James started to pace the room once more. "Why aren't they back yet? He said the Muggles were letting him go, right?"
"Right," said Sirius; he was sitting on the maroon armchair by the fire, his legs slung over one of the armrests. "Indecent exposure. I'm betting you anything it's indecent exposure."
"This is Moony we're talking about, Sirius. Moony. Not you. Why the hell would it be indecent exposure?"
"I resent that little remark about me," said Sirius imperiously. "You know that was because there wasn't a toilet in miles."
"Whatever. Why would Moony be getting his bits out in public? Next you'll be telling me that Wormtail's going to be made Head Boy."
"Okay, it's like this," Sirius began. "Everyone thinks that Moony's the good one, right? Even Dumbledore thinks Moony's the good one who can correct the corrupting influence of his abysmal rule-breaking friends. We, of course, know this is complete bullshit. That's part one: Moony is not as he appears."
"He is to us."
"Shut up, I haven't gotten to part two yet. Part two: even with us, he can keep secrets. How many times did he tell us his mother was sick and he had to go home to visit her?"
James, tired of his pacing, flopped down on the rug. "That was first year!"
"The point still stands. Moony is perfectly capable of hiding things from us."
"So he's been hiding what, that he's the mad flasher of Muggle London?"
Sirius ignored him. "Parts three and four: Moony, we assume although we have no evidence, has the expected horniness of any sixteen-year-old boy, and has never had a girlfriend with which to exercise said horniness."
"Okay, now you're just being really stupid. You've never had a girlfriend, are you going around getting picked up by the Muggle police for indecent exposure?"
"The Muggle police can't show up every time."
"You said it was because there wasn't a toilet."
"Maybe I lied," said Sirius, twitching his eyebrows mysteriously.
James rolled over onto his back. "Maybe you're acting like an idiot. Besides, you think anything happened between me and Annabelle Adamson back in fourth year? You've got to be joking. You think Wormtail's so much as got a feel with Patricia what's-her-name? You've got to be mental. According to you we should all be running around with our balls flapping in the wind."
"You sodding wanker – "
From down the corridor, they heard the front door open and James's mother say, "Here, just stomp the snow off your boots before you take them off."
"They're back," said James, leaping to his feet as Sirius scrambled out of the armchair. They raced to the front door, where James's mother was taking off her scarf and Remus was bending down to untie his boots. "Okay, Moony, we've got to hear the whole story."
"Leave him alone for now," James's mother said. "He's had a rough night. We stopped to buy some groceries on the way home, go outside and help your father carry them in from the car."
"We've been waiting here to find out what happened and you stopped to buy groceries?"
"Shut up, James," Sirius said. "Never, ever reject food."
Remus stood up and smiled faintly, his cheeks red from the cold. "Prongs thinks it's vandalism," Sirius continued. "I've been telling him and telling him that it's got to be indecent exposure, but he doesn't believe me."
"Sirius, leave him alone. He's spending the night; go upstairs and get James's sleeping bag from the closet and put it between your beds. James, please help your father with the groceries, there are quite a lot of them."
"Mum – "
"Maybe you can stay here for the rest of the holiday," Sirius said to Remus once he'd got the sleeping bag and come back downstairs. "Hell, maybe you can stay forever. Between you and me this place could become, I don't know, The Potter Home for Wayward Young Wizards." He lowered his voice. "Indecent exposure, right?"
"No," said Remus, glancing over his shoulder at James's mother.
"Damn. Was it vandalism?"
"No, it wasn't that either."
"Moony, you've got to tell me before I die of suspense."
"He doesn't have to tell you a thing," said James's mother, who had finally overheard them. "Go set the table, will you, dear?"
"Drunk and disorderly," said Sirius as they ate their very late supper. "No, never mind, you don't smell like it. It wasn't something boring about curfews, was it?"
"Eat your supper, Sirius."
"Sorry, Mr. Potter."
"Tried to get on the Underground without paying," said James.
"No," said Remus, at the same time James's mother said, "For the last time, you two, leave him alone."
Sirius began to gulp down his food, nudging James in the ribs. James took the hint and did the same. Remus slowly speared three peas on his fork.
"You don't have to tell them anything if you don't want to, Remus," James's father said.
"You don't have to tell us," said James, once they were all upstairs in James and Sirius's room. "We've guessed loads, we're bound to hit on it soon. Nod when I say it. Theft, fighting, you ran into Snape and tried to murder him – "
"Semi-indecent exposure," said Sirius.
Remus took a deep breath. "Well…sort of."
"I knew it!" Sirius yelled; he leapt from his own bed and landed on James's, narrowly avoiding knocking Remus over. "I knew it, I knew it – "
"Shut up," said James. "Stop poking me."
"We've got to hear it, Moony," Sirius said, going back to his own bed. "It's a matter of life or death."
Remus bit his lip. He was lying down on the sleeping bag now, the tips of his fingers sticking out from the long faded sleeves of James's pajamas.
"Come on, Moony," said James. "Do you think we'll stop being your friends if you exposed one-quarter of a testicle?"
"I'm gay," said Remus.
Sirius and James looked at him; he lowered his eyes. Just as the pause was about to become an awkward silence, James said, "You're having us on."
"I'm not," said Remus. "I went to this gay pub and ended up snogging this bloke outside in the alley. Then the Muggle police came and saw us, and even though it's legal and all they thought I was too young. So they took me to the police station and I gave them a made-up name. They wanted me to telephone my parents so they could take me home, but I wasn't about to do it – they didn't know I'd snuck out. So I telephoned James's parents instead. Now I'm going to sleep. Good night." He reached up and flicked off the lamp on the table between the beds.
"Wait a minute!" said Sirius in the darkness. "You can't just leave it there! How exactly did you meet the bloke? What was his name? How old was he?"
"Shut up, Padfoot," said James.
"No, I'm not shutting up! Come on, Moony. Tell us something. What did he look like?"
Remus's voice was strained and irritable. "He was tall and had black hair to his shoulders. Good night."
Five minutes later James was snoring. "Moony," Sirius whispered.
The tension had gone from Remus's voice. "What?"
"This bloke, with the black hair – "
"What about him?"
"Did – did you go with him because he looked like me?"
Remus sat up. "None of your business."
"No, really, none of your business."
"That means yes," said Sirius. "Moony?"
Sirius pulled back the blankets halfway and leaned down to Remus's sleeping bag. For a second his hand groped around until he found Remus's face. He rested one fingertip on the soft lips for a moment and then leaned down further, kissing Remus on the mouth.
Remus was still for a second, then pulled back. "Wait!"
"Sirius, do you really – "
"None of your business," said Sirius, his voice an imitation of Remus's. "Good night."
"Padfoot – "
"Good night, Moony," Sirius said, grinning to himself. "You mad flasher of Muggle London, you." He turned over, adjusted the blankets, let out a contented sigh and fell asleep, still smiling happily all through the night.