"So what's her name, then?" asks James, as he sets his glass of Butterbeer down on a coaster.
Sirius wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his robe, having just licked the froth from his sixth drink. The Three Broomsticks drifts in and out of focus around him, and he barely notices his friend's question, more concerned with keeping his eyes open.
"Sorry, what?" he finally responds, becoming aware that James is staring at him, waiting for an answer.
"Her name," James repeats, edging on irritation. "What is it?"
For once, Sirius has no idea what James is on about. "Whose name?"
"The girl's, you pillock," James says, leaning closer. "Tell me."
Sirius glances around, honestly expecting a girl to pop out from beneath a table. "I don't know who you're talking about, Prongs," he concludes. "But I'm starting to doubt your ability to hold your Butterbeer. It's pitiful."
"Rubbish," James says with a scowl. "You know exactly who I'm talking about."
Sirius holds up his hands in surrender. "All right, all right," he says blearily. "Is this some kind of test? Some code you've devised? A clever puzzle? Perhaps a myster -"
"Will you go on forever unless I tell you to shut it?"
"Yeah," Sirius admits, with a quirked grin.
"Shut it, then. And tell me about the girl."
Even through his haze, Sirius can see where this is leading. His warmth starts fading into a heavy fatigue.
"What is there to tell, really?" he says, irritably. "She's sweeter than all the perfumes of Arabia and softer than the silks of China. Her eyes are more brilliant than lapis lazuli, her hair more golden than sunlight itself -"
"Shut it, Padfoot," says James. He scoots his chair around the table, closer to Sirius's, and asks in a low, serious tone, "Listen, we're best mates, right?"
Sirius replies without hesitation, "Right." Because it's still true.
"And we tell each other everything," James urges. "Right?"
"Right," Sirius repeats, loud and hearty.
James winces. Then, after a pause, he blurts out, "Look, I know you've been seeing someone. The way you've been lately…well, it's bloody obvious. So why haven't you said anything?"
"Quite honestly, I don't want to talk about it."
Sirius congratulates himself on the steady, determined tone of his voice. Now he and James can get back to drinking, arguing about Quidditch and flirting with Madam Rosmerta.
But James isn't satisfied. "I don't see why not," he says, glowering. "I tell you about Lily all the time."
"Yeah, all the bloody time," Sirius retorts.
James gets to his feet. He throws a couple of Sickles onto the tabletop and slides his Invisibility Cloak from the back of his chair as though he has every intention of leaving without another word.
"James, wait a moment," says Sirius, resigned. "Look…it's…"
It's Remus, he imagines himself saying. I'm seeing Remus.
He's come to this point in his imagination before, but he can't think any further without getting sick and sweaty with fear.
"She's in Ravenclaw," he says, because it seems the safest alternative. "Rosalyn McGregor." For whatever reason, hers is the first name that comes to mind, and he's proud to hear the lie fall from his mouth like a fact.
James grins broadly and sinks back into his chair. "But I thought she hated you! Remember that time in third year, when you called her best friend an ugly twit? Didn't she hex warts all over your nose?"
"Right, yeah," says Sirius, grimacing at the memory. "But you know how it is, Prongs," he continues, affecting a world-weary air that somehow always fools James. "The fine line between love and hate and all that."
James nods, his smile turning wistful. "I suppose I can understand. With Lily and all…"
"Right. The thing is, though…I'd prefer that you keep it quiet. Actually, I'd prefer that you don't tell anyone. It's a serious thing, you see, but it's new and Rosie doesn't like people talking." Sirius knows how weak this sounds, especially coming from him, but it's the only explanation he can think of. "I don't want to mess this one up," he adds, because that's true enough.
"What about Pete and Remus?" James asks.
"Let's just keep it between us, mate," Sirius replies, with a conspiratorial wink.
Remus, he knows, is a more than adequate liar, but has always struggled to hide things from his friends. In any case, lies work best when hidden between two people, the liar and the person who'll hopefully never guess the truth. Once lies are spread they grow thinner, more susceptible to holes and hasty reparations. Having made a study of lying since early childhood, Sirius understands these things almost instinctively. He hates lying to James, but it's done now and, he assures himself, there was no alternative.
James thumps him on the back and slings an arm around his shoulders, acting like a proud father. To James, Sirius realises, they're both setting sail on the same boat. They're off to have adventures in the adult world, with wands in their hands and beautiful women by their sides. Two handsome, red-blooded men in the prime of their lives.
"All right, Padfoot, I understand," says James. "You're a new man, you don't kiss and tell. All that bollocks."
Sirius runs his hand from ankle to knee. He pauses to stroke the kneecap and it slides against prominent bone. Until now he's never noticed how fragile the skin is here. Thin and stretched. He wants to kiss it.
"You have bony knees, Moony," he whispers.
Remus makes a brief noise of laughter. "As opposed to what?"
Sirius shrugs and thumbs the knee, then moves further up, tracing his fingers in circular patterns until Remus gasps and reaches down to still his hands.
"This is a time for cartography, Sirius," he says firmly. "Not pornography."
Sirius grins against his neck and says, "Why not both? Pornographic cartography. Or cartographic pornography?"
Remus laughs quietly and tangles a hand in Sirius's hair, tugging gently.
"Get off," he murmurs. "We've work to do. The girls' toilets aren't going to imprint themselves onto the Map, and don't forget this is only the first lot. We still have the other floors to do."
Sirius smiles and lifts his head, rubbing their noses together. "But really, Moony, can anything be more important -" he licks the skin between mouth and nose "- than me ravishing you -" he sucks lightly at Remus's stubbled chin "- against this wall?" He fixes their open mouths together.
Their kisses are hard and messy until Remus tilts back his head and asks, "Ravishing me?" with a smirk in his voice.
"That's right," Sirius replies, making a valiant attempt to sound menacing. "Don't bother trying to struggle, Moony. It's no use." He grinds closer, pulling Remus's bare leg around his hips, and growls without meaning to.
"Unhand me, you rogue," says Remus solemnly, then laughs under his breath as he gives in, sliding his hand down between their bodies, his fingers snagging a few times before fumbling to unfasten Sirius's fly. He pulls the fabric aside and gives a startled groan when his fingers meet heated skin. "Fuck, you're not wearing any -"
"Yeah," Sirius gasps, and pushes forward until they're pressed chest to chest, cock to cock.
He doesn't think he'll ever get used to this, the raw shock of it. The friction is achingly, nearly painfully hot. Wet too, but slick and indirect, so different to the moistness of a girl. They rub and push, conversation reduced to grunts and names and Oh fuck yes harder, before they're groaning and grinding, their hands grasping at each other's clothes and skin.
Sirius presses his forehead, flushed and beaded with sweat, to the cool tiled wall. Then he gives Remus's ear a sloppy nip and steps back. He watches Remus bend down to pick up his pants and trousers, and takes a moment to remember how these items came to be on the ground, how everything came off over Remus's bony white feet.
As Remus pulls on his socks and shoes, Sirius notices some black cursive writing over Remus's shoulder, graffiti on the pale yellow tiles. He takes his glowing wand from where it's been sitting on the closed toilet and peers closer.
Lucius Malfoy sucks cock the graffiti said originally, but someone has added a little red arrow pointing to Snape's between sucks and cock.
"Moony, have a look at this! They're even filthier than us."
"I very much doubt that," Remus replies, but he turns around to look anyway.
Soon they're shaking with laughter, hands pressed to their mouths. Sirius points out, The Slug Club know what it's like to blow Slug's Horn, making Remus cover his eyes and shake his head in horror. Then they catch sight of, Why won't Sirius notice me?, written in curly pink capitals, and Sirius chuckles.He slides his arms around Remus from behind, bending to press a wet row of kisses down the sweaty back of his neck.
"Fuck," he mumbles, into Remus's shoulder, "I want you."
"Me too," Remus admits. "But we've got to finish this detail of the Map. And you need some sleep tonight. Quidditch tomorrow, remember?"
"Aw, it's only Hufflepuff."
Remus shrugs out of Sirius's arms. He plucks the Invisibility Cloak from where it was flung to the ground, then reaches into its pocket for the Map. They haven't come up with a proper password yet, just, "We need a bloody password", which Remus mutters as he prods the Map with his wand. Spidery etchings of the school bloom across the parchment between his hands, and the corners of his thin mouth tilt upwards very slightly.
Sirius sits down on the toilet lid, watching Remus because that's the only way he can stay still. Then, without warning, something of the greatest importance pops into his head. Something he's been giving an uncharacteristic amount of thought to. He decides the Map can go hang itself, for the present at least.
"Oi, can you wait a minute?" he asks. "I need to, erm…I need to talk to you about something."
Remus frowns, keeping his eyes on the Map. "Go on."
"You know I bought that flat?"
"Yes," Remus replies, finally looking at Sirius. His expression is somewhere between wary and eager. "What about it?"
Sirius swallows. "Well, I reckon you should…" he begins. "I mean, it would be great if you'd come and stay with me. After school."
Remus stares at him, the Map dangling forgotten from his hand.
"Move in with me, that is," Sirius finishes in a rush.
Now Remus is leaning his shoulder against the wall for support, his mouth pursing the way it does when he's about to be sick. His tiny, scattered freckles stand out across his face like fine droplets of milk chocolate on white, and he lets the Map fall to the floor.
Sirius has never felt so unsure of himself. He doesn't know what to say, or even what to do with his hands, which twist together in his lap.
"I'm not proposing marriage or anything," he insists, although really he wishes he were, if such a thing were possible. "I just think it'd be a good arrangement. We'd be free to do whatever we'd like. No fear of getting caught and all that."
Remus flushes and clears his throat. "Oh, right. I see," he says, as though he's solved the Sphinx's riddle. "Yes, I suppose it would be convenient."
"Convenient?" Sirius asks, utterly bewildered. Remus has managed to make the whole thing sound adult and boring and sterile with just one word. They're not talking about scheduling a studying session, for heaven's sake. They're talking about the rest of their lives. "It wouldn't be convenient."
"Oh," says Remus, slumping against the wall and looking down at his scuffed shoes.
"It would be bloody brilliant!" Sirius declares. "I mean…that is, if you want to."
Remus straightens, his mouth beginning to curve into a smile, when he pauses again and frowns. "Would I be paying rent?" he asks.
"No, why on earth would you -?" Sirius stops, noticing Remus's tensed shoulders and the stubborn pinch of his mouth. "Oh, well, I suppose if you want to."
But I'll just use your money to buy you things, he thinks, and my money as well. He imagines all the things he wants to buy for Remus, everything from piles of chocolate frogs to the new dress robes he saw in Madam Malkin's window.
He finds himself getting to his feet and moving closer, then close enough to press Remus to the wall again. When Remus shuts his eyes and turns his face away, exposing the white curve of his neck and the few small silver hairs curling from the brown around his ears, Sirius feels so full of tenderness and lust, it's almost like sickness, like waking fevered and dehydrated in the middle of the night.
"Moony," he says, and wants to say more, but Remus turns and kisses him. Sirius cradles his head in his hands, stroking his thumbs over earlobes and eyebrows, before Remus makes a soft snuffling sound and pulls back.
Sirius traces his lips across scarred skin until Remus asks, "Padfoot?"
"Yeah," he murmurs, and presses one last kiss to the corner of Remus's mouth before moving away. "What is it?"
"I'll need to think about it," says Remus, looking apologetic but firm.
Sirius nods and isn't sure what to say, so he bends down to pick up the Map.
Sitting under his favourite tree by the lake, a textbook lying half-open in his lap, Remus watches a ladybird crawl across the back of his hand. He whispers an old nursery rhyme, "Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home", until he's distracted by a leaf fluttering into his hair. He pulls it out and gently turns it over in his hand, running a finger over the smooth chocolate-brown veins. Xylem and phloem, he remembers from a Muggle encyclopaedia, but he can't recall which vessel carries sap and which carries water.
He's aware of swift footsteps on the grass and looks up, hoping to see Sirius running towards him. Or bounding towards him, really, as Sirius is wont to do. It's only James, though, doing his thrice-weekly jog around the lake.
"Hello," he says, flopping belly-down onto the grass at Remus' feet. "Studying already, then?"
"Studying constantly, rather," Remus replies, in his deadpan fashion.
"It's probably the last decent Saturday of the year," says James. "Seems a pity to waste it studying. Me and Pete were thinking Quidditch this afternoon. How about it? I can't find Sirius, though." James drops a sly wink. "S'pose he's otherwise occupied."
Remus stares at him. "What do you mean, 'otherwise occupied'?"
"What d'you think I mean, you berk?" asks James. He rolls onto his back and squints into the sunlight. "I mean, otherwise occupied. With Rosalyn McGregor. You know, that Ravenclaw bird."
"That Ravenclaw bird," Remus repeats, slowly.
Today wasn't supposed to happen like this, he thinks.
He was meant to spend his morning alone, studying beneath this tree, or at least intending to study while being distracted by fascinating and unimportant details such as xylem and phloem. Then he was meant to stand up, stretch, head back to the castle for lunch, be pulled somewhere quiet and private by Sirius instead, perhaps a broom closet, and devote a few satisfying hours to snogging.
James sits up and stares at him, "Sirius didn't tell you? Merlin's beard, he's been seeing her for at least a couple of months now."
"No," Remus says.
He realises he should have brought a scarf today and perhaps worn thicker socks, because it's grown quite cold despite the sunshine.
James keeps staring, a furrow forming between his eyebrows. "Oh fuck," he declares suddenly, and covers his eyes with his hands. "Oh fuck, oh fuck."
"Sirius said not to tell anyone," James groans. "Not even you. I don't know why, I mean, he used to be pretty normal about this kind of thing, but I practically had to torture it out of him. Suppose he's developed a sense of privacy with age or something. Sorry, Moony."
"Well, you've told me now, haven't you?" says Remus calmly. "It's all right, James. I would have found out eventually." He closes his book and stands up. "You're right about wasting the day studying. I'm going to take a walk. I'll see you at lunch?"
"Right," says James, then adds, "You won't tell Padfoot I said anything, right?"
Remus gives him a brief, strained smile. "I won't say a word to him."
Remus lies awake dry-eyed and waiting. The moon casts a thin white gash through a gap in the curtains, and he watches it move as he often watches the moonlight, as a mouse might watch a cat from a hole in the wall, temporarily safe.
To distract himself, from the moon and from everything, Remus starts tapping his fingers against the pillowcase to the beat of half-recalled music. Soon he's trying to remember the lyrics of songs he enjoyed as a child. His mother, a Muggle raised in Kentucky, used to play a lot of Elvis, and he finds he can recall it remarkably well.He's halfway through Don't Be Cruel when he hears the rustle of bed curtains.
Sirius keeps them closed while he sleeps, for draughts, apparently, although Remus knows that secretly Sirius craves a place of solitude, a comfortable pocket of his own scent and darkness. Remus, in contrast, keeps them open because he hates being alone and enclosed. Usually he lies sprawled out, facing Sirius's bed, but tonight he's staring in the opposite direction, on his side with his knees folded up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his legs. He knows Sirius is getting closer as his footsteps grow gradually louder, until Remus's bed sags.
"So, Moony," Sirius begins in an eager, too-loud whisper, "it's been a week and one day, and surely a week and one day is long enough for some deep and serious thinking. Not that I've ever done such a thing myself, you understand, but…but anyway, have you decided yet? I mean, no pressure, absolutely none."
Remus pretends he doesn't feel ill and over-heated and furious. He pretends he doesn't wants to kiss Sirius and split Sirius's lip with his fist. He pretends Sirius isn't there. He pretends he's still at the lake this morning, looking at a leaf, being dreamy and in love.
A finger prods his shoulder blade. "Oi, Moony? Are you awake?"
He realises the finger will keep prodding him if he doesn't do something, so he turns his head to look up at Sirius.
Eventually Sirius asks, "What's wrong? What is it?"
Then he asks, "Moony? Remus?"
After he's slid off the bed and is standing beside it, he mumbles, "Can you just tell me why?"
A few more minutes pass. Sirius closes his eyes. He runs a hand through his hair and says, "Right. I'll…yeah." Then he walks back to bed.
Remus imagines he and Sirius are standing in a corridor that is slowly lengthening, putting space between them, until Sirius is indistinct in the distance, and finally he can't see Sirius at all.
"Oi, Padfoot!" hisses a voice from Sirius's book bag.
Keeping his eyes on Professor Slughorn, who for the moment is safely examining Lily's latest masterpiece, Sirius slides his hand into his bag and retrieves his two-way mirror. Then, while dicing rat liver with his right hand, he uses his left to prop the mirror up behind his battered copy of Borage's Advanced Potion Making.
James's disembodied face glares at Sirius from the silver surface. "Me and Pete have been waiting at the meeting point for ten minutes," he says, speaking in a harsh, over-enunciated whisper, "to begin work on Operation Jalepeno Custard. You know, the prank we've been planning for months? The one we both agreed to skive off Potions for? Didn't it tip you off, you utter wanker, when I didn't turn up for class today?"
"I thought the Operation was scheduled for next week," Sirius murmurs, making it look as though he's sounding out a difficult ingredient. This hides his words effectively from the classroom, but also makes it easier for him to lie to James.
The truth is, he completely forgot about the prank. He remembers making plans with James and looking forward to carrying them out, but now he can't even remember what they involved. Something about custard, obviously. He's not sure how he was supposed to know it was happening today.
When both Remus and James didn't turn up for Potions, he assumed they were frantically revising for a test or something. Now he wonders where Remus is.
"Next week?" James growls. "Are you out of your bloody mind? Oh, of course you are. Don't bother answering that. But are you feeling even more unhinged than usual? We discussed the Operation this morning at breakfast!"
"Yeah! Well, I said, Today, and you said, Right."
All Sirius can remember is trying to eat his porridge, which refused to taste like anything but soggy cardboard no matter how much honey he spooned in. For some reason, nothing from the Hogwarts kitchens has been able to satisfy him lately, and he's begun to wonder if the Slytherins are pulling some elaborate prank on him. Either that, or the house-elves have finally begun to resent him for years of kitchen raids.
"Look," James says, going for a more reasonable approach although he's still clearly annoyed, "why don't you make an excuse and come meet us? It's not too late. Just walk up to the Slug and tell him you're about to spew all over his precious robes."
Sirius considers his options as he scrapes the rat liver into his potion, turning it an eerie shade of chartreuse. He casts his eyes swiftly around the classroom. Slughorn has moved on to the next cauldron, Snivellus's, and is looking characteristically pompous as he recounts an anecdote to the simpering Slytherin.
"All right, Prongs," he says. "I'll be there in a few minutes. The Slug's chatting to our dear greasy friend at the moment, and -"
And then the door opens and Remus walks in, followed by one of Lily's friends, Sara Weasley. Sara's mascara is smudged and her pink lipstick is smeared around her mouth. Her auburn hair has been finger-combed.
Sirius decides that looking too closely at Remus would be a mistake, because even though he hasn't punched or hexed anyone yet, or blown anything up, or even cried, it's possible that if he looks at Remus he'll do all of those things at once. Opting to avoid self-destruction, he shoves his belongings into his bag and gets to his feet, then strides out of the room without any kind of plan.
At first it's hard to walk, his legs strangely stiff and weak as he moves up the stairs from the dungeons, as though he has pins and needles, but once he reaches the corridors he finds himself able to move faster.
Soon he's running at full speed, skidding around corners and obstacles and other students. James shouts "Padfoot!" from the muffled mirror, but Sirius ignores him and doesn't stop. He runs out of the castle, into the grounds and all the way down to the lake, where he throws himself onto the damp grass and sprawls up beside a tree.
He lies there, watching the giant squid drift past, and wonders how he can hear his heartbeat pounding through his body when his chest feels empty.
Sirius leaves Christmas lunch halfway through, without a word to anyone. He's been doing that a lot lately. Lily excuses herself to the lavatory and follows him, at a safe distance, as she's sometimes followed James and other boys when she's wanted to monitor their activities. They never suspect there's a girl on their tail.
She's more careful than usual with Sirius, walking heel-to-toe and hiding behind statues and suits of armour, but he doesn't glance around. Finally they come to one of the castle's exits and Sirius shoves the door open with his shoulder, striding out into the bitter cold. Lily waits a moment, the door swinging shut, before she gingerly pushes it open to follow him.
"Evans?" comes an amused voice from beside her.
Startled, she spins around to find Sirius leaning against the wall by the door, pulling a cigarette from a crinkled cardboard packet. He stares at it until it flares and lights, then puts it to his lips and inhales slowly.
"Hello, Black," she says coolly. "You do realise that smoking's been banned?"
"Really?" he asks, as though genuinely surprised. "Who'd've thought?"
"I'm not saying I care," she retorts. "I just thought you were better at hiding, that's all. If Filch comes out here…if anyone comes out here…"
"I'll offer them a smoke," he says, and holds the cigarette out to her between thumb and forefinger. "Fancy a drag?"
Lily shrugs and takes it. "All right."
She's smoked before, now and then, borrowing cigarettes from her sister, from friends, and lately from James. But it's never been so strange, awkward, to put someone else's cigarette in her mouth. In a strange way, this is the closest she's ever been to kissing Sirius. The usual bitter burnt flavour overpowers the taste of his saliva, but she still feels it, wet, against her lower lip.
"So, Black, what is it?" she asks lightly. "Girl trouble?"
His winter-chapped lips twist up like a smile, but his eyes are wary. He beckons for the cigarette and she takes one last drag before relinquishing it.
"Go on," she says. "You may as well tell me. I'm a girl, after all. Maybe I could help."
She knows she's prying, but curiosity isn't a crime, despite what Petunia says. And it's not as though Lily plans to slip Veritaserum into Sirius's pumpkin juice. If he doesn't want to speak, he doesn't have to, and this will probably be her only chance to find out what's been going on. She's never seen Sirius so…well, so whatever he is. Down in the dumps, she supposes, over the first girl with enough sense to retreat from his advances.
Sirius smokes for a while, staring out across the grounds to the grey ice-slushed lake. His face is troubled but his eyes are soft. Then he drops the spent cigarette, crushes it with his heel, and lights another.
Just when Lily thinks he's clammed up on her forever, he says, "I suppose you could call it 'girl trouble'. It's not exactly trouble becauseof a girl. It's to dowith a girl, though."
"You're making even less sense than usual, Black."
"Look," he says quietly. "This is…this is hard and I'd appreciate it if you didn't make jokes or anything. Actually, I'd rather you didn't say anything at all, really, although I suppose it would be a pretty strange conversation if you didn't. So you can…I mean, you'll have questions and everything, so say what you like, but don't joke."
"All right, then," she says briskly, and doesn't flinch when he meets her eyes.
He coughs. "Me and Remus," he begins, and she honestly thinks she's misheard.
"Did you say Remus? As in, Remus Lupin?"
"Anyway, me and Remus," he continues. "We're…erm, we were sort of seeing each other. If you know what I mean. For a while. Since early this year, actually."
Lily blinks. Sirius is still standing in front of her, leaning against the stone wall and smoking a cigarette. She blinks again. He's still standing there.
"Well get on with it," he says, eyes narrowed. "Ask me if I'm pulling your leg. Go on."
Lily's always thought of him as a rough sort of bloke. She's heard the Slytherin boys calling him a nance and a pretty boy because of his glossy black hair and fine features, but she knows better. They've never been friends, but she's known him for nearly seven years. You can't help noticing someone like Sirius, especially when in close quarters.
Sirius has big hands, bitten nails and broad shoulders. He has a mouth more suited to scowls than smiles, and a mind always ready for mischief or a fight. He hexes first and asks questions later, and if anyone stares at him for more than a few seconds he asks, What?, loudly and sharply, glaring back until they look away.
"Are you pulling my leg?" she asks automatically.
"All right, then," she says faintly. "I suppose I believe you."
Sirius rolls his eyes. "Right."
"So this is…is…" she stammers, searching for the right words. "I mean, this was a relationship? A relationship, then."
"Not really, no," he replies, shifting back and forth on his feet while staring fixedly at the smoke curling from his cigarette. "I mean, I thought it was. That's the trouble with me. When I really want something to be true it just seems to be true, in my mind. Simple, right, like waving a wand. Feeling this way isn't like that, though."
"You're…you and Remus were in love?"
"No, I'm saying that…y'know, I cared about him, and I thought it was one of those…one of those -" he clicks his fingers as he searches for the word "- mutual, that's it. One of those mutual feelings." He laughs briefly, then mutters, "I sound like a girl."
"You sound like a person," says Lily, who finds herself more surprised by this than by Sirius's revelations. "So why did Remus decide he wanted out? Was it Sara?"
"No. I asked him to move in with me," Sirius explains. "I've got my own flat, bought it at the end of last summer holidays. I thought he'd like to. After school, I mean."
"I should've been happy with things the way things were. Might've had a few more months." His voice is jarring, cracked, so he shakes out another cigarette, lights it and takes a puff. Then he says, looking at the ground, "You know me, Evans. I always have to rock the boat."
"Oh, always," she says, wanting desperately to sound sharp and normal, but the words come out high and hollow. Her throat is tight with sympathy, strong enough that it's almost empathy.
Sirius laughs, shortly. "It's all right, you know. To be disgusted about it, I mean. James would be, if he knew. Are you going to tell him?" He makes the question sound like a dare, raising his eyebrows at her.
"No," she says. "And I'm not disgusted. Why would you think I'd be?"
"Oh come on, Evans. Nearly everyone would be. But especially James. I called him a queer once and he gave me a bloody nose."
"You called him a bloated wazzock once and he gave you a bloody nose."
He shrugs, gives her a half-smile and says, "You have a point, there. There's been a lot of bloodletting, really. It's why we're such good mates." He takes a shaky breath. "Y'know, I think that's really the crux of the matter. Queers don't give each other bloody noses. They prance around with flowers in their hair and all of that nonsense."
"Right, like you do all the time. Honestly, Black."
"Honestly, Evans," he says, mimicking her tone. "That's what James thinks, all right? And Pete, too. And all the other blokes in our house. Even Moony, now, I suppose. Just a phase, right?" Then he drops his cigarette, sinks down until he's crouching and buries his face in his arms. "Oh, fuck."
She finds herself sitting next to him, her hands hovering awkwardly over his bowed black head, knowing that if she touches him he's likely to snarl and bite. Finally the urge to comfort overwhelms her, and she pats him, tentatively, on the back. He doesn't relax, but he doesn't stir.
"You can call me Lily, you know," she says. "I mean, I'm going out with your best friend."
"Call me Sirius, then," he responds, without looking up. "I can't even remember why we started with Evans and Black."
"You passed me a biting teacup in first year, remember? I'm Muggle-born, you know, and I'd never heard of them. I knocked over the teapot and scalded myself, all down my arm."
"Oh yeah," he mumbles. She watches, fascinated, as the tips of his ears flush crimson.
"And the dungbombs in third year…" she continues.
"And the knickers raid in -"
"James did that too!" Sirius interjects, raising his head to protest properly, revealing reddened eyes and water collected in his lower lashes. Lily pretends not to notice. "He's just as bad as me, you know. Worse, even."
"I realise that." She gives him a fond grin. Then she says, hesitantly, "Listen, Sirius…I don't know if you want to know this. You probably don't, but…well…"
"I know when Remus and Sara are meeting next. At night, that is. She won't shut up about it."
Sirius flinches and Lily thinks he'll probably get up to leave, but instead he asks, "What would I want to know that for?"
"So you can wait for them to get back," she explains, "and then you'll have a chance to talk to Remus in private. Meet him on the stairs to the boy's dorms or something."
Sirius smiles gratefully, but his eyes are resigned. "He's not going to talk to me, Lily. I think I'd better just leave it."
"But don't you want to know? I mean, really know? Don't you want to try?"
He just shrugs and looks away.
"Look, how about I tell you, and then you can do whatever you like," Lily reasons.
Their eyes meet, and finally Sirius says, "All right."
Sirius is sitting on the top step, his legs sprawled out in front of him, fidgeting with an unlit cigarette. The staircase is nearly pitch-dark, but there's a pale haze of moonlight coming through the window near their dormitory door, illuminating Sirius's face in shades of grey. Remus stands watching him for a moment, a few steps down, wondering how he's going to get past without causing a scene. He takes a tentative step onto a stair that creaks at the centre.
Sirius looks up and tucks the cigarette behind his ear. "Moony," he says, and Remus suddenly knows, from the tilt of Sirius's head and the warm, uncertain tone of his voice, that this meeting isn't accidental.
He's too tired for anger. All day he's been waiting to crawl into bed with a book, to forget the real world, as he's done every night for weeks. He reads in dimmed Lumos light for hours until he loses concentration and drifts off, then wakes from unwelcome dreams with sore eyes and indigestion. It might not be healthy, but Remus finds it easier, at times like this, just to exist for a while, to escape to imaginary worlds when possible, and to avoid all knowledge of the end of hope.
"Look," says Sirius, and Remus sees the outlines of his hands, held up in supplication. "I won't try anything. Promise. I just want us to be friends again."
Remus takes out his wand and feels a chill of satisfaction when Sirius flinches but doesn't try to protect himself, actually tilting his head to the side, baring his neck as though Remus will bite instead of hex.
"Do it, then," he says, in a small voice Remus has rarely heard before, choked and childlike, somehow louder than when Sirius yells.
Remus, who never intended to hex Sirius, whispers, "Lumos," and his wand fills the stairwell with light. Sirius blinks a few times, surprised, then rubs his eyes and grimaces, resembling a waking owl. Then he gets up, steadies himself on the banister, and walks down a couple of steps until he's an arm's length from Remus.
They stand this close to one another every day-it's unavoidable-but Remus hasn't looked directly at Sirius in a long while. He's surprised to find Sirius worn and pallid, with blackheads across his nose and a few red blemishes half-hidden by the lank tangle of his hair. His eyes are dull and swollen around the edges.
The obvious conclusion, thinks Remus, is that Sirius has broken up with Rosalyn. Or rather, Rosalyn has broken up with Sirius, because otherwise he wouldn't look so faded and sad.
"Was it good?" Remus asks, the words stumbling from his mouth without permission. Once spoken they sound too simple, without anger or wit, just three words slicing into the raw heart of the matter.
Sirius doesn't react for a few seconds, staring with his mouth slightly open. Finally he asks, "Good? What…?" Then tries again, "I mean, what was good?"
Remus pauses, not sure how his question was unclear. "Did you like it?" he asks, speaking slowly and plainly.
"Oh!…I…yeah," Sirius admits, with a tight smile. "Of course I did. Do you really need to ask?"
This confession, although expected, makes Remus's throat close up with anger and hurt, and for a second he wants to push Sirius down the stairs.
Then Sirius adds, his voice low, "I loved…I really liked being with you, like that. It was…it was brilliant."
Remus snaps, "I'm not talking about that." His hand has grown sweaty where it grips his wand, and suddenly the light grows brighter, out of his control.
Sirius squints down at him. "What're you talking about, then?"
Remus doesn't understand. "Rosalyn McGregor," he says, adamantly. Now they've started this conversation, he's desperate to finish it.
Sirius's mouth and eyebrows tilt in what seems to be bewilderment. "But I haven't spoken to Rosalyn in -" he pauses, then starts shaking his head slowly. "Oh. Oh fuck. James told you, then?"
"He told me," says Remus. He's relieved that Sirius finally understands, but he's also sick and hurt and exposed and has to lean up against the banister.
Sirius walks down a few more steps, until they're standing opposite each other. Remus shrinks back as far possible against the wall, keeping his eyes on an unevenly cut stone over Sirius's shoulder.
"No, Moony," says Sirius, very softly.
"Yes," Remus insists, wondering why Sirius always has to be so difficult. "Yes, he did. He told me everything. Obviously. You've known for weeks. Why are we even talking about this? If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to go up to bed now. I suppose this is your idea of an apology, and I suppose I forgive you. I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow."
"No," Sirius repeats. "Because you're wrong, you see. I made up that tripe about Rosalyn so James'd stop pestering me. He kept insisting I was seeing someone. Started getting shirty with me. So I told him I was seeing Rosalyn. James said he wouldn't tell."
Remus feels utterly hollow and light, as though he might float out of his body. "Oh."
Sirius takes this as permission to step up close, to press his hand against Remus's hip and to speak against his ear. "I thought you were scared off when I asked you to move in," he whispers, his breath hot and damp across Remus's cool skin.
"Padfoot…" Remus begins, then can't think of anything to say. Sirius is staring at him, waiting, and Remus stares back, wordless. All he can think about is how Sirius tastes, rich and sweetly sour, with the bitterness of cigarettes.
He bends to set his glowing wand down, then straightens and puts his arms around Sirius's waist, loose and tense until Sirius pulls him into a rough embrace, their foreheads cracking before they're holding each other properly. Sirius smells bitter, of smoke and insomnia-sweat. Remus wonders if Sirius can smell Sara on him, and remembers holding her only half an hour ago, her small hands stroking the back of his neck. He wonders what he'll tell her.
Sirius kisses his neck, open-mouthed, and he returns the gesture before running his tongue over the skin and biting down, gently but firmly, making Sirius groan and pull him even closer. Neither of them is against a wall, so they're just teetering on the stairs, holding each other upright. Sirius trails wet kisses up to Remus's mouth, and the first taste is startling and rough, nothing soft or sweet, just tongues and teeth and desperation.
Then Sirius is breathing against Remus's lips, fast and shallow, and muttering, "So how's it going with Sara, then? Is it good? Do you like it?" He sounds angry and curious and blindingly aroused.
Remus swallows and wants to say it was awful, he was only using Sara, and he'll never, ever look twice at a girl again, but he finds himself telling the truth, "Yeah, I like her. I liked it."
"Oh, fuck," Sirius says, hoarse-voiced, and kisses him again. This kiss is more of a wrestling move than anything, and they wind up tumbled onto the steps beside each other, jarring their elbows and knees.
"It's not like this though," Remus gasps, which is true as well.
"Better, then?" says Sirius, as he pulls his black tee-shirt over his head.
Remus pulls off his own shirt, popping buttons, and pushes Sirius down against the stairs, kissing him, holding him still with a hand on each shoulder and kissing across his chest, unable to talk while he licks rigid nipples and fine, dark hair.
"Nothing's better than touching you," he murmurs when he finally lifts his head, and that's the truest thing of all.
"without the mercy of
your eyes your
ways(o very most my shining love)
how more than dark i am,
silence ever told; it has no name -"
- e.e. cummings, from #47 in 73 poems