper even than wizard photographs. Best of all, no loop in them - they go on like at the pictures. He'd almost forgotten about television. Strange thing to forget. He watches a group of young women dancing jerkily, wearing the most absurd clothes; patches of colourful cloth seemingly glued to their naughty bits and nothing more.
"Our Jason's got one of them widescreens," someone says next to him. "Bloody show-off, of course, but come cup finals, I'll be knockin' on 'is door and no mistake."
"Really?" Sirius says, not entirely sure what he's just been told. The speaker is his age, sturdy and tall with a jowly, bearded face. He's peering into the store, too, not looking at Sirius.
"My girls go over there all the time to watch bloody MTV, though."
Sirius assumes a polite expression of understanding to cover his complete lack of such.
The man nods at the television they're both watching. "Spice Girls, eh. Lot of talentless twats. Gimme the bloody Beatles any day."
"Or the Stones!" Sirius says, delighted.
"Nah, fuckin' sell-outs," the man says dismissively. "Makes me feel like an old geezer, it does, though, watching all this. Wouldn't think thirty-eight was that close to the grave but there you have it. Younger generation does its best to rub it in. Cheers," he finishes and wanders off, and Sirius is left staring at the screen by himself. One of the Spice Girls makes backflips across a table.
The next window over is full of plants, vines crawling over the glass, thick bunches of lilies and roses set in green buckets, cheery holiday-themed arrangements bursting out of clumsily wrought baskets, and all of it doused in twinkling red and green lights.
Someone moves behind the glass, pushes a sharp-leafed gaggle of holly and poinsettias aside and plonks down a bucket of white and violet freesias. Sirius remembers the smell of freesias; his mother loved them, and his father would bring home a bouquet when he wanted to apologise for something.
He's turned to open the door before he realises that he knows the hands quickly sorting through the flowers. His meandering has brought him to Remus' place of employment.
He steps back a little, gets out of the wash of light from the window. Remus puts a little stick with a cheerfully red price tag at the end in the bucket. There's a little wrinkle between his eyebrows that suggests that he's thinking about something behind the blandly professional expression. He looks tired, too, of course. So close after the full moon, he'd be half-dead on his feet after a long day.
An elderly woman elbows past Sirius and into the store, and inside, Remus lifts his eyes from the freesias and twists his mouth into a blandly professional smile. Sirius digs his hands into his pockets and walks away, looking around for somewhere out of the way, an alley, somewhere. He's stuck out here unless he goes back and asks Remus for a key, and Remus looked tired and a little crabby, not susceptible to the Black charm. Padfoot will stay entertained for hours in a city like this, and he might even find something suitably disgusting to chew on in some rubbish bag or other.
"Ruddy coward," he tells himself, but he's already turning onto a side street, spying a fence and a strategically well-placed car. Padfoot trots back out from behind the meagre cover, his claws clickety-clacking lightly on the pavement. The world feels warmer with fur on his face, the reek of waste turning into enticing and exciting perfumes to be savoured. He creeps along the wall and pokes his nose around the corner. He can smell a trace of Remus somewhere ahead and it's almost too much to resist, but in the end the sensible part of him (the part that's mostly man, although the dog part wouldn't call it sensible, and the man himself has to admit 'sense' isn't always the operative term) wins out and he heads up the other way, along the quiet alley, prudently lifting his leg at every gutter on the way. Got to play the part, he reasons, but in truth, it's just fun and feels like the thing to do.
He turns away, and lopes back up the alley, past quiet houses. It's gone five o'clock and the half-hearted winter sun has already sunk below the rooftops. The soft light from a kitchen window draws his shadow blurry over the sharper ones from the streetlights. A large tabby backs up against a door and hisses as he passes. His stomach growls and he stops and turns, but the cat has already snuck through the flap in the door behind her.
He sneaks across weedy gardens and behind parked cars - dogs seem to like the wheels, and a few times he has to stop and leave his own scent there just to confuse the poor buggers. The smell of Padfoot is not quite Dog, and not quite Man, and he grins a wide canine grin at the thought of someone's terrier barking and cowering before this strange and alien puddle.
The windows of #41 are dark, the only ones as far as he can see. It's tea time, and the neighbourhood is almost quiet. Because he's Padfoot, he doesn't long for a hot cuppa and baked beans; instead he imagines chasing down a rabbit across a field, pouncing on it and snapping its neck, sinking his teeth into the tender flesh, lapping up the blood.
It's almost a pity, Padfoot reasons, that werewolves don't hunt anything but people. Hunting rabbits is exhilarating and there's the payoff of fresh, sweet rabbit steak at the end of it. For a moment, he considers the urge to kill something human, but that stops dead at the one human, the one specific human, whose scent has soured to a reek in his nostrils.
Padfoot, unlike Sirius, perhaps, doesn't hold mercy or justice in very high regard, and he thinks, we should have killed him.
He sinks down his onto his haunches on the damp doorstep. Remus doesn't have a welcome mat. The rabbit fantasy has fled, and the Peter fantasy sends chilly, unpleasant slivers of raw anticipation through him. He licks a forepaw and sniffs the air. Remus here, of course, on the door, most of it, and so little else. Brief, fleeting snatches of passers-by. Milkman, perhaps, postman, landlord. Sirius himself, but he's not had time to stamp his mark on this house. Remus would notice even a most discreet marking, and would without doubt disapprove.
Tempting, tempting, though, and Padfoot gets up and noses along the step, making sure there's no one else there at least. Something makes him sneeze, once, twice, and he realises that there's magic here, more subtle than the locking spells, far more powerful than the light anti-muggle wards. Intricate and indecipherable to Padfoot's nose alone, and Sirius, who once was third from the top in his arithmancy class, has no idea how it's woven but he's grateful for it - these are illegal spells, anti-scrying, used by criminals.
When he lifts his head again, he smells curry and Remus in the air, deliciously mingled. He stiffens and turns. Remus stands quietly on the slushy pavement, a paper bag in his hand. The shadows under his eyes are so dark they look like bruises.
He lets Padfoot in without a word. Sirius leaves the dog shape and dog thoughts outside and opens his mouth to speak. Remus thrusts the curry-scented bag at him before he can get a word out.
"I don't remember if you like curry-- I don't remember if you ever had a curry, but that's what we have." His voice is a little hoarse. Sirius wants to drop the bag and turn back to Padfoot and check his scent - the memory is already indecipherable. Was there pain in it somewhere?
"Headache?" he asks - asking would be the human strategy, wouldn't it? Albeit not very effective when it comes to Remus, who, Sirius remembers, would deny anything less obvious than a gaping flesh wound or a broken leg - backing off as Remus hangs up his coat scarf.
"Yes," Remus says with just enough sharpness that Sirius doesn't pursue it. Getting the food on the table and sitting down to eat it serves to relax him, though, and he tries again after a few bites.
"I can probably think of a pain-relieving charm--"
"Sirius," Remus says, his tone of voice turning the name into a clear and recognisable "Shut up."
Sirius doesn't remember a time when that would have stopped him. "It's making you pissy as hell, though, better let me deal with it," he says.
He sees the flare of heat in Remus' eyes and braces himself. A matching flare twists in his stomach, somewhere under the heavy clot of chicken and rice.
Remus sighs and the spark is gone. "I've noticed that sometimes, paracetamol will do the trick."
Fascinated, Sirius puts down his fork and looks around. "Really? You use them? How do they work?" And Remus has to get up, then, and find, in the drawer next to the cutlery, a few small, round tablets with text stamped on them in tiny letters. Sirius steps closer and watches him swallow them, unaccountably excited by it. He watches Remus' face for reactions.
"You won't see anything," Remus says, leaning against the counter. Sirius realises that he's pushed Remus flush against it, has him almost trapped there. "Muggle medicine doesn't work like that." He makes no effort to move, strangely, just breathes slowly and closes his eyes. "It'll just... numb the pain, in about half an hour or so." His nostrils twitch minutely and he straightens suddenly.
Sirius backs off. "But how does it work?"
"I don't know. Something about receptors and, uh, cells." Back to the table, and Sirius remembers that he's hungry.
"So it works," he says around a bite - the curry's not bad, but he remembers far brighter tastes, far more fascinating textures - "even on you--"
"Even on me," Remus says, evenly.
"Good curry," Sirius says, "although I keep thinking about rabbit - raw rabbit, mind. A sure sign I've spent too much time on all fours."
Silence, but for the scrape of forks and knives on china.
"Is your head better? Half an hour, eh?" He traps more bursts of inanity behind another bite of strangely tasteless curry. This is not new at all - a tense and hostile Remus will send him babbling helplessly, that's an old, old rule. He swallows and says, "I keep remembering... bits and pieces. School and that time, things I thought I'd forgotten. When I'm Padfoot, I remember, too, but it's all forests and running and hunting. The things he did, as if we're not quite the same. Do you-- How much do you remember of those nights?"
Well, that wasn't even a half a plan before it's all out, certainly not courtesy of any active brain cells. Remus has gone perfectly still. "Only the transformations," he says, softly, but with a resonance that sends a shiver down along Sirius' neck, like an unexpected touch in a dark room. "Mornings, when you had all scurried off to class."
Disappointment at that - his memories feel so frail and half-formed that he wants (or needs) some sort of assurance that they're real. "It was wild," he says, looking for something in Remus' tired face. "You loved it, I remember."
"It loved it," Remus hisses, and it strikes Sirius that he's lying for some reason, or at least hiding something. That's painful to realise, and he reaches out and puts his hand over Remus', to soothe.
Remus' hand curls into a fist before he yanks it away, and there's another shiver, a little shower of zings down Sirius' back. "You've been a werewolf almost all your life," he says, practically forcing his foot down his throat. "You were happy enough to talk to Harry and his friends about it. Talk to Snape--" he spits the name out - there's something that'll never change, "--about it. Why is it suddenly a thing with me?"
Remus catches him by the wrist - he's terribly fast, even tired and post-lunar like this, and strong - and plucks the wand out of his sleeve with a grimace, as if it's covered in slime.
"Maybe it is a thing," he says, utterly without inflection, and flicks the wand, sending Sirius' half-empty plate toward the sink with precisionless violence. It shatters against the edge of the cupboard. "With you."
His left hand is still crushing Sirius' wrist, grinding the bones together as if Sirius were a child-sized waif and not a grown man. Sirius sits still and tries not to pant audibly - he only imagines, of course, that Remus' eyes glow. There's heat in the room, or maybe just inside him, in his chest and sinking, lava flow downwards and he has to breathe even if it will sound like panting.
Actual thought finally breaks through the haze in his head, and he's hearing Remus instead of just feeling him. "What do you mean, a thing?" He goes on, quickly, "It's not a thing," but of course he's lying, too, now. Remus' hand tightens around his wrist. Of course it's a thing, he's practically shivering with it.
Remus stares at him and Sirius stares back. He's the one who squirms, though. There's something going on behind those sedately non-glowy eyes. "Well, not a bad thing, at least," he says sheepishly and Remus lets go of him and sits down.
"Not a bad thing," he mimics, his eyes clearly deceptively calm.
"It was never a bad thing," Sirius says, because this seems to be a point of some debate, even though it wouldn't have occurred to him before.
"Hmm," Remus says, almost distractedly, his eyes still on Sirius but losing focus now. A thought-groove has appeared between his eyebrows. His hand moves and Sirius moves towards it, hope blooming in his chest, but it's the wand - take it, go on, Sirius tells his own hand.
He picks it out of Remus' hand and slips it back in his sleeve. It lies hot and faintly quivering against his skin. His head and arms feel heavy and blood-filled; all of him does, as if his blood has grown thicker and hotter, forcing its way through his veins in an almost painful rush.
He looks up and Remus' eyes have focused on him again. "We could--" Remus says, raspily, "we could go to the pictures."
Such a leap, it should have been Sirius to make it. He remembers pictures, he remembers Murder on the Orient Express. His first, the most memorable. Can't remember a bloody thing of the film itself.
He stands up clumsily, his arms and legs suddenly too long and awkward. Remus blinks. Perhaps he's surprised, perhaps he had only been thinking it, not aware that he was speaking aloud.
Then he gets up too.
"You needn't make up the guest beds, Mum," Remus said futilely, "We can all sleep in the living room."
"What," she demanded, "On the floor?" And since that had been Remus' exact thought, he didn't know quite what to say. "Nonsense; not in my house. Two of you can sleep in your brother's room..." which the guest room was still called, even though Remus' prospective little brother had been stillborn "...and two in your room, Remus. Now let's have some pillowcases from the upstairs linen closet."
Defeated, he put foot to trodden-carpet-covered stair. Just on the stair with the water stain, her voice floated up after him--she must have been speaking to one of the others-- "How was the movie?" He had to take his hand off the banister to keep from splintering the solid oak. Not a certainty, as he'd never done it. Just in case.
After he and Lily went to Eleven Harrowhouse--the first movie they went to, in June, he thinks--his Mum winked at him, horrifyingly, and said "How was the movie, if you can remember?" Of course he could, not that they'd not held hands in it. Remus could remember the faint prickliness of sweaty palms stuck together. He didn't remember Murder on the Orient Express at all. Had there been a train? He was at the linen closet; he gave up trying to remember and opened it to let out the scent of lavender soap and mothballs.
With a stack of pillowcases that could include a flat sheet, for all he knew, as he didn't really look at it, he went carefully back down the stairs. James was helping Remus' Mum to make the bed, stretching the coverlet out with a flick of his wand, and she was laughing and scolding him, something about increasing the entropy in the universe. "There you are!" Remus handed over the pillowcases--a glance showed that, indeed, they were all pillowcases--as quickly as possible, and said, "I'll just fetch some cushions from the couch, shall I?"
She stopped him in the door, though, "Why don't you make up the bed in your room, Remus, and then come on in the kitchen for a bite before bed." She looked, and Sirius was standing nearest the door. Remus fancied himself, momentarily, as emotionless as he was expressionless. What surprise could anything hold for him? Sirius' lip sported a vertical red line through the middle of it. It'd stopped bleeding by then; Remus had been smelling it, though, all through the movie. "Sirius, why don't you help him," she said, bustling round the end of the bed. "More hands make less work, you know." Remus went out meekly. His room was down the narrow brown hall, with a cramped bath and a bathroom closet between. There was still a teddy bear on the shelf, with Muggle and wizarding books mixed, and pens and quills both on his desk. The bed was stripped and just as Mum said, there were sheets and his old quilt folded on the end. There were two pillows.
I'll sleep on the floor, he thought desperately. No room, though, between the desk and the trunk and the bed and his bookcases. The window. He would sleep in the window seat. Sirius already had the sheets spread over the bed. Oh, bugger.
Sirius had a nervously overconfident way of holding his wand, as the second-best in the class, quick to learn but not unacquainted with turning the end of his nose red by accident, might be expected to have. It hovered in a conscious grip; Remus could see the mental wand-holding diagram, almost, from the way he flicked and snapped it. The quilt unfolded halfway and lay inside out and askew over the bed.
Remus seized the edges, flipped it briskly by hand and snapped it wide. It settled too, too slowly over the bed, in a hazy ballooning way like a silk scarf and not at all like thick layers of quilted puffed cotton with years' worth of the contents of his Granny's rag-bag pieced in little triangles and squares of gingham and sprigged muslin and corduroy all over one side of it. It was a mildly lumpy, warm but not particularly lofty or soft thing, rendered mysteriously drab by the conjunction of so many colours and patterns. He'd smoothed it half out before Sirius lay the wand aside, thoughtfully, on the nightstand next to the duck-shaped lamp, and moved to help him.
Without the wands, and two pairs of hands on opposite sides of the bed, the crocheted rug--in the spectacularly unwise colour choices of bright baby pink and mustardy, brownish orange, edged all round with grey-blue and white--spread out neatly and quickly, the thick scalloped edges not-quite reaching to the edges of the mattress. Through the pattern, between twisted ribs of coloured wool, peeped the green plaids and cherry-sprigs and paisley cords of the quilt. The pillowcases, and the sheets, for that matter, had been a wedding present to his parents, and were threadbare cream-coloured cotton, with flowers laboriously hand-embroidered on the pillowcases.
"No two alike," his mother had said proudly, many times. "My sister made that one, and your Granny did this--see, the monogram, and she put an extra curl through the 'L.'" Said L, complete with multiple curls, was worked in a grey which had probably been meant to be silver, surrounded with sprigs of--violets? And the other pillow's flowers, which Sirius was smoothing at with ginger fingertips, were orange-centred yellow, clustered in little bunches with pink ribbons.
Remus couldn't read the thoughtful look on his face--melancholy, amusement, pity. Through the smell of lavender soap and his childhood room and his house, he couldn't smell precisely what Sirius might think, either, as his fingers skipped over the embroidery, and then he slid his wand up his sleeve. He paused at the door, facing it for a moment, then cast a look back over his shoulder. Remus followed him as though he were pulled by an invisible string, and when he stopped abruptly just inside the golden-glowing kitchen, and Remus didn't, his nose was close enough to the nape of the white neck hidden in crisp black hair to finally finally smell, and it was not pity, but a kind of fear he'd not smelled from Sirius before, and maybe a hint of sadness--or was he reading too much into the angle of the bent neck?
"Milk and biscuits," breathed James, who was the only one about, including Remus, with enough presence of mind to speak before falling on the plate like a starving wizard who'd not seen food, and certainly not tiramisu, in days.
Remus' mother twinkled, on her most charming behaviour for his friends. "I had to get in practice for Christmas Eve, now, didn't I?"
He was chewing a biscuit, which prevented him from having to say anything to this, and it was just as well. By the time he'd swallowed the chocolate and sugar, he'd thought better of the whole thing, and was no longer even willing to begin a discourse on Santa, or wizard versus Muggle Christmas traditions. He concentrated instead on chewing the biscuits, since he knew from experience that he was capable of swallowing them whole. Sirius took three in his hand out of the room again with no milk to wash them down, which Remus' mother either didn't see, or pretended not to see. "Now sleep well, all of you," she said as she herded them down the hallway, "and you'll be up bright and early to scrub your faces before breakfast."
"Sleep well" meant "no noise." To punctuate it, she reached into the room after Remus and turned off the overhead light. The curtains were only half-drawn, though. No moon tonight. He latched the door behind him perfectly calmly. Inevitable, now, wasn't it? Whatever it was. He could hear Sirius chewing biscuits. Might as well see it as not.
"Lumos." Ah, and perhaps not. Was that a smear of chocolate in the corner of Sirius' mouth? He turned to the dresser and looked for nearly five seconds for his pyjamas in the wrong drawer.
He puthis wand out before he went towards the bed, and as he put it on the bedside table wanted, for a crazy moment, to become the wolf so he could break through the window, and maybe the broken glass and the blood'd wake him up enough to keep him ranging the sparse forests nearby all night. He'd lain in the cradle of a tree before, nostrils flaring, licking at scratches.
But Remus would have welcomed even just the wolf's eyes. His nostrils flared instead, and told him exactly how far from him in the bed Sirius was. The sheets were cold on his feet, sliding up his calf, pushing up the leg of his pyjama pants icy and too-smooth on his skin. The weight of the blankets stretched the sheet flat and leaden above him, totally useless for his habit of nestling in a rumpled cocoon, warmed by his own body-heat. It would be worse for Sirius, who, he was fairly certain, would never even think of making his bed on his own.
Who was not breathing slowly or evenly or sleepily at all, and then there was a shift, his hand on the pillow. His breath was warm, but his voice gusted across the space between them like another cold sheet dragged across Remus' face, raising goose pimples along his spine. "Moony--"
Remus clenched his teeth. "What." Such an idiot, and he didn't realise now or then what his breath on Remus' face meant for either of them, couldn't be taught, apparently, by one instance of being thrown with all the wolf's strength into a brick wall, his lip bitten and ravaged, droplets of his blood lapped from an open wound and swallowed, slicking the inside of his mouth with coppery hunger and heat until the scar on his shoulder throbbed, his fingers tingled, and he lay stiff and unmoving in the bed. Not, he feared, for much longer.
"I don't know," Sirius murmured fretfully, possibly the beginnings of an apology.
"Fool," Remus cursed, aloud, but half speaking to himself.
Though when he felt Sirius' hand on his wrist, he jumped, and sat upright in bed, and in a breath had twisted the grip around until his hands pinned Sirius' wrist to the sheet under the quilt and the afghan instead. Clearly the word had been invented for Sirius, however foolish Remus was. He should be able to help it, but he couldn't--he couldn't. And Sirius just lay there, with his eyes glittering faintly up in the darkness, and his chest rising and falling faster. His mouth opened, and he released a long, slow, shuddering breath that Remus felt down to his toes, like hooks in the skin of his scalp, like shards of glass scraping open old wounds on his sides and his flanks.
A moment later both Sirius' arms were pinned to the bed, and Remus, confusingly, was the trapped one. "What are you doing," he whispered furiously, hovering in his own bed under his grandmother's quilt over a long slim length of well-muscled boy.
Sirius laughed a little, and that odd mixed smell of fear--fear and--what?--strengthened, mixing with musk. He must have bit his own lip in the dark, because then Remus could smell the blood again, and hear Sirius' muttered curse, before a matter-of-fact "I don't know."
The conversation continued like this: Remus whispered, "Why--" and bit the question off and Sirius, with both his hands lying unresisting at his sides in the hot bracelets of Remus' clenched hands, tilted his head and raised his chin to capture Remus' mouth and make it momentarily unimportant.
And then, when Remus' nose skimmed the fine-grained, imperfectly smooth skin of a sharp high cheekbone, following a scent to the hair at Sirius' temple, the oil in the little hollow under his ear and down along the tendon in his neck--he shivered, and scraped at it with his teeth, and Sirius squirmed under him. "What is it, Moony?" He asked, and Remus only shook his head, because he didn't know either, exactly. He could smell blood, but the wolf he'd been so afraid of earlier seemed hardly a threat at all, very far away, and those were his hands pinning Sirius to the bed, his hands that he couldn't seem to move. And what did it mean, furthermore, when he couldn't trust Sirius to even try to throw him off?
The smell of Sirius was filling him up and drowning him, with his face buried in Sirius' neck, the blanket falling askew, half over his ear. His breath puffed on the hollow of Sirius' throat, and he could even hear the hammering of the pulse. It took him unaware, swamped him, tied him--Remus--and the wolf both down, lying full-length on Sirius' body with his hips in the cradle of Sirius' parted thighs. He forgot to watch and worry for the wolf, and it slipped back away, perhaps, further and further the more he forgot it, and the utterly unassuming shock of its absence was enough to momentarily make him forget--other things.
Sirius was shifting sinuously under him, his back arching, their legs rubbing together, one long thigh lifting against Remus' hip until he supposed Sirius must have a foot braced on the bed, and he lifted his hips. They both gasped, twisting and bucking in each other's arms. Somewhere in there Remus let go Sirius' wrists in favour of burying his hands under his pyjama shirt, with his cold fingers on hot hot skin, gripping hard enough to leave red marks at his trim waist, in the hollow of his hip when he pushed the trousers down impatiently.
"Hmmm," Sirius said into his mouth, and hooked his lifted leg higher and closer. Remus must have answered something, he had no idea what and hardly cared.
Sirius' hands--of course not as cold as his own--pressed down in the small of his back, smoothed up either side of his spine, and slid around to jerk impatiently at the buttons of his shirt. He dropped all his little noises of frustration in Remus' mouth, and Remus accepted them quietly, with sloppy wet kisses that suddenly felt much less adept than before, and faster and more confusing too. His tongue kept going the wrong way, Sirius' thick and hot, his mouth not like Remus remembered it, but hotter and maybe, possibly a lot sweeter.
More than anything he wanted to forget, which is why he almost had when the pyjama shirt was finally gone, and Sirius' hands skimming over his biceps and pulling the quilt high with them touched the silver puckered scar, and leapt away, as though burned. The same hand was back on his neck, skating gingerly down behind his shoulder blade. Sirius didn't touch the scar again.
Remus was the only one the touch had burned. He turned his head into the pillow, away from Sirius' neck; the scent of his hair was nearly as strong there, hair and sweat and the embroidered pillowcase. He realised, distantly, that he really was going to leave red fingerprints on Sirius' hips.
Sirius didn't seem to mind.
Good. Fool. He bit sharply at the curve of neck and shoulder, and Sirius stiffened, gripping sharply where he could reach, one hand at the curve of Remus' waist and one wrapped around his bicep. Remus could feel the nose, the hot open mouth, questing, pressing and tickling on his head. Sirius buried his face in his hair and sobbed a little as he sucked and worried at the fine white flesh, coaxing blood to the surface without breaking the skin. Another spectacular bruise, it would be. He bit at it, gently, and then not-so-gently, and he had a feeling very little saved Sirius from an undignified squeak.
The hand from his bicep was threading through his hair, his head jerked up, not with enough strength to have done it if he didn't allow it, but he did, and their teeth clashed painfully this time. He was tasting blood again. Sirius' poor lip. He bit it again and pressed with all his weight and strength until he could feel every inch of the solid well-built body under his. Sirius' other hand snaked around his waist, an odd half-embrace, and he took a moment to wonder at it before Sirius braced his other foot on the bed, too, and curled his back experimentally, and their groins rubbed together in a spectacular accident. Then it was hands and mouths, yes, but more than that, the never-perfect, slipping-sliding of their bodies rubbing together.
Remus finally braced himself up on his elbow, lifting his hips, and he found one of Sirius' hands had wandered into the sweaty sticky space between their bodies to touch both of them at once with a horribly sweet grip. He couldn't close his mouth, and the scar was spreading fire all along the rest of his body. It stopped as abruptly as a bubble bursting, a last wonderful twist of Sirius' hips, and Remus gripped them hard again and growled into his neck, holding him still to push them together as hard as he could. And then, with a warm sweet flow, like a dam suddenly burst, like a flood of tears, it was over and their bodies glued together, sticky pyjama bottoms, sweaty skin and puddling white ejaculate that, if they weren't careful, would be all over the sheets.
He knew he should bring himself to care.
They lay unmoving for a long, long moment, or maybe it was an hour, wholly spent. If he hadn't been able to smell and feel the difference he might have thought Sirius had gone to sleep. The fight had certainly seeped out of his muscles with everything else; both of them were limp as rag dolls, damp and stickily, sleepily pliant together. Remus, for his part, was tired and thought he could sense, somewhere, a great deal of sickness waiting to happen to him, if he moved. So he didn't.
Sirius did, though. A questing, stiff little movement--not surprising, Remus thought, and chuckled into the sweat-sex-Sirius smelling pillow. He got his head around, his mouth brushing against Remus' ear and, surprisingly, Remus felt a shiver go from the crown of his head to his toes. Sirius felt it too, of course, since of all of him only perhaps the crown of his head wasn't touching the corresponding part of Sirius' anatomy. He felt Sirius smile a little, and then a pause and he said, "Where shall we put these?" A hand ghosted over the waistband of Remus' pants, from left hip to right, and slid down incidentally over his arse, brushing the tops of his thighs.
Remus closed his eyes in the pillow, where no one could see, and swallowed, and shifted a little, stickily, against Sirius. Then he turned his head until his mouth touched Sirius' ear. They were making as little noise as possible, weren't they? "Nowhere, yet." And then, with his mouth right there, there was nothing to do but taste, again, the stale sweat behind the delicate ear, and test the curling whorls of cartilage against the back and sides of his tongue, and it was Sirius' turn to shiver.
He shifted, then, taking his weight on his hands braced between Sirius' body and his arms. When he raised up, a little, the quilt fell around them like a tent--the cocoon he'd thought about before, maybe? He wasn't going to sleep in a cold bed, tonight. If he slept.
With his new leverage, he pulled himself slowly up until he'd found what he thought might be just the right angle. The front of his pyjamas were thoroughly dirty, drying stiff, but neither of them had energy or inclination to push them out of the way. Sirius seemed relieved, if a little breathless, when Remus dropped on top of him again, and gave a luxuriating little sigh and a wriggle and they settled into a much slower, lazier rocking, all they had time or energy for. Remus found the spot on Sirius' neck that had captured his imagination for a week, the perfect spot in the curve down to his shoulder, and fastened his mouth there, gently.
Sirius was silent. The room was black. The blankets were warm, and every place they touched was--not hot, precisely, but warmer still, with an insidious creeping warmth you don't get from blankets at all, soft and hard at the same time, and probably very difficult to forget. Their breath came even and uneven, the only sound in the whole universe, invisible midnight and white-frosted outside with a thick layer of clean new snow.
Some time, they slept.
He must have been-- He stops and thinks, his mind swirling with images. He had been upset, with a growing lump on the back of his head, and the split lip that seemed to sizzle... Perhaps 'upset' wasn't the appropriate word, though.
He never went to see a film in London again, not once between then and now. With James, a few times, but always up north somewhere, in those places with hard wooden chairs and the voices and music coming out of a single square black box at the front of the room.
This is different. Mirror-shiny floors and fluorescent lights and tall cardboard cut-out people in peculiar poses.
The smell is the same, though, especially once they've sat down in the almost-empty theatre.
He's already forgotten what film they're supposed to see. Remus sits with his back too straight and his eyes fixed on the blank screen. Sirius' back stiffens too, maybe in sympathy. He watches Remus, forgets about being surreptitious about it - the cat's out of the bag anyway, isn't it?
There's litter on the floor, colourful bits of paper that must once have been wrapped around some Muggle delicacies. A few squished white lumps. "We didn't buy any popcorn," he says, reminded. Remus blinks but doesn't turn to him.
"Hm," he says, eloquently.
Sirius took girls to see films sometimes. "Let me guide you through the Magic in the Muggle existence," he'd say. That was an oddly successful line. Muggles knew all about dating at the movies. It was Remus, wasn't it, who told him about it; he can almost remember, the smell of spring sort of raw and unused, a breeze so warm he'd taken off his robes and walked in nothing but jeans cut-offs that Lily had told him were obscene (which was why he wore them). And Remus in a talkative mood, all his resentment carefully archived underneath everything else, no doubt. He'd said, "That's probably the foremost reason people go to see films, Sirius," because Sirius had been surprised ("In the theatre? Really?" when he meant, "You mean we could have?").
And not too long after, there'd been a girl, maybe a Hufflepuff, someone sweet with a sense of humour, and a double date with Peter and some other girl... His memories are patchy and sort of nibbled in the corners, like rats have been at them.
Rats. With the weight of knowledge on his neck, he wishes he could tell his half-faded fifteen-year-old self to turn around and strangle Peter now and go to Azkaban for something he's actually done.
Then he remembers, as if it had been there all along, kissing Lucy - Lucy Wicklow, seventh year Hufflepuff; he'd been about to piss himself with excitement because she was old and very pretty and she was actually dating the captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team - or even before that, touching her hair while Peter winked lasciviously at him over the shoulder of his girl. The way she turned to him with her face tilted up and he'd thought two things: I'm going to kiss her and she'll let me, and then, just a brief flicker - he was, after all, about to kiss pretty, older Lucy - Remus.
Remus, who's seemingly been intensely focused on the advertisement for something Sirius can only assume is beer (or a new sort of motor car, or some sort of feminine hygiene product) notices and flickers a glance his way. He can, Sirius reasons, probably hear me grinding my teeth.
He opens his mouth to say something, say, "Let's find that slippery little rat and finish this," or maybe just, "Kill. Maim. Kill," but Remus stops him by saying, with an awkward, lopsided grin, "I can't remember what the film was."
"Murder on the Orient Express," Sirius says immediately. An expression he doesn't understand flits over Remus' face - a twitch and it's gone. Not fear, not anger, but...something.
"That's not what I--" Then he relaxes visibly, as if accepting something inevitable. "No, I suppose that was it. Um. Ingrid Bergman was in it."
Sirius doesn't know who Ingrid Bergman is, but perhaps he knew once. "I don't remember. Just the title on the marquee. I was a little preoccupied." Remus' brow wrinkles and Sirius wants to go on, there are words waiting - I remember why I don't remember - but the film starts just then.
It's in French.
"What is this?" he asks.
"I don't know," Remus says. "That's what I meant."
There are subtitles, but they're not making things all that much clearer, and Sirius is finding it very hard to concentrate. French people speak quickly and the music is too loud, and Remus is biting his lip viciously and Sirius almost feels the teeth on his own mouth--
"Maybe it says on the ticket stub, do you have them?" and he leans against Remus; he has to unfold Remus' fingers to look for the tickets. They're not in his hands, maybe his pockets...
"Sirius," Remus says with a tone of forced patience, but he doesn't lean away or make any defensive movements.
"Or you could find them yourself." He looks up, and Remus' face is very close to his. In the untrustworthy, flickering light from the screen, Sirius can see the imprint of teeth on his bottom lip only because he knows it's there.
He straightens quickly and puts more air between them. People dance on the screen and Remus takes his hand and puts a scrunched up ticket stub in it and closes his fingers around it.
He looks. The Bait, it says, telling him nothing of value. The hand Remus touched feels hot and the other one is cold. He remembers being fourteen and feeling like this; then it was natural, wasn't it, puberty and all those things, ch-ch-ch-changes, like the song.
The memories feel like déjà vu now, and his hand touches Remus' wrist before he can stop it - and it's the wrong way to go, it went wrong last time and he doesn't think Remus is going to cut him as much slack now as he did at fourteen. And in the back of his head, he sees Lucy Wicklow turn her face towards him.
He'd done it like this, then: he touched her hair - heavy, smooth fall of silk, not these wispy, crackling strands. He ran his fingers along her jaw, the tips trembling just a little because he wasn't the Lothario she thought he was. He thought about Remus, and then he kissed her.
Remus grabs his hand - the one with the trembling fingertips - and wrenches it away from his face. Sirius can feel Remus' mouth forming words, but he can't seem to pull away from the kiss (it's a kiss now, although at first it seemed like nothing was going to come of it, certainly nothing sweet, no gentle heat because this is not Lucy, nor Claire, nor Alba) for long enough to speak. Sirius wonders if Remus can break his fingers without noticing, and realises he doesn't quite care. Teeth click together, scrape at lips and tongue, graceless and desperate. One of them makes a noise, maybe both of them; it's half-choked and still too loud because the music around them dies to a murmur just then.
"Bloody poofters!" someone yells and they jump apart, but Remus doesn't let go of Sirius' fingers.
Sirius raises his free hand to flip a two-fingered salute at whoever yelled; it was someone a few rows back. Remus just stares at him, nostrils flaring. The film obligingly turns to an outside, daylight set and in the sudden wash of light, Sirius sees a flush crowning Remus' cheekbones. He wants to put his cold fingers there and feel the blood heat the skin.
They sit there for a few, quietly eternal moments, and then - and Sirius was expecting it, he realises, because he's learned this much about Remus: there's a threshold you can push him over if you try hard enough, and then there are simply no holds barred - Remus yanks him to his feet and tows him towards the miracle of the exit sign, both of them stumbling against seats and struggling to keep their balance.
"Poofters," the same bloke repeats, and Sirius laughs and says, with some cheer, "At least I'm not a wanker." Not his brightest repartee, but his mind is only half there, the rest gone in smoke and sparks.
Some lacklustre jeering follows them out and fades as the door closes behind them. Blinding bright light; Sirius squints and tries to put his hand over his stinging eyes and almost manages to poke a finger in one instead. Remus lets go of his other hand and blood rushes back to the aching fingers.
A theatre employee glares at them and Sirius watches, fascinated, as the blush on Remus' cheeks deepens from pink to scarlet. It makes him look younger.
They walk out, carefully two steps apart. Walking seems an oddly unfamiliar exercise, as if he has to think too hard about the movements. He imagines them moving like automatons, but when he catches their reflections in a display of film posters, they look almost normal. Just a couple of harmless Muggle blokes, nothing to see here. Just a strange gleam in this one's eyes, a peculiar glow in that one's. Easy to miss.
The two steps become one almost immediately once they get outside the cinema, and then Sirius slips a little on something slippery that may or may not really exist. His shoulder bumps against Remus', and he thinks, fuck, at least half a mile. It might as well be fifty. He tries to walk and look at Remus at the same time and does a terrible job of it. He feels light-headed and the world is skewed and stretched in the corners of his eyes because he's having trouble concentrating on anything else.
One of his hands is still warmer than the other, bizarrely. He lifts it and it's suddenly obvious: his wand lies hot and eager along that forearm.
"My wand," he says, his mouth slow and stupid, his voice strange in his ears.
"What," Remus says, completely without inflection. Sirius feels a mad grin grow on his face. Remus doesn't grin back, but his lips part in what might be called a snarl if they weren't in public and in the middle of a busy street. Sirius is a breath from telling the world to bugger off and just, just...
Remus is no longer by his side, and he stops dead.
Remus stands by the florist's shop he works in, stares in through the window at freesias and roses and cheerfully Christmasy poinsettias. The shop is dark save for a few spotlights in the display window.
Sirius stands next to Remus. "I walked by here earlier," he says, sotto voce - he leans in to say it, and Remus' hair tickles his nose and he wants to put his mouth against the crook of his neck.
"I know," Remus says. "You didn't come in."
Remus' house is fifteen minutes away and Sirius' palms burn as if they're already touching heated skin.
"I didn't bring the key," Remus says with a tight note in his voice. Sirius thinks he recognises that note. He's feeling it somewhere underneath all the swirling heat. Melodramatically, he names it sense of impending doom, remembers an old Elvis song, doesn't hum.
Instead he lets his wand slip out of his sleeve and into his hand (if wands could move and talk, it would perhaps have pounded its fist in the air and yelled, "YES!"), and he coughs theatrically and makes a schoolbook flick at the door. "Alohomora," and another cough. The lock clicks open.
People walk past them, oblivious. Something in the air suggests that it might snow in the night; it feels colder and fresher, even though the wind has died down. Despite the chill, Sirius feels heat in his face, down his back, between his legs. The last tendrils of wind left in the night try to sneak up the back of his shirt and fizzle into nothing; he's not to be chilled. He smirks.
The door shuts behind them and the cold and fresh becomes warm and thick with the mingled perfume of too many different flowers. The spotlights don't light much beyond the display, and the back of the shop is a fuzzy chiaroscuro, the shadows in twisted shapes of giant leaves and vines and flowers running over the floor, the wall, the cluttered desk.
It's a little like a night in the jungle, if you were to replace the screeching of monkeys and birds with the muted roar of traffic, the cold light of the moon with this soft-hard electric light and the layer of rotting leaves on the ground with a grubby tile floor.
Last year, Sirius spent a damp and uncomfortable month in a rain forest somewhere south of Rangoon, sleeping on the ground, tucked under Buckbeak's wing. He'd underestimated the magical activity of the area, and there were suddenly too many wizards everywhere, eyes and minds everywhere. He found a picture of himself in a shop window, with interesting and indecipherable letters in rows underneath it in angry red and black.
He takes off his coat. This is jungle heat, after all, and not midwinter chill. Remus does the same. They drape the coats and scarves over the counter. Sirius' wand hums with excitement, but he puts it down, too. His own body hums too and doesn't need help.
He stands next to Remus under a hanging thicket of vines, his hands by his sides.
"You're afraid," Remus says. Sirius has forgotten to look at Remus; he's been caught up in anticipation and the sudden awkwardness of everything. Now he looks: Remus is looking at him and not at the tamed jungle around them, not at the floor and not at the walls.
"Not of you," Sirius says, not really lying. Right now the fear is old and familiar and paranoid. He steps closer, close enough that his own dull human nose can smell Remus. And it's close enough that he can feel Remus' breath on his face and almost close enough to touch. The blush is gone. "Last time--" Sirius starts. Last time is a confused blur.
"It was a long time ago," Remus says, but Sirius can't tell if he means that it doesn't matter or if it's been too long or something else entirely. There's something about the way Remus stands, something that makes Sirius think not of two fourteen-year-olds scrabbling at each other under the covers, but of a dusty shed and the first chilly light of a rising moon.
"Yeah," he says, a little desperately now, "a long time." His body feels all that time. One orgasm in thirteen years, that has to be some sort of record - he tries to stop himself from saying that out loud, but he's nervous now and nonsense wants out. Half of him is old and gnarled and groaning with aches and weariness, and the other half is teenaged, sweaty-palmed and clumsy.
Remus looks at him - up at him because Remus is shorter, a fact Sirius forgets every time Remus is not in his line of sight to remind him - and his eyes... perhaps it's a trick of the feeble little spotlights. The glow, faint and possibly non-existent though it is, saves Sirius from his own unruly flow of words.
There's a whuff of displaced air and a small, localised earthquake somewhere under Sirius' feet. Something hard cuts into the small of his back. The room has moved. Remus has moved.
This was what it was like, then. There was less foliage, and they were horizontal, but this same feeling of things just happening - out of his hands; he started it (whatever it was; something more than losing his not-terribly-well-guarded virginity, he'd hoped, something. Too fourteen years old to even think "love.") and it rolled like a boulder down a hill.
Remus' thumb is on his jaw, stroking the line of the bone from chin to ear, and the pain in the small of his back is the edge of the desk. He's no longer fourteen, but this has not changed. He lifts his face. To look at Remus, he has to, even though just moments ago, Remus had been short.
He draws a breath, and the scents are almost as sharp as they are to Padfoot; he can find every bit of Remus in there, the weariness that goes underneath everything about him - bordering on exhaustion now - and the heat that covers it. Sirius (who admits to a taste for melodrama) might call the smell 'great beast in rut,' but Remus still looks like a gentle schoolteacher, even with his hair wild and flyaway around his face and that flush coming back, darkening his cheeks and his mouth, even with the glow in his eyes.
He breathes again, but it's cut short by lips on his, tongue and teeth and the fingers now digging into the soft spot under his jaw. Under their combined weight, the desk moves a heavy, reluctant inch across the floor. Sirius thinks it's the scraping of wood on tile that he hears, but it could be a groan, it could be him. He's losing his balance, what little he had, and his shirt is bunching up under his arms and his feet are sliding helplessly over the floor. Remus hovers over him. Perhaps he floats in the air - the air is thick with fragrance and anything can happen. A flowerpot somewhere crashes to a loud demise on the tiles. They kiss again, as if they aren't halfway between standing and falling. The world tilts again, and he only knows it actually happened because of the cold along his back where it lies against the floor. A bare spot between the waist of his jeans and the hem of his shirt is colder than the rest.
He closes his eyes, misses the sight of Remus and opens them again and sees only the ceiling and a lot of plants. A tickle of hair on his mouth and nose; Remus has pressed his face to his throat, his mouth against the pulse. Sirius hears the heartbeat beat louder and louder somewhere inside his head and he arches - or he's arched, because he has forgotten how to make his body do things, it's doing them all on the behest of something else. There's sand on the floor and it's scraping his skin raw. That won't stop this, of course. His shirt just hitches up higher, somehow. Now Remus' belt buckle pinches the skin of his belly and that doesn't tell him to push away - it just tells him that he's curiously getting rid of his clothes without doing any of the ridding, but Remus is buckled up and buttoned up and unavailable. He finds his hands on Remus' back, uselessly tugging at the fabric of his shirt.
He feels teeth on his throat, just a touch and all his muscles jerk all at once. A worn seam tears under his fingers. The back of his head aches. His legs tremble.
Remus goes still. That ominous way that means he's about to lash out or run away - it seems like Sirius has been here many times, playing the same script and stupidly walking into the same trap every time.
"Oh no," he says and there are his arms, there are his legs. He twines his fingers into Remus' hair and keeps him from slipping away. Tugs him back down to kiss, because that's the way to convince, flame to the kindling.
Remus resists for precisely two seconds and then his hands are rucking up Sirius' shirt even more, finding bare skin. Sirius feels like raw nerve strung over bare bones, he rattles between Remus and the floor. He thinks, and I thought I'd withered to nothing. This is a rather spectacular nothing, if nothing's what it is, and he arches again when Remus' teeth scrape his lip. He's torn one side of Remus' shirt apart from hem to sleeve, and it simply must come off.
He finds the collar and yanks. The shirt is old and threadbare, but the collar resists until Remus growls and pulls his hands away and takes it off himself.
It's been twenty-one years since I touched him like this, Sirius thinks, trying to remember how he did it then. Like this, probably, half-rough, half-tender, with awe and a touch still of awkwardness, and all the why and how of it unimportant, really, because he just couldn't not.
Remus kisses him again, harder, and his hands are hard on Sirius' shoulders, too, as if he wants to break him open and get inside that way. Sirius gets one of his arms around Remus' neck and fingers on his throat. His fingertips slide over sweat-slick skin and there's a roughness there, a texture that's familiar to his fingers even though there's none of it on his own body. His fingers follow a groove and a dip. A tremble runs through Remus, so deep that it grinds Sirius into the floor. Sirius leans his head back and bares his throat, but he doesn't take his hand away, doesn't stop his fingers from stroking the hard and knotted twists of scar tissue.
Remus cries out, a sound that might have been a howl if he didn't muffle it against Sirius' neck, and he struggles against Sirius, frantically yanking at buttons and zippers, and Sirius can do nothing to help, pinned down and breathless and falling. He wants to do away with the clothes, though, because this is the chance, right here, to learn all the things he can't remember anymore, or never learned in the first place. His hands want to know every bit of skin there is, but instead he's caught on the scar, much like a fish on a hook, and the rest of Remus is just out of reach.
A press of teeth on his collarbone, and at the same time, his jeansfly gives up and lets Remus in; Sirius forgets to want while the world whites out for a moment of absolute quiet. Then he's back with his breath tearing through his windpipe and his hips lifting off the floor; spectacularly bendy still, this body. His hand is digging into Remus' shoulders hard enough that the knuckles whiten, and Remus' hair has fallen into his face and he's breathing it, he thinks, no wonder he's out of air.
Remus drops his mouth to Sirius' neck again, teeth again. Sirius remembers girls kissing his neck and stroking his hair, but he doesn't remember ever wishing they'd bite down.
Remus' hand gentles briefly on his head, strokes his cheek, and Sirius turns his head. He's dazed and teetering on some edge, the smell of flowers heavy around him. He's turned his head and his hands trace the knobs of Remus' spine, too-sharp under the skin like his ribs.
Remus moves his hips and strokes his hair and Sirius opens his mouth and finds the scar, the rough edges and the jagged gash of it, and the slickness of the scar tissue in between.
Remus bites down, a bright shard of real pain, and Sirius cries out, but it's really a groan, something throaty and deep. He arches again and every smell around him sharpens and the light dims, and he scratches feebly at Remus and pulls at him and there are two points of flaring heat on his body.
Vertigo makes him close his eyes, and there are only smells and the textures against his skin and Remus in all of this. Teetering right on the edge, he groans and he thinks his eyes are rolling back in his head. Sex definitely is like flying in some ways; the way the world rolls and swoops past.
"Sirius," Remus says indistinctly. "Sirius." Sirius breathes in and shivers. He breathes again, and he's falling now, falling upwards or inwards - he wants Remus to follow and he pushes his hands against skin where it's available, under stubborn fabric. His palms know their way over this body, as if time has turned back on itself.
It would have been nice to cry out Remus' name, but he can't seem to form an actual word, can't manage more than a wheezing groan and even that's muffled against skin and abandoned. He wants to say the name but he just gasps for breath, and this is a place where everything turns inwards, following the rush downwards, and at the same time every nerve wants more of Remus, and one more push against the ridge of his hipbone, and the hollow next to it; the silky skin on the inside of his thighs, the bristly curls of his pubic hair, ah, the heated smoothness of his cock.
He can have all that, and he lies breathless and still caught in the sparks and on the floor with Remus twisting against him with wiry, frantic energy. Grinding himself against Sirius, putting himself right in the places he's needed. "Sirius," Remus says, his voice dropping to something deep and rumbling, and Sirius' body jerks upward even though he's spent and dizzy with it, and Remus' rumble becomes a growl and then a sigh.
The jungle sways gently around them; the fuzzy shadows of leaves waving idly along the walls. Sirius turns his head heavily and sees that their coats have fallen off the counter. He turns the other way and sees the indistinct silhouettes of people walking by, framed by more foliage.
His limbs are weighted with a warm, comfortable lassitude that he remembers from some hazy past when sex happened on a regular basis. There would usually be a mattress under his back, though, not this hard and unforgiving floor. It occurs to him that Remus has a perfectly comfortable - if rather narrow - bed back at his house.
"You know--" he starts, but somewhere between the thought and the speaking, Remus has stiffened and raised his head. Sirius has been on the run long enough to not say, 'What?'
Since he couldn't sleep, it was left for him to lie in bed and pretend to sleep, or to get up. He did, without waking Sirius, even though the other boy was sprawled like a starfish over the entire threadbare bed. His pyjamas were pushed up around his knees, with the waistband turned almost sideways and askew from when they'd pulled them back on--at least they weren't stained. He took a jersey out of the second drawer without pausing, and pulled it over his head mostly to hide some of the smell from himself, not because he was cold. It was rather difficult for him to feel the cold, anyway. But he sat on the living room floor not just in front of the window, but next to the heating vent, because he might as well be warm.
He'd never concentrate covered as he was with Sirius' smell. He had smelled Sirius before, but it was nothing like--it was like he was Sirius, so strongly did he smell of it. Sweat. Sirius. Sex. It was not a bad smell.
It was slowly melting out through the jumper, permeating the wool which had still smelt of soap when he put it on. The snow had not quite melted overnight, but there were places where the grass poked in stiff dead spikes through the thin layer in the yard. At the back of the house it would be smoother, but the drive was covered in tracks and grey slush and the front lawn was lumpy, and he was going to have to sit by the heating vent until after breakfast, because if he tried to scrub himself all over until the smell was gone while everyone was asleep, the rumbling of the water in the pipes would surely wake them, and he could hardly vanish into the bathroom when they were there and go into a bloody trance of frantic scrubbing. ("Remus? Are you all right?" "Yes! Fine." )
And he knew with his luck he would still be able to smell it. He wouldn't be able to go back in his room. Perhaps he could sleep outside.
He could lose the scent in the forest.
It wasn't the full moon yet.
The first footfall upstairs found his arms wrapped tightly round his knees and his chin resting on top. Remus studied the window very calmly, and had been counting the minutes he didn't move. He'd gotten up to ten, if you didn't count blinking. His pyjama top was folded messily around itself under the jumper, the collar half-hidden and the front tails askew. He had to draw his arms inside the jumper sleeves hastily, doing up the buttons by feel as quietly as he could. He was in the kitchen, standing over the sink, by the time his mother came downstairs in her slippers and dressing gown.
His mother was glad enough of help with breakfast not to ask him what he wanted in the living room at such an ungodly hour, only giving him the kettle to fill and enquiring after Lily. She went into a predictable frenzy of cooking with eggs, and ham, and bacon, and toast, and kept Remus too busy running back and forth between the stove and the refrigerator and the table and the linen closet to answer her questions, and the sizzle of ham and bacon prevented the intrusion of awkward silences.
Remus was greatly relieved by this. He was much afraid he would have been tempted to answer, say,
"Wonder what the weather will do next?" with
"I can smell it because I'm a Dark Creature," or
"How did the exams go, then?" with
"I am ironically not quite at the top of the class in Defence Against the Dark Arts."
As it was, he escaped without even the necessity of mumbling more than "yes," "no," and "I'll fetch it." Lily arrived in time to take scones out of the oven, and James was up in time to set the table. Even Peter got an advance sample of the ham and was asked his expert opinion. Remus couldn't tell, but thought his mother serious about the question.
It was strange, feeling like a person and knowing you were a Dark Creature. He'd been born a person, yes. But then, he wasn't anymore, was he? You couldn't be both, even if there weren't sides. He could study magic like a good little wizard, but he couldn't lock being a wolf up except at full moon. It was there, wasn't it, willy-nilly, all the time.
He had tried often enough to get away from it at first. It couldn't be done. And he could no more stop smelling and seeing and hearing than he could stop thinking.
Even if he'd been able to remember being a human boy, how could he even know that his memories weren't coming through wolf-coloured? How could he know how different it might be? Sometimes he could sit in a room full of people and be alone. It didn't matter if they knew--as long as he did.
Remus wanted to forget, but he realised now that it was too dangerous. He was a Dark Creature who looked like an ordinary boy, smaller than James and thinner than Peter, slightly better at Potions than Sirius, McGonagall's pet--but he wasn't. Ordinary, that was. He didn't have to be a wizard to be magic. He stank of it, stank of it the way his room smelt of sex and Sirius and both of them mixed inextricably and obscenely.
He was never going to sleep in those sheets again.
Suddenly the kitchen was noisily quite full, and no one made him talk at all. Sirius didn't appear in the doorway until food was on the table--and he didn't sit, a sleepy graceful ball of boy in flannel pyjama top and wrinkled corduroy trousers, until all the seats were filled but the one by Remus' left elbow. He smelt of Remus as much as Remus smelt of him. Remus nearly choked. He might as well have dragged the soiled blankets in after him.
"Tea?" said Sirius serenely, and smiled without quite looking at him. And smelled. One would almost think he did it on purpose. His neck was faintly red above the top button of his pyjama top, in the tiny V of the collar. It might have been a print from a fold of the pillowcase, but it wasn't.
"Honestly, Sirius," said Lily. "When does Remus not take tea?"
Quidditch mornings, thought Remus, and licked his lips. "Pass the sugar." Not tea, but chocolate, on Quidditch mornings. Lily's well-meant rescue attempt had fallen a bit short. But then, what idea could she have?
"And how were the exams?" said Remus' mum, addressing the table generally.
"Long," Peter offered.
James managed, even though his mouth was full of ham, to testify that if Remus didn't emerge at the top of every class it wouldn't be for lack of reading. Of course, he couldn't see what went behind Remus' eyes when there was a book in front of them... "If I never have to write another inch of essay it will be too much and too soon," said Lily in a rather graceless change of subject, and passed him the milk without being asked. Perhaps she had some idea of what had happened--though then again wouldn't she have held the cream out to his right?
(Not necessarily. His arm brushed Sirius', briefly. He ignored it. Lily didn't even appear to be watching.)
What would have been enough breakfast for their family for a week vanished all, leaving a few crumbs, a cold crumpet, and the dregs of the teapot. Sirius was extravagantly and loudly impressed. "Can you teach me to do that with magic?" He said eagerly, just as if he'd never had ham and eggs. Somehow he had got involved with clearing the table, before Mum noticed and snatched two dirty plates from him with an exclamation of outraged hospitality and shooed him from the room. The result of these incidences, at length, was Remus and Sirius leaving the kitchen shoulder-to-shoulder. Indeed, both their shoulders wouldn't have fit in the doorway if it had been a trifle narrower or Sirius a trifle larger.
The smell, again. At least he said nothing, only hummed jauntily under his breath, the quick tuneless athletic kind of humming that Remus thought of as his hunting theme. Hunting Dark Creatures, perhaps.
Sirius leaned conspiratorially close, and Remus turned to look at him coolly almost fast enough to escape breath on his ear. Sirius' lips quirked and he leaned closer still. "Your shirt," he said softly, and with apparent innocence. "It's one button wrong. Did you do that on purpose?"
Still smiling, damn him, and his breath felt the same shape as his lips. Remus scrubbed at the side of his head with the sleeve of the jumper and dived into the washroom, closing the door behind him.
Since he couldn't afford to crumple the pyjama top, or wet the pants, he removed everything and folded it and set it on the counter before he set about scrubbing himself with a washrag, and cold water in his cupped hands, and a bar of cold, slippery soap. Where was the smell worst? His belly and between his legs, the small of his back. Under his arms. His neck, where Sirius Black's sweat damp hair had clung in near-curling tendrils, where he'd buried his face and drooled in the middle of the night. He could smell it in his hair and behind his ears and on the arches of his feet. The frigid spongebath was starting to get to him, though, and he didn't know how long he'd better stay.
The wet rag went crumpled up in the clothes hamper, and he dressed again and buttoned his shirt the right way, and dried his face and hands as thoroughly as he could before he slunk back out towards the kitchen again, for another cup of tea.
Lily was in the hallway, leaning on the wall and waiting. "Good morning," she said, with a secretive smile. Remus was still wondering what to say when she planted a kiss on his cheek, spun him around in an impromptu dance, and closed the door after her.
There was the sound of feet upstairs. If he had to talk to anyone else--!
He would do it. He might as well get used to it, after all, and it wasn't as though he had anything so very great to be upset about. If anyone should, it would be Sirius.
He'd stopped himself, hadn't bitten, or... no harm had been done. And he wasn't going to forget again.
The teapot was empty and so was the kettle. He left without tea.
Padfoot didn't hear it; Padfoot had his own canine concept of time (hungry or not hungry. Sleepy or not sleepy).
Even though he doesn't remember time passing clearly, Sirius knows that it took a long time before he knew exactly what had happened and why. He remembers laughing - and Remus has told him about the laughing, too; the mad laughter that really convinced everyone that Sirius Black had gone mad and turned on his friends - because it was the only sound he could make that wasn't a flat-out scream.
"Anyway, anyway," he says, and he has to shake his head to clear it; memories are hustling and bustling there like people on a crowded train platform. He doesn't know what he was saying. There's nowhere to go. What should he say? What's appropriate in a situation like this? "I love you," he says, quickly.
The expression on Remus' face suggests that was neither expected nor appropriate. Panic leaps from limb to limb and Sirius trembles and thinks, I don't want to die, but has enough sense left not to say it.
"Well," he says instead. "I've been in some tight spots before, but--"
He hears hushed chanting, feels the spell building and solidifying - the Aurors (and just how many of them are there out there?) must be trying to wall them in somehow, close off the alley.
He blocks it automatically, before he can talk himself out of trying. It feels good, futile as it is. The wand warms his hand and Remus is pressed against his back. The rest of him is cold, brick wall on one side, winter night on the other. They're pressed against the wall as if it's shelter.
"I don't know if I can--" Sirius tries. His wand hand shivers even though it's the warmest part of him. "I don't know if I can stop myself."
This was not meant to happen.
There are anti-Apparating spells covering the entire alley, and Sirius doesn't know how to break them. He can't find a seam, no place in, nothing to pry at. Smooth, cold, solid STOP all around. And the only way out is through them.
They're not showing themselves yet. They're good. He thinks they'll give him a chance to come freely. Perhaps they will attempt to rescue Remus from his murderous clutches.
"You should, um." His voice has shrunk to an asthmatic wheeze, and he has to start again. Hard to speak because he'd rather let his murderous clutches hang on to Remus for just a bit longer, thanks very much. But... "You should probably go, Remus," he says, oh so strong. "Not to be too terribly noble and self-sacrificing, but it's me they want. They'll let you go. I think."
"Shut up, Sirius," says Remus, testily.
But before Remus can explain, the shadow at the mouth of the alley moves and an Auror steps dramatically into a shaft of light from a handy overhead street lamp. It's with only the most distant feeling of surprise that Sirius recognises her - Lucy Wicklow, formerly of Hufflepuff, grown imposing and rather sinister in a gaunt and dark-clad way.
"Sirius Black," she says. She speaks softly, but the words sound loud and perfectly clear in his head. It's a spell, Sirius realises, but it makes him feel unhinged. He doesn't think he ever learned anything quite like that.
Once, he read about a spell that would let a wizard melt into a solid wall. He doesn't recall the spell itself.
He thinks about actually going through them. Putting Lucy Wicklow through a wall, slamming into the rest of them, wand ablaze with curses. He knows he could. They fight Death Eaters daily, they're armed to the teeth and they have strength in numbers, but Sirius is desperate and the wand burning blisters into his palm promises that his powers have grown. He could put on a show.
At least he'd go out with a bang.
"Sirius Black, we know you're there," Lucy Wicklow goes on. "You are surrounded."
She's still sounding reasonable. A reasonable voice that speaks inside his head, and if he lays down his wand right now there can be negotiations, not everything is lost, there are no Dementors in this alley, can't he see that? This is not the end.
He finds a seam on that spell and she's out of his head, and there can be no negotiations. He knows that much - there has been no recanting of the sentence, and there won't be one without a minor miracle.
His hand aches around the wand, and he knows this stalemate won't last for much longer.
Remus moves behind him, presses a little closer, reminding Sirius of his presence. Waiting. Remus is on the side of light and love, isn't he? Remus thinks, constantly. Thinks before he acts and all that, something Sirius never could master.
The wand stings his hand and demands. And it wouldn't be hard, not at all: a word, a wave, and havoc would be wreaked throughout the alley. He knows the curse Peter used that day. He's certainly thought about using it, on Peter. He closes his eyes and thinks about saying the words and flinging fire and stone on Lucy Wicklow and her Auror friends, pushing through the wreckage and running. He's survived alone before, hasn't he?
I don't want to die, he thinks, and he doesn't have to imagine the Dementor's Kiss; he knows what it feels like. The knowledge has hung in his belly like a frozen lump of fear since the first time the doors of Azkaban shut behind him.
Remus whispers something, but he can't quite concentrate enough to make it out. I don't want to die, he thinks again, and lifts his wand slowly.
For all their powers, wands are fragile things. This one is made of hawthorn, slim and brittle. A first-year girl could snap it over her knee. Sirius holds it in both hands. Over the knee, that's quick and then they'll have to take him unarmed, and kill him defenceless. Perhaps that will mean something to someone.
He counts backwards from three like he used to when he was a child and had to eat sprouts. Three-two-one-sprout.
Then his wrist hurts, unexpectedly. His face hurts, too, because it's been slammed into the wall. The wrist is caught and twisted, his whole arm wrenched behind his back, and Remus' breath heats his neck in sharp, damp gusts.
The wand has gone to Remus, and Remus is like another brick wall now, more brick wall-like than the actual brick wall.
Lucy's voice is back, this time coming from somewhere inside the inconspicuous brown brick in front of Sirius' nose. "Mr Lupin," the voice says, betraying no surprise or excitement. "Step back and keep the wand out of his reach. We'll take it from here. Step back, Mr Lupin. Don't let him--"
"Get down," Remus whispers in Sirius' ear and Sirius' legs give out under him, and then the walls come down around them.
For a second, he believes they literally have, but a sly breeze clears some of the dust away and it's not so much the walls coming down as the street coming up, cracking into chunks of dirt and macadam. He sees Lucy Wicklow stumble and catch herself against a wall.
"What--" The ground heaves under him and his stomach twists. He longs for his wand, but Remus has it. Remus holds it high, and he's not stopping for breath between spells. "What are you doing?" Sirius whispers.
The streetlights all the way down the alley pop, one by one. The darkness grows thick and impenetrable, all bearings gone except for the oatmeal sky overhead. He hears shouts and curses and confusion.
"They're Aurors," he says weakly into the bit of darkness that's Remus. "They're--"
"Amicum monstro." There isn't light, but he can see Remus now, standing between him and the Aurors, straight-backed and stern. "I've created a distraction, but I can't disarm the anti-apparition spells at the same time."
"Rubus ignitur!" comes from somewhere in the pitch black, and the bricks behind them glow bright red without heat. "There!"
The spell they cast sinks into him. They're using something insidious and crafty, a gentle pressure that suggests rather than commands, suggests politely that he raise his hands over his head and fall to his knees, perhaps, if he'd be so kind. Please.
"Veneficum castigo," Remus says, his voice perfectly even. For a few seconds, nothing happens. Then voices cry out in pain, not only at the end of the alley, but also in the building behind them. The pressure falls back and Sirius clambers to his feet, shaking the grogginess from his head, ignoring the nausea that wants him to bend over and let go. The glow from the wall fades.
"They're in the shop," he says. "They're coming through."
"We have a few minutes, I should think," Remus says, and there's something terrible about his calm. It's a little like the silence that follows those cries in the shop and down the alley. Sirius thinks of his own calm the moment he decided not to fight. "I still can't-- There must be a few left standing--"
"Standing," Sirius says, and fumbles at Remus with numb fingers, tugs at his shirt. "I was going to. I was going in peace."
"Don't be absurd," Remus says and takes his hand. There's a noise behind them somewhere, the sound of a man staggering to his feet, perhaps. Remus pries open Sirius' fingers. "Here."
His wand. He can almost hear the 'click' when it fits into his grip, and he knows he sighs loud enough for Remus to hear it.
The anti-Apparation spells are still intact, and they're strong, but now there are cracks - he can feel places where someone has lost concentration. They're temporary shields, of course, so they're not bound in earth and solid stone wall like the ones at Hogwarts. They wouldn't have anything more impressive than a few amulets, he thinks.
"Declino," Remus mutters beside him and the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He recalls an American film about train robbers.
Then he finds the chink in the anti-apparition shield and forgets, momentarily, trains and guns and Remus stomping down Aurors. It's a small chink, and the window he makes is barely enough.
"Five seconds, maybe," he says, and grabs Remus' arm. Remus turns to him and falls against him. He's bleeding from the nose. Aggressive sounds are coming from inside the shop, the sounds of people trapped and about to break free. In the alley ahead, things are moving. He pulls Remus close and counts back from five, trying to remember somewhere quiet, somewhere safe - a back yard, the smell of it, the one with the cat, right behind the car... He lets himself fall and pulls Remus along, and reaches one before he reaches the ground.
He hits his head on a rock when he lands, and then Remus falls on top of him and things get a little fuzzy for a second.
He opens his eyes. He's lying in the mud of someone's garden, which is not exactly what he was aiming for. The car he remembers isn't here, but the drive is. Even the cat: it's standing on the doorstep, pressed flush against the door with its tail raised in an impressive brush.
Remus moves his head sluggishly and makes a strangled sound. His face is pressed against Sirius' throat.
"Remus," Sirius says. "Remus? All right, mate? Hey."
"Unggh," Remus says, making no effort to get up. "'mokay."
They must have pulled something big on him, something nasty. Perhaps they were licensed to kill, like Agent 007. A counter-curse that knocks you out and makes you bleed from the nose - that's subtle and dangerous. In school, they'd had duels, and the curses there usually involved toads or boils. Sirius and James had perfected a curse with delayed activation that caused temporary but fierce syphilis-like symptoms. They'd used it on Snape once.
Remus groans and rolls over. Mud is slowly but surely seeping into their clothes, permeating them and turning them into soggy crusts. It seems like a brilliant idea to stand up, but Sirius can't quite remember which muscles he would have to engage to make that happen.
"That was close," he says.
Neither of them moves. He tries to remember how far this street is from the flower shop. Not very far. If the Aurors found them there, they can find them here.
"Elementum obsto," he whispers, and the mud retreats somewhat. It's icy mud, too, a sort of snow-mud sludge with the texture of coagulated porridge mixed with crushed biscuits.
"We should leave," Remus croaks, lifting his head with the eye-crossing concentration and determination of an infant attempting the move for the very first time. His face is streaked with mud and blood. "They'll find you."
"They'll find us," Sirius says. "What do you think they'll do to you now?"
Remus makes a sound that's halfway between a cough and a dying rattle, and it takes several panicky seconds before Sirius realises that he's laughing.
Perhaps not the kind of laughter that will end up described in gory detail on the front page of the Daily Prophet, but it's mad enough. Sirius wants to kiss him.
There was no point going into his room that way. It was his room. Besides which, he wasn't sure he wanted to surprise any goings-on in there.
No, he didn't.
It was empty. He went quickly to the bureau and jerked open a drawer at random. "'Nother jumper?"
Sirius had been standing just next to the door, dressing, apparently, by the state of his clothing (though he also might have been taking it off). The room didn't smell any more strongly of Sirius with him standing a few feet away than it did empty--though now he knew Remus cursed himself for not noting the subtle distinction between fresh scent, layered as it was under dried sweat and semen, and the stale scents permeating the room.
Remus closed the drawer again. After all, the jumper was still more or less clean. "Mum wanted me dressed," he said, and tried the next drawer. Ah, pants. And his underwear were in the top.
When he turned around he found Sirius raising one eyebrow and not trying very hard to suppress a smile as he thrust the tails of a knit shirt into his pants. "What a waste." Sirius' own jumper lay sprawled over the bed, which was still in a lewd disarray. Remus winced. He wondered what the jumper--blue, and clearly not hand knit like his--smelled like.
Remus had to turn around again to skin out of the pyjamas. The cool air, even, was less cool when he could smell and feel Sirius--and now hear him, the faint rustlings as he pulled on stockings. Shorts, trousers--always a little loose, even if theyfit through the hips--a flannel shirt and the same Sirius-smelling jersey as before. It hardly mattered, when the smell of Sirius was in the room and in him. It wasn't going to go away just because he changed his jumper. He rather thought he could get used to it, now, even though he still wasn't keen on staying in his bedroom. Smoothing his trousers over his thighs, he turned to Sirius. "Well," he said. Sirius was finished dressing now too. "She didn't have to ask you."
"I thought it was better if I wore a shirt until this mark fades--" he began sotto voce, smiling devilishly, and Remus hurried out of the room. Curse him, he should have known better than to say it.
It was just like Sirius, to pretend not to be angry, and maybe he really wasn't angry, but whatever he was, he was making it worse. And if he wasn't angry now, he would be later. He couldn't forget the scar and ignore it forever. Even if it ever happened again, just the act of skipping over it would etch itself in his memory! But to play light-hearted, when he knew what had happened just as well as Remus did, or at least, he should. Sirius was so foolish. He would die a fiery death someday, Remus was sure of that. Sirius without danger wouldn't even be Sirius.
The back lawn sloped smoothly away from the house, as he'd predicted before breakfast, a much cleaner expanse of white than the front. Lily was out on what would have been the patio in summer, pacing off the border of the bricked area and giving a little bouncy skip every three steps or so.
"Remus!" she flung herself into his arms, slipping precipitously in snow that was more than willing to turn to slush.
"Should I ask?"
Lily looked around. "Well, maybe not here--will they miss us?"
An immaterial question. Her hand was on his elbow and she'd dragged him off the edge of the patio. Black footprints in the white snow made the shortest line between the patio and the edge of the woods. No one would have any trouble finding them.
But when she had him alone, she crossed her arms and demanded suspiciously, "You first." And then to his confused look, "Oh, come on, Remus. There's something. Your best friend didn't die. You haven't got any pets. What is it?"
He had to look away, but he found he was wrinkling his nose a little, as if taking a spoonful of medical potion. "A bit of a snog, maybe--"
Lily gasped, "So he did--" (because she didn't understand anything).
But Remus continued, "--Nothing, really." He resisted the urge to say "He did, what?" Although he couldn't help feeling, however unfair, that Sirius had really done quite enough. Just by not knowing, by not being willing to know, he made it so much harder for Remus, doing all the work for both of them.
"He didn't do anything, Lily," Remus said quietly. He was wishing for the power to Apparate right out of the conversation, and maybe make Lily forget all about it. Damn the underage magic restrictions.
"Oh," Lily said sarcastically, "I'm sorry, he didn't do anything, you just snogged him." Which was uncomfortably close to the truth, for what was intended as caustic humour.
All the blame was his. He wanted it that way, really. Otherwise you go mad. He said forcefully, "--To me. Lily, he didn't do anything to me, all right? I'm just..."
Lily was agreeable, surprisingly, to this line of explanation. "...Indecisive? Overintellectualising? A fourteen year old boy?"
Remus looked away. "We both are," he lied. "And it's, you know. I was just. Thinking."
Lily looked sceptical. "I was just thinking, too. And I looked happy."
Merlin, of course she did.
"Remus--I don't know how much you noticed." He didn't even have to nod to make her continue.
Beautiful perfect Lily, the best friend in the world even when you didn't want one, as long as she thought you needed it.
"But I feel like... something's happening to me, and it's the strangest thing, because I think I want to tell him everything--and you know I used to think that about you--only it's really," and her voice was soft and wondering, "Not the same at all. And James."
And she'd just discovered a fascination for James Potter, who was brilliant and shining at everything he touched and a sure bet now in third year for Head Boy.
Lily should have been blushing and confused, but instead, she was blushing and perfectly clear. "Well, you know already, but I had to tell you anyway, and I know you don't mind, but it's only polite to ask. Even though--you can still say, if there's any problem, we could talk about it, of course, and I haven't--we haven't--said anything."
It was strange that a nod from him at just the right place was the necessary and expected answer, and the only one he could easily produce, but because he was thinking of something else entirely as her voice poured over him. She cocked her head expectantly, and wrapped her little hands, both of them, around his. They were small and very warm. She raised an eyebrow, asking, and he gave the nod.
There was a rush of a sweet smile all over her face, like someone had lifted a hat and let the sun fall full across her face. "I think you're the best friend ever," she said musingly, as though she were really only just thinking it. Remus felt a slight pang for not having paid better attention.
But Lily and James were looking at each other still, sweet little looks that Remus was hopelessly walled out of because he'd never felt anything that--innocent, not from the beginning. It wasn't as though he hadn't been careful. He'd known what he was getting into, not entirely, but he'd known, and he'd tried to stop, or to hold back. To watch, and to think, without--it was ridiculous and childish, and he couldn't be allowed the luxury.
Remus stopped himself no less than three times from saying something to that effect, and in the meanwhile, scuffed the toe of his shoe in the snow until he could feel his feet numbing from the edges in straight through the leather and his woollen socks.
Finally what he said was just, "You look happy because you should look happy," and she should, so he smiled. And that seemed to be enough to reassure her.
After another moment of looking at him concernedly, with her head tilted to the side, she dropped her grip on his arm and said with an air of formality, "Alright then. You'll be okay--" And pulled him into a hug before he could move to resist her.
Lily's hug was sweet but cold, and smelled innocently (for once) of rose water in her hair and snow. The wood loomed bare and bony around them, black on white sky, and when she let him go they were both smiling, a little. There was only one thing to do now. No looking. No thinking. He would just stop. When the pictures came back, he'd never look at them--he'd put them away, no, burn them, no, cut them to shreds. With his teeth.
Lily was patting his back soothingly, with no particular sign of alarm, so perhaps all his muscles weren't as tense as he felt. There was one right answer, here. That made it easy. I'll be okay, because she had to ask, but he wasn't hers to worry about any more. "I'll be okay," he agreed, keeping his thoughts to himself.
But after all, he would be all right. It was all right now. It would only get better.
Sirius had thrashed impressively in the middle of the night, like a very small child, and Remus had several times been in near danger of falling out of bed. He'd woken him once from a dream of hunting in a cold wood where not another thing was alive. The Wolf was angry, but when he woke up, Remus was glad. The phantom taste of blood in his stomach after that kind of dream was always hard to deal with, because how could he decide whether to be ill or not? Another time he was dreaming of Sirius--or maybe he was dreaming that he was Sirius--the details weren't clear anymore, but it had definitely been a nightmare. Remus (or Sirius) had been screaming, and they'd been underwater.
Water, of all things. Like a Divination textbook example. He wasn't about to look it up. He didn't want to know what Sirius had to do with the womb, or female energy, or anything like that.
He'd woken up nearly choking at the sudden impact of a solid and heavy forearm with his windpipe, and gasped, and rolled over. He'd woken up more times than that, and none of them had been Sirius' fault. He didn't think Sirius had ever been awake. At least, whenever Remus had looked over at his face it had been smooth and peaceful, sleeping with much better dreams than Remus had had, clearly. And just as obviously not awake, Remus had thought, because of course then he couldn't smile like that. He'd thought, Even Sirius, only then, of course, Sirius had smiled all through breakfast.
It wasn't a question of whether Sirius knew, after all, he supposed. Of course he had to know, on one level or another. But it was the greatest difference, between them. Sirius wasn't destined to fail a test, or lose a fight, or die, or fall in the mud, in melancholy. Whatever bitter end he came to would find him smiling, most likely. It made Remus shudder, inexplicably angry. At least in the middle of the woods he could hurt no one but himself, after Lily left--
Except he found Sirius lounging on a tree when he walked back toward the patio.
"Your mum's been looking for you," he said easily.
Remus blinked at him, out of the shade of the trees, his eyes assaulted by the sun reflecting from the snow and a low silver blanket of clouds. "Is this a reconnaissance mission?"
Sirius nodded. "How far back does it go?"
Remus shook his head.
So Sirius clarified, clearing his throat, and looking down in the snow suddenly, less like an obscure dream character leaden with meaning, and more like an ordinary fourteen year old boy. "The wood. This is your wood? How far--how big is it, then?"
Oh. "Oh. It's, um. Fairly large. For, you know. At the full moon--"
When he trailed off, Sirius for once didn't rush in to fill the void. It took, oh, two seconds at least. "Do you spend every month there?"
"I sort of have to," said Remus. It. "It has to. Werewolves are required to be kept confined. Mum and Dad have a handbook, you know." They both laughed.
"Sort of Care of Magical Creatures?"
"Keep out of reach of children and small pets, yes."
Sirius was looking past him, at the wood again. "It's pretty," he said, "especially after the shack at school."
Remus shrugged uncomfortably, "Well, the shack is--safer." The woods were lonely, just as he liked, but as he got older the Wolf got bigger, and some day he feared the chains wouldn't bind him. Sirius was still looking behind him, until Remus turned around too. If you faced away from their house and the neighbours' it was pretty--a tiny patch of wilderness, just dense enough to block their view of the farmstead on the other side, but if you looked at it like a picture, and imagined it went on forever--it was impressive, the crackling sweep of snow, the tangle of black and grey branches clawing at the sky nestled between low mounds of ground, soft swells that almost looked warm by their shape, though the whole world was iced over.
"It is, rather," he mused.
Sirius looked at him quickly, and opened his mouth. Remus felt muscles along his spine tensing up in preparation for whatever he would say. And then--he only smiled, and Remus relaxed and turned back to the wood.
Sirius only said wistfully, "Peaceful."
Apparating with someone riding piggy-back is more like falling face-down into the bog. Wearing a rock tied around your neck.
He comes through snapping for breath, disoriented and trembling with nausea. Remus knocks him to the ground with his limp weight. The ground is barely snow-covered and suspiciously soft.
He rolls onto his back and finds his wand, mutters lumos and looks around. He doesn't recognise anything, but then they could be on the Red Square in Moscow for all he can see.
He tries to push himself up and his hand sinks into the soft earth. "If they just plowed it, that is," he says.
He adds a little power to the spell and the light grows and shows a low, rounded hill that he remembers. The forest isn't where it used to be, though. Where it started twenty years ago, just at the foot of the hill, sits a row of houses neatly enclosed by clipped hedges. Behind them, the remnants of the old forest looms hesitantly.
"Across the field, over a hedge and through someone's back yard."
"Hnghh?" Remus mumbles and stirs. He twitches and Sirius bites his lip to stop himself from asking "Are you okay?" when it's quite clear that he's not. Instead he tries to get Remus into something like a sitting position. He settles at slouching, Remus' head heavy on his shoulder.
"Okay?" he asks after a while.
"That was a terrible ride," Remus says, just a toneless whisper right in Sirius' ear. "Two winks and a hey-ho from a splinch."
"Almost couldn't remember the place," Sirius whispers back. "It was a long time ago. More trees and whatnot."
"We're in a field." Remus squints at the surroundings. The bright light is deadly on the eyes and makes Sirius feel exposed and naked, so he lowers it to a dim flicker. "Why here?" asks Remus.
"Couldn't risk a longer leap with you looking that buggered. I half-expected you to keel over any second."
Remus shakes his head slowly. "I've been worse off," he says, and Sirius wants to know how that could be at all possible. Fight Aurors often, do you? he thinks, and begrudges Remus all his silences and secrets and all the years Sirius knows nothing of.
He lifts his wand and peers into Remus' face. Remus doesn't look like he could have been much worse off and lived to tell the tale. He's chalk white under the grime and his eyes are so bloodshot they look solid red.
He must have made a face because Remus winces and says, "I was careless. Textbook case, really. I used it on them - but then you-- In all the excitement, I didn't prepare myself properly."
"Good old Pomfrey will put you back together," Sirius says, not adding, if we get that far.
Remus sits up straighter and leans in. "We can't go back to Hogwarts, Sirius. I thought that was clear. "Not after this."
"We're on our own. We'll send word, but that's it."
"When I'm exonerated," Sirius says with self-assurance he doesn't feel, "this will be seen as self-defence."
"If," Remus says. Then he looks around again - not that he should be able to see much; the light, now down to the power of a candle flame, if that, barely reaches the nearest snow pile. "I know this field."
Sirius gets up with some effort. The field, under the snow, is good old mud, deep and soft and clinging, and the night is like a thick blanket around the disconsolately flickering light. The moon, still not shrunken to half, is hiding in cloud and no help at all.
"Just down the hill there," he says. "Under the trees for shelter. Not too far."
"I need to sleep a little. I'll be fine," Remus says, but he moves like an old man, staggering and slipping on the treacherous ground. Sirius holds him close and takes as much weight as he can bear.
It's still snowing. It will cover the blood and the soil they kicked up. The house is dark. Padfoot carries the limp hare back along his own tracks.
"This is the Wizard Way," he says when he shows Remus how to cook a hare in the wild. "My father taught me when I was nine. The wand goes up there-- and then just add temperature until it's cooking nicely."
Remus blinks tiredly. The hare glows softly green.
"It's supposed to be green," Sirius adds. "James' mother kept rabbits behind their house, but it wasn't until I went out hunting with Da that I really grasped the true meaning of rabbit stew. I was a fragile child."
"It wouldn't have occurred to me to cook it directly on the wand," Remus says, and Sirius feels strangely, childishly happy that he was the first one to divulge this important culinary secret to Remus.
"I think it's a particularly pureblood perversion," he says easily.
"There are feral werewolves in the Forbidden Forest," he says finally.
"North, then?" Sirius asks and pulls him a little closer, reluctant to get up and start trudging just yet. It's almost warm, and he's cleaned the mud off them inch by inch through the night. Remus settles against him, slight and too thin, too slow-moving and listless, but his mouth touches Sirius' neck in what's almost a kiss.
The promise of feral werewolves sounds like not much in the way of fun, but the Forbidden Forest should also contain other, more benevolent creatures. Buckbeak might still be there. There might be things to do.
"We could do some good there," he says out loud, and Remus nods slowly against his shoulder. "We could keep an eye on Harry."
"Let's not land in mud," Sirius says, and Remus quirks a half-smile at him.
"I know just the place," he says. "The hill where James got stuck with his crown in the bush."
They laugh, slightly wheezily. "No mud," Sirius agrees and takes Remus' hand.
They turn towards the Northwest, away from the sallow sun.
With beta by Katie, second set of comments by Tritorella, and cheerleading by Phineas and Spikeless.