Author's Notes: Written for the hpslashnotsmut exchange on LiveJournal. The big reveal was posted today, so I'm finally able to put this up. :)
Remus Lupin rolled groggily onto his side, feeling something sharp and uncomfortable prodding at his chest. His mouth was dry and his eyes seemed all but glued shut from fatigue; perhaps a minute or so passed before he was at last able to blink, and then another before his eyes would remain fully open. Or at least, he thought them to be open, though he could see nothing. It was, for lack of a better phrase, pitch black. But even though his vision was not as clear as he should have liked, he could sense—and smell, even—someone there beside him. Whoever it was, the person made his heart beat a bit faster than usual.
If he was now as awake as he thought, that someone was most likely Sirius Black—which would certainly account for the poking and the not-quite-so-quiet whispering.
"Remus," Sirius said in a hoarse voice, "wake up."
Remus groaned in response, not trusting himself to speak just yet. Sirius, delighted at receiving even the smallest measure of a reaction, sank down upon the edge of Remus's bed and bounced lightly upon it.
"C'mon, Moony," said he, sounding suspiciously cheerful. "It's really a brilliant morning. The sky's clear, the sun's shining—well, I reckon it will be in a few hours—"
"What do you want, Sirius?" Remus asked with a sigh. His voice sounded as if he had swallowed a handful of gravel.
"Want? Whatever do you mean, Moony?" Sirius asked innocently. He began bouncing with greater force. Remus felt rather queasy.
"What time is it?"
The bouncing stopped. "I suspect it's round, ah… three o'clock, maybe a bit later. I dunno, really. Haven't looked at a clock in a while."
Remus waited, and the bouncing recommenced.
"It's only that I've tried Prongs and Wormtail already, but, 'course, they didn't wake up. Well, I mean, Prongs did—that's how I knew he was still breathing—but he told me to shove—"
"Anyway, you're the only one awake enough to help me."
"So you do want something. Sirius, it's three hours past midnight. I'll do whatever you want later—just not during Potions, please, we've got an exam."
"I thought you'd say that," Sirius told him, sounding smug. The weight upon the mattress lifted, and Remus could hear Sirius digging about somewhere in the dormitory. At length, this stopped, and the indiscreet padding of feet approached his bed. After a brief crinkling sound punctured the near-silence, something was thrust beneath his nose. Remus sniffed, biting his lip.
"Sirius—" he began.
"Moony, it's chocolate," Sirius crooned, waving the bar of Honeydukes' finest about enticingly.
"If you're trying to bribe me—"
"It's chocolate, Moony. Chocolate. Just think, I'm willing to give you a chocolate fix in exchange for one small favor."
"I'm not an addict," Remus snorted. "Contrary to what you may believe, I am fully capable of surviving without sweets before sunrise."
Sirius paused. "I won't bugger up your potion."
"I won't bugger it up for you with old Sluggy today. And I won't nick your books anymore."
"Is it really that important?" He could feel himself giving in, just as usual and right on schedule.
Sirius adopted a convincingly pained tone. "Why would I ask if it wasn't? Moony, you wound me."
"I very well should," Remus muttered beneath his breath, though it was proving more difficult to frown than it was supposed to be.
"Excellent." Sirius clapped his hands together. "Let's go."
Remus braced himself. "And what… precisely… do you need me to do that requires us to go somewhere?"
"Funny thing, that is…" Sirius trailed off, as if abruptly uncertain.
A sinking sort of feeling grabbed at Remus's feet, pulling him downward as it always did when he realized that he was about to partake in something that he knew he would dislike. It was also the sort of feeling he got when he knew that, whatever it was, he would do it because it was Sirius who asked. It was an odd sort of power that Sirius had over him, and Remus was not quite sure whether he disliked it. Funny thing, that was.
"I need you to, ah, assist me in catching a unicorn."
For several moments, Remus could think of absolutely nothing to say. After this time had passed, the only coherent thought he was able to voice was, "You're joking."
"No, I'm not."
"A unicorn, Sirius?"
"Is it…" Remus grasped out for the proper words. "Is it a metaphorical unicorn?"
"'Course not," Sirius said with disdain. "Why would anyone bother with something that isn't real?"
Remus decided it was best not to comment on this statement.
"Anyway, unless I'm completely barmy," Sirius continued, "there's a unicorn trotting round Hogwarts that oughtn't be left to do so."
"I suppose the only reason it's in the castle in the first place is because you put it there." Remus felt himself sighing once more.
Sirius plowed ahead into an explanation of how he had taken a baby unicorn from the Forbidden Forest during his detention the day before, and how he had kept it holed up in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Sirius then proceeded to explain that, when he had returned to retrieve it, the unicorn was no longer there.
"Myrtle knew where it went," Sirius concluded, "but Pete walked in and scared her off. I don't know why he was there, come to think of it. I never actually told him…"
"But why a unicorn?" Remus moaned in exasperation.
Sirius stopped, as if he needed to think upon this.
"It was there," he said, almost carefully. "And besides which, I haven't given anything to McGonagall lately. I'm worried she's forgotten me." He laughed, though there was a desperate edge to it.
"Professor McGonagall is perhaps the last person that will ever forget you."
The mattress bounced subtly as Sirius shrugged. "Can't get many presents, can she?"
Remus sighed, at last sitting up in his bed. Sirius's presence was beginning to make him nervous, in the way that girls used to make him nervous when he was partnered with them during classes as a first year. Which was ridiculous, of course, as Sirius was neither a girl nor a first year—at least, not that Remus knew—and Remus had always been perfectly content around Sirius ever since he had told the first year girls to bugger off and stop badgering Remus to death. Which was, coincidentally, something that Remus had been grateful for for the past five years or so.
The trouble was, Remus supposed, that he and Sirius had never truly been alone—together—before, without James or Peter beside them.
When he returned his thoughts to the present, Sirius was babbling incomprehensibly, his words slurring together at such a quick pace that all that could be clearly heard was Dumbledore, socks, and something about Minnie McGee. Remus listened for a moment, utterly bemused, as he attempted to make sense of Sirius's sudden change in disposition.
"Padfoot?" Remus inquired tentatively.
Sirius closed his mouth with an audible snap. "The unicorn," he muttered to himself after a pause. "It's just," he added, more loudly, "it's all… y'know… defenseless…"
"…Really ought to be found and brought back…"
His frown deepened.
"…Peeves might, I dunno, kill it or something…"
"Sirius." Another snapping sound. "The day you concern yourself over the welfare of a unicorn is the day that the world ends. Now, look, if there's something else that's really bothering you—not any of this metaphorical unicorn rubbish—"
"It's not metaphorical rubbish, Moony," Sirius cut in. "Not, er… yeah. No. Right…"
"Right?" Remus wanted to clutch his head in his hands. Sirius Black was going insane right in front of him, and it would seem that there was nothing at all that he could do about it. Maddening, utterly maddening; and no one had seen it coming.
They sat in silence whilst nearly a full minute ticked by, all the while Sirius bouncing less enthusiastically than he had been before.
Suddenly, Sirius groaned in defeat and leapt nimbly onto the floor. "Let's just find the stupid blighter, okay? And, ah, I reckon…" Sirius paused in consideration. "I reckon it might have eaten some of your quills."
"My—what? Why would it have my quills?" Remus yelped.
"Well, there weren't any more of those Muggle things left."
"Muggle—Sirius, have you been feeding ballpoint pens to a baby unicorn?" Remus demanded, aghast.
For some inexplicable reason, Sirius seemed to brighten as he grasped onto this accusation. "That's it!" he exclaimed. "Those're the ones. Yup."
"Good question. I haven't the foggiest," Sirius said thoughtfully. "Say, Moony, let's go and find out before it eats them all, yeah?"
Remus shook his head disbelievingly. Either Sirius was, indeed, completely loony after all, or he was simply—no. Remus shook his head once more, this time more vigorously. Sirius was not the sort that got nervous, nor the sort that ever had reason to be nervous, most especially when unicorns were involved—then again, when had unicorns ever before been involved? It was a ridiculous notion, and Remus had half a mind to close his eyes and cover his ears with his pillow. The other half of his mind—this being the most Marauder-like half—was saturated with undeniable curiosity.
It was this half, as it most always was, that triumphed over the other. Remus nodded mutely, and then, remembering that it was still very much dark both inside and out, said, "Alright, Sirius. We'll find this 'unicorn' of yours."
As Remus struggled to extricate himself from his blankets, there came a soft thud upon the bed beside him.
"What's this?" he inquired, reaching for whatever it was.
"Chocolate. I promised you chocolate." Sirius sounded curious—in the other sense of the word.
"Really, bribery isn't necessary—"
"It's yours anyway. I got it from your trunk."
There was another lapse of silence. Sirius coughed, muffling the outburst with his hand. Remus could hear the awkward shuffling of feet; it was only after a moment that he realized this was his own doing.
"Right. Onward. Unicorns, and all that." Sirius cleared his throat and walked to the door of the dormitory. Remus followed, listening to the changes in his gait; it was quick, then reluctant, almost dragging. Inwardly, Remus winced at this; there must have been a reason, he decided, that he and Sirius had never spent much time together on their own. Perhaps such an interaction could not even take place, for Remus was of the introverted sort, and Sirius was utterly the opposite. What were introverts and extroverts to talk about?
By this time, they had already begun their descent down the stairway. The Gryffindor common room below glowed with a deep red hue as the fire in the fireplace carried on into its final stages of life. Sirius once glanced behind him at Remus, who was very nearly startled by the way in which the dying firelight caused the features of Sirius's face to intensify. Nearly, not quite, but just enough, as if he had temporarily forgotten the face of his companion—for seeing it again, out of his mind's eye, had Remus quickly glancing away at the floor.
Coincidentally, at that moment, he felt the crunch of a pen cap beneath his foot. Briefly forgetting Sirius, he bent to pick it up, and as he did so, he noticed another cap resting beside a haphazardly-placed sofa cushion. Remus furrowed his brow. What were the components of several ballpoint pens doing scattered about the common room like a trail of—of carnage?
An answer presented itself immediately in the form of a sound for which he harbored considerable dislike.
Plip. Plip. Plip. Plip…
Sirius, too, appeared to have noticed the disturbance, and was looking at Remus askance, as if he did not think himself noticeable by doing so. Unconsciously, Remus took a pair of steps toward him. Although, it was not as if Remus was frightened, for he, having excellent senses, could detect and identify anything around him.
Or rather, it would seem, almost anything. Whatever was in the common room was not something that Remus was accustomed to encountering on a daily basis. Anticipating the worst—a habit he seemed to have recently developed—he turned, first casting a look at Sirius.
To Remus's immense astonishment, a small, golden unicorn foal stood in the shadow of a winged chair. In its mouth were three unmistakable ballpoint pens that—Remus groaned—seemed to have long-since been chewed in half. They were dripping—plip, plip—ink.
"It's… real." He gaped, stared, and blinked at the creature in wonder. There was absolutely nothing metaphorical about it.
"See? I told you, Moony."
Sirius was not grinning; he was looking at Remus—again—with that curious expression, the one that suggested some sort of internal conflict that Remus could not fathom. Although, there were many things that he seemed unable to fathom at that moment—one of them being why, exactly, there was a unicorn causing destruction in the Gryffindor common room when said unicorn was supposed to be gallivanting around the castle. When he voiced this, Sirius appeared flustered and uncomfortable. He swirled his toe against the floor in a distracted manner that seemed to arouse a new wave of nerves within them both.
"What's going on, Sirius?" Remus asked a bit more forcefully then he intended.
Sirius blinked; he glanced down at the unicorn, which had progressed to gnawing at the rug, and then back at Remus, who was beginning to panic.
"You've woken me up and bribed me into finding a unicorn that doesn't really need to be found—considering it happens to be right here. It's three o'clock in the morning. I should like to be sleeping at the moment. But you—Sirius, what's wrong with you? You're behaving… oddly. You're not… you're not Sirius."
"I'm quite serious."
Remus scowled at him. "You're never serious, and therein lies the trouble."
"I told you Moony, I'm—"
"No!" Remus released a frustrated cry and cradled his forehead in his hands. He should never have risen out of bed in the first place, should have rolled over and pretended he had not heard Sirius at all.
Plip. Plip. Plip. Plip…
"Okay." Sirius cleared his throat, fidgeting. "There are two unicorns. I think."
Remus reasoned that it was best to keep quiet.
"But one of them," Sirius continued, "might possibly not be real. I suspect it could be metaphorical."
"I need you to help me find a metaphorical unicorn."
Sirius took a step backward, frowning. Remus regarded him warily as the shadows in the room continued to tremble. At length, Sirius's shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Moony," he muttered, "it isn't fair. I mean, nothing's really all that fair, y'know, especially if you look at… us…"
"'Us'?" Remus echoed, this particular word snagging his attention.
"Yeah." Sirius wrinkled his nose—a most uncharacteristic gesture—as if this was not exactly the way in which he had hoped the conversation would turn, yet was not entirely against his wishes, either. Remus's cheeks tingled as a flush spread across them.
The unicorn, disconcerted at being ignored, stamped its hoof impatiently upon the ground. Sirius glared at it, though this had little effect.
"Oh, alright," Sirius snapped. "I'll get on with it." He rounded his attention upon Remus, who was only mildly surprised by the fact that Sirius had just spoken to a unicorn. "Moony, I've got something to tell you—"
The unicorn repeated its gesture.
"I'm getting to it!" Sirius cried in distress, sending a glower its way.
Plip. Plip. Plip…
"Moony," Sirius began again as the unicorn chewed contentedly. "Remus. What I've been trying to tell you is—well, it was a hell of a lot easier when I had to say this to a girl—not that I don't want to say it, of course, 'cause I do. I want to. Say it to you, I mean."
"'It'?" Remus felt meek.
"Yeah, It." Sirius nodded. "You know… right? It?"
Remus shook his head.
"Well, see, when a bloke happens to enjoy another bloke's company quite a lot, one bloke wants to sn—put—do something, er…" Sirius knitted his brows. "Right. Two blokes," he coughed. "Let's say, hypothetically, that one bloke wanted to tell something personal to another bloke, so the first bloke woke the second bloke up at three o'clock in the morning and told him something completely mad about a… centaur. But, er, the thing about the centaur was actually true, even though the first bloke rather exploited it. 'Least, he tried to, then he buggered everything up by unintentionally acting a lot like someone who may or may not be known as Wormtail, when he really shouldn't have had any trouble at all talking to the other bloke, seeing as he really, really—I mean, sometimes two blokes can, y'know… They can feel like… like Prongs and Evans. Like they would if Evans fancied Prongs back, I mean."
Remus felt his mouth fall slightly agape. "So, what you mean to say," he stated slowly, his heart hammering at an unnatural rate, "is that all of this unicorn rubbish was just a way for you to say that you… fancy me?"
"Exactly!" At last, Sirius grinned, the expression lighting up the whole of his countenance. However, it was soon overshadowed by a frown. "If it's not too awkward, of course."
"Awkward?" Remus laughed. "This has been awkward by every definition of the word! But I suppose"—here, he adopted a thoughtful tone—"that the method is not as important as the end result." He smiled a shy smile, one that did not pull at his scars.
Sirius's grin widened. "Is that so?"
Remus snorted. "I should hope so, because, against my better judgment, I really…" He faltered. "I really…"
"It feels loads better if you actually say it," Sirius advised sagely.
Remus breathed in deeply. "I really do fancy you, as well."
And, lo and behold, Sirius was right; it did feel better, much better, releasing something that he had kept bottled up. It was like breathing after holding his breath for years upon years, or—or perhaps even like finding a metaphorical unicorn. He reveled in the feeling for a moment, immersed in the sense that everything was coming together as it should.
After a while, Sirius asked, to no one in particular, "What happens next?"
Remus shrugged; this sort of thing, and anything remotely related to it, was uncharted territory to him.
"Do we snog?"
Remus flinched, and Sirius nodded, "Didn't think so."
"We could talk," Remus suggested. "I don't believe that either of us will be sleeping any longer today."
Sirius looked relieved. "There's nothing awkward about that."
Remus agreed. Quite suddenly feeling warm inside, he made his way to the sofa nearest to the fireplace, curling up in the crook of the armrest. Sirius began to follow him, but he paused in mid-step to pat the unicorn fondly.
"That'll do," he murmured. Then he sank down beside Remus, not too close, but close enough so that they could brush fingers—not awkwardly, of course—when neither of them could think of anything to say.
Funny thing, that was, how all could be so well in the end.