This will be the last installment of this series. I hope that you all have enjoyed reading it as thoroughly as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you so much for coming along with me on this unexpected journey, in which the little one-shot that could turned into the longest running anything that I've ever written.
Have I mentioned how much I love you all?
Also, I apologize in advance for any excessive typos-- I had some serious computer issues, and had to re-edit at the eleventh hour. Ack.
11 June 1977
"Alright, gentlemen. I trust I need not remind you of how important this is."
"No sir, commander," Sirius says, only half-jokingly. James really does look authoritative, and it makes Sirius's heart swell fondly to think about all the times they've sat in this same cupboard, the one behind the statue of the old witch with an eye-patch, in this same circle. When they were eleven, it felt more natural. Now, their knees bump because there's not enough room, and the low-hanging shelf forces them to hunch over a little, but that's not important. It's tradition.
Sirius was raised on tradition. It was shoved into his every orifice from the time he could understand words like Honour and Bloodline, which, in the Black household, was a lot younger than one might expect. Tradition was inheriting his father's sword when he turned ten, just like Family was sitting at a banquet table and having strangers with his same ears and cheekbones tell him how fine he looked in his new robes, just like Love was Blood, and Blood was everything. Tradition was something he was taught, a dry and dusty concept that held little interest for a boy who preferred things that could be touched and gnawed on and blow to bits.
Then he met James.
James knew about Tradition, too. He knew his family tree and which fork to use and how to charm the pants off of old ladies, of course, but he also knew about his mum's treacle tart that she made every Christmas, and about waking up early on the last day of summer to watch the sunrise with his dad. He knew Tradition was family, and family was love, and love was everything.
So, Sirius learned to embrace a different sort of tradition. This new tradition involved exploding birthday cakes and drunken new years and, yes, dusty cupboards full of boys and brooms.
"So how do we, er… release it into the wild?" Remus asks.
His hair is at strange and interesting angles, because he insisted on going to bed before getting up and behaving like a hoodlum in the name of nostalgia, as he put it. Sirius has the faint urge to smooth it down, but Peter's developed this odd sort of cough that acts up every time Remus and Sirius come into contact with one another, and there's no sense in aggravating his condition at a time like this.
"Ah, a fair question, my dear Moony," James says, unfurling the map into the centre of the circle. "If my estimations are correct—and they should be, since I put the protective spells on the damn thing—we just have to tap it, like we always do, but all at the same time, and it should… deactivate. We shall need but our wands and our wits."
James brandishes his wand and glances around at them, expectantly. There is a moment of quiet confusion in which no one moves.
"Alright, I see we've left our wits at home. Our wands then," James says.
"That's it?" Peter asks, and it's clear he speaks for them all.
"Yes, that's it. What did you expect, a human sacrifice and a bloody druid chant?" James asks.
"No, it's just. It just seems so… practical. That's all," Remus says kindly.
James's brow furrows. "Well, I suppose we could… I don't know. We could dance naked around it first or something?" he suggests half-heartedly.
"No, no, that won't be necessary," Remus adds hastily.
"Alright then!" James says. "Does anyone else have a problem, or can we do this already? My neck is bent all wrong and Peter's got his knee in my spleen."
"Right," they mutter in delayed unison, brandishing their wands.
With some hesitation, they touch the tips of their wands to the already yellowing parchment. All eyes are on James, and James is staring at Sirius, and Sirius just knows that if he says "No" or "Stop" or "I've changed my mind, let's go light Dumbledore's beard on fire so we can't leave," that James will not go along with him this time. So he says nothing. He nods once, and James smiles.
"On three, then," James says quietly. The door has four varyingly effective silencing spells on it, so there's no real reason to whisper, except that the moment demands it.
"One," James says.
"Two," Sirius says.
"Three," James whispers back.
Four hushed voices say mischief managed. The sound echoes off the stone walls and creeps beneath their skin with tingly importance, memories in the making.
For a moment, nothing happens. The Map looks as it always has, scarlet and blooming and intricate. But then there is a furling and a shrinking, and the words and places and people that have been their lives, lo these seven years, slide sickeningly to the centre of the parchment and dwindle to nothingness.
"Well," Sirius says after a while, "that was…"
"That was," Remus throws in.
"Anticlimactic," Peter adds, and they all nod.
"It… was, wasn't it?" James admits. For a moment, his disappointed face looks like it did when he was eleven, and it makes Sirius's chest feel odd and tight.
"And it's, you know, dead now, is it?" Peter asks.
"Never again shall it manage mischief," Remus says solemnly.
Sirius knows that Remus does not understand all the fuss, and that he'd probably prefer to be asleep right now, which is why Sirius is so fiercely and intensely grateful that he is here in all his mature and unsentimental glory. Remus, Sirius believes, cannot appreciate Tradition the way that he and James do. For one thing, Remus's family doesn't have a crest or a motto, or an enormous vault at Gringotts for that matter, and Sirius correctly assumes that Remus never received anything large and unnecessary for his birthday (like a sword, or a throne) because Tradition dictated it. Then there's the fact that the moon is a repetitive old hag, making Tradition, along with routine and regularity, a word of which Remus is none too fond. Still, he sits beside Sirius, un-indulgently, because he can see when things are greater than himself.
Perhaps he understands Tradition after all
1 September 1971
"Budge up, chicken legs, that's my bed."
To his credit, Remus only hits his head once as he scrambles out from under his newly selected and, it seems, newly lost bed. Meeting new people has never been Remus's favourite pastime, what with the awkward handshakes and oh-my-what's-that-on-your-face? conversations that having four years' worth of scars tends to necessitate. What's more, he doesn't particularly enjoy having them with his head beneath a bed and his arse in the air, nor with a large, unfortunate butterbeer stain across the front of his trousers owing to his own apparent inability to drink and breathe at the same time in stressful situations, like his first meal in the Great Hall, for instance.
"Oh. Oh, it is? I sort of thought—well, they made it seem as though we ought to just… claim one," Remus ventures, scrambling to his feet. The boy is almost a head taller than Remus, and he has a face made for portraits and possibly currency.
"In that case, I am claiming this bed," the boy says, slinging his trunk onto the neatly-made bed, throwing its blankets into disarray.
"But, but I've claimed it," Remus argues. He can feel his ears turning pink, and just whose idea was it anyway to make blushing so embarrassing and yet have it happen primarily when you're already humiliated?
"Do you have a flag?" the boy asks casually, already beginning to rummage through his trunk. An ancient looking amulet falls out and Remus wonders briefly whether it's worth more than his house.
"Well, no, not as such but—"
"What kind of Englishman are you? If you're going to conquer anything, you'd best have a flag to back it up," he says. A pocket watch and a flask containing Merlin knows what tumble onto the bed. The watch lands precariously near the edge, but the boy makes no effort to save it. He must come from old money, Remus decides, to be so unaware of how wealthy he is.
"And you do? Have a flag, that is," Remus says. He's being assertive, just like his mother told him.
"I do at that," the boy says, brandishing a rather unattractive pair of pants—green with some sort of itchy looking silver thread running through the fabric—and hanging them from the nearest bedpost.
"I didn't know they were accepting underpants as diplomatic symbols. The Queen will be thrilled," Remus mutters irritably.
The boy straightens up and all at once the air goes very still.
"Look, I'm sure you and this bed have a lovely report, but I've just had, in all seriousness, the most unfortunate day in the history of days, and I would really appreciate it if you didn't make me hex you before I know your name."
He says this all with perfect, steely calm. Remus would shudder, were he that type.
"Remus," Remus says.
"What?" asks the boy exasperatedly.
"Remus. My name. Remus Lupin."
The boy squints at him for a moment, probably considering whether Remus is worth the trouble of hexing. Abruptly, he turns back to his things.
"Sirius Black. Yes, that sort of Black. I don't suppose you're from one of the families?"
It takes Remus longer than it should to figure out what he means.
"No. Er, not really. My dad's muggleborn."
For a split-second, he thinks he sees Sirius flinch at this, an almost imperceptible straightening of his spine, but the next moment he's sure he imagined it.
"I like being able to see the sky, y'know? At night. S'sort of like the ocean—goes on forever and everyone sees the same one. And this bed," Sirius says, patting it affectionately, "this bed has got the best view."
Remus nods, then realises that Sirius can't see him and adds a sort of affirmative grunt. Remus likes to see the sky, too, only for different reasons. He tracks the moon in its many forms and stares at it whenever he feels too sad or too happy. It reminds him that he is not responsible for either state, and that it's all up to a giant grey rock a million miles away. He wonders if he would still be a werewolf were the moon to blow up or fall apart, or whatever it is that happens to moons when they die. He wonders what this aristocratic brat would do if he knew he was sharing a room with a monster.
With careful coordination, Remus eases his bag—scuffed brown leather, his grandfather's during the war—out from under the bed and tosses it onto the next bed over. It's not so bad, really, and he can still see the window, he'll just have to learn to look past this Sirius fellow.
"You're pluckier than you look, you know," Sirius says suddenly. "Not that that's saying much." Something about his voice, the crisp, elegant tone, makes everything he says sound profoundly interesting. Remus wonders whether he realises this.
"I'm sorry?" Remus asks.
"You look a bit… squishy, as it were. But I know better," Sirius says. He hauls his trunk to the foot of the bed, dropping it on the floor with a heavy thump.
"You do?" Remus says. He feels incredibly dull, unable to think of anything remotely conversational to say to this person, who, it seems, is attempting to converse with him, against all logic.
"Yeah. You've got good scars," Sirius says matter-of-factly.
Remus doesn't know what to say to that, exactly. He's never heard anyone speak as though they were a connoisseur of scars, and he's not quite sure he likes it.
"I didn't know there was such a thing," Remus says, calmly unzipping his bag.
"Sure there is. You can always tell when someone's got a burn on their hand from touching the kettle when their mum's told them not to, versus when someone's got a set of nasty gashes from something worth getting hurt over. And yours," Sirius says, eyeing Remus's eyebrow and the faint, flesh-colour line connecting it to his hairline, "are definitely the latter."
Sirius's eyes are very grey, Remus notices. He imagines that they're looking directly into his brain, and he shudders, unbidden. It's absurd, of course, and no one could possibly know by looking where his scars came from, but Remus imagines that if anyone could, it would be this boy.
"I hate to disappoint," Remus says, with practiced nonchalance, "but I fell head first into a pile of rocks when I was eight. Hardly a story worth telling."
Sirius huffs and flops down on his bed, disinterestedly. Remus breathes a sigh of relief. He's consistently startled by how quick people are to accept the lies he constantly spews. He has an honest face, he's been told. He's always found this funny, since he imagines he tells more lies than anyone he knows. It's remarkable how closely an honest man resembles a practiced liar.
"Bloody aggressive rocks," he thinks he hears Sirius mutter.
Before Remus can think of a response, let alone force his mouth to start working again, the door bursts open with a bang and a brilliant flash of light.
"What the—" Sirius yells.
When the light fades back to normal, a lanky chap with unfortunate hair stumbles through the door and says, cheerfully, "hallo!"
Behind him there stands a shorter, dumpier boy in a lumpy sweater. It's far too warm for a sweater this time of year, even at night, so Remus imagines his mother had insisted.
"I remember you," Sirius says, suspiciously. "You almost got expelled earlier."
The boy with the ridiculous hair grabs his bag from beside the door, where all their bags had been haphazardly stacked by some unknown help, and appraises the two remaining beds with immense interest.
"Before entering the castle," the boy says. He turns to Sirius and flashes a smile. "It's a new record," he adds proudly.
For a moment, Remus wonders if Sirius will threaten to hex this person, too, but then, much to Remus's surprise, Sirius returns the boy's enthusiasm with an even more dazzling smile of his own.
"Brilliant," Sirius says.
"James Potter," the boy says, extending his hand in Sirius's direction.
Sirius stands up in one fluid motion and walks over to James, appraisingly.
"Sirius Black," he says, taking James's hand.
James expression changes almost imperceptibly. "Black?" he asks, quirking an eyebrow.
"That's right," Sirius says, straightening to his full height—almost as tall as James.
Remus gets the feeling that he could begin to cluck like a chicken and no one would notice. Well, perhaps the lad in the sweater might.
James seems to consider this a moment. "How'd you end up in here?" he asks.
"No idea, mate," Sirius says, like he's admitting to something scandalous.
"Well, you must have done something right," says James.
"That, or the gods are twisted old bastards," Sirius replies, a tart smile tugging at his mouth.
"So's Dumbledore, from what I've heard," James says.
Sirius laughs, and Remus releases a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. The boy with the sweater seems to sag with relief, as well. Remus shoots him a sympathetic look.
"Hello, who are you?" James asks.
Suddenly, as though someone has pointed a spotlight at him, Remus grows horrifically aware that he is being addressed.
"Remus Lupin," Remus says. He hopes that the fewer words he says, the less likely he is to say the wrong thing.
"From Dorchester?" the boy with the sweater chimes in.
"Err, no. Leeds," Remus replies.
"Oh. My, uhm. My mum has a friend named Lupin. From Dorchester," the boy says.
"This is Peter," James says, heaving his bag onto the bed opposite Sirius's. "He's alright," he adds, without explanation.
"Charmed," Sirius says, stretching back out on his bed.
"Nice to meet you Peter, uhh," Remus prompts.
"Pettigrew," Peter says, eyeing the remaining bed suspiciously.
"Right," Remus mumbles.
Peter peals off his sweater and throws it, a little aggressively, onto his bed, before proceeding to dump the contents of his trunk. They've each been given bedside tables with drawers that are far too large to exist without the help of magic, and Remus correctly assumes they're to put their clothing in them. Remus quickly realises that he only has enough to fill the first two drawers, so he uses the remaining drawer to house his books. He's brought quite a few of them. He told his parents that he needed them all for his studies, but several of the dusty volumes had come along only because he couldn't bear to leave them behind.
"What's all this then?" A voice says over Remus's shoulder.
Sirius is lying across Remus's bed on his stomach, his head less than a foot from where Remus has knelt to unpack.
"Are you planning to found a library later? Because I hate to be the bearer of ill tidings, but I think they already have one here."
"No, I just. I like them," Remus admits.
Sirius scrunches his face, momentarily upsetting the aristocratic line of his brow, making him look mortal.
"Are you certain you weren't meant to be in Ravenclaw?"
Remus smiles. "No, I'm not certain at all."
"But you trust that musty old hat, do you?" Sirius asks. His eyes flash with a sort of steely intensity that eleven-year-olds ought not be able to muster.
"Of course. It's been around a lot longer than I have, it ought to know what it's doing by now," says Remus, sounding, he is pleased to note, far more confident than he feels.
Sirius squints at him for a moment, and Remus gets that odd, eyes-on-his-brain feeling again. He hopes that he isn't blushing.
"Right-o," says Sirius, rolling gracefully to his feet.
Remus blinks at him, wearily. It's going to be a very long year.
14 June 1977
"Uhoh," James says quietly.
Generally, when a Marauder says "uhoh," it's a fair bet that something is about to explode, fall apart, become violently ill, or hit the proverbial fan. The volume of said exclamation is, usually, inversely proportionate to the level of alarm it ought to cause. When a Marauder says "uhoh" as softly as James has just said "uhoh," it is advisable to take cover, or, at the very least, offer the Marauder in question an empty bowl and a damp flannel.
"What is it?" Remus asks with barely-concealed panic.
"There's something… amiss over here with our girl," James says, gesturing for them to come closer, though no one is particularly keen to do so.
James has been hunched over his desk for the past twenty minutes, which should have been the first sign of trouble.
"What's this then?" Sirius says pleasantly, leaning against the desk as casually as possible. He's quite good at casual.
"She's err—It's… talking to me. At me. It's talking," James says, pushing The Map towards Sirius.
Indeed, there are thick, elegant lines of scarlet scrawl all over the parchment's surface.
"'Mister Wormtail politely requests that you cease prodding things that have no need of prodding,'" Remus reads aloud.
"I said what?" Peter asks, loosening his tie and closing the dormitory door behind him.
"You said something rather rude, and I don't like it," Sirius says, smiling irrepressibly. Something is happening, he can feel it. The magic in his blood is singing so tangibly that he wonders whether he might be causing this to happen, like when he was a kid and he made Regulus's hair fall out by accident.
"It's not just him, Mister Padfoot," James says anxiously.
Indeed, the words have dissolved, only to reform. This time, Sirius appears to be telling the lot of them to bugger off if they had nothing better to do than bother helpless bits of parchment.
"Well, blimey," Peter says, in awe.
"It's been on like this for a few minutes. Map-Moony told me my hair was stupid and that I ought to have my head looked at because it was a bit misshapen if I asked him," James says, sounding vaguely annoyed.
Remus turns a little red around the ears and swallows hard. It's all Sirius can do not to bite his earlobe.
"Why were you messing about with it in the first place?" Sirius asks.
"I wasn't! I had it in a drawer and I set my wand on top of it and it just… started up!" James babbles excitedly.
Sirius considers asking why James hung onto The Map in the first place, but thinks better of it. Still, a warm swell erupts in Sirius's chest like a small wildfire.
"Well, let's be sensible about this, James," Remus says, seeming to recover his composure. "It's not us doing this, obviously, but it does a fairly good impression. Perhaps it's just… extrapolating."
"What?" Peter asks.
"It's taking what it knows, what it's gathered about our personalities, our opinions, and sort of—I don't know. Taking it from there."
There is a pause, during which they each appear to consider this possibility.
"Brilliant," James says, finally, smiling and meeting Sirius's eye for the first time.
Sirius can't help but smile back. He never could, with James.
"Bloody brilliant," he confirms.
Remus looks back and forth between them. "It's only a theory, of course, and one can hardly assume that—"
"It's not a theory, Remus, don't sell yourself short. It's genius. We've created a… a Sorting Map," Sirius says, clasping Remus's shoulder enthusiastically.
"An Insulting Map, really," Peter adds, clearing his throat loudly.
"It's fantastic, that's what it is," James says, smacking the Map repeatedly with his wand, eyes shining with wonder as line after line of angry, scarlet lettering pour themselves across the surface of the parchment. "It talks like us, it insults like us, it's us, in paper form. D'ya think…" He glances back at Sirius, and Sirius knows somehow what he's asking.
"I bet it does, at that," Sirius says solemnly, trying to keep the dopey grin from his face.
"What?" Peter inquires loudly.
"Works. I bet it still works. How could it not? The enchantments are obviously still there," James says, his tone growing manic.
"But how? We only had to tap it, before" Remus says, rather sensibly.
Sirius frowns for a moment. They hadn't planned for this to happen, and in his experience with magic, things that you don't plan are usually the result of the magic taking on a mind of it's own—or four minds of it's own, as the case may be. The trick is just to figure out what that mind is thinking, and since they are the mind that is the magic, it should be manageable.
"Well, it's locked itself, hasn't it?" Sirius reasons aloud. "It's shut us out because we didn't want anyone getting at it without our guidance. We didn't want it being used for… good."
"So, it's a matter of intent," James says, picking up Sirius's train of thought with startling accuracy. "It wants to know that we're going to use it towards the purpose for which it was intended."
"Mayhem," Remus offers.
"No, no—sabotage," Peter says.
"Mischief," James and Sirius say, so that at first neither is sure who actually said it.
"Oh Merlin," Remus mutters.
"Wand, wand," Sirius says, fumbling for his wand in his pocket. Sometimes, magic is a tricky old bitch that'll play hard to get just to keep you frustrated. Other times, however, magic just walks right up and stands there, waiting for you to reach out and shake its hand. Fortunately, in this case, it's the latter, and Sirius knows, inexplicably, what to do. He touches the tip of his wand to The Map and says, quietly, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
Like someone has flipped a switch, The Map unfurls. Later, after the initial shock has worn off, Sirius will wonder whether he said the exact right thing, or created the right thing by saying it.
"You, my friend, are a god among men," James whispers, eyes still trained on The Map. It's a bit like seeing a loved one rise from the dead, all relief mixed with intense appreciation.
"Oh Merlin," Remus repeats, looking concerned. After all, he had been the first to suggest that perhaps leaving something like The Map lying about for future generations of ne'er do wells to play with was not the most responsible course of action.
"Relax, Moony," Sirius says, tapping The Map again. This time, the incantation feels more like a summation. "Mischief managed," he says. Surreptitiously, he finds Remus's hand and twines their fingers together.
"Mates," James says solemnly, "what we have here is the work of the fates."
"Are we going to kill it again?" Peter asks.
James and Sirius just smile.
3 February 1974
He finds Remus in the library, of course, because Remus is nothing if not a walking cliché. He's slumped over a pile of books that, if stacked properly, would most certainly be taller than either of them. Fortunately, they are not stacked, just strewn about the table, haphazardly. Like Remus, Sirius thinks, noticing the way Remus's spine looks as though it's been taken apart and rather carelessly strung back together.
Fortunately, Remus is not asleep. If he had been, Sirius isn't sure what he would have done. Probably loiter aimlessly behind a shelf until Remus woke up. Normally, he would have snuck up very quietly and tackled Remus or shoved something damp and squishy into his trousers, but today is not a normal day.
"There you are," Sirius says, sliding into the seat across from Remus.
Remus looks at him uncertainly for a moment, as though Sirius might bite, which is, all things considered, pretty funny in Sirius's opinion.
"Didn't know I was missing," Remus replies, not looking up from whatever enormous text of doom he is pretending to read.
"You missed dinner. There was pie. I know how you like pie."
Remus glances at him. "I do."
"I tried to steal some for you, but pie is not a food that is particularly suited for pockets. Plus, the house elves are still threatening to go on strike after the llama incident," Sirius says.
"Hmph. Can't say I blame them. Never before have I seen so much blue in one room," Remus says quietly. There's a smile, just there, on the edge of his mouth, but Sirius can't seem to catch it, and Remus isn't helping.
"So…" Sirius says, feeling awkward for the first time in recent memory. It's absurd, of course, that he feels this way. He could blame it on the fact that Remus is one of the most awkward people in the entire history of the universe, only he worries it's something more than that. It's the way Remus looks at him, as though he's actually expecting Sirius to… well, as though he expects something of Sirius, period, full-stop. Still, they're thirteen, and everything is strange and foreign and new, even old friends. Perhaps it's to do with the way their limbs have become long and unwieldy over night, and the deepening of their voices.
Remus looks at him again with that patient, unassuming expression.
"Are you planning to put in an appearance in the Tower any time this evening?" Sirius asks.
Rather abruptly, Remus closes his book. For a moment, he stares at the table, as though attempting to read the wood-grain.
"Sirius, you don't have to do this," Remus says quietly.
"Don't have to do what?"
"You don't have to—this. You don't have to sally forth and befriend the sick, sad werewolf just to prove that you're not living up to your namesake. It's really unnecessary," Remus says, sounding as though he would rather be hexing himself than forcing his mouth to create those particular words.
Sirius almost laughs. It's that ridiculous.
"Are you daft?"
"Am I what?"
"You bloody idiot. I'm down here, in a library, of all the humiliating places, because you voluntarily sacrificed pie for the sake of sulking, leading me to believe that either you've finally found a way to have intercourse with Hogwarts, A History, or that something is wrong. And I don't like wrong things, Remus, not when they're to do with you and a lack of pie."
"Don't do this," Remus says, pushing the fringe from his eyes. He looks tired. Sirius wonders if this is to do with the coming full moon, and then he wonders how he never noticed before.
"Don't do what? Remus, you're being stupid. Stop it, that's my job," Sirius says, smiling uncomfortably.
"You're not stupid," Remus says.
"Yes, I am! I didn't know. I should have. But now I do, and you're not letting me make it up to you," Sirius says, feeling desperate and ineffectual. He feels so pathetic thinking about all the days he spent watching Remus passed out in the Hospital Wing. It should have been the most obvious thing in the world, but somehow, it never occurred to him.
"You can't make it up to me!" Remus nearly shouts. "This may come as a blow to your almighty ego, but there is nothing you can do that will make this any better. You've only made it worse. At least before I pretend to be normal. But you had to go and solve the mystery, you and James. Couldn't you just have left well enough alone?" he asks, looking so aggressively unhappy that Sirius wishes he could take it all back, but he can't.
"I can make this better. I can. I don't know—I don't know how, but I will. Just, come on, Remus, don't be angry. This doesn't change anything." Sirius leans across the table, presses his hand against the place where Remus's neck and shoulder connect, just about his wrinkled collar, trying helplessly to communicate how fiercely he means this. "At all. Trust me."
Remus stares at him for a moment, his face inscrutable, yet still somehow irrepressibly sad. Sirius thinks he sees Remus loosen, but he can't be sure.
"We'll see," Remus says, low and uncertain.
Sirius opens his mouth to keep arguing, but senses somehow that it won't make any difference. Remus is right—all the promises in the world don't matter. Fortunately, Sirius has always been better at actions than words, and this definitely requires action.
16 June 1977
"Where are my bloody trousers?" Sirius mumbles sleepily into the side of Remus's head. His breath tickles, but it's nice all the same.
The morning sunlight streams into Gryffindor Tower with yellow ferocity, made red by the curtains around Remus's bed. It's warm, and most of the blankets have been kicked away, leaving them tangled in one lone white sheet that's hardly big enough for the both of them. Fortunately, the way they have positioned themselves, they hardly occupy the space of more than one person.
"I think you're getting ahead of yourself," Remus says, opening one eye cautiously. "You might consider finding your pants, first."
Sirius snorts. "Silly Moony. A victim of conventional thinking."
Sirius stretches, slow and lazy, his arm falling across Remus's waist, as if by accident. Remus marvels at how mundane it all feels. That something so spectacular could ever feel ordinary, it makes Remus's head swim.
"Unless you're planning to become some sort of muggle superhero, I do wish you would allow convention to victimize you, too, in this matter," Remus says, finding Sirius's fingers on his hip and stroking them lazily.
"Har har. You're terribly amusing," Sirius says, propping his head on one elbow before leaning in so that their foreheads touch. He sighs heavily.
"What?" Remus asks, hoping that Sirius cannot hear the way his heart misses a beat.
Sirius rolls onto his back, staring at the ceiling as though it has done him some grievous harm.
"What are we going to do?"
Remus frowns. He knows, of course, what Sirius is talking about, thinking about, because it's all he's thought about for weeks—months, really, if he cares to admit it.
"Well, we'll just have to see each other like normal people in our situation do," Remus says. It is not a terribly satisfactory suggestion, but it's all he can come up with before breakfast.
"But I'm used to, you know, you. Being around rather a lot. You've spoilt me," Sirius says.
"Someone's spoilt you, that's for certain." Sirius slaps his thigh, but doesn't remove his hand afterwards.
"I'm being serious, Moony. You should enjoy it," he whines.
"I know you are, I do, but what do you want me to say? We've gone about things all backwards. We started out living together and now we're moving out just when things are going well," Remus says. They have, from day one, gone about things arse-over-end, and now, Remus reasons, they are being punished by the Gods of Circumstance.
"James and Lily found a flat, you know," Sirius says.
Remus nods. To call it a flat is, perhaps, an exaggeration, seeing as it's barely three rooms, if you include the toilet, but it's theirs, and Lily's already picked out curtains. They're doing things properly, of course, because beneath his hellion exterior, James is just like his dad—practical, faithful as a hound, and, ultimately, bound for a life of boring domestic bliss. Remus never envied him these traits until recently.
"Have you thought about finding a place yet?" Sirius asks.
"Not particularly. I'll have to at some point, I suppose, but I still haven't found a job, so renting a flat would be putting the carriage before the Thestral at this point."
"Remus, can I ask you something?"
Remus resists the urge to say you just did, mostly because it's something his mother would say, but also for fear that Sirius will suffocate him with a pillow.
"Of course. Er… Should I be concerned?"
Sirius slides his eyes towards Remus for a split second before returning his focus to the ceiling.
"I was just wondering if there was—is some particular reason that you won't… that you don't want to just…" Sirius makes a vague, unhelpful gesture in the air between them.
"Why I don't what? Flail?"
"Why you don't want to live with me, you prat," Sirius finishes irritably.
Remus opens his mouth, then closes it, realising that he has exactly no idea what to say to that, and that perhaps he ought to think of something before he starts babbling like and idiot and ruins the world.
"Never mind," Sirius says, hugging his arms to his chest.
"What? No, not never mind, just… give me a moment," Remus snaps. Honestly, Sirius has the attention span of a goldfish that is high, and sometimes Remus wishes he could press 'pause' long enough to sort out his thoughts without Sirius losing interest in the subject. And by "sometimes," he of course means "at moments like this."
"I hadn't really thought about it," Remus says finally, honestly.
"How can you not have thought about it?" Sirius asks loudly.
"I just… hadn't, that's all. It never occurred to me that that was something I should be thinking about."
"Why would you not—oh bugger it. Well, are you thinking about it now?" Sirius asks impatiently.
"No, I'm thinking about whether there'll be scones at breakfast—of course I'm thinking about it now," Remus says. He rubs his eyes tiredly. In all honesty, he is thinking about scones, primarily because he has always been of the mind that conversations like this one should not be had pants-less, horizontally, or on an empty stomach.
"Well, what are you thinking?" Sirius asks. He sounds nervous, which makes Remus nervous.
"I am thinking that… That I was daft not to think about it before," Remus says, turning on his side so that he can see Sirius's profile in the flaming light. His brow is knit with concentration; his jaw is set tight.
"And?" Sirius prompts.
"And I would like to know whether you are serious, or if this is one of those passing fancies you're prone to, like the time you decided to become a ninja—or when you tried to join the muggle army because you liked the uniforms. How no one noticed you were a giant poufter sooner, I'll never understand."
"Took you long enough to pick up on it," Sirius mutters.
"That's hardly the point."
"Moony, darling, schnookums, my little sex-mellon—"
"I am not afraid to vomit in your hair," Remus says soberly.
"Alright, I am being serious though. Deathly so. How could I not be? I mean, it's just… It's just us, isn't it? This shouldn't be so difficult. We've lived together for seven years, what's another seventy?"
Remus thinks he sees a faint blush creep up Sirius's neck, except that Blacks do not blush, even disinherited Blacks.
"Sirius, I appreciate the offer, really, but it's not… it's not as simple as all that. For you, there's no risk involved. But if I move in with you and things, well, fall through, I can't very well go crawling back to my parents' house," Remus says, feeling far too old for someone lying in a dormitory bed.
"You are being terribly unromantic about this," Sirius huffs.
"That's just it—I don't have the luxury of romance. I'm not saying I don't want to, I just… I have to be rational about this, alright?"
Sirius rolls onto his side so that their noses nearly touch. His eyes are wide and shockingly bright.
"Love," Sirius says, "is not rational. Not if you're doing it correctly, anyway." He then covers Remus's mouth with his own before Remus can disagree—not that he is inclined to do so.
When he thinks about it, and he does try not to, Remus can never get his head around this love business. It is, in all fairness, nice, but so are plenty of other things that are not necessarily good for you, like chocolate or alcohol. Except that those things are only harmful in excess, whereas love, as Remus understands it, only has two states—absent and excessive.
Sirius's mouth tastes like toothpaste and sleep, which is not nearly so unpleasant as it should be. His limbs are warm and pliant, one hand skimming along Remus's ribs with frustrating sluggishness, the other holding the nape of Remus's neck so that he couldn't disengage even if he tried.
Remus presses back, his blood thick with lazy heat. It is extremely fortunate that James and Lily have set up camp in the Common Room for the third time this week, and slightly less fortunate that Peter disappeared in a puff of awkwardness the moment Sirius made a joke about Peter being a captive audience. Otherwise, it might be necessary to roll apart and get on with their respective days like upstanding students. As it is, Remus is not feeling particularly respectable, and judging by the way he is biting Remus's lip-and-now-neck, neither is Sirius.
"I'm not doing your laundry," Remus muses.
"You're not what now?" Sirius asks, halting abruptly.
"Your laundry. I also will not, under any circumstances, eat anything you cook, even if it only moves when you poke it and doesn't smell at all like those potatoes that one time," Remus says.
For a moment, Sirius gets a look on his face not unlike someone who has managed to perform an absurdly complicated spell on their first go—surprised and pleased and confused. The next second, he's gotten himself under control, but Remus imagines that he'll treasure the memory of it for as long as he has memories.
Sirius nods and says "mhmm," looking thoughtful and serious.
"And no bringing home tarts at all hours of the day and night," Remus adds.
"But Moony, a man has needs," Sirius whines, his hand skimming over Remus's thigh before coming to rest in an area one might not consider entirely proper. Remus lets out a little sound like ahggnk before flipping Sirius onto his back and pinning him there, like an insect on a glass slide.
"Well, it's a good thing I can do this then," Remus replies cheekily, kissing a very purposeful line down the centre of Sirius's torso before demonstrating exactly what it is he can do.
Sirius says, "That, I—oh, oh—good thing. Very good…" before trailing off into a series of increasingly enthusiastic groans.
9 October 1976
Autumn, Seventh Year
Sirius opens his eyes only to slam them immediately shut. The sun, though not yet over the horizon, is blinding. His head feels like it has a serious doxy infestation and his stomach churns angrily. He's just beginning to wonder what he did and whether he enjoyed it when someone breathes on his neck.
Being breathed on is generally one of the least offensive actions one can be subjected to, except perhaps "being looked at funny," or "being force-fed sweets," but when it is unexpected and one is possibly still a bit drunk, it can be rather unsettling. Then Sirius realises that there are, actually, arms around his midsection and that he is collapsed in the lap of a sleeping person of uncertain identity. Part of him hopes it is that Ravenclaw he'd been chatting up the night before, but he quickly tells that part of him not to get any bright ideas until he's had a moment to evaluate the situation.
Slowly, carefully, Sirius turns his (throbbing, heavy) head, and he isn't quite sure how it happens, but somehow his face smacks into the side of Remus's face—it is Remus he's crushing, apparently—open mouthed and unfortunate. Sirius recoils immediately, just in time to watch Remus's eyelashes flutter and open, eyes fuzzy and deep in the early light.
"Hullo," Remus says. He doesn't look angry, of course. But that is sort of the problem with Remus: he's never angry, even when he has no right not to be. He's too patient and calm for his own good, even to Snivellus, even in the wake of The Very Worst Thing Sirius Has Ever Done. He punched Sirius in the jaw, sure, but Sirius still gets the feeling that was Remus's personal brand of mercy. It's irritating.
Sirius opens his mouth to say something, like "oh, hello" or, "please excuse my mouth on your face," but he doesn't. He can't.
Remus blinks. Sirius swallows thickly and says, "Remus," but then he runs out of words, because Remus's eyes are right there, and that feels so important that Sirius can't breathe properly.
Then Remus says, "do you need" but Sirius misses the rest of the sentence because he is busy flinging himself at the side of the tower and vomiting terrifically into an unsuspecting tree some hundred feet below. Remus comes over and smoothes the hair from Sirius's eyes, and when Sirius has finished, Remus walks him back to the dormitory, without comment.
17 June 1977
"Pass the biscuits, mate," Peter says to James.
James obliges. His other hand is situated firmly on the small of Lily's back, and he keeps glancing at it occasionally, as though he's not sure it's his hand.
"Thanks," says Peter, carefully selecting three minty-chocolate confections.
"I'm so glad it's a nice night," Lily says wistfully. "It'd be a shame if it stormed. Cooped up in the Tower, stepping all over each other is no way to end things."
Sirius shoots Remus a pointed glare, having made, in his opinion, a strong case for skipping out on the after-hours stargazing in favour of, as he'd put it, gazing at things that are not stars. Remus elbows him, gently.
"It's really… weird, isn't it?" James says, curling closer to Lily's side.
"Yeah," Peter replies gravely.
"I mean, we're literally never going to do this again," says James.
"Never is a long time," Remus says, and he's not sure what sense in which he means it. He means that no one can say for certain what will happen in the distant future, of course, but another side of him is terrified of how final it all feels.
Remus has never had trouble saying goodbye to places. He read the Catcher in the Rye in Fourth Year, and could never understand it when Holden complained about not feeling like he was leaving. You are there and then you're not: that's leaving. It's always made sense, but now, on the grass, in the dark, with Sirius's fingers in his hair and James and Lily close at his side, and Peter munching happily on sugar-coated cavities, it all feels terribly surreal. How can they leave? How can they be expected to walk out of here tomorrow, as though they are full-fledged adults, and start… living.
And there's the war, as well. It's not a war, actually, just a series of events that, when you squint, look an awful like the way wars start, and Remus doesn't like to think about it, but he knows that it will affect them. The others don't think about it, Remus can tell. He envies them their naiveté, but Remus read all those dusty old history books that they were assigned, and he knows that a war isn't fought by old men with their ideals and great intentions. A war is fought by the generation that will inherit its outcome, and they are that generation.
But that is not now. Right now, all Remus can think about is how incredibly strange it is to think that Hogwarts is no longer his home, and that it never will be again. He reaches out to catch Sirius's hand against his stomach.
"I should be packing," Remus says, toying with the frayed edge of Sirius's sleeve.
"Packing, my dear Moony, is something that happens to other people. Extras and minions and people with unfortunate hair. We're the leading men. Let the trunks fall where they may," he says, partially into Remus's hair.
"You may be a leading man, but I have unfortunate hair and ears like my uncle Milton. Packing happens to me quite a lot."
"Oh, quiet down Moony, you're ruining the atmosphere," James says loudly.
Remus opens his mouth to protest that yes, perhaps James too is a leading man, but that doesn't mean his socks are going to sort themselves—only then he realised that Lily already helped sort James's socks, so there's no point in arguing. Perhaps, Remus thinks, I am destined to sort Sirius's socks until the end of my days. He wonders whether the thought should bother him, but finds that it doesn't. Besides, Sirius is biting his ear ever so gently, and that makes it hard to care about much of anything.
Peter begins to cough.
25 November 1976
Late autumn, Seventh Year
It is nine thirty-seven on a Thursday evening, and Sirius is going to vomit all over his Astronomy homework.
It's been creeping up on him for months, but now that it's finally upon him, Sirius feels somewhat violated. He hadn't known. Honestly, he hadn't. There'd been so many moments, so many perfectly good opportunities to figure it out, but somehow he hadn't, and now he has no right to be surprised, except that he is. He really is.
"Are you alright?" Peter asks, squinting at him from across the room.
Sirius nods, wondering whether everyone else in the common room can hear his heart beating, or if it's just him. It must be the latter, because Peter returns to his book without further comment.
It is as though he's walked around his whole life with his head in a paper bag and had never noticed the sun, but now that the bag is off and he's seen it, it's so clear where all that warmth was coming from all this time.
Remus Lupin, it turns out, is the sun. And Sirius is going to pass out.
In a flurry of misplaced parchments and abused charts, Sirius scrambles out of his chair and bolts for the dormitory.
Remus is in the dormitory.
He has no idea what he is doing, but some exploded, melted, burning part of him knows, just bloody knows, that seeing Remus, talking to him, possibly even touching him, will help more than any amount of sensible contemplation.
Only there is another part of Sirius that is screaming No! For the love of all things delicious and pie-shaped, turn back, man! You will meet your end in yonder bedroom! But that part doesn't seem to be the part controlling Sirius's legs, because he is pelting up the stairs with gusto and hair flying everywhere, but he doesn't care, because Remus is up there, and it's Remus he needs to see because he's all Sirius needs to see, and Sirius feels like an idiot for taking so long to work it all out.
His hand grabs the doorknob, only it's not his hand, it can't be his hand, because his brain is not doing it. It's not his thinking brain that's turning the knob, it's not his brain making him walk through that door. It's not his brain that sees Remus sitting at his desk, hunched over so that his shirt rides up in the back and his hair falls into his eyes.
Sirius's knees wobble dangerously.
"Are you alright?" Remus asks, glancing up from his homework. There is ink on his left cheek. Sirius thinks it's the most endearing ink-smear he's ever seen.
"Yes," Sirius says, stunned at how normal his voice sounds.
"Well, are you planning to stand there all night or is there something I can do?" Remus is staring at him like he's turned into a troll and Sirius hopes that he does not look like someone who has just watched the entire bloody world swoop sickeningly before their eyes.
"Yes," Sirius says again, realizing that it is the only word he feels capable of forming.
"Right," says Remus, putting down his quill. He looks a little alarmed, and Sirius can't blame him.
"I need you to come with me," Sirius says. The words fly out of his mouth like Bobotuber Pus. What is he saying? Where is he going with this? And more importantly, how will he convince Remus to follow?
"Where are we going?" Remus asks, quite reasonably.
"I need to show you something. Something I have to do. Only I can't do it here," he says, glancing over his shoulder, half expecting James to burst in all flushed and covered in lipstick.
"Well, where can you do it?"
"I don't know yet. Just… Just come on," Sirius says, grabbing Remus by his sleeve. Sirius is careful not to actually touch him, because he gets the sense that accidental molestation might not be the correct approach.
"Can I at least finish my—oh alright," Remus says tiredly. He has to have realised that Sirius is not listening, because he gives up struggling and trails after Sirius down the stairs.
Whether or not Peter notices them, Sirius can't be sure, but Peter seems willing to ignore them for the sake of the slightly round Fifth Year girl who's homework he's agreed to look over.
For a long while, they walk in silence. Every now and then, Remus says something like "where are we going?" and Sirius says something like "not now," but mostly, they are silent. In all honesty, Sirius hasn't the first clue where he is going, only that he needs to get as far from civilization as possible without actually leaving the castle. He thinks he might be on the eighth floor, but he can't be sure, having ducked through a half dozen passages without paying much attention to where they spit him out.
Remus stops walking.
"Sirius, if you don't tell me what's going on, I'm going back to the Tower," he says patiently.
"You can't. You don't know where we are," Sirius argues.
"Neither do you!" Remus replies loudly.
Oh, this is going so poorly.
"Yes, I do," Sirius says.
"Then where are we?"
"We are," Sirius says, grabbing Remus's sleeve and the nearest doorknob, "here."
He yanks open the door and jerks Remus inside before realising, with no small amount of horror, that they are in a bathroom, and that Remus will probably expect him to say something soon, or at least have the decency to curl up in a corner and die painfully.
"Here is a toilet?" Remus asks, looking incredulous.
"It is now," Sirius replies, sounding half as ill as he feels.
"What the hell is going on?" Remus says.
The way Remus is staring at him makes Sirius feel clumsy and obvious, like a small child trying to perform a complicated spell with a wand the length of his arm. It makes his skin crawl, but somehow he knows, just knows, that whatever happens, this horror of all horrors is better than never exposing his insides to the light of day—the light of Remus—in the first place.
"Moony, I need to… There is something that you need to know. That I need you to know, rather," Sirius blurts out. It's neither eloquent nor well-formed, but at least it's words that form sentences and not helpless grunting.
All at once, Remus's face does something indescribable. His eyes widen and he bites his lip and looks like he might leg it for the exit or punch Sirius in the jaw, or some combination of the two.
"No, you really don't have to, Sirius," he says quietly.
"Yes, I bloody do!" Sirius shouts. Suddenly, he gets the feeling that they aren't having the same conversation, and that's the problem. When Remus says things, he always means what he says, but never just what he says. There's this layer of subtext that clings to every sentence like pond scum and seeps into Sirius's brain when he's not careful. It fills up his head with questions and feelings, and when he tries to voice them, it comes out in the babble of a seventeen-year-old boy, which is remarkably unhelpful.
"You don't understand, Remus. You look at me like you know things, like you expect me to be—to be… something. I don't even know what, but it makes my brain hurt and I don't like it," he yells. He isn't angry, but the words keep coming out.
"I'm very sorry," Remus says softly.
"Don't be," Sirius says, and kisses him full on the mouth.
18 June 1977
"Sirius, have you got an extra shirt?" Remus asks in frustration. In his haste to pack, he has managed to lose every last bloody shirt he owns and then some.
"An extra clean shirt?" Sirius replies, glancing at Remus from where he is sprawled comfortably on Remus's bed. He'd been watching Remus pack until Remus told him that it was making him twitchy, at which point Sirius began to do a poor impression of a sleeping person.
"Preferably. Although at this point, it's sort of beggars and choosers," admits Remus. He imagines briefly what would happen if he were to show up for the train without any shirt at all, and thought makes him smile.
"My shirts won't fit you, o ye of great and gangly werewolf stature. Oh, wait, I think my Chuddley Cannons t-shirt is in James's bed. It's clean-like," says Sirius.
"Dare I ask?" Remus says with raised eyebrow.
"Probably best you don't," Sirius says sombrely.
Remus digs around beneath James's unmade blankets and extracts the shirt. He holds it up with two fingers, checking for questionable stains.
"Sirius, there's an enormous tear in the side of it," Remus says.
"So it's unseemly. Nevermind, I'll just un-shrink my things and find something in there," Remus says.
"Don't do that," says Sirius, rising from the bed and catching Remus's arm as he makes for his wand. With his other hand, Sirius takes the shirt and mutters Reparo under his breath. The torn edge mends its self, as though stitched together by an invisible needle.
"There," Sirius says quietly. He's still standing close. Remus can feel his heat against his bare chest.
"You're getting awfully good at wandless-work," says Remus.
Sirius shrugs. "Dumbledore told me to practice. Well, actually he just said a lot of vague crap about what a valuable skill it is to have at times like these, but, you know, his subtext is always in capital letters."
"Mm," Remus hums, nodding absently.
"I think he's going to have me… indoctrinated soon. You, too, probably."
Remus sighs, his hands clasping Sirius's hands. He feels like someone has dropped a brick into his stomach. He swallows hard.
"I know. Sirius," he says, suddenly feeling like he can no longer not talk about all the things they aren't talking about, "what happens after this?"
Sirius looks at him, solemn and honest. "I have no idea," he says.
"Now, none of that," Sirius says, touching their joined hands to the edge of Remus's mouth. "I won't have you fretting and fussing over things that may or may not occur in the near or not so near future."
Remus sighs. "It is what I do," he says deliberately. It's all he can do, sometimes, and he wonders how Sirius manages not to think about all the things he can't help but think about. Does he not understand that Remus feels like he's bet his entire life on one single, silly, stupid horse with a penchant for getting into dangerous situations without regard for how important he is in the minds of certain interested parties?
"I think about it too, you know," Sirius says, in answer to Remus's unspoken worry.
"And what is it that you think?" says Remus.
"That I love you. And that you have a very nice mouth for kissing. And that if, Merlin forbid, it turns out that we are the tragic heroes instead of the dashing young knaves of this here picture show, then at least I will go to my tragic and heroic end knowing those first two things. They are ever so important, you know," says Sirius.
Remus wants to argue. He wants to say that yes, that's all very well and good, but it doesn't really address the—but even his niggling subconscious can't take it when Sirius looks at him with those eyes that whisper about faith and forevers. On some level, Remus has always known that being with Sirius requires a certain suspension of worry and forethought, things to which Remus has always clung. Things he finds himself missing less and less.
"You are…" Remus says, wonderingly. Then he says, "a remarkable fool," and Sirius tries to smack him, but their hands are still clasped, and all it does it bring them closer.
Remus kisses him, mostly because that is what he feels like doing, but also because it means a few more minutes in which he does not have to consider the outcome of their lives or the increasingly real possibility that they will have more to deal with in the coming years than paying rent and procuring their own food. No, he kisses Sirius and thinks simply, we are remarkably good at this, and, who would ever have thought?
Sirius runs his hands up Remus's back and Remus trembles. Their lips are wet where they meet and Sirius's body curves against Remus like it was carved to fit there. There's the knife-sharp edge of Sirius's teeth, the rough patch on his chin that he missed shaving. There are spots and scars and a smattering of freckles between them, and yet, they are perfect, because Sirius loves it when Remus studies at strange hours and Remus smiles every time Sirius tries and fails to blow the fringe out of his eyes.
Remus wonders if things of this nature can last, endure to the bitter end, or if they're destined to burn themselves out like matchsticks. He wonders if it'll matter, in the great tapestry of time and space, that Sirius thinks he has a remarkable mouth for kissing. He wonders if it will matter that they were stupid and stubborn and almost missed out on this, all of this, and how wonderful things could be.
No, those things are all incidental, silly and irrelevant. What will matter is that once upon a time, Remus Lupin loved Sirius Black, full-stop.
For the time being.