Remus remembered the first lesson he had ever taught, although such a momentous occasion would be hard to forget. He was 17, a few months shy of his NEWTs, and the Hufflepuff first-years had needed someone to cover a Defence Against the Dark Arts class. Remus had been among the most talented in his class, no mean feat as it had contained Lily Evans, James Potter and Sirius Black, but he was also the student with the temperament most obviously suited to teach the clueless tiddlers about Lincolnshire pixies (much like their southern counterparts only less malicious, and a less conspicuous shade of blue).
He sat in the lecture theatre awaiting the arrival of his class, thinking back. Back then, he had never dreamed teaching would be what he ended up doing, but as conscientiously and carefully as always he had drawn a meticulous diagram on the blackboard and had explained the pixies' diet, habitat and habits to the first-years, their mouths hanging open at their Head Boy so competently taking their lesson.
Dumbledore had been well pleased with him, Remus thought, recalling meeting with the headmaster in his study after the lesson. Dumbledore had suggested teaching was the ideal future for Remus, but he remembered just shaking his head and laughing, saying he was determined to be a St. Mungo's healer like his maternal grandparents. But now here he was, teaching Muggle literature! Dr. Lupin... he had been so proud the day he had got his Masters. Shame he had had no one to tell...
His face darkened as it always did when he thought about the past. Lily and James had died of course, as had his mother and father. Peter Pettigrew had been thrown into Azkaban when the Dark Lord had been vanquished... and Sirius, well, he had always been a bit rootless, restless... James's betrayal and murder had hit him hard, and he had taken off. Remus and he had severed contact, not due to disagreement... they had just lost touch. Any reminder of the past made it that much harder to get on with life and its living.
Remus was proud of the way he had picked himself up and carried on, though. Lots of hard work and not a few years had passed and now, aged 36, he had earned his place teaching English at a university. Muggle disciplines had been difficult to adjust to at first, the painstaking methods, the lateral thinking and the leaps of imagination. Many had been the time when he had missed the black and white magic study of his earlier life. But now, he was fully immersed in the Muggle world and his wand was buried in the back of his bottom drawer.
And the best thing, he thought to himself, was none of that lycanthropy nonsense. He had been unceremoniously booted out of his St. Mungo's healing apprenticeship at 19 when a patient had discovered his secret. Sheer blind prejudice; after all, if he wasn't working on the night of full moon there was absolutely no danger of him hurting or 'infecting' anyone whatsoever, and not working one night a month wasn't exactly difficult to arrange. But what is lycanthropy? Remus wondered dreamily, sipping at his coffee. He had been over this so many times before, and as always he came to the conclusion, probably some kind of virus that fluctuated in its effects, but how can you possibly tell with magical maladies? Perhaps he should get his blood analysed... no, too risky.
At that moment, the door swung open at the back of the lecture theatre and the first few students of the new year walked in hesitantly, looking around nervously. Remus gave them a welcoming smile and they smiled tightly back. Remus remembered indulgently how he had felt the first day: completely terrified. "It won't take them long to get used to it!" he thought before turning on the computer on the lectern and then leaning back to await the arrival of the rest of the class.
A few minutes later, the lecture theatre was full. No one wanted to be late on their first day. As the clock moved onto 9am, Remus stood up.
'Welcome,' he said warmly. 'My name is Dr. Lupin, and I'm an English literature lecturer, specialising in the nineteenth century. As this is an introductory lecture, I'm just going to give you a bit of historical and cultural background about Victorian England and talk about a few of the most important novels of that time.'
He paused and surveyed the room. All the new students were staring eagerly down at him until he tried to meet their eyes, when they cut their gaze away and stared down at their feet. All, that is, except one. An older, black-haired man looked right back at him and smiled slightly.
The shock of recognition was so strong that Remus felt his knees quake. He gripped the lectern with one hand to steady himself, but his stomach still felt as though he had eaten a hundred Peppermint Toads one after the other.
He swallowed, and with a massive effort, continued.
'So, the nineteenth century. In terms of politics, the century was dominated by the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 until 1901, although by this time the power of the monarch had decreased much compared to earlier centuries -'
He gave the lecture mechanically, his mind still fully occupied with the dark-haired man in the middle of the crowd of students. How could it be? But then, how could he possibly mistake...? "But he's fifteen years older," he reminded himself, "he'll have changed a lot..."
At long last, he concluded his lecture, but then the dread settled in the bottom of his stomach. Now surely he was going to find out... what if it wasn't...?
But sure enough, the dark-haired man walked with an easy gait down the stairs of the lecture theatre.
'Done well for yourself, Re,' he grinned, that same old maddening grin and the same old nickname Remus hadn't heard for 15 years, and he felt tears prick his eyes as all the memories of the magical world he had repressed hit him like a physical blow to the solar plexus.
'Sirius,' Remus muttered, 'gods, it is you, I knew it must be. But – why are you here?'
'Same reason as all the others,' Sirius grinned, 'to learn a bit about Muggle books.'
'But – why?'
'You were always reading something,' Sirius replied, suddenly becoming entirely serious. 'I always trusted your judgement... even though I lost my way a bit for a while. And in the end, I thought, "hey, better than doing nothing!"' he laughed self-consciously.
'But – why Muggle university? Why nothing magical?'
'I don't know about you Remus, but judging from what you've chosen to do with your life, I'd guess you've done the same as me – distanced yourself from magic and wizards and everything connected with that. People would know me, they'd whisper, "look, Sirius Black! Remember all that Voldemort business? And, remember his family?!", and I didn't want any part of that. I'm happier as a Muggle.'
'But why here? Did you know I was here?'
'No, I didn't... but why here? No sure, really, but I always remembered you talking about the Moors and the Peaks, how they were your favourite places in the world... you made them sound nice...'
There was a lot unsaid in that last speech and Remus found it impossible to read between the lines as he used to. This Sirius – he had changed so much, grown up so much, since before.
'Shall we have coffee?' Remus asked suddenly, trying to pull himself together. After all, he was a lecturer and a doctor of English, he wouldn't let himself be upset at reminders of things that had happened aeons ago.
Sirius smiled. 'How delightfully grown up and non-magical,' he commented wryly, and Remus laughed.
He put on his worn old brown jacket, picked up his tatty briefcase and led the way out of the auditorium. Sirius followed in his jeans and grey jacket.
Once outside, where the sun was shining but the air was chilly, Remus stopped and turned to Sirius.
'Do you mind if we don't go to the Union?' he asked. 'Just – I don't think it would be quite the thing for me to be fraternising with you in full view of every student in this place.'
'Of course,' nodded Sirius. "So Remus is still sensible," he thought to himself, and grinned inwardly.
They walked down the hill and found a tiny coffee shop, almost empty because of the time of day, and ordered. Remus had a strong black coffee, Sirius a Coke.
'Bit early in the day, isn't it?' Remus asked with a raised eyebrow.
'Better than your rocket fuel,' Sirius retorted and drank his Coke through a straw like a kid out with his dad.
Remus added three brown sugars to his coffee and stirred it meditatively. There were a lot of questions he was dying to ask; he just didn't know how to begin. He shrugged off his jacket again, loosened his tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves. Sirius stared at his slender white wrists and hands, covered in fine, even whiter scars, and Remus sensed his gaze
'People have said these are doctor's hands... they didn't know about Mungo's, of course...' he said absently, and stretched out his long thin fingers. 'Do you remember?'
'Of course,' Sirius said. 'It would be hard to forget. I don't think I have ever seen you that upset.'
'Except... yes, I was distraught. I was only nineteen; it felt like the end of the world.'
'But you're happy now?'
'Yes – yes.'
'Sure about that?'
'Yes! I have friends here, I love my work...'
'But nothing, Sirius! You can't just waltz back here assuming there's something wrong with me just because the things I want and expect from life are a bit different from fifteen years ago!'
'Sorry, sorry,' Sirius said quickly, his eyes widening in alarm at this outburst, which was most uncharacteristic of the Remus he remembered from the old days.
'No. I'm sorry. I shouldn't snap at you; it was a perfectly reasonable question. I'm sure from the outside I look like a dry old don, thirty-six going on sixty. Lost in my work and all that.'
'I could never think you were a dry old don, Re!' Sirius exclaimed. Remus just smiled sadly and pulled a cigarette from a packet in his jacket pocket, lit it and inhaled with his eyes half-closed.
'Then you are in the minority,' he said quietly.
Sirius didn't know what to say. He watched the smoke curl up from Remus's lips, and then met his eyes.
'So no wife and two-point-four children then?' he asked, trying to lighten the tone somewhat.
'Sirius, I may have changed a lot, but I am still a werewolf.'
'How many people do you think there are in the world who would be willing to marry a man who turns into a bloodthirsty killer once a month?'
'I don't know, but I'm sure there are some,' Sirius replied.
'Maybe. I don't know. How could I tell a Muggle that, anyway? And I couldn't hide it. No, it would have to be someone magical, but aside from all the prejudice and myth which would make them run away anyway, I've decided to have nothing more to do with magic. It would take someone quite extraordinary...' He lapsed into silence, his eyes unfocused behind rectangular glasses. 'So how about you?' he asked finally, aware that the silence was uncomfortable and Sirius was regarding him nervously. 'Haven't found yourself a lovely wee wifey yet? Slow going for the heart throb of Hogwarts!'
Sirius laughed. 'I forgot you didn't know!' he said. 'I'm gay, so no wife for Sirius Black! And sadly no husband either, as yet.'
Remus took off his glasses. His face was naked and somehow vulnerable without them.
'You're gay?' he said incredulously. 'But – no offence mate – you were the biggest slut in Gryffindor!'
'Denial, I suppose,' Sirius said uncertainly. 'Didn't really think it was all it was cracked up to be, no idea why – then I found out. Because I'd been having it away with the wrong sex!'
'When did you decide this? When did you find out?' Remus asked curiously.
'Er, must have been a couple of years after – oh – after the last time I saw you. I was about twenty-three I guess, very naïve, accidentally found myself in some weird club in Berlin full of blokes kissing. Thought I'd give it a go – some nice German lad initiated me! And history was made...'
'So it would appear,' Remus smiled, his earlier eruption seemingly forgotten. 'So, what are your plans once you graduate? – although I suppose it's a bit early, it's only your first day!'
'I'm not sure, but I do think I'd like to travel again. Maybe teach English abroad? But I can't see myself settling down in England, that's for sure.'
'Why did you come back?'
'Because I thought I ought to study English literature in England!'
Remus laughed. 'Snob,' he said affectionately. 'So you don't fancy being a journalist or a writer, something like that?'
'No – too much hassle, too all-consuming. I want something I wouldn't think about constantly, and something I think will actually be doing something for someone.'
'Funny. I'd picture you as something glamorous and exciting with loads of flair and dash!' Remus commented.
'I've changed quite a bit since I was a kid, Re,' Sirius said very seriously, and for the first time he was virtually unrecognisable as the laughing Padfoot, one quarter of the Marauders.
'I have no doubt,' Remus said quietly. Then, to make idle conversation, he asked, 'Do you think you'll do any research whilst you're here? Good for your career, you know...'
'Research! I've changed, but not that much! Do you seriously think I'd have the patience, Moony?'
The inadvertent use of the old nickname hung tensely in the air between them.
'I imagine you could do anything you put your mind to,' Remus said lightly to try to fill the uncomfortable gap. 'That is, unless you've changed beyond all recognition.'
'I hope not beyond all recognition,' Sirius said. 'I think I was a great kid!'
They both laughed and then fell silent.
'So, do you have any other classes today?' Remus asked eventually.
'Nope, I'm free 'til Thursday now. I love studying English!' Sirius said.
'Just you wait until your dissertation's due,' Remus said wryly. 'But I'm free too. Do you want to go for a wander around, maybe? I could orientate you, show you the places the cool thirty-somethings in this city hang out!'
Behind the casual words there was an almost pitiful desperation. Sirius's heart melted at the sight of his dignified, intelligent friend virtually begging for his company.
'Of course I'll come,' he agreed. 'But only if you let me pay for this.'
'Deal,' Remus smiled, and Sirius left some change on the table and they exited the café together.