Sirius Black was standing in the shower when the pieces of his itchy, exasperating life fell into place and he realized he was in love.
With Remus Lupin.
For a second his brain snagged. He was supposed to like girls – like them and snog them and do Things Behind The Greenhouses with them because somehow, if you did those things, you never made your own dinner again.
But he didn't like girls – he liked Remus. Remus was kind and funny and knew swear words in other languages, and was often so distracted that he would walk around all day with the label sticking up at the back of his shirt. Remus ate peaches with the skin on just to make James gag, and had long, deft fingers, and said something that sounded an awful lot like "snuffleluffleguh," as he fell asleep. Remus always smelled a little bit like ink, and taught him how to do the wand-work on particularly complicated jinxes, and snickered whenever Sirius said the word "heathen." Best of all, Remus Lupin, so outwardly calm and adult and collected, could fart actual tunes.
It would be excellent, mused Sirius, to occupy space with Remus Lupin, to share air and warmth and touches and sounds. It would be brilliant to make Remus whimper, to kiss those bitten lips and run fingers though that disheveled hair – to undo that bookish reserve and unearth the streak of wickedness within.
"Oh, I'm fucked," said Sirius, letting his head fall against the shower tile with the tiniest of thuds. "How on earth do I make the tosser fall in love with me?"
FRANKLY QUITE BRILLIANT (TEN POINT) MISTLETOE PLAN
1. Learn to levitate mistletoe without wand.
2. Practice come hither look.
3. Encourage James to flirt with Evans. ONE NIGHT ONLY.
4. Ditch Peter. (Suggest he support James in hour of need).
5. Head to deserted spot of corridor between library and common-room. (Deploy extreme stealth, naturally)
6. Arrange self nonchalantly against wall in fetching pose. Will be irresistible.
7. Levitate mistletoe.
8. Casually remark 'Oh Remus, fancy meeting you here," in most debonair fashion as Remus heads back to Tower.
9. Unleash 'come hither' stare and gesture (suavely) toward mistletoe.
10. Stun Remus with snogging prowess. Agree to be his boyfriend when he asks.
It took seven hours over the course of one December weekend for Sirius to learn how to levitate mistletoe without the aid of a wand. While the spell was a variation on windardium leviosa, it was more complicated, difficult to control, and did not react well when words such as "bloody" "fucking" and "shitter" were added to the incantation.
His appearance in the doorway of the dorm Sunday evening, splattered with berry-sap and swaying slightly with exhaustion, rendered the remaining three Marauders silent. "Shut up," he said, anyway, and headed for the bathroom and a thirty-minute appointment with the mistletoe detritus in his hair.
The Plan (Sirius loved the way it capitalized itself in his head, and often even sparkled a little bit, which seemed fitting since he was a genius) unfolded the following Wednesday evening. Sirius had taken many things into account – his ability to sneak around the castle without being caught, for example, and Remus's extreme predictability when it came to packing up his books and heading back to the Tower at a proper hour. He had not reckoned on the plan-busting effect of girls however – three Hufflepuffs who rounded the corner with flushed cheeks and suppressed giggles just as he levitated mistletoe above his head.
"'lo Sirius," said one.
Sirius stared at them, dumbfounded. Had they smelled the mistletoe? Was this a talent girls possessed, a secret which no one had thought to tell him?
"You have mistletoe," pointed out another.
"S'not mine," he said, hurriedly.
"Doesn't have to be," said the third, smiling coyly.
These are bloody Hufflepuffs, he thought, desperately. Hufflepuffs aren't supposed to be forward! He took an involuntary step backward as he looked from one smile to the next. Remus would be here in mere moments, exactly as laid out and itemized in The Plan. But girls were not part of The Plan, in fact girls were the very antithesis of The Plan and oh, how this was making his head hurt and the back of his neck prickle in most unpleasant ways.
"I'm scared of greenhouses! And never eat dinner!" yelped Sirius in a feeble pre-emptive strike. But it was too late – plump lips were covering his, then a second set, then a third, and oh Merlin he was being kissed on the fourth floor corridor by girls, girls with bra straps and sparkling nails who liked Doing Things Behind the Greenhouses and oh this was a disaster.
Hufflepuff girl number three broke away at the sound of Remus's voice, casting a sweet smile in the latter's direction before all three girls seemed to melt into the dark. The soft sound of their fading giggles made Sirius dizzy, and the idea that they could smile sweetly after positively besmirching him in something-like-public made him very confused. "Remus."
Remus gave a small, arch smile. "I didn't know you had a thing for Abigail Marcham."
"Thing?" Sirius blanched. That . . . that show was being taken as evidence of a thing? This was bloody tragic, no, epic, requiring a supporting cast and chariots to be properly understood. "No thing," he said desperately. "Not a thing to be seen. Nothing. Am thingless."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "You were snogging her in a deserted corridor. And let's not even touch upon the vaguely ravished air hanging about her two friends."
Sirius's jaw dropped and hung for a good twenty seconds before he could force himself to reply. "But it was the mistletoe," he said, voice perilously close to a whine.
"Mistletoe?" Remus glanced around, a vague frown upon his face before giving a small, disappointed sigh. "Really, Padfoot. What on earth makes you think I'd disapprove of Abigail Marcham?" He gave a small snort of exasperation. "You don't need to lie, especially not to me."
Sirius stood, dumbfounded, as Remus walked away, before craning his neck to search desperately for the mistletoe that had once floated above his head. It was nowhere to be seen.
GENIUS (TEN POINT) PLAN #2: THE CRUSTY OLD BOOK
1) Steal A Christmas Carol from the library. (Cannot have Remus looking up who has borrowed book and pouncing on me with idea am now girl who likes Muggle writers)
2) Practice Remus's favorite part (think is bit with fat, green ghost. Suspect Remus has soft spot for jolliness)
3) Look up any words that are particularly, frighteningly Muggle, and therefore hard to pronounce.
4) Suggest walk by lake. (Oh God, I am a girl)
5) Keep book in pocket.
6) Steer conversation to favorite Christmas traditions and such.
7) Nonchalantly remark, "oh really? I borrowed that book just the other day," when Remus talks for hours about Dickens' Christmassy Caroling bits.
8) Produce book from pocket. Ask Remus for favorite part.
9) Read, with appropriate voices (see #2 – practice). Woo Remus with power of spoken word.
10) Stun Remus with snogging prowess. Agree to be his boyfriend when he asks.
Sirius had always thought the girls who wanted to get in to Remus Lupin's pants were exceptionally stupid. Requests for help with homework and suggestions of long secluded walks were all well and good, but Sirius could never work out why no one seduced Remus with a book. Books had been known to make Remus positively quiver, and a familiar book was like catnip or fairylint to the boy – he could be trusted to positively writhe.
It was with utter confidence that Sirius therefore risked life and limb to steal Dickens' A Christmas Carol from the Muggle Literature section of the library. It was a ritual for Remus to read the book year after year, and almost as much of a ritual for the rest of them to tease him for it, to mock the way he held the burgundy-bound tome in reverent hands. Sirius smiled fondly at the thought of Remus's patience with it all, the way that his dancing eyes would take in James' parody of Jacob Marley's clanging chains before he'd mutter a good-natured 'Bah, humbug!' and head to the quiet of his bed.
To read to him from that book . . . Sirius congratulated himself on being the very smartest seducer of men to ever walk the earth.
"It's bloody freezing," muttered Remus from beside him, face burrowed in the many folds of his scarf. The wind whipping across the lake was icy and furious, promising a bitter winter ahead.
"It's invigorating!" corrected Sirius with forced cheer, privately trying to remember how many fingers he was supposed to have, since he couldn't feel any of them.
"Pah." Remus eyed him suspiciously. "You're possessed."
"As are you for coming with me," shot back Sirius with a grin.
"Hmpfh," said Remus, voice fogged by miles of gold and crimson wool.
"So – Christmas soon," said Sirius, changing the subject with all the finesse he could muster. It was, by his own reckoning, almost none.
"Hmm," nodded Remus, face bowed before the wind.
"Time of chocolate and presents, trees and trimming," prompted Sirius. "Grand old traditions, all that."
Sirius privately thought that no matter how attractive he found Remus's windswept hair, his friend was fantastically grumpy company that afternoon. "Got any traditions you love best?"
"You . . . you . . . " Sirius spluttered ineffectually. "You lie."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Maybe."
"You like that book."
Remus frowned. "Book?"
"The book. The one with the ghosts and the crotchety old man whom," he carried on, mouth overrunning his brain, "you are frighteningly like this afternoon."
"A Christmas Carol?"
Remus emitted something frighteningly like a growl. "That book's why I'm in such a bloody awful mood, if you must know."
Sirius swallowed. "Why?" he asked, weakly, recognizing the familiar sensation of doom rushing toward him at several hundred miles an hour.
"Some lousy sodding bastard stole the school copy," Remus said, clearly furious. "Didn't even check it out so that people could maybe have a civilized conversation, share the bloody thing, no, just flat out stole it."
"Heathen," offered Sirius, acutely conscious of the rectangular lump in his pocket.
Remus didn't appear to so much as consider a smile. "If I find out who . . . "
"Surely they'll return it. It'll be fine."
"No, it will not be fine, because now my Christmas is all wrinkly and crap and I will be forced to exact revenge." He sighed. "I do so hate exacting revenge."
Sirius pulled himself back from a contemplation of his world-class ability to bollocks things up. "That's not very seasonal."
"Neither is stealing a book," Remus shot back, coming to a sudden halt. "Can we go back inside now?"
Sirius nodded, mutely, considering once again all the ways his snogging prowess was going to waste.
BLOODY SMASHING (TEN POINT) HOT CHOCOLATE PLAN (HOW CAN THIS FAIL?)
1. Steal frozen Ashwinder eggs from Potions supply cupboard.
2. Brew potion. Remember anti-stink charm before beginning.
3. Stay home from Hogsmeade in post-transformation solidarity with Remus.
4. Pray for snow.
5. Make up rule that all non-Hogsmeade attending kidlets are to trounce Slytherins in epic snowball battle, or face terrible punishment from their betters.
6. If no snow, resort to bribery to clear common-room. (Secure extra galleons in anticipation).
7. Wheedle best ever hot chocolate from house-elves (play on their devotion to Remus, which is truly revolting, but must be overlooked in light of greater goal)
8. Add tiniest hint of potion to hot chocolate
9. Settle in front of common room fire, toasty and comfortable. Let hot chocolate do its work.
10. Stun Remus with snogging prowess (Very Gently!) Agree to be his boyfriend when he asks.
At Hogwarts, where teenage hormones were prone to run amok in particularly creative ways, frozen Ashwinder egg fragments were kept under lock, key, protective charms, two levels of pimple-inducing spells, and a trapdoor guarded by a very malevolent toad. Sirius managed to overcome all such obstacles in three days of concerted rule breaking, and suffered just four particularly gruesome and pus-filled spots as a result. The fact that one shone like a beacon on the end of his nose was a price he resigned himself to paying in pursuit of his ultimate goal – the tiniest hint of a love potion in Remus Lupin's hot chocolate.
Sirius had few scruples, but the use of a potion to induce adoration in another human being gave him a nasty itch or two around his conscience for a couple of days. He finally soothed himself with the knowledge that once Remus snogged him, he'd fall completely in love instantly and without the help of magic (except the very particular magic inherent in Black snogs, of course) and it would all be above board from then on.
Plus he was desperate.
Everything had worked out splendidly. It had snowed, the kidlets had been bundled outside, and Remus had just lifted his steaming cup of very-best-Honeydukes-hot-chocolate-with-added-extra-special-love-potion to his lips when Peter burst into the common room. "Snow!" he crowed, bounding over to the fire and flinging himself down on the rug. "Bloody sodding brilliant, snow is!" He grinned at Remus – who lowered his hot chocolate, untouched – and Sirius, who shot him a look of pure murder.
"You're soaked," said Remus, smiling warmly.
Sirius wanted to growl in the back of his throat. This was no time for Remus to live vicariously through the activities of others. "Yeah, Pete, better change out of those clothes." Take your time, he pleaded, mentally.
Remus chuckled, picked up his wand, and gave the tiniest flick-swish-flick of the wrist. Peter disappeared in a cloud of steam for just a moment then emerged, grinning more wildly than ever, clothes completely dry. "Better?" asked Remus.
Sirius entertained brief fantasies of killing them both. "You hungry?" he asked Peter, falling back on a tried and tested method of getting Peter out of the room.
"Nah." Peter shrugged happily. "Bit parched though – give us a sip, Remus."
Sirius watched in total and all-consuming horror as Remus obligingly handed over his hot chocolate. The word 'No!' stuck at the back of his throat, burning and poking him as it refused to go any further, sharp little splinters of panic cutting his vocal cords to shreds. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion – the transfer of the mug, Peter drawing in the scent of the concoction with dramatic flair, the long pull he took from the cup.
There was, to Sirius, a pause lasting twenty or thirty years before Peter looked up and met his eyes.
"Sirius," Peter breathed.
And Sirius fled.
It was night by the time Sirius felt able to return to the dormitory, secure in the knowledge that no matter what magic was working beneath Peter's skin, his predilection for sleep would have him snoring like a Graphorn by 10pm. He poked his head around his bedroom doorway to make certain, and was rewarded by the contented sounds of sleeping Marauders. Sighing with relief he threw his clothes haphazardly into his trunk, pulled on pajama bottoms, and flung himself onto his bed in abject despair.
So deeply did Sirius dwell in the emotional country of total heartbreak that he didn't hear the whisper at first. When he did catch his name he felt sure he had imagined it, the fruit of an imagination overtaxed with disappointment, his brain frozen around the chilling thought that Remus would never be his. No wonder he was hearing the boy whisper in the still of the night – a cruel trick when he knew full well he would never, ever get to snog him or pet him or tell him he made his insides squirm and not like that plate of bad squid tentacles in February.
He turned his head toward the rich hangings of Remus's bed at that, spotting the tiniest glow of wand-light beneath the velvet. Confused, tired, sad down to the very marrow of his bones (if you were going to be heart-broken, you should do it properly, he'd always believed), Sirius slipped out of bed and over to that of his friend.
Remus pushed back one of the drapes with an elegant hand. "Hello," he said, smiling. He was kneeling on his bed looking for all the world like the very smuggest of smugtastic gits.
Sirius rubbed one eye with the back of his hand. Shit. He could feel his want for this boy open in his stomach like a frightful, yawning chasm. He was not equipped to deal with anything anymore – he was exhausted, and he'd cocked everything up to a stunning degree. "'Lo," he said, sullenly.
"You took off pretty fast this afternoon."
Sirius shrugged. "Had something I had to do."
Remus nodded, still wearing that insufferable smile. "Brew more potion?" he asked.
"No I . . ." Sirius froze, eyed widening. Oh he didn't. He couldn't have possibly . . . oh no.
Remus gestured with a nod to the end of his bed, where a wooden tray bearing two steaming mugs of hot chocolate sat cheerfully on his blankets. "Want to join me?" he asked, innocence glowing about him like light.
Sirius frowned, feeling increasingly sure he was being pranked. "I don't know . . . " he said, very, very slowly.
Remus reached over to his pillow, and picked up a book, opening it to a page marked with a particularly lovely bookmark. "Come in," he read, as Sirius saw the words 'A Christmas Carol' printed on the book's cover. "Come in, and know me better, man . . . "
Sirius knew this bit, had practiced it over and over in the confines of his bed. He knew that particular volume as well, knew the tiny rip in the spine was his fault, a casualty of moving as fast as he could to pinch the book. Warily he climbed onto the bed, kneeling with head bowed, not entirely sure this wasn't Remus exacting revenge. "And though he knew the Sprit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them?" he murmured,
Remus shifted to face him. "Am I the ghost of your Christmas present?" he said, laughter coloring the edges of his words with warmth. He put a finger under Sirius's chin. "Sirius Black, you great, golden, gormless worm of flobber. Did you imagine I didn't know what was going on?"
Sirius's mouth worked uselessly. Know which part? he thought, running through the possibilities in his head. "Huh?" he managed at last.
"I fell for you a long time before you fell for me," said Remus, drawing one finger down the length of Sirius's cheek. "Did you think I didn't realize when you suddenly wanted me too?"
Sirius blinked. "You . . . You . . . . You knew?"
"You are perhaps the least subtle person in the universe. You couldn't stop staring for a start."
"I deliberately didn't stare!"
"Which is just as obvious in its own way, even if it's untrue."
Sirius spluttered. "I am world class at hiding what I'm feeling."
"Maybe. A point to debate another time. I'm just saying I knew, straight away." Remus licked his lips and appeared to think deeply for a second. "December 3rd, during your morning shower. That's when you realized, isn't it?"
"You are a lousy bastard who is neck-deep in the dark arts. It's the only explanation."
"I pay attention, Padfoot. Always have."
"And you knew. You knew all along?" Sirius ran a mental checklist of all his recent humiliations in pursuit of love.
"Couldn't let myself be too easy a conquest," grinned Remus, wickedly. "Had to have just a little fun."
"You insufferable git."
Remus nodded, unrepentant. "Found the book in your trunk. Knew what was in the hot chocolate."
"And the mistletoe?"
Remus looked up, and Sirius's eyes followed. Mistletoe hovered above both their heads. "Waiting for the right moment," he whispered.
"Oh." Sirius swallowed hard, feeling terribly unmanned and more than a little nauseous with joy. "Are you going to kiss me?"
"Do you want me to?" asked Remus, shifting closer until their knees touched, leaning closer so that his breath brushed the heated skin of the boy before him. "Do you want to be kissed?
"Please?" whimpered Sirius, hands trembling as he slipped them to rest on Remus's hips.
And there, in the confines of a shadowed bed, caught by sweetness of lip, and touch, and breath, it was Remus's great pleasure to oblige.