There was every possibility Remus Lupin hadn't heard correctly. After all, it was 8 o'clock in the morning, he had not (thanks to 24's lunatic Rottweiler and 28's neurotic Yorkshire Terrier) managed to get to sleep until 4am, had skipped both breakfast and a shower in his haste to get to the office at such short notice and had, when "Blue Stag" was first mentioned, been adjusting his t-shirt, having only just realised it was on backwards.
So, yes. There was a possibility Remus had just misheard Frank Longbottom. But he hadn't.
"That's right," said Frank, taking a calm gulp from his Woodstock '69 mug.
"But they're... a rock band."
"I mean, a rather heavy rock band."
Frank sighed, thrusting his mug down on to the desk and slopping coffee on its matching coaster. Mess made him uncomfortable, and he shot the dark puddle an uneasy glance before turning back to Remus.
"Is there some kind of point you're trying to make here, Lupin?"
Frank only ever called him "Lupin" when he was annoyed. Like, "Lupin, I asked for a pen profile on Buddy Holly, not an account of one of your wet dreams," or, "You may know what 'demiurgic' means, Lupin, but the rest of the world bloody doesn't."
So Remus decided it was best to be reasonable. If there was one thing he'd learnt from working on Soundscape magazine under Frank Longbottom, it was to leave the sarcasm and finely-tuned cynicism for the writing.
Therefore he said in the politest tone he could muster, "It's just that I'm a bit confused. I normally cover the lighter stuff. Bit more Joni Mitchell than Jethro Tull!" Upon noticing the unimpressed look Frank was still fixing him with, he quickly added: "You usually have Benjy cover the heavier bands."
This wasn't a lie. Soundscape's workforce was very small, especially considering the fact the independent magazine barely sold outside of Gloucester, which in itself wasn't exactly the hub of music and all that was cool. Dorcas and Emmeline, childhood best friends, handled the actual production. Benjy churned out articles and reviews on rock bands past and present with all the unconcealed zeal of a Gospel writer.
Remus covered what might, if you were to walk into a record shop, be headed beneath 'Folk' or 'Blues' or, very likely, simply 'Other'. Which was fine with him; there was nothing he enjoyed more than a night in with James Taylor and Carole King, occasionally Judee Sill if he felt like going a little wild.
He certainly wasn't the type to whack on a Blue Stag record, though he was sure he'd seen one of their tour posters sticking out from behind Benjy's desk next to a Sex Pistols banner.
"If you think I'd let someone as inept and booze-abusive as Fenwick go on tour with Blue Stag," Frank snorted now, "maybe you're too stupid to handle it as well."
Remus' eyes widened. He'd definitely misheard this time.
"Er - sorry, but - tour? Go on tour?"
Finally, Frank smiled. Rather priggishly, it might be added, but it was at least an improvement on the familiar frown that had been gracing his features all morning. He slipped his hands behind his back, self-satisfied and smug.
"I've been trying to get us a tour for months, you know that, and a right ballache it's been too. Atlantic finally put me in touch with a man called Moody – real fruitloop, but never mind – who eventually told me I could send one of you out for a month on their next UK tour. Three-page feature on that elusive thing: 'life on the road'. I want you to do it, Remus."
He must really have wanted him to do it; he was back to "Remus".
"I don't know what to say."
Overcome with a stomach of frantic butterflies, Remus sucked in a long, laboured breath. Really, he hadn't been lying when saying he was more inclined to cover the "lighter" side of Britain's music scene. About the heaviest he ever got was Fleetwood Mac, for God's sake. And Benjy would be devastated.
"How about 'thank you, Frank, for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?'" Frank supplied, the edge back in his voice.
It wouldn't be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if the office they were currently standing in was part of, say, Rolling Stone magazine or NME. As it was they were standing in one of three rooms which made up Frank's Soundscape offices, and therefore a one-month live-in with Blue Stag - a relatively well-established group - was an astonishingly big deal.
"Thank you," Remus said dumbly.
"Of course, it won't be so easy. I want you to do some homework before you meet them. Fenwick can help you with that. I won't have you waxing lyrical about bloody Woody Guthrie to James Potter," said Frank. Remus stared at him. "Frontman!"
"Right," Remus said quickly. "Right, yes, James Potter. Of course."
Needless to say, after the news was broken to Benjy over strong coffee and an apple turnover, the slovenly man was suitably upset at having been snubbed by his boss in favour of the less, as he described it, 'hardcore' Soundscape writer. Of course, Frank being Frank decided the best way to console the man was by saying: "You can do the next one, Fenwick, if you've learned to tell your gut from a beer barrel by then."
Still, once Benjy had overcome the betrayal and trauma of the matter enough to stop bleating "but I love Blue Stag!" he reluctantly set aside morning's work to fill Remus in on a few apparently important details.
"This tour you're going on," he started, once Remus had pulled a chair up beside Benjy's chaotic desk, "is to promote their second album."
Begrudgingly, he thrust a record into Remus' face. Remus blinked at it. The charming title Filthy Voice was coloured an obnoxious blue. Beneath it were four young men, all of them wearing similar menacing expressions, holding themselves in similar menacing positions; arms folded or hands thrust into the pockets of their ridiculously tight jeans, legs apart or crossed and slumped to show that they didn't even have to be prepared before kicking your arse.
Remus looked down at it with the slightest apprehension, absorbing their silly attire, their jackets and boots, Rocket to Russia only cheaper, more English, a little more contrived.
Well, he thought sagely, there'll certainly be no Woody Guthrie gushing.
Benjy jabbed a finger at the tall red-head on the far left in leather pants and coat, looking like he'd just rolled in from the world's biggest piss-up. The only thing missing was the fag burning between his fingers.
"Fabian Prewett," said Benjy, admiringly, "drummer. An insane drummer, yeah? Insane."
"James Potter," Benjy went on tersely. "You must know who he is?"
"Singer!" Remus answered, a little too quickly.
"And lead guitarist, yes, well done, Remus."
Benjy moved his finger from the manic, static-haired bloke wearing a wicked grin, stonewashed jeans and little else, to the dark-haired man leaning beside him. This one was dressed only slightly more conservatively in ripped black drainpipes and a white t-shirt, too small for him, barely covering his belly button, ridiculously.
"Sirius Black," said Benjy, "bass. Pretty good, kind of like John Entwistle, you know? And this one's Peter Pettigrew." He motioned to the last in the line; a short, blond fellow in a t-shirt and tie which Remus guessed was supposed to be ironic. "Rhythm guitar."
"Righto! Quite an ensemble."
"Now," said Benjy, rearing up importantly, "I suppose you need to listen to some?"
"You know, I have heard Blue Stag before, Benjy."
He let Benjy put the album on all the same. It made him feel good, Remus knew, knowing about bands the others didn't. They got a brand new cassette player in the office last summer, but Benjy vehemently denied their practicality, standing loyally by vinly, and now he was delicately adjusting the record player's needle until a song Remus didn't recognise slewed out into the office. It was a mess, all wildfire electric guitar and frantic hi-hats, a sudden smash of drums, something akin to a war cry. By the time the song was in full flow, complete with two screeching, harmonizing guitars, Dorcas had wandered over from her desk, pulling her cardigan around herself.
"Ooh, love this band," she said, picking up the record sleeve, rolling her shoulders in time with the beat. "Ed always has them on at home. They're fun."
"And pretty," said Emmeline, peering at the sleeve over Dorcas' shoulder. "That one with the long hair, he's lovely. So mysterious."
Benjy looked like he wanted to throw up.
"He's alright," said Dorcas, "but he plays bass, doesn't he? No one goes for the bassist, Em."
Finally Benjy snapped. He snatched the sleeve from her, hugging it to his chest like a child. "He's a bloody fine bassist actually, so just watch it." He pointed to the air. "Listen to that."
He was referring to the prominent bass line, rapid and scalic, the latest and unequivocally coolest trend in rock music, but Dorcas seemed perplexed.
"What do you think?" Benjy asked exasperatedly, once the girls had wandered off to stick the kettle on.
"Very nice. I like it," Remus replied. "Good… lyrics."
Benjy rolled his eyes. "Frank told me to give you these. It's all I have at short notice."
All that Benjy had took the form of twenty odd magazines piled high and a large brown envelope stuffed with clippings. He lifted a well-thumbed Rolling Stone off the top of the stack and flicked through it, holding it open to Remus when he found a tiny feature on Blue Stag.
"Most of them are like this." He pointed to the page-long review of their debut album, headed 'A Rather Middle-Class Riot'. "I've only ever seen a couple of big features. Well, biggish. I mean, in comparison to the greats they're still just making a name for themselves. I reckon it'll be this tour which really gets people interested, though. And to think, you'll be right there with them..." Benjy trailed off. He was staring hard at the review but his eyes weren't moving.
Remus felt a sudden stab of sympathy as he looked at Benjy's copious amounts of rock memorabilia, built up like a shrine. Posters, banners, cut-outs, mugs and matching coasters, carefully preserved programs from concerts he hadn't even attended, all of it emblazoned with bearded faces, skulls and crossbones, devil horns, and whatever else their current decade had in the way of glorifying anarchy.
Remus considered his own, much less intense work space in the opposite corner. He had a neat stack of notebooks and a Snoopy calendar. Yes, he admitted, perhaps the decision to send Remus on the tour was not a fair one, but Benjy was far from reliable. Didn't he know that? If he'd been picked for the tour, it would have been obvious to anyone who knew him that he would have spent more time kissing the ground James Potter walked on than actually writing anything.
"I'm sorry about this, Ben," he said, because he felt that he should.
"S'alright," Benjy mumbled, "I get it. You work harder than me so you deserve it more than me. Just..." And then he sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. He looked like he simply wanted to tell Remus not to make an idiot out of himself. "Just get me their autographs, yeah?"
It was two weeks before Remus received the crisp, severe letter summoning him to meet Alastor Moody. The band would be there, and their solicitor. Solicitor! That was a bit scary. Six against one, at The May Fair in London. Remus wondered if he ought to wear a suit. He'd signed papers before, of course - the tenancy agreement on his house, for one - but never had he entered into a legally binding contract stating anything beyond 'don't keep pets in the house'.
Considering also that this meeting required him to make the two-hour trip from Gloucester and back again (after all, there was no way he could afford to stay in London any longer than he had to) he wasn't best pleased. Why couldn't they come to him? Surely they had more money than he did. But no, the letter stated that he should come and he should come alone, his presence being the only thing required.
He was nervous. Slightly sick with it, even. When Frank had initially explained the tour arrangement, Remus hadn't felt much other than the excitement which always came with the prospect of meeting someone important, and it was only that evening at home when a slight unease had begun to set in. Nothing too bad though; nothing to lose sleep over.
Since, however, Remus had spent the last week poring over Benjy's magazines, listening to the two existing Blue Stag albums (he'd decided they were like hypersonic Ramones, only British and slightly more technical) and hastily gathering as much information about the band as possible, burrowing it all away like a frantic squirrel, his nerves had increased at the same rate as his knowledge.
They seemed wild, to say the least. All of them were twenty-five, only a year ahead Remus himself, and yet they were worlds apart from him. He'd read articles with titles like 'Blue Stag: Princes of Pandemonium' and 'Britain's Freshest Bedlamites', and in each of Benjy's magazines he'd repeatedly covered drink, drugs, groupies and, very occasionally, the music.
They hadn't thrown any TVs out of windows yet but apparently their drummer had smashed up a 1965 Ford Thunderbird using nothing but a tom-tom drum.
It didn't make Remus think they were particularly interesting. In fact, for all the sycophantic gushing journalists and indie radio show hosts did about them, Remus had the impression that Blue Stag were rather immature.
Still, he knew he was going to be intimidated by them regardless. They were public school boys who'd rebelled, cast themselves out willingly into the mean streets of London, inked their bodies and pierced their skin and smashed gorgeous, expensive instruments up on stage, an act which Remus had always thought indicated an enormous amount of arrogance.
He himself hailed from the countryside, liked spiced tea and Tolkien, had even sort of enjoyed school. This would not be admitted, at any cost. He wasn't an idiot.
Naturally, he arrived late at The May Fair. He was the struggling writer up in London for a meeting with the big boys; of course nothing could go right. To make matters worse he felt horribly under-dressed when he stumbled through the glass doors and saw all of the beautiful people milling around the hotel foyer.
He glanced down at his own outfit of white button-down and jeans at the same time as the receptionist behind the long golden desk, and self-consciously tried to flatten his mess of unruly curls when he saw the wary look on her face. Upon his polite request for the whereabouts of the band, she directed him to the hotel bar, giving him one last look as if to say: and you should certainly not be joining them.
Believe me, he felt like saying, I know.
The band weren't difficult to spot. At one o'clock in the afternoon they were the only ones in the bar. Their typical get-up of clingy denim and stretched t-shirts and unfriendly boots also made them far from inconspicuous.
Remus stumbled over to the hunched man at the head of their table, clutching his letter as soom form of proof. Even from behind the man seemed rather old, and unless Blue Stag had gone for a new angle in the past week Remus was sure this was Moody. Before he could speak, the man whirled in his seat, treating Remus to a faceful of eye-patch and white scars, all of it framed by grizzly orange hair.
"Jesus," Remus stammered out before he could stop himself. He heard a harsh bark of laughter, whipped his head round in time to see the dark one - Sirius? It was Sirius, he was sure - pull a bandana away from his red eyes and grin at him.
"Best reaction he's ever had," he nodded, voice rough.
"It'll be Mr Moody to you," the hunched man growled. He jabbed Remus in the chest with one gnarled finger, as though he'd just referred to him as "Big Al" or something. "And I suppose you're the boy? The journo?"
"Yes yes, I am, I –"
"I know and I'm sorry, it's just I've come from –"
"Grab a pew."
Immediately transported back to his school days, Remus did as he was told, sliding hastily into the empty seat beside Moody and casting a nervous eye over the faces he had come to know well over the past week. It was bizarre to see them in the flesh, rougher, less pretty.
Potter, he noticed, was wearing dark sunglasses despite being inside. They were hungover, Remus realised with a start, and he suddenly felt like he was intruding. Still, they all managed a smile, even Fabian once he was able to drag his head out from the confines of his alarmingly large hands.
They introduced themselves as though it were necessary.
"Well, it's very nice to meet you all. I'm Remus."
"It's very nice to meet you too, Remus," James said in an affected voice, sharply enough that Remus couldn't quite tell if he was only teasing.
"This is our solicitor, Mr Collyer," Moody grunted, gesturing to the man on his right. "He'll be overseeing the signing of your contract. The boys have individual lawyers, they've all agreed for him to act as their clerk, just so you're aware."
Remus nodded, bewildered. He couldn't think on it long. Moody was already launching into a speech obviously prepared in advance, althoguh as it went on it became clear this was less of a speech and more just a list of things Remus wasn't allowed to do: mentioning unreleased tracks ("material not yet suitable for the public"), mentioning groupies ("fan interaction") and mentioning drugs ("unfortunately a lot of people around the boys often indulged").
"Thing is," James pitched in, "for the time being we have records to sell, people to keep happy. You get that, yeah?" He looked slightly agitated, an odd sight for someone who made a living out of being arrogant.
Remus paused. "So... you want me to lie?"
"No," Moody snarled, "just leave out the sticky bits. Think you can handle that? Nice little beat about music and the fruits of friendship, eh?"
It was then that Remus understood why a magazine like Soundscape had been allowed to do this feature in the first place. They couldn't be picky, could they? Blue Stag were doing well, progressing to stardom at a steady pace, but editors had plenty of bigger fish to keep them going. A little magazine, meanwhile, would never turn down the offer Frank had been presented with. Being given a list of do's and don't's, Remus found himself feeling completely out of control, a funny feeling for a writer.
He agreed anyway.
Collyer had him sign a contract which he said was regarding the band members' rights to privacy but really was just Remus saying he wouldn't write anything they didn't like, and they were free to omit anything they disagreed with, as long as they gave a good reason as to why it would be damaging to their image. A small voice in Remus' head told him he was being robbed of the creative control he'd tossed his parents' university dreams away for. A louder voice told him he was a wanker if he was thinking about saying no to these people for the sake of turning a blind eye to a few brawls and women.
"Excellent." Moody whipped the papers out from beneath Remus' fingers. "We'll see you in a month."
"Oh, is that it?" said Remus. He hadn't meant to sound impolite but it came out that way. Moody narrowed his eyes. Bugger, Remus thought, he's sensitive.
"Goodness, I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you," Moody trilled, "do remember to pack your toothbrush, won't you? Come on, lads."
Standing abruptly, Moody and Collyer heaved themselves around the table, and the four men stood to follow. It was only Sirius who bothered to stick his hand out to Remus, telling him it was nice to meet him.
Remus blinked in surprise. "Nice to meet you too," he said after a moment.
It came as a rather pleasant surprise considering the fact that most of the photos he'd seen of the band rarely involved Sirius Black even coming close to a smile. From what Remus had gathered from the articles and interviews he'd been devouring, Sirius was the quietest in the group. But now he was hanging back to walk with Remus while the others charged ahead, even Moody who limped.
"Do you tour with a lot of bands then, Remus?" he asked.
"No no, this'll be a first for me."
"Really? Oh, you'll love it. Bus life's brill. You staying in London?"
"I'm afraid not. I'm off back home now."
Remus looked at him before quickly averting his eyes. Looking Sirius Black in the eye seemed somehow wrong, as though he wasn't supposed to be doing it. Maybe it would have been easier if he were wearing sunglasses too, like James.
"But you live in Gloucester, don't you?" said Sirius, surprised.
"And works there," Moody said loudly from in front of them, "so he'll be thanking you not to keep him hanging around."
As it was, Remus was simply relieved someone he was going to be spending a month with didn't seem too bothered by his presence, even if Sirius was only feigning interest in a journalist's slow life in the countryside out of politeness. He smiled at Sirius, actually managing to look him in his eyes this time. They were an enhanced blue in photographs he'd seen of him, but a stony grey in real life.
When they all gave him a final handshake, they retreated up the hotel stairs, James first, the band tailed by Moody and Collyer. Off they went to go and do whatever it was wealthy young rock stars did in 1983. Smash things up and get intoxicated, Remus assumed.
Turning, he shoved his hands in his pockets and trudged back out of The May Fair. He could practically feel the glittery importance which had come with being in their presence sliding off his shoulders like slime.
He wasn't jealous of Blue Stag, not even particularly in awe of them like Benjy would be. But he knew full well when he was surrounded by people who were cooler, handsomer and altogether better off than he was, and he wondered at what point in his month with them he would stop being conscious of this fact.
Pausing in the street, Remus allowed that thought to sink in and stick: two weeks ago he'd been fretting about bills, deadlines, his broken toaster, next door's moonstruck canine ambushing him thrice weekly. Now he was wandering out of The May Fair - London's May Fair - trying to decide whether or not he would ever feel comfortable in the presence of four fairly famous rock stars.
Him. Remus bloody Lupin.