Disclaimer: Remus and Sirius are not mine; I'm just borrowing them for a little while. JKR can have them back when I'm done.
"No Big Deal" was originally published on FictionAlley on 1 January, 2004.
The first thing that Sirius noticed when he woke up was the smell. It wasn't the sort of smell that implied danger; rather, it was a confusing aroma somewhere between slightly tangy and slightly acidic, the sort of smell that made one wonder if the Weasley twins had got hold of some illegal substance and were trying to explode it as quietly as possible. It was the sort of smell that was just begging to be sought out and investigated.
The second thing that Sirius noticed was the lack of sunlight coming in from the grime-crusted windows of his bedroom. The waxing half-moon provided only enough light for him to make out the silhouettes of things – but even without the benefit of sight, Sirius knew that the origin of the smell wasn't in his room. It was too faint.
The third thing that Sirius noticed was the utter silence that shrouded the old house on Grimmauld Place. It seemed appropriate to the time of night, certainly, but it cast doubt upon his conviction that the Weasley twins were the cause of the smell. From his endless nights of patrolling the corridors when he simply couldn't sleep, Sirius knew perfectly well that when Fred and George were up to something, mysterious bumps and thumps could always be expected to accompany their latest plots.
More out of curiosity than caution, Sirius slipped quietly out of bed and into the corridor, which was likewise dark and devoid of telltale noises. Furrowing his brow, he paced on bare feet to the end of the hall – and once he reached the top of the stairs, he realized what his destination should be. An angled light flooded the rooms below; Sirius knew the old house well enough to understand without a second thought that the light was coming from the kitchen.
He began to feel rather indignant as he descended the stairs and moved through the sitting room. After all, it was perfectly fine if people chose to stay up all night in their own respective rooms and do… well, whatever it was that they did – but the kitchen was common ground, and as he was master of this house, that meant that it was his. And they, whoever they were, had no right to invade his kitchen in the dead of night, especially when said invasion caused such distasteful smells.
Setting his features in what he sincerely hoped was a stony expression of unmitigated wrath, he strode purposefully toward the kitchen and pushed open the door. The smell was strong here, so much so that he couldn't stop himself from coughing. It took a moment for him to recover, but after a second or two, he finally focused on the figure standing over the cauldron on the other side of the room.
The figure in question was indeed Remus; he was fully dressed in his everyday robes and standing with crossed arms over the small black cauldron, a vaguely confused expression on his face. He looked up as Sirius entered the room.
"Remus?" repeated Sirius, quite certain that his own confusion was manifesting itself in an expression fit to mirror the one on his friend's face. "What in Merlin's name are you doing?"
Remus inclined his head toward the cauldron, out of which was rising a faint pinkish steam. "It didn't really work," he said thoughtfully. "I must've forgot something."
Sirius wrinkled his nose in assent and took a few tentative steps toward the offending cauldron. Peering inside, he saw a sickly pink substance, thin and oily-looking. A few shreds of herbs floated at the top. Throwing his indignation to the winds, Sirius allowed himself a smile at his friend's expense. "Forgot something?" he repeated. "Looks like you forgot half the potion, Moony. What were you trying to make?"
"Colour-changer," said Remus. "We did those in, what, first year? Second year? It's one of the simplest potions there is, and I can't even remember how to brew it correctly."
Sirius sighed. Remus had never been particularly bad at potions – he'd just always been better at what he termed "practical things," things that required immediate action, concentration, and strength of will. Not things that required calculations or forced memorization. The brewing of potions fell quite neatly into the latter category.
And besides, Sirius knew quite well that the Colour-Changing Potion was at the top of the list of brews that Remus would never attempt alone unless he absolutely needed to.
"Wolfsbane," said Sirius.
"Wolfsbane. Monkshood. The second ingredient in a colour-changer," explained Sirius. "That must be what you forgot, or else your hands would've gone all blotchy by now."
Remus paused for a moment, then burst out laughing – a hearty, genuine laugh that Sirius heard only rarely these days. Sirius vanished the offensive potion with a simple spell as Remus sank down in the nearest chair, still laughing.
"Oh, I knew that was a bad idea," said Remus in a buoyant tone, as much to himself as to Sirius.
Sirius shot Remus a sidelong look as he planted himself in one of the other chairs and rested his forearms atop the kitchen table. "Then why did you try?" he said, and then smiled. "Or should I even ask?"
Remus shrugged, a smile still lingering on his lips. "It's no big deal, really. Just… eh, it's nothing."
Sirius nodded knowingly. He knew that tone of voice all too well; it was a familiar tone which said that it was indeed a big deal – so big a deal, in fact, that Remus was embarrassed to talk about it for fear of putting attention on himself for too long. Either that, or he felt that it was too personal to share.
Naturally, this only increased Sirius' curiosity.
"No big deal, hm?" said Sirius, smiling a devious sort of smile.
"That's right," said Remus firmly. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get a little bit of sleep."
"Not so fast," said Sirius, taking hold of his friend's wrist and pinning it to the table before he could get up. "If I recall correctly, I was the one trying to sleep, not you. And that was going quite nicely until the horrid stink from your horrid potion woke me up. So either you explain why you had to brew a colour-changer, of all things, in the middle of the night, or I'll set off a Dungbomb in Molly and Arthur's room and blame it on you."
Remus blinked. "You have Dungbombs? Just how old are you, Sirius?"
"That's not the point," said Sirius rather aggressively. "Yes, I have Dungbombs, and no, I'm not afraid to use them. Now tell me what's going on."
His friend's amused expression faded into a reluctant puppy-dog look that struck Sirius as rather amusing. Nevertheless, he held his ground. "Well?" he prompted.
Remus sighed and mumbled something completely unintelligible under his breath.
Furrowing his brow in a vain effort to listen properly, Sirius shook his head. "What was that, Moony?"
Remus looked Sirius squarely in the eye, a resigned air about him. "I wanted to dye the gray out of my hair, alright? Can I get up now?"
This time it was Sirius' turn to burst out laughing. "Oh, Remus," he began, but could think of no suitable words that would effectively finish his thought. It wasn't entirely because the thought of Remus dying his hair was funny (although that certainly played a part); it was more that the idea was altogether absurd. Remus had always been one of the least narcissistic people that Sirius knew, and seeing him even remotely concerned with such a superficial thing struck Sirius as so ridiculously out of character that there was nothing to do but laugh.
A distinctly hurt look on his face, Remus pulled his wrist free of Sirius' grasp and got up. "Good night," he said in measured tones, and headed for the door.
"Bloody hell, will you just relax?" said Sirius, trying to force his laughter to abate though it was reluctant to cooperate with him. "Come back here, Moony."
Remus turned around, keeping one hand on the doorknob just in case. "And why should I do that?"
Sirius rolled his eyes, sobering up a bit at the defiant look on his friend's face. "Why in the world would you want to dye your hair?"
Running a hand absently through the aforementioned gray hair on his head, Remus considered for a moment. "I'll tell you," he said softly, "if you stop laughing."
"I wasn't laughing at you…."
"Yes you were."
"Alright, yes I was," Sirius conceded. "But I won't anymore. I promise. Now what is it?"
Remus let go of the doorknob and approached the kitchen table cautiously, as if afraid that Sirius might start laughing again if he walked too fast. He sat again, and Sirius waited patiently for him to explain.
After a few moments, Remus began, "Shacklebolt and I went out for a drink after we'd finished tonight…."
Ever since Remus left Hogwarts, unicorn-horns had been his drink of choice. Just two nights before their seventh year would officially be over, he and his three closest friends had sneaked out and gone to the Three Broomsticks for one last drink as school friends. This, of course, didn't mean that they would stop drinking together, but merely that they would no longer have to sneak off the school grounds to do it – a thought that the four boys had all found oddly depressing. They had toasted to many things, including the Marauder's Map, James' invisibility cloak, and of course Madam Rosmerta, since she had been standing not ten feet away the entire time. When it came time for their fourth (or had it been their fifth?) round, Sirius had bought Remus a unicorn-horn purely out of sentiment, in fond memory of the time in their first year when Sirius had tried to hex James, and Remus had consequently ended up with a rather large and unwieldy horn sticking out of his forehead. Remus hadn't liked the drink at first; it was a strange concoction, consisting of pumpkin juice with a shot of Ogden's Firewhiskey and two shots of O'Connell's Shimmering Irish Cream mixed in. But after a few sips, he'd begun to find it strangely addicting – and from then on, on those rare occasions when he dared to throw away a bit of money on alcohol, he seldom ordered anything but unicorn-horns.
On this night in particular, the unicorn-horns that Remus had drunk were paid for by Kingsley Shacklebolt, who had insisted after a long day of Ministry "research" (both men refused to call it "spying") that they go out for a drink or two, his treat. One round quickly became four, and eventually Kingsley had to say goodnight, since he had to be at the Ministry early the next morning. Remus decided to stay for a little while longer; the excuse that he gave was that he hadn't finished his drink, but while this was certainly true, his real motivation for staying had very little to do with alcohol. It had everything, however, to do with the brunette witch in the dark blue robes, who was sitting quietly at the other end of the bar and sipping at a bottle of butterbeer. Remus had noticed her about ten minutes before Kingsley left, and he'd thought her eyes were pretty as she spoke to the bartender – but he didn't want to approach her while in the company of his fellow Order member, who Remus thought was significantly handsomer than himself.
Now that Kingsley had left, Remus took a few seconds to gather his courage and finish his drink and then went purposefully over toward the pretty witch. He guessed by her looks and manners that she was somewhere around his age, and as he drew closer to her he could see that she was indeed pretty; her face was pleasantly round, her lips were smiling faintly, and her posture gave off a comforting aura of warmth and quiet intelligence.
"Excuse me, miss," said Remus, nodding pointedly at her near-empty bottle of butterbeer. "May I buy you another drink?"
She looked up at him, her expression guarded but not unfriendly. "Oh," she said, clearly taken off guard, "I… you don't have to…."
"It would be my pleasure," said Remus with a smile to match hers.
She paused for a moment before allowing her own smile to broaden. "I suppose one more wouldn't hurt," she said with a shake of her head. He noticed for the first time that she had a hint of an Irish accent in her voice – and he liked it.
She watched him order a butterbeer for her, offered him a seat on the empty stool beside hers, and asked why he hadn't got a drink for himself.
"I've had too many already," he explained with a roll of his eyes.
"Ah, I see!" she laughed, and she finished off her first butterbeer just as the second was placed on the bar in front of her.
Before she could accuse him of being drunk, Remus asked, "So what brings you here tonight?"
"Probably the same as you," she said. "Long day at work. I just wanted to have a drink and unwind a bit."
"Same as me," he affirmed. "May I ask what you do, Miss…?"
"Oh, don't bother with the 'miss.' Just call me Cathy."
She extended her hand in a formal sort of greeting, and he took it eagerly. "A pleasure, Cathy. I'm Remus."
"Likewise, Remus," she said. "Anyway, I'm in potions. Researching and testing new medicinal brews, that sort of thing."
His eyebrows shot up at this statement; apparently he had been correct to assume that she was an intelligent sort. "That's quite a job," he said. "It must take a lot of talent to work in a field like that."
Cathy shrugged modestly. "Not really – just a lot of hard work." A faint blush appeared on her cheeks, and she quickly changed the subject. "What about you, Remus? What do you do?"
Though he had no real job per se, Remus was unfazed by the question, having long ago grown used to telling people half-truths about what he did. "I'm a sort of independent researcher," he said. "I work with magical creatures – Dark creatures actually, most of the time."
This was of course technically true. He was indeed a researcher of sorts, employed by Albus Dumbledore to do investigative work for the Order of the Phoenix. Likewise, he had a lot of experience with Dark creatures, but his thorough investigations of their ways were little more than a hobby in which he had become interested due to his personal affliction. The fact that the hobby had helped him find employment as a professor in the past was hardly worth bringing up, as he didn't particularly care to find himself explaining why he was no longer teaching at Hogwarts.
But while neither of these statements was an outright lie, he simply neglected to mention that one had nothing whatsoever to do with the other.
"Dark creatures, hm?" she said with mirth in her eyes. "You aren't the sort who keeps werewolves and dragons locked up in the basement, are you?"
He laughed, though probably for reasons different than what she assumed. "I've never even met that sort, actually," he said. "Dragons are usually too big to fit into anyone's basement, and I daresay the werewolves might have a few objections to being locked up in their human forms."
She chuckled. "You're probably right," she agreed. "Not to mention that no werewolf would last very long if he was anywhere near those dragons."
"Exactly," he said, still grinning broadly.
For some reason, he found that it felt good to be able to joke around this way with someone who didn't know what he was. Anytime he tried to make light of his situation around someone who knew, they would inevitably become flustered and change the subject, probably for fear of offending him if they ended up responding the wrong way. (Unless, of course, the person in question was Sirius, who would always laugh right along with Remus and launch right into a series of his own groan-inducing jokes – "Why did the werewolf cross the road?" and the like.)
"Say," he said in a sudden burst of rare confidence, "how would you like to take a walk with me? There won't be any crowds at this time of night, and Diagon Alley is awfully pretty in the snow."
He knew as soon as the words left his mouth that it had been the wrong thing to say. Cathy's expression immediately became closed again, and she clutched her hand tightly around her butterbeer.
In a last-ditch effort to cling to the lightness of mood that they'd shared just a moment before, he said in a tone that bordered on cheerful, "It is still snowing, isn't it?" He craned his neck round to look out the window.
"No, it's not," she said quietly. "Look… Remus… I have to be honest with you. I don't know where you're going with this, but I'd rather not leave the pub with you – that is, er, alone."
He nearly winced at his own stupidity; of course a woman wouldn't want to leave a pub with a perfect stranger. "My apologies," he said quickly, trying his best to keep his voice even. "I didn't mean to imply anything like that."
"Of course not," she said quickly. "And I didn't mean to accuse you, either. It's just that I don't feel entirely…." She trailed off and looked curiously up at him, doubt hovering in her eyes. "Where were you going with this, anyway?"
Remus wasn't entirely sure how to reply to this. He wasn't exactly an expert at picking women up in pubs (or at all, for that matter), but he assumed that the process would be about the same for him as it was for anyone else – Merlin knew, he'd watched Sirius do it often enough in their youth. He'd buy her a drink, they'd talk, he'd find out whether or not he enjoyed talking with her, and if all went well there would be discussion of seeing one another again.
But naturally, explaining all of this to her would make the whole thing sound contrived, which it truly wasn't; he'd simply seen her from a little ways away and been intrigued enough to attempt a conversation.
"I'm not really sure," he said lamely. "I was just going to see where it went on its own…."
She made a little noise of assent, but her reluctance was apparently not swayed by his honesty. After a very long, very awkward moment in which Remus and Cathy stared at each other while doing their best to appear as though they weren't, Remus cleared his throat and spoke again.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to offend you."
"You didn't," she said with a sigh. "I mean, you're very nice, with the… the butterbeer and all. But…."
"But what?" he pressed.
She regarded him with a rather sad look, as if weighing her words carefully. "But," she said after a moment, "I'm only thirty-four. I think you might be looking for someone more… mature than me."
"Mature?" he echoed blankly. "I'm thirty-six."
Again her face resumed its guarded expression. "A lot of men say that," she said quietly. "But your hair is going gray."
Her face went a bright shade of red as she watched his frozen expression. "I'm sorry," she continued, hastily getting up from her seat and wrapping her cloak tightly around herself. "I have to go."
She Disapparated with a quick pop, and he was left staring vacantly at the near-full bottle of butterbeer that she'd left behind. A jumble of thoughts fought for his attention, among which were expressions like "needlessly rude" and "superficial bitch." But the thought to which he gave his immediate consideration was the little sly one in the back of his mind, which said that this wasn't the first time that his appearance had been the cause of rejection, and that all the others before Cathy had just been more polite about it.
He had always just assumed that his failed romantic endeavors (of which there hadn't really been that many, if he was honest with himself) could easily be blamed on his innate shyness. He'd assumed that women found him boring – but tonight he'd tried to change that. He'd tried to make the first move. He'd tried to capture her interest with his own. He'd tried to be the gentleman, but to no avail. So if it was neither his shyness nor his boldness, it seemed to him that his appearance was the only other option. He could have kicked himself for being so blind.
As he thought the word "blind," it suddenly occurred to him that there were a handful of witches and wizards who were throwing him surreptitious glances, the bartender included. Remus left the latter a couple of coins for the drink and got up. He wanted quite desperately to say that if any of them had to change into a wolf and back once a month, they'd probably have gone gray by now too.
But he didn't.
Instead, he quietly gathered his cloak and Apparated to Grimmauld Place.
A prolonged wince took up residence on Sirius' face as he listened to Remus' story. Remus, upon finishing, stared blankly at the surface of the kitchen table and waited for a response. When several moments passed and he still hadn't got one, he looked up at Sirius again with a very pointed sigh.
"What?" said Sirius.
"What do you mean, 'what'?" said Remus hotly. "It's your turn. You're supposed to say something witty and biting, or something that will make me laugh, or at least say something. Here, tell me she was being unreasonable. That'd do for now."
Sirius took a moment to smile at his friend's obvious discomfiture before he replied, "Actually, I was thinking that you were being unreasonable, not her."
Remus gaped at him.
"Honestly, Moony! Since when have you cared a whit for what other people think of you? I swear, if you hadn't prefaced that story with the excuse of having drunk four unicorn-horns, right now I'd be… well, I don't know what I'd be doing, but it would be something very drastic, probably involving a blunt object colliding with your head in attempt to knock some sense into it."
"Sense?" echoed Remus defensively. "You're talking to me about sense? If I had any sense at all, I'd have realized a long time ago that I look like I'm fifty years old, and I'd have done something about it!"
"Ah, of course!" Sirius shot back. "Because if you dyed your hair back to the colour it was ten years ago, then you'd just be able to go into any pub in Britain, and every beautiful young witch would take one look at you and think, 'Wow, that is one sexy werewolf!' And they'll all be falling over themselves to get you to buy them a drink, which you can't bloody afford as it is!"
"I'd have to have new robes too," muttered Remus.
Sirius took a deep breath, reining his temper in as best he could. "Look," he said in forcedly even tones, "you don't look like you're fifty, Remus. It's just your hair and those little crinkly lines around your eyes – they make you look like you're thirty-six but under a lot of stress. Which you are, on both accounts. And if some bloody woman in some bloody pub can't bloody see that, then she's too bloody stupid for you to be interested in to begin with."
He punctuated his increasingly climactic statement with a definitive slap of his hand upon the table, and Remus couldn't help smiling. "See?" said the latter with a touch of irony in his quiet voice. "You could have just said something like that in the first place."
Sirius looked at him in surprise for a moment, and then rolled his eyes with a little chuckle. "You know what your trouble is?" he said, leaning closer to his friend.
"No," said Remus wryly, "but I'm sure you're about to tell me."
"I am," said Sirius. "Your trouble is that you're too nice. You always take the blame for everything, even if it isn't your fault. Like tonight – of course it was rude of that woman to say those things, but that's not even the point. The point is that even though you know it was rude, you still somehow think it's your own fault, and you try to fix it. And I'm not even going to mention how ridiculous it is for you to think that you could fix anything by dying your hair."
"You just did."
"Well it is ridiculous. See, we're men, Moony. We don't dye our hair – only women do that. So if you know what's good for you, you won't tell anyone about this little incident. Molly's twins already think you're a poof, and you don't want to make it any worse."
Sirius started to get up, but Remus grabbed him by the shoulder and sat him right back down again. "They think – a poof? Gay? Me, gay?" he stammered, an amusingly stunned look on his face.
"Yes. You, gay," said Sirius in a nonchalant sort of voice. "They know you're a nice guy, and since you're over the age of thirty, they assume that the only reason you're still single is that you're gay."
Remus looked utterly lost. "But you're single too!" he said. "What do they say about that?"
Sirius shrugged, a smile appearing on his face. "Oh, they think I'm gay too. In fact, I overheard them talking about us being together."
Remus looked at his friend, shock and laughter fighting for dominance on his face. "Us?" he said. "An escaped convict and an unemployed werewolf?"
"Mm, yes, isn't it romantic?" laughed Sirius. "I'm single, you're single – I live here, you live here too now – and I think the Christmas present that we got for Harry sealed the deal."
"But why?" said Remus. "It was just books!"
"Ahh, no," said Sirius in an accurate imitation of Remus' professor-voice. "It wasn't what the present was; it was the fact that we gave it to him together."
"That doesn't make sense," said Remus firmly. "It was just convenience – you couldn't leave the house and I didn't have the money…."
"What does it matter?" Sirius cut in. "It's not as though they seem to have a problem with it. Let them think we're snogging in every dark corner of the house. So what? It keeps them amused, and besides it'll be brilliant to see the looks on their faces when you walk in the door one day with some beautiful witch on your arm."
Remus finally allowed himself a chuckle. "I suppose you're right," he said with a sudden warmth in his voice. "Why should I care?"
"Exactly," said Sirius. "Who cares if your hair is gray, who cares if some stupid woman dumped you in a pub, and who cares if a couple of kids think you're gay? In fact, I should tell them about that time we kissed in sixth year!"
The horrified expression had returned to Remus' face, and the devious grin had returned to Sirius'. "You might not remember," said the latter, "since you had quite a bit of firewhiskey that night – but Prongs dared us to kiss in the common room, just so we could see Wor… just so we could see everybody's reaction. And if I recall correctly, you were the one who was eager to take the dare."
As he observed the interesting red colour that was spreading rapidly over Remus' face, Sirius guessed that he did indeed remember. "We could tell them that that was when we first fell madly in love, and—"
"Let's just stick with not saying anything at all, shall we?"
"Mm," said Sirius, deflating a bit.
Remus smiled. "And now if you'll excuse me, I really should get some sleep."
"How about in my bed?" said Sirius, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
"You just wish," Remus laughed, and with that he left the kitchen.
Once Remus was gone, Sirius found a scrap of parchment and a quill. Imitating Remus' handwriting as best he could, he etched the words "RJL's To-Do List" in large letters at the top. After a few moments of careful deliberation he wrote, "Find suitable potion with which to dye hair" – and beneath that, "Write terribly romantic love-letter to SB." Feeling awfully pleased with himself, he then decided to add a third and final item: "Contact handsome young werewolf that I met in hospital last week; see if he'll buy me dinner."
With a grin more devious than Remus could ever have imagined, Sirius folded the parchment and placed it on the counter, not far from the now-empty cauldron. He did hope that one of the twins would find it first, but if someone else did instead, Sirius certainly wouldn't care. And whether or not anyone even bothered to take it seriously, whatever happened would just give Remus one more excuse to learn to relax about things – and it would give Sirius one more excuse to smile.