At seven o'clock in the morning, most of the students of Hogwarts were still asleep, relishing their last moments of rest before their alarm clocks rang. Breakfast wasn't until half past eight; most people got out of bed at a quarter to. However, James Potter and Sirius Black had never been "most people".
"Moony referred to it as 'The Potter-Black Daily Hair Ritual'," said James as he ran his wet fingers over his head. "Have you got any gel?"
"Sorry," replied Sirius, his voice echoing faintly in the empty bathroom. "I've got mousse back in the dorm, do you want that?"
"Not strong enough." James flicked at an errant piece of hair that flopped forward onto his forehead. "When's the next Hogsmeade visit again?"
"Month or so."
"Damn. We'll have to sneak out, then, I'm not going a month with my hair looking like this."
Sirius grinned and swept his fringe back. It was getting to the point where it could hardly be called fringe anymore; his hair had grown past his shoulders. Peter claimed to have overheard no less than three conversations devoted to Sirius's hair. The participants, as usual, were all shy yet giggly girls who couldn't hear the words "serious" or "black" without compulsive smiles twitching at the corners of their mouths.
"Meanwhile, as the Hair Ritual reaches its close, Remus has probably started the Moony Daily Journal Ritual," James said. "Don't you ever get curious about what he writes in that thing?"
Sirius shrugged. "Probably nothing that interesting. No enormous secrets, that's for sure."
"How do you know?"
"Because even someone as extraordinary as he is can't have too many secrets left," said Sirius. He took a quick glance around the bathroom to make sure they were still alone. "We know he's a werewolf, we know he fancies blokes. What else could there be?"
"We don't know who he fancies."
"I do," answered Sirius as casually as he could. "Sweet Merlin, Prongs, d'you mean to tell me you haven't guessed?"
James hurriedly set down his comb and turned towards his friend. "No! Who?"
"Moony," Sirius intoned solemnly, "has harbored an unrequited love for Snivellus since third year. He longs to stroke his greasy forehead and plant sweet kisses next to his gargantuan nose. He wants – "
"Shut up." It took a split second for James's glare to dissolve into laughter. "Honestly, though, haven't you ever wondered?"
"No, not really."
"Well, why should I care?"
James arched his eyebrows and gave Sirius a very pointed look.
"God, not again," Sirius groaned, leaning against the wall next to the sink. "Look, just because we're both gay doesn't mean we have to snog each other. That's like saying that because you and my cousin Narcissa are both straight you – "
James cut him off. "But unlike me and your cousin Narcissa, you and Remus really get on. Stop trying to pretend you don't fancy him, it's so bloody obvious that you do."
"Only in a teenage crush sort of way."
"A teenage crush that's in its third year?"
"You've liked Evans for just as long."
"Yes," James said, "but I don't have a crush on her. I want her like – "
"Fine, yeah, all right," Sirius muttered. It was too early for another monologue about the most likely candidate for the future Mrs. Potter. "Let's say Moony and I go out. Then let's say we break up. Remember Vanessa Diggory? Would you want to share a room with her?"
"Vanessa Diggory is solely an ex-girlfriend. You and Moony have been friends for years."
"Yes, and I'd like to keep it that way." Sirius looked at his watch; luckily, it was eight o'clock. "We've got to go to breakfast."
"Ah, Gryffindor," said James, his voice brimming with mock nostalgia. "The home of the brave at heart."
"Not porridge again," Sirius groaned as he took his seat between James and Remus. "By the time I graduate I'll have turned into a giant oat."
"Good," Peter said. He sat to Remus's left. "We'll keep you around in case we get hungry."
"You can give me your raisins if you don't want them," said Remus rather absentmindedly. He was examining the fading scar on his thumb. "I actually like them."
Sirius scooped out a few raisins and dumped them into his friend's bowl. "Go ahead."
As Remus ate his first spoonful of porridge, a swarm of owls swooped in through the window. Sirius scanned the ceiling for Darnay, the screech owl Andromeda had given him for Christmas. They spotted each other at the same time; the owl landed on the back of Sirius's chair.
"Andromeda thinks I'm being a bad influence," Sirius informed his friends as he glanced at the letter and offered Darnay a bit of toast. "Apparently Nymphie spent all of last week as a black puppy and wanted Ted to throw sticks for her."
"Did she eat from a dish on the floor?" James asked.
"It doesn't say." His eyes fell on the "P.S." below Andromeda's scrawly signature. "Hey, she wants Remus to babysit on Valentine's Day!"
"Really?" Remus said, his attention immediate. "What time?"
Sirius only half heard him. "I'm her cousin! Why don't I get to babysit?"
"Because you're a bad influence," said James, pouring himself another glass of orange juice.
"Just because she spent a week as a puppy – "
"And learned to say 'bloody hell'," Peter added.
"Oh, and because you let her ride on the motorbike," James said. "Without a helmet."
"The kid's a Metamorphmagus! If she'd cracked her head open she probably could have put it back together!"
"I don't think that's the sort of statement that will get you on Andromeda's good side," Remus said.
"She loves you to death," Sirius remarked grudgingly. "It's all that time you spent reading to Nymphie on New Year's Eve. It says here that Nymphie wants to know when you're going to come back and tell her more fairy tales about the Big Bad Snake."
"Your brother's gotten a Howler," Peter said suddenly.
Eight eyes shot over to the Slytherin table. To Sirius's immense amusement, Regulus had just dropped a scorching envelope onto the floor.
"REGULUS BLACK!" it screamed. "THE LAST HOPE FOR THE NOBLE CONTINUATION OF OUR ANCIENT NAME! FOOL, WEAKLING, PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR AN HEIR! HOW COULD YOU LOOSE FIFTY HOUSE POINTS IN ONE DAY? YOU DESERVE TO BE PUBLICALLY FLOGGED! NOT A MONTH AGO THE BOY WHO IS NO LONGER MY SON DISGRACES OUR FAMILY, AND NOW THIS! IF YOU SO MUCH AS THINK OF HUMILIATING YOUR RELATIVES AGAIN, I'M SENDING YOU TO DURMSTRANG WITH A LETTER SAYING THE SCHOOL MAY USE ANY FORM OF PUNISHMENT THEY DEEM NECESSARY TO FULLY REPRIMAND YOUR WRETCHED SELF!"
"And there you have it," Sirius said. "The case against inbreeding."
He had thought the Howler was finished; however, a new voice began its tirade.
"YOUNG MASTER HAS ANGERED KREACHER'S MISTRESS! HE IS NOT WORTHY TO LICK THE SOLES OF HER SHOES! WHEN HE RETURNS HOME KREACHER WILL FEED HIM BURNT MEAT!"
James caught Sirius's eye. "Think she'll chuck him out?"
"Never," Sirius answered. He patted Darnay on the head and sent him off to the owlry. "Someone's got to produce mad screaming brats and continue the bloodline, and since I left I'm out."
"Padfoot, you were never in," said Peter.
"Yeah, but she doesn't know that," Sirius said. "It might've killed her. Perhaps I ought to write."
Remus smiled; a thought struck Sirius. "Hey, didn't you say you were going to tell your parents over Christmas? I can't believe I forgot to ask, we've been back for nearly two weeks. So?"
"They did all right," his friend replied. "They're already used to having a son who's an outcast in society."
"You're never an outcast in my society," Sirius said at once. "Nor in the society of anyone who's a decent human being.'
"Agreed," said James, and Peter nodded. "What did they say?"
"Well, my mum started talking about 'adolescent phases', and I said that by this time I ought to know a phase when I see one. Then my dad laughed and said it sounded like I'd done a lot of thinking. I said I had. After that they started asking me questions."
Sirius's eyes widened in shock. "They didn't."
"Nothing too personal," Remus assured him. "When did you know, do you want to tell your grandparents, do you know that we still love and support you. There isn't much to tell anyway, experience-wise."
"What're the answers to the questions?" Sirius asked.
"Fourteen, possibly, and yes."
Peter leaned forward. "Not much experience-wise, hmm?"
"Not much," said Remus firmly. "And that is all I'm going to tell you."
Sirius always learned a lot in History of Magic. So far he had memorized the sloping curve of Remus's neck; the way his hair just barely brushed over the collar of his robe; the hue of his skin, a shade closer to alabaster than beige; the tiny mole on the top of his left ear; his small and neat handwriting that never filled more than one page per class; and, most of all, the feel of Remus's hands on those rare occasions that he stretched backward as he yawned and accidentally brushed Sirius's face. But today, for once, Sirius was concentrating on the piece of paper in front of him.
Why I Should Tell Moony1. He wouldn't act like a prat towards me if he didn't feel the same way. 2. His parents would be all right with it – hey, they might even be happy that their ickle Remikins has a boyfriend. 3. I'm jealous of whoever the "not much" was with. Jealous to the point of an accelerated heart rate. 4. It would be nice to do more than fantasize. Very nice. 5. It's a bit pathetic to be sixteen years old, the dream date of half the girls in your year, and never kissed. Well, unless you count the incident with Denise Roderick and Spin-the-Vial back in second year, which I definitely don't. Ugh. 6. I can't help but smile back whenever he smiles at me. 7. The mole on the top of his ear looks tasty. 8. I have to force myself to look away when he's changing clothes, lest embarrassing physical situations should result. 9. He's ten times more intelligent than my entire (disowned) family combined. 10. We can both understand what it feels like to be furry, have four paws and a tail, and howl at the moon. 11. Even Peter's been on a date, for God's sake. 12. The anxiety about telling him or not has reduced me to writing stupid lists like a ditzy third-year girl.
He set his quill back in its inkwell and rested his head in his hand.
A small piece of parchment landed on his desk. The moment Sirius was sure that Professor Binns was indeed as oblivious as usual, he unfolded it and read.
Padfoot: You have until seven o'clock tonight to tell Moony, or else I will. I'm not kidding. Prongs.
The current time was half past one. Furious, Sirius took a fresh piece of parchment and hastily wrote his reply.
Prongs: You will NOT! That is the most unfair thing I've ever heard of. If you dare, I'll tell Evans that you're the one who stole her blue hair grip, and that you sleep with it under your pillow. A fiercely growling Padfoot.
Padfoot: It's fair to me, I'm sick of watching you torment yourself. Seven o'clock, mate. Prongs. P. S. I don't care. Go ahead.
Prongs: When we did the animagus transformation, you should have turned into an ass. Padfoot.
Mr. Prongs suspects that Mr. Padfoot will feel much better after he has told Mr. Moony. Mr. Prongs also predicts that Mr. Padfoot will go to bed tonight with large red spots up and down his neck.
Mr. Padfoot tells Mr. Prongs to go boil his head, and also thinks that Mr. Prongs ought to spend more time minding his own business.
Mr. Prongs would like to remind Mr. Padfoor that the latter's business is the former's concern, as evidenced on 27 December when Mr. Padfoot took up residence in Mr. Prongs's estate.
Mr. Padfoot greatly appreciates Mr. Prongs's aforementioned kindness, and would like to rephrase his most recent note. Mr. Prongs ought to mind his own business in matters concerning Mr. Padfoot's love life, or lack thereof. (However, Mr. Prongs should still go boil his head, preferably in a cauldron big enough to accommodate his rather large antlers.)
Mr. Prongs respectfully disagrees, and would also like to remind Mr. Padfoot that approximately forty-five seconds remain in the class period.
All disagreements aside, Andromeda was one of the only two family members Sirius respected enough to take advice from (the second was his uncle Alphard). "You're obviously clever enough, but I swear sometimes you just don't think," Andromeda had told him once. It had been towards the end of his first year at Hogwarts, which was also the first year of her marriage. Over Easter break, Sirius had arrived at her flat by way of floo powder and announced his intention of staying until school resumed. Unfortunately, his name was on the list of students who were staying at school, making his absence conspicuous.
"Honestly, it's like you don't believe there're such things as consequences," she'd said as she tucked four large chocolate eggs into his suitcase – one for all the boys in his dorm, himself included. "If you mum finds out you were here, she'll probably force you to come home for every holiday from now on, at the very least. If you want to do risky things, you've at least got to plan ahead."
With this in mind, Sirius decided to write Remus a letter; he wasn't sure he trusted himself. He was, after all, the person who only seven months ago had sent Snape into the Shrieking Shack and put Remus in one of the most perilous situations of his life. He was lucky Remus was still his friend, very lucky; when the entire summer had passed without a single letter, Sirius had been so anxious he was sick to his stomach.
Remus deserved the very best that Sirius could give him, and Sirius would settle for nothing less.
You're probably thinking that it's very odd to be getting a letter from someone you live with and see every day, but I figured I needed to think this out properly. Your dad said it sounded like you had done a lot of thinking, so I guess it's only fair that I do the same.
I told myself after the whole thing with Snape and the Shack that I would never break a promise I made to you ever again. I haven't, but I've broken a promise I made to myself about you. I can't decide whether it was a good idea or not. A lot depends on you, and me, and how you take this letter.
You and Prongs and Wormtail have been better than my family for the last several years, and for the most part I think I've done a decent job of returning what you've given me. To tell the truth I'd die for any one of you, and that's not me being melodramatic, either. Anyway, when a bloke cuts ties with almost every blood relative he's got, he's especially careful not to make a muck of things with the new family he's chosen. Therefore, I think I owe you the whole truth.
Off the top of my head I can think of exactly eight people I love. My uncle Alphard, because when I was little he was the only one in the family who acted like he thought of me as more than someone to continue the bloodline; Andromeda, because she's smart enough to have left the family and also because she puts up with me acting like a total prat; Ted, because he's good to Andromeda and brave enough to have married her and risked meeting a nasty end; Nymphie, because she's a damn good kid who'll grow up and kick a few deserving arses; Peter, because even though he can be thick he's a good friend; James, who's more of a brother to me than Regulus ever was or will be; and you. You, because I've had a thing for you since fourth year and been in love with you since fifth.
Regardless of how you respond to this letter, that's the way it is. I will understand completely if you haven't got similar feelings – after all, I know I'm not always the most agreeable person in the world, and that attraction is one of those things you either have or you don't. However this situation turns out, I ought to tell you why I love you, exactly. You've always liked specifics and details.
First of all, I think it reflects your basic goodness that you've managed to survive all the problems in your life without becoming a bitter, evil git who hates the world. Now that I think about it, I guess it shows maturity too – something I admittedly haven't got in spades. I really admire you for that. I also love how you manage to have time to listen to other people's problems when you're dealing with your own.
I love you because you can forgive me. I love you because you make me happy, and because I like making you happy. And because, of course, we have a hell of a lot of fun together. What else can I say? I love you because I do.
So…yeah, I think I've said what I wanted to say.
Love always, in whatever form you want from me, Sirius
P. S. I would also like to state for the record that you have an incredibly sexy arse.
He folded the letter into sixteenths and wrote Remus's name on one side. He'd taken almost forty minutes to write it, he realized; Transfiguration was drawing to a close. Luckily it had been one of McGonagall's lecture days and she hadn't noticed his complete lack of attention.
Now, Sirius wondered, when was he going to deliver the letter? Perhaps just before dinner – no, not then. They'd be sure to have a long conversation after Remus had read it, and he hated long conversations on an empty stomach. After dinner. Wait, not then either; he wouldn't be able to eat a bite due to sheer nervousness, and that would definitely attract attention. But – oh God, this was stupid. Remus was right across the aisle from him. Why didn't he just wait until McGonagall turned to write something on the board and toss it over? He'd done it before.
"While attempting human transfiguration on another person," the professor was saying, "it is imperative to remember the laws that cover this area. The eighteenth clause of 1930's Muggle Protection Act states that – " She placed her chalk upon the blackboard, and Sirius seized his chance.
Remus turned and saw the piece of paper that bore his name. Just as Sirius was about to pass it, McGonagall faced the class once more.
" – Muggle transfiguration is only legal and acceptable provided that the situation involves the threat of life or safety, and that the memory of the Muggle in question is modified immediately afterward. When it comes to transfiguring underage wizards, the only law applicable is Eustace's Law, passed in 1954, which specifies – "
She swiveled; Sirius flicked the note onto Remus's desk; Remus opened it; McGonagall snapped her head around and saw it.
"Black and Lupin," she said wearily, briskly walking to their seats, "my class, or any other class, is not a place to do anything but what you have been instructed to do. By the age of sixteen, you should have learned that long ago. I'll see you both in my office immediately after your last class of the day."
"It wasn't his fault," Sirius protested. Remus had had exactly one detention in his entire Hogwarts career, a record Sirius was not eager to change. "I'm the one who wrote it, he can't help that I put it on his desk – "
"But he can help opening it," McGonagall said. "I will see you both at five minutes after three o'clock." And with that, she took the letter and put it in her pocket.
"Look, I was bound to get another detention sometime," Remus said as they approached McGonagall's office door. "It won't be too bad, it's only detention. Honestly, you look as though you're about to die."
"I am," Sirius moaned. "Of all the notes I've ever passed in my life, that was the worst one for her to have confiscated. Even worse than the one with the limerick about Snape's mother."
Surprisingly, Remus stopped. He reached over and squeezed Sirius on the shoulder, a gesture that made Sirius both relieved and nervous. Remus's hand was stronger than he would have thought. "At least we're in it together," Remus said. "There's only so bad it can get." He looked down the corridor. "Ready?"
As ready as a bloke who's just been unwillingly outed to his zillion-year-old teacher can be, Sirius thought. "I guess. Go ahead."
"Was it about your family?"
"Sort of." He looked at Remus and, before his brain could fully process the impulse, threw his arms around him.
"Padfoot, I can't breathe – it couldn't have been that bad of a note, could it?"
"It could," Sirius muttered into Remus's shoulder. His friend felt reassuringly solid in his arms, and he tightened his grip.
"My ribs – come on, let's go in and get this over with."
"Don't want to." He wanted to bask in the glow of Remus's touch just a little longer, while he could be assured that the touch was still his to have.
"Come on." Remus shook him off and started for the door.
A frequent visitor to McGonagall's office, Sirius knew what to expect. First she would tell him to sit down, her eyes not leaving the piece of parchment she'd been writing on when he'd entered. After a few seconds she would set down her quill, look up, and begin a speech concerning the following four points.1. I thought we had agreed last time that I wouldn't see you in here again. 2. A high intelligence does not guarantee you success in life. 3. I am sympathetic to you tumultuous family situation, but will not accept it as an excuse for poor behavior. 4. I want you to consider the reasons for your disobedience and question whether it was a good use of your time and mind.
This time, however, the list was sure to have grown.5. I'm very interested to know where you, Lupin, Potter, and Pettigrew acquired these bizarre nicknames. 6. It is unacceptable to pass notes during my lessons; it is even more unacceptable to pass notes that contain swearing. 7. Your romantic attachments have no place in my classroom. 8. You can concern yourself much, much, much later with the appearance of Lupin's hind quarters.
As Remus turned the doorknob, Sirius took a deep breath.
To his surprise, McGonagall's desk was completely clear. She looked as though he was prepared for their arrival; the look on her face was the closest thing to gentleness he had ever seen her possess. "Sit down," she said calmly. Sirius exchanged glances with Remus, and both boys took the chairs closest to the door. Remus's face had the gaunt look that Sirius knew meant his friend was biting the insides of his mouth.
"Both of you have been members of my house and my students for nearly six years," McGonagall said. "You know very well that I am a firm believer in the importance of rules."
"I won't ever – " Sirius began, but McGonagall silenced him.
"I haven't finished." She wet her lips and began again. "The majority of rules are implemented for important reasons, even if those reasons are not immediately obvious. They have their place and purpose.
"But," she continued, "just as there is a time and place for every rule, there is also a time and place for each rule to be broken."
Sirius felt suddenly lightheaded. Surely she couldn't be –
"I believe that today I have encountered a situation in which the disregard of a rule was well-justified, though perhaps hasty. It is the mark of a thinking person to admit his or her own mistakes, and I have always considered myself a thinking person. Lupin, this letter belongs to you." She held it out to him, unfolded; Remus took it and sat down again. "The two of you may go. There will be no punishment."
Sirius leapt up and lunged for the door, with Remus close behind.
"Oh, Black, one more thing."
He swallowed. "Yes?"
"The next time you are going to pass a note in class – a note that I expect to be important, and a legitimate reason to ignore the rule – I would suggest that you do it in Professor Binns's class. His eyes are not as sharp was mine. You are dismissed."
They bolted out of the office, Sirius barely resisting the urge to scream aloud with joy. "Come on, let's go to the dormitory, you've got to read your letter." He wasn't in trouble. No one was going to write to Grimmauld Place. He felt as though his feet had grown wings and he could sprint and fly down the corridor to freedom. "Come on!"
Remus smiled. "Right now?"
"Yes, this very minute." Fearless, he grabbed Remus's hand and began to run.
"Slow down!" Filch shouted as they ascended the staircase. Mrs. Norris hissed.
"Haven't time, sorry!" Sirius called as they dashed across the landing. Remus was laughing, probably wondering what crazy thing Sirius had in mind.
The only person in the Gryffindor common room was Lily Evans, who sat on one of the couches reading a book. "Would it kill you to walk in here like normal people instead of sounding like a couple of racehorses?"
"Yes it would, very bloodily," answered Sirius.
"Sorry," Remus said, but Sirius yanked him up the stairs.
Once inside the dormitory he threw himself down on his bed and kicked off his shoes. "Go on, read it. And I want your honest reaction, don't feel like you have to spare my feelings."
Remus sat beside him on the bed and took out the note. Suddenly afraid once more, Sirius lay back and squeezed his eyes shut.
There was silence now, save for the quiet crinkling noise of the parchment. I will live, Sirius told himself. Even if he tells me there's no chance he'll ever go out with me, I'll live. I have survived disowning, Quidditch injuries, illegal transformations. I will live.
How long did it take a person to read a letter, anyway? A minute must have passed. Or had it only been a few seconds? Perhaps an eternity.
"Open your eyes."
Sirius waited for a second and then obeyed. Remus was leaning over him and grinning so widely Sirius thought his face would split.
He bit his lip. "So you – "
In one swift move Remus bent down, swept him off his back and into a sitting position, and kissed him hard on the mouth.
There was nothing hesitant about it. It was the kiss of a boy who knew exactly what he wanted and had claimed it, unabashedly and without regret. Remus's mouth moved as though he was trying to devour Sirius, and as though he didn't mind being devoured in return. After nearly two minutes he broke away and began to nip at Sirius's ear, teasing and bold.
"Oh, I like that," Sirius murmured.
"Good." Remus traced the edge of the ear with his tongue and then leaned in closer. "I love you, Sirius."
Downstairs Sirius could hear the sound of footsteps and conversation, but he didn't care. The whole world could come in and find him like this and he would just smile like a madman. "How long?" he asked.
"Ages." Remus's mouth slid down Sirius's neck and began to gently slide his lips up and down its length. "I can't even remember."
After what seemed like ten thousand kisses, caresses, licks, and soft bites, Sirius finally pulled back a few inches. "Remus…when you said you didn't have much experience…"
His new boyfriend laughed and rested a hand on his chest. "Yeah, I suppose you'd like to know about that." He smoothed the hair away from Sirus's forehead; hair, Sirius realized, that was now beautifully mussed. "I kissed you once when you were asleep."
As Remus climbed into his lap, Sirius began to plan the rest of the day. First he would keep kissing Remus until they were interrupted, or else got hungry, whichever happened first. Dinner would come eventually. He'd have to write to Andromeda and tell her she'd need another babysitter for Valentine's Day. And after that, he would find James and swear that he was indebted to him for the rest of his life.
Even if James could be a bit of a nosy prat. Your family is your family.