Late July, 1976
"You ever wish you were someone else?" Sirius asked, leaning the top of his head against Remus' as they lay on the grass in James' yard, staring up at the night sky.
Remus raised his eyebrows, though he knew Sirius couldn't see him, and cleared his throat softly. "Yeah, maybe. It would be nice to have money and not look like a troll."
"First of all, you don't look like a troll. A bit mousy sometimes, and your wrists are really bony, but definitely not troll. Remember Warrington? Now he was a troll if anyone. One eyebrow, and I swear he was green."
"Don't be cruel, Padfoot. He had a skin condition."
"Yeah, he was green."
Remus sighed. "Fine."
"Money isn't everything, you know," Sirius said, his voice low.
"That's because you have it," Remus said.
"Yes, and my family is so very happy for it." Sirius sighed loudly. "Well, I suppose they are. Maybe you have a point. Though fuck all if I've been able to buy happiness unless it comes in a bottle or from Zonko's. Bugger. I don't want to go home tomorrow."
"So just stay. You know Mrs Potter loves having us over. I don't have a choice. I have to leave." He wrinkled his nose. "My parents are taking me to Norway. Some new quack they can waste what money we have left on. Probably stuff me full of lutefisk until I sick up, and then they'll make me eat more. Maybe I'll get lucky and die from lye poisoning.
"I can't wait until March. Once I'm of age, I'm never doing any of this nonsense again."
"Why don't you tell them you don't want to go?"
"I always tell them. But it makes them feel better, like they're doing something for me. I suppose it gives them hope, but honestly, I'd rather have a new jumper or something instead."
"Hmmm. I can't stay. You know my mum has been sending rude owls to the Potters. Oh, that's right. You and Peter went to the corner shop for Mrs Potter this morning, so you missed the Howlers. She sent three of them! Of course, Mrs Potter just rolled her eyes and asked me would I like some more toast, but I swear, Moony, I was mortified. Gah! I hate my life! I'd much rather go to Norway. Lots of sexy Scandinavian birds there."
Remus bit back his retort. Sirius' family was a huge thorn in his side, and he knew it wasn't easy for his friend. But he couldn't help brooding just a bit, silently of course. He'd trade problems with Sirius any day. Sirius might be a pariah to his family, but Remus was a pariah to the whole world.
Still, he couldn't get Sirius' initial question out of his mind. Some days, he rather liked who he was. Sure, he had plenty of faults, and he wished he could be more confident like James, more handsome like Sirius, and even more cheerful like Peter. If he could rid himself of his 'furry little problem', as James liked to call it, he'd gladly embrace all of his other faults willingly.
But that was never going to happen. And he still had to suffer his faults, willingly or no, which presently included an inexplicable attraction to his self-centred and insensitive best friend.
He raised his hand and rubbed his forehead, grimacing. Yeah, nearly forgot about that one. He sighed, and quickly covered it by yawning in an exaggerated fashion. He should learn to accept the fact that nothing in his life was ever going to be normal. However, there was a difference between even the more uncommon hardships, he thought—suddenly highly aware of the light pressure of Sirius' head against his own—and the outright preposterous.
He looked up at the sky again, almost expecting a bolt of lightning to appear from nowhere and strike him where he lay. It's not as though he would die if it did. Fate surely wouldn't be that kind to him.
"You wouldn't really want to be someone else, would you?" Remus asked.
Sirius was silent as they both watched the sky, the constellations intermittently occluded by passing clouds. Remus heard a door slam, followed by the low rumble of male voices. He turned his head and looked back toward the house, and saw the silhouettes of Peter and James approaching. Sirius sat up abruptly, and Remus rolled onto his side, glancing up at Sirius. To his surprise, Sirius was looking back at him, and although it was dark, Remus could still make out the bleak expression on his face.
Sirius blinked, and the moment was gone. He turned his head toward their approaching friends, a fake grin stretching the corners of his mouth, and called out, "Oi, Prongs! Hurry it up, ya lazy arse!"
24 December, 1976
There were dozens of places Remus Lupin would rather be: a hot spring in Kyoto, a sunny beach in the South Pacific, the Sahara desert, the Australian Outback, Professor Binns' class, detention with Filch, or even Norway, being stuffed full of lutefisk until his stomach either exploded or disintegrated. Standing in an alley across the street from Sirius Black's flat in sub-zero temperatures, and intermittently keeping watch on his windows was definitely not anywhere on that list.
Yet here he was freezing his arse off for the third night in a row, on Christmas Eve to boot, and breaking half a dozen wizarding laws in the process. Bloody Sirius and his bloody sulky strop! Bloody James and his arrogance! If he was so worried, the bastard should have stunned first and asked questions later. But no, James couldn't even do that right, and so like the pathetic lemming that he was, Remus had resorted to sneaking out of his parents' house, lying like a pro, hiding in alleyways, skulking around London clubs, and feeling uncomfortable and completely out of his element.
Right. He's not coming. I tried dragging him out of that bloody flat of his, but the bastard Disapparated on me. Just wait till he tries to take a shower! Ha!
Mum says to just leave him be, he'll be fine, but bugger that. I tried faking sick so I could get out of this stupid buggering holiday, but no luck. Can't fool her anymore after last time, not to mention I got my arse handed to me for Apparating underage. You'd think she'd be impressed with my thorough and masterful competence, but no. I'm a pretentious nuisance. Can you believe that? My own mother! Merlin's balls, she sounded just like Evans! Why couldn't I have been born in December? March might as well be years away!
Which means it's all on you to watch where he goes—especially in the evenings!—because Wormy's a good bloke and all, but unless it's a prank, he's pants at anything that requires the lofty skills of stealth and patience. He'd give up after a day and I'd have to bludgeon him to death.
I'll be back on the 28th, and I expect a full report. The galleons are for Knight Bus fare and whatever else you might need, so don't you dare send them back!! And you'd better use them, you tosser!!
I know you're probably still thinking it's just Padfoot in another one of his strops and Merlin help me, I feel like a nagging hen for saying this, but he should NOT be left on his own right now. His family really did a number on him this time. He won't even tell me what happened, so it must be really bad. I even nicked his secret stash of Firewhisky out of desperation. Okay, spite, too. He had six bottles!! Selfish bastard was probably going to drink them all on his own! Not that he can't buy more, but it was the principle of the thing. I am a man of principles, and don't you forget it!
And I don't care if your parents disown you or lock you in the cellar. You have to do this! Besides, they'll eventually have to let you out when you turn seventeen in March.
Shit, Mum's calling. Have to go. Owl if you need me, but DON'T LET HIM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT AND IF HE ENDS UP DRUNK OR DEAD IN A MUGGLE GUTTER OR WORSE—IN MUGGLE PRISON!—I'LL HEX THE SHIT OUT OF YOU! Be a man and make me proud! And don't get caught!
Oh, and Happy Christmas!
He sighed and shook his head in disgust. He was so pathetic, really. It had nothing to do with James and his semi-useless threats at all. His life was like a train wreck. Well, more like that instant right before impact, when it's too late to move out of the way of what's rushing headlong towards you and worse—you might not even if you could.
He kicked his foot against the brick side of the building, and hunched into his scarf and coat, shoving his hands further into his pockets. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic!
He fiddled with his wand in his pocket. No, not his wand. His wand still had the trace on it for another three months, so he'd nicked his father's old wand from the battered steamer trunk in the attic yesterday. In for a sickle, in for a galleon, especially when they were Prongs' galleons. What was Azkaban between friends anyway?
He heard a door slam and peeked around the corner of the building. Merlin's balls! Couldn't Sirius stay home for one bloody night? He exhaled loudly, his breath a cloud of steam that blew back in his face before dissipating, and then squeezed his father's wand, wishing he were brave enough to take his own advice about stunning Sirius. He stepped out of his hiding place and followed Sirius down the street, keeping a discreet distance between them.
He wasn't quite sure how much more of this he could take.
The first night had been an unmitigated disaster. He'd expected Sirius to go to the local round the corner or perhaps the Leaky Cauldron, but instead Sirius had bypassed all of the pubs in favour of a nightclub down the end of Kings Road.
The first problem Remus had encountered was that he had no Muggle money to pay the entry fee. He had some of James' galleons, but it was late evening, and Gringott's was long closed. Even if he had, the second problem was that he was underage and had no identification. Since he couldn't legitimately use magic either, slipping past the men at the door was completely out of the question.
It had been one of the most excruciating nights in recent memory. Loitering around Sloane Square for three hours in the cold while trying to look unobtrusive, and failing miserably not only because he was underdressed, but because he looked too plain and unassuming. He'd have fared better dressed in wizard robes, considering the clothing styles the locals were sporting.
Just when he thought he'd frozen solid and was about to be questioned or possibly arrested by a policeman who kept eyeing him with a frown for the past half hour, Sirius had emerged from the club. He was clearly pissed, stumbling and laughing, and a young woman with long brown hair was clinging to his arm, teetering on her high heels and giggling.
Remus had stared in shock, but before he could move, Sirius had hailed a taxi and the two drove off in the opposite direction from Sirius' flat. Remus had run back, just in case, but the windows of the flat remained dark. Still reeling in both shock and disgust, he'd hailed the Knight Bus on the next street and returned home to find himself locked out. Granted, he'd been able to use magic to break and repair a window, since the ministry wouldn't question magic used at his residence, but by that point, it had been one more calamity to add to the pile for the evening.
The next morning, he'd taken all of the galleons James had sent him, and under the premise of some last minute Christmas shopping, had visited Diagon Alley and Gringott's to exchange them for Pounds Sterling. When his parents went to visit a neighbour after lunch, he'd snuck into the attic to nick his father's old wand. He practised casting simple spells with the unfamiliar wand, finally moving on to Apparating around the house, as he hadn't done it since they learned last summer at James' house. The whole time, he'd cursed James for being a horrible influence on him because really, Remus had been such a well-behaved and dutiful son, once upon a time.
That night, he'd feigned a headache to get out of visiting his aunt, offered a quick prayer and apology to any deities that might be listening since he wasn't the sort to set much stock in any religion in particular, and set off for London, Apparating directly into the narrow alley across from Sirius' flat.
At least Sirius was predictable. Remus hadn't needed to wait more than fifteen minutes before Sirius emerged, this time setting off in a different direction. Remus' heart had sped up when he realised that Sirius was heading for the tube station, and he quickened his pace in fear that he'd lose him inside. He did nearly lose him when Sirius switched lines at Leicester Square, but he made it onto the car before the doors closed.
They ended up at another nightclub, this one just off Oxford Street in the northern end of Soho, but this time Remus was ready. He still felt underdressed in jeans and a t-shirt, but he'd been able to enter without mishap. Granted, he'd used a Confundus Charm to distract the bloke asking for identification, but he'd paid the entry fee and the coat check, so he only felt slightly guilty for it, all the while praying the MLE wouldn't randomly show up.
He'd considered transfiguring something into an identification card of sorts, but he'd had no idea what one actually looked like.
Once inside, still elated by his successful entry, he realised he hadn't been at all prepared for what he would find. The place was dark, crammed full of people everywhere he looked, and the music was so loud that all he could really hear with any clarity was the bass reverberating in his head. He'd been to pubs before, but this was nothing like any of those. Nothing at all.
The dance floor took up most of the space, and a good thing too, since it was jam-packed with undulating bodies. The flashing lights made people look as though they were moving in slow motion. It was disconcerting, and despite being surrounded by hundreds of people, he felt suddenly very alone and very small. Sirius was nowhere in sight.
He licked his lips and decided to get something to drink. He tried to get close to the bar, but the crowd of people was thick and there was no way to squeeze through them. He almost gave up, and was just turning around to find another bar when he heard a familiar laugh close to, and thought his heart would stop. A tall, thick-set man beside him took a step to his right, and there was Sirius, one arm casually draped over the shoulder of a slim brunette in a tight red dress, and a half empty pint glass in his other hand.
Thankfully, he was too engrossed in his companion to notice Remus standing there gaping. His heart thumping painfully in his chest, Remus panicked and turned to run, nearly colliding with the stocky bloke on his left. The man shoved at Remus' shoulder and gave him a nasty look, and Remus mumbled an apology, backing away slowly. Sirius and the bird in red were walking in the other direction toward the dance floor, and he relaxed a bit.
Even more thirsty now, he managed to jostle his way to the bar, and when he finally caught the attention of the barman, asked for a glass of tap water. The barman glared at him and Remus looked away self-consciously, scanning the dance floor for Sirius. When he spotted him, his heart once again sped up, and his stomach lurched. He turned back to the bartender, who had just slammed his glass of water on the bar top.
"Whisky," he yelled, his voice sounding unnaturally husky to his own ears. "Neat. A-and a pint of ale," he added, reaching into his pocket for money. Shit, he hoped he had brought enough. It was going to be a long night.
"Remus, dear," Mrs. Lupin said, frowning as she reached out to feel his forehead. "You look simply dreadful. At least you don't seem to have any fever. We're out of Pepper-Up potion, but if you think you need some, I suppose I could floo over to the apothecary—"
"It's fine, Mum," he said, stifling a yawn. "I think I'm just going to go to sleep early tonight."
"Well, if you're sure..."
He forced a slight smile, ignoring the wave of guilt that accompanied it. "I'll just have some soup if that's all right. My stomach's a bit queasy, and I didn't sleep very well last night." At least that part wasn't a lie.
"I'll bring you some directly. There's headache potion in the cupboard if you need that. Get some rest, love. It would be a shame for you to be ill on Christmas this year, especially when, well, you know," she said with a hint of remorse.
"I know, Mum." He sighed. Next year the full moon would fall precisely on Christmas Day, but he had an entire year before he needed to worry about that. There were other, far more pressing matters to fret about at the moment.
Mrs Lupin set about pouring soup from the cauldron on the stove into a bowl. She sliced and buttered a few slices of bread, and set it on the table for him, along with a small pot of tea.
"I'll do the washing up," he told her. "You go on and get ready for church and Mrs Crenshaw's party. Don't worry about me. Really, I'll be fine. Nothing your soup and a good night's sleep won't cure."
"If you're sure," she said hesitantly, untying her apron and hanging it on a hook.
"I am," he replied. "Thanks, Mum. The soup's delicious as always. Happy Christmas."
She smiled. "You're such a good son. Get some sleep, and I'll make you poached eggs for breakfast tomorrow." She kissed his cheek gently and ruffled his hair, bustling out the door and calling for her husband. "Hurry up, John, we don't want to be late."
You're such a good son.
Remus grimaced, dropping the spoon back into the bowl and rubbing at his temples. What the hell am I doing?
He was completely knackered; hadn't managed more than an hour of sleep last night. He really wanted to stay home tonight, the fact that it was Christmas Eve notwithstanding. When he'd agreed to James' ridiculous plan, he hadn't anticipated any of this. Well, the drinking bit. Sirius wasn't one to shy away from the Firewhisky even at the best of times, but the situation still wouldn't be so bad if there weren't other factors involved. Well, factor, in the singular, he thought bitterly.
Sirius was beautiful, which wasn't something one usually said about a bloke, but it was true. At school, the girls would cluster in groups, hiding behind their bookbags and giggling madly when he'd walk by. As a fourth and fifth year, he'd turned the heads of a number of sixth and seventh year female students. Even Professor Marchbanks, who was older than dirt and rumoured to be retiring at the end of the school year to take on a position in the Wizengamot, could be found tittering and blushing when Sirius turned on his full charm and smiled at her. It was rather disgusting, really, that anyone should be so charismatic.
Of course, Sirius could also be a world class bastard, stubborn, irascible, and utterly narcissistic. Remus knew this side of him intimately, and yet it still didn't matter, because in the end, Sirius was also fiercely loyal to those he loved, kind-hearted, and even affectionate when no one else was looking; especially around and directly after the full moons.
When Remus' bones ached and he could barely stand anymore, Sirius was there with a shoulder to lean on, his hands uncharacteristically gentle as he forced Remus to lie down and rubbed his sore back and legs. Extra food and sweets would appear on Remus' bedside table as if by magic when he was too tired to attend meals, and in the waning hours after moonset, Sirius would stay in the shack, as Padfoot to keep him warm, and occasionally, if it was a particularly bad night, cradling Remus' aching body in his lap without shame.
It was these moments, despite the excruciating pain that accompanied his transformations, that Remus treasured the most. That was the real Sirius behind the false bravado and the idealistic expectations heaped on the scion of the Black family. That was his friend, who looked beyond Remus' affliction, his shortcomings as a person, and his many imperfections, and loved him anyway, just as Remus did Sirius.
Only it was a bit different, wasn't it? He could still remember the exact moment when things had changed, when he'd realised the affection he felt went beyond mere friendship. It was after the last January full moon; almost a whole year now. He'd denied it for ages, because blokes weren't supposed to have those sorts of feelings for other blokes, especially if they were one of your best friends. It was just one more way in which he deviated from the norm, and for a while, he'd wondered if it was an unspoken side-effect of his lycanthropy.
He'd even gone so far as to ask the mad healer in Norway. Despite the fact that the bloke was a complete nutter, the trip had been worth it for that information alone. Not that it had been comforting news—it might have been easier to blame it all on his condition—but there was some reassurance in the knowledge that he wasn't completely abnormal.
He'd vowed then to hide his secret, of course, though he'd also vowed to hide the secret of his lycanthropy and look how that had turned out.
"Hmph," he muttered, shaking his head. He took a bite of bread and chewed slowly.
This was definitely not the same. Discovering your best friend and roommate was a raging homosexual was not—unlike discovering at age twelve that your best friend and roommate was a werewolf—cracking, or ace, or 'brill'. He knew they'd never be able to accept it; especially Sirius, considering his escapades the last two nights.
Remus sighed and smacked his hand against his forehead. Merlin's balls on a broomstick! He pushed his bowl and plate away, having lost his appetite, and laid his head against his forearms on the table. He was really pathetic.
Last night had been hell, watching Sirius dance, drink, flirt, and snog an alarming number of random birds who literally threw themselves into his lap over the course of a very long evening. Of course Sirius had been pretty drunk, but that hadn't stopped him from stumbling into a black cab at two o'clock in the morning with one of those random birds in an expensive and very low cut dress, leaving Remus to stare after him with a sick feeling in his stomach.
He'd spent a staggering forty quid of James' money, which he hadn't wanted to spend at all in the first place, and would be flat broke by the end of tonight if things continued in this fashion. And that was the least of his troubles. His wallet wasn't the only thing at risk of breaking.
He glanced at his watch and grimaced, slowly rising from his chair and setting about washing up. He needed to have a shower, and perhaps he should try to find more suitable clothes for the evening. He eyed the half full bottle of Ogden's Olde in the cupboard as he put away the dishes, and turned away. Much as he wanted to polish off the rest, it wouldn't do to risk splinching himself. He was begging for enough trouble as it was.
Mad as toast, that's what he was, he thought as he once again followed Sirius down the street to the tube station.
He stood at the top of the stairs, waiting for Sirius to descend, and then ran down after him, hiding behind whatever obstacle he could find: pillars, rubbish bins, people. He felt utterly foolish, though he needn't have worried. He ducked behind a group of annoying teenage girls on the ticket line, and even though they pointed and giggled at Sirius, trying to get his attention, he ignored them. He seemed distracted tonight, and though it had worked to his advantage so far, Remus wasn't quite sure whether or not that was good or bad.
He had no idea where they were going tonight—Sirius seemed determined to whore his way through all of London before the end of the holidays—so he bought a ticket for the furthest zone. He was running low on money. Who would have thought that drinks could be so bloody expensive? He'd never be able to afford to go out like that every week, much less every night. Even disowned and disinherited, Sirius was still a lucky bastard, though Remus supposed it wasn't all wine and roses when your good fortune came at the expense of the death of a beloved uncle.
He slid his ticket into the machine, pushed through the gate, and pocketed it when it popped out, running to catch up to Sirius who was hurrying toward the Piccadilly Line platform.
The tube was a lot more crowded than he'd expected for Christmas Eve, which made it easier for him to hide. People were cheerful and loud, some obviously returning from last-minute shopping, and a group of visibly drunk university students were singing off-key carols, causing the usually stoic crowd to smile. Some even joined in. A pretty girl wished Sirius a Happy Christmas, and he smiled briefly and turned away, staring out the window of the car. When they stopped at Leicester Square, Sirius once again exited, but this time he did not change lines. Instead he walked to the exit and took the escalator up to the street.
Remus followed him up the Charing Cross Road, noticing that Sirius' pace was a bit slower than before, despite the freezing weather. When he stopped at the junction of Old Compton Street, Remus quickly hid behind a phone box. Sirius pulled up the collar of his coat and lit a fag, standing on the corner and trying to look indifferent, but Remus could see that he was agitated. Sirius kept drumming his fingers against his thigh. Remus adjusted his own collar, and tightened his scarf around the lower half of his face to keep the wind from stealing his breath, watching Sirius and frowning.
Fag finished, Sirius dropped the butt onto the pavement and put the lit end out with his shoe. He stood there a moment longer before glancing around, as though he was expecting to meet someone. Remus ducked out of sight and nearly collided with a young man who was looking to use the phone. He muttered an apology and wished him a Happy Christmas, and stepped around to the other side of the box. Sirius glanced over his shoulder once again, and then strode purposely off down Old Compton, Remus hurrying to follow.
The club tonight was a lot less flashy than the previous two—no marquis or neon signs adorning the windows—and there was no queue outside the door. He watched Sirius enter, the men at the door eyeing him appreciatively, without bothering to ask for any identification. Remus counted to fifty as slowly as he could manage, and crossed the street, his right hand gripping the wand in his pocket.
The two bouncers looked at Remus with raised eyebrows as he walked up to the door. He'd tried to imitate Sirius' swagger and haughty expression, but felt foolish. He reached awkwardly into his jeans pocket for his wallet, and one of the men laughed. Remus narrowed his eyes, ready to Confound them, but the man patted his shoulder, still chuckling, and said, "Aren't you a cheeky one. Right then, ducky. Go on in."
Remus nodded, feeling suddenly nervous, and then yelped as the other bouncer smacked him lightly on his arse. The two men burst out laughing again, and Remus scowled, stiffly walking over to the window to pay the entrance fee and check his coat.
As he stepped inside the club, hastily shoving his wand down the waistband of his jeans and tugging his shirt over it, it took him a moment before he realised that something about this place was very different. The music was still loud, but the club was smaller and much darker than the one last night, electric torches with gold flickering lights lining the walls. Christmas lights were strung along the wood beams on the ceiling, and fake ivy leaves crawled up the squared support beams around the room. There was a dance floor that still took up a large part of the open room, complete with glittery silvery ball above, which was only half occupied at present. Positioned strategically around it were three bar areas, with scattered tables and stools, and a lot of dark niches hidden in shadows.
And then it hit him.
There weren't any women here.
Remus gaped, and felt his knees buckle. He took a step back and yelped once again as he came up against something hard and pointy. Turning, he realised it was a life-sized and rather tacky plaster statue of Michelangelo's David on a plinth, plaster cock and balls prominently displayed.
He looked around wildly for Sirius, but was interrupted when a man, who couldn't have been a day under forty, if that, draped his arm around Remus' shoulder, and nuzzled at his ear.
"Aren't you a cutie. What's your name, chuck?"
Remus pulled away and gently disentangled himself from the man with shaking hands, his heart beating swiftly in his chest.
"Um, sorry. I'm er, I'm meeting someone here, and, well, um, excuse me," he said, and half-ran, half-stumbled away. He spotted a familiar sign and walked quickly in that direction, pushing open the door with more force than necessary, slamming it closed and sliding down onto his haunches, leaning his back against it in relief and trying to catch his breath.
Oh my God!
He couldn't think. Hell, he couldn't even breathe properly, and if the floor wasn't completely disgusting, he'd like nothing better than to crawl into a corner and hide.
There was a muffled crash, followed by a long, low moan, and Remus jerked his head around to where the stalls were. From his vantage point, he could see two pairs of shoes underneath the door of the closest stall, and he jumped to his feet in shock.
Oh my God!
He froze for a few seconds, then walked over to the row of basins, turning the cold water tap on full blast, cupping his hands under the flow and splashing it on his face. Ignoring the sounds coming from the stall behind him, he looked at his reflection in the mirror and cringed. His eyes were wide and his face unnaturally pale.
Right, Lupin, get a hold of yourself. So. You're in a nightclub. Fine, so it's a gay nightclub, but who says all those blokes out there aren't perfectly nice people, yeah? I mean, sure, that one bloke who kissed your ear was your father's age—Oh, God, don't go there, do not even think about it—okay. Relax. You can handle this. You're a bloody werewolf for fuck's sake! Grow a pair of bollocks!
He stared at his reflection in desperation. What would James do?
No, you don't want to do that. James would set the bloody place on fire, stun Sirius, and drag him out by his knob if he had to. You're the subtle one, reserved, calm, discreet. You've outfoxed Filch...well, that's no great feat. Fine, you've pulled one over on Professor McGonagall! Yes, okay, but that was at school, which is familiar and relatively safe, outside of potions class and the occasional troll, and not a bloody gay bar in the middle of London with strange men who want to stick their tongues in your ear and get you naked and-and—
"Holy fuck! Sirius!"
Sirius had gone to a gay club. Sirius bloody Black, bird magnet of the first order...was gay? The world seemed to tilt beneath Remus' feet, and he swallowed thickly over the lump in his throat. Breathe, you idiot! How was he going to explain this to James? More to the point, how was he going to stand in front of James, look him in the eye, and lie his arse off about this?
Christ, he needed a drink. A lot of drinks.
He turned off the tap, brushed the water from his face, wiping the drip beading on the end of his nose with the back of his hand, and dried his hands on his jeans. He glanced once again at his reflection, trying to relax his features so he didn't look as though he'd been chased by a horde of banshees. The groaning in the stall was louder now, and he purposely avoided looking in that direction as he scuttled past.
Courage, he thought anxiously, and opened the door.
The music hit him like a breaker at the shore and he braced himself. He was a wizard. He had a wand in his jeans... Ugh! He grimaced at the double entendre, steeled his spine, and set off with a determination he didn't quite feel.
Don't think of yourself. Think of Sirius. Just...don't think of him that way right now.
A lot of men, young and old, turned to look as he strode past, but he discovered that if he looked as though he knew where he was going, they didn't do more than look. His spine tingled, and he wondered idly if this was how Sirius felt all the time, with people gawking at you wearing expressions that ranged from quizzical to mild interest to lewd desire on their faces. It was horribly uncomfortable, and for the first time in his life, Remus actually appreciated his usual lack of popularity and plain looks.
There! He spotted Sirius at the middle bar, sitting on a stool beside a very fit bloke with honey-brown hair. He looked fairly young, perhaps no more than early twenties at the most, which was both a relief and unsettling. Of course Sirius would end up with someone nearly as handsome as himself.
Remus bit his lip and sat down on an empty stool at the far end of the same bar. There was an ivied column beside him that he could easily hide behind if necessary, and he could also see Sirius clearly, reflected in the mirror behind the bar. He ordered a whiskey and gulped it down too quickly, coughing as the liquor burned his throat. It wasn't Firewhisky, but it was still strong.
"Easy there," the man beside him said, and patted him helpfully on the back. He looked at Remus' empty glass and signalled the barman for a refill for the both of them.
"I've got it," Remus said, when the man pushed a twenty pound note at the barman, and reached for his wallet, but the man laid a gentle hand on his arm.
"My treat," he said. "Happy Christmas. Andrew," he said, holding out his hand.
Remus offered his hand in return and shook. "Er, I'm Remus."
"Unusual name," Andrew said and lifted his glass. Remus did the same and they both took a drink, Remus sipping more slowly this time. "First time, eh?"
"What?" Remus said, eyes widening in alarm. "No, I...I mean...."
Andrew laughed and shook his head. "Nothing to get embarrassed over. How old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen?"
Andrew raised his eyebrows.
"In three months," Remus added quickly, looking away, and took a large gulp of whisky as Andrew laughed again, and thumped Remus on the back.
He cleared his throat and glanced in the mirror at Sirius. His companion had his hand resting on Sirius' shoulder and was leaning in close to whisper in his ear. Sirius smiled, nodded, and drank his beer. There was a row of empty, overturned shot glasses in front of them, and Sirius' smile was a bit too wide for it to be completely natural.
"He's a fit one," Andrew said, following Remus' gaze and gesturing at Sirius' reflection in the mirror. "Of course Nigel would latch onto him straight away. Always goes for the new ones before anyone else can have them." He glanced over his shoulder briefly and shook his head, turning back to Remus.
"You come here alone?"
"Er," Remus said, feeling vaguely uncomfortable. Andrew seemed like a nice bloke, but...
"Relax, kid," he said, and smiled warmly. "I like you just fine, but almost-seventeen is a bit too young for my tastes. I'm twenty-five, by the way, and I've been coming to places like this since I was about your age as well. So I know, yeah? Don't let anyone talk you into anything you don't want to do."
"Thanks," Remus said, and meant it. He signalled the barman and put his last twenty quid note on the bar top. "Next one's on me," he said. It was the last of James' money, but this time, he didn't feel at all guilty for spending it.
He glanced at Sirius again. Nigel had his arm around Sirius' shoulder now, and was nuzzling his cheek. Remus clenched his fist and bit his lip before looking away, picking up his glass and draining it.
"Friend of yours?" Andrew asked.
"You came here together?"
"No!" Remus blurted, and blushed. The barman sidled over, exchanged a few words with Andrew, poured out two more drinks, and left the bottle.
"Bit of Christmas cheer, courtesy of the fine Mr Jameson." Andrew said, taking a sip of his drink. "Eh, I wouldn't worry too much about Nigel. He's not looking for anything more than a good time for tonight."
Remus looked up, startled.
"He's not a bad fellow, really, but he's a bit of a player, if you know what I mean."
Remus drained his glass and reached for the bottle, pouring another tot.
"Or maybe you don't." Andrew frowned, studying Remus' face intently. "Hmmm. He's not just a friend then, is he?"
Remus drank some more and shook his head. "No, well, yes. He's just a friend. I mean, I didn't even know he...." He trailed off, glancing again in Sirius' direction and looking away quickly, swallowing hard against the cold knot in his stomach. They were snogging now, and it was a million times worse than any bird crawling into Sirius' lap.
"You live around here?"
Remus shook his head. "Carlisle. Well, Little Orton, really, just outside a ways," he said gesturing with his hand. He felt light-headed from the alcohol and slightly nauseated from the goings-on a few feet to his left. He should go home, but the thought of leaving Sirius here alone with that-that poncy toss-pot; James would never forgive him.
Well, except for the small matter that he wasn't going to tell James about any of this. If he were being honest with himself—and he really hated being honest with himself about this—he would never forgive himself if he just up and left. But, oh, God, it hurt. Shit!
"You weren't listening to a thing I said, were you?"
"Huh? Oh." Remus bit his lip. "Sorry."
"Nah," Andrew said, shrugging. "S'all right. Just idle chatter, and you're looking a bit green about the gills there. Long way from home, Remus from Little Orton. You have relatives in town you're staying with?"
Remus shook his head.
"Your, ah, friend then?"
Remus shrugged and glanced in the mirror, nearly choking when he saw that neither Sirius nor Nigel were anywhere in sight.
"He went home with him?" he blurted, getting to his feet and looking wildly about. No, wait. They probably went to dance or something, he thought, trying to reassure himself, but as he checked out the couples dancing, he realised Sirius was nowhere to be found.
"Relax. I told you Nigel wasn't like that. Besides, he's got someone at home who wouldn't be all that happy to have a puppy tagging alongside." Andrew gestured vaguely over his shoulder. "They went back there. Shouldn't be too long. Probably just a quickie." He swept his eyes over Remus, shaking his head. "You really are a rookie, aren't you?"
Remus narrowed his eyes. "Back where?"
Andrew took a long drink. "Trust me. You really don't want to go back there."
"You've got a thing for the dark-haired kid, right? The last thing you want to do is watch him with his hands down another bloke's pants, or worse, with another bloke's cock in his mouth. I'm telling it to you straight, all right? Don't torture yourself, kid. I've been there. It's not a pretty—Uh oh," Andrew said, interrupting his own speech, and whistling softly between his teeth.
"What? What's that for?"
Andrew gestured at an angry-looking blond who was arguing with the barman. "Trouble," he said, and stared as the man stormed off in the direction that Andrew had indicated as being 'back there.'
"Who the hell was that?" Remus asked, noticing the barman gesturing frantically to someone on his right.
Remus stared in shock for the briefest of moments, and then took off running.
There was an unmarked door and a rather large, muscled bloke in black trousers and t-shirt standing beside it, his arms crossed over his chest and a fixed stare on his face. As Nigel's boyfriend approached the door, the muscled bloke took a step forward and put out his arm to stop him, but Nigel's boyfriend cold-cocked him and threw open the door, disappearing inside.
Remus darted through the door and froze in his tracks, blinking. The room was darker than the club, but he could see a few screens strewn about near the walls, not unlike the ones Madam Pomfrey had in the hospital wing. Most of the men in the room ignored them in favour of getting on with things. And 'getting on' was indeed what they were doing. A few had turned to see what the commotion was, but most were too engrossed in their respective activities to even care.
He heard loud voices to his left and turned on instinct. Nigel's boyfriend had his hand around Sirius' neck and was trying to lift him off the ground. Sirius' trousers were undone and he was flailing around like a rag doll while Nigel stood with his hands on his hips, yelling at his boyfriend.
There was a flash of red light, and Nigel's boyfriend dropped to the ground like a stone, releasing Sirius as he fell. Nigel turned in surprise and followed suit with another flash.
Remus stared at his shaking hand. He didn't even remember drawing his wand, but there it was.
"Remus? What the hell... What did you—? Who are you?" Andrew's voice was nearly as shaky as Remus' hand. He ran over to Nigel and his boyfriend, feeling for a pulse.
Remus walked over a bit more slowly, the weight of what he'd done falling heavily on his shoulders. "Um. They'll be all right. They're just, ah, stunned. I'll wake them up in a minute," Remus said, standing behind Andrew. "Really, I promise."
"Christ," Andrew said, wiping his forehead. "I thought you shot them. Scared the living fuck out of me." He looked up at Remus. "But how...? What the hell is that?"
Remus slid his wand into his back pocket. "Well—"
Remus turned around, startled, just as four bouncers rushed into the back room, muscling people out of the way. There was a crowd of half-naked gawking men surrounding them, and Remus gasped. "Oh, shit."
"Moony! Moony, Moony, Moony!" Sirius crawled over and latched onto Remus' leg like a vise. "Didja see it? He tried t'kill me! And then he fell over like 'boom'!"
Sirius sounded ridiculously happy and Remus looked at him in alarm. His eyes were glassy, and he had a dreamy expression on his face.
"Ludes," Andrew whispered. "Quaaludes," he clarified at Remus' puzzled expression. "Narcotic."
"Merlin's balls on a broomstick!"
"Broomstick! I want m'brooooomstick, Moony. Wanna go flying. Feel like I'm flying," Sirius said, giggling. Remus clapped his hand to his face, shaking his head.
"Don't worry. He'll be fine in the morning once he sleeps it off."
The bouncers were huddled around Nigel and his boyfriend, trying to rouse them.
"Um, Remus?" Andrew said, pulling him away from the fray. "I don't really understand, and I'm not sure I want to, but..." He gestured toward the two unconscious men, and Remus nodded, taking out his wand again and muttering, "Finite Incantatum," before quickly pocketing it again.
The lights came on, and Remus blinked, squinting at the sudden brightness. Nigel and his boyfriend were stirring, and the bouncers had the boyfriend detained, handling him roughly as they dragged him to his feet.
"We'd better get you two out of here," Andrew said, leaning down and lifting Sirius to his feet.
"Hi! Are you Moony's friend?"
"Who the hell is Moony?" Andrew asked, getting an arm around and under Sirius' shoulder.
"You don' know nothin', do you?" Sirius said as Remus put Sirius' other arm around his own shoulders, and put his left arm around Sirius' waist to help hold him up. "He's my Moony 'n you can't have him," Sirius said, and his head lolled as Remus and Andrew carried him towards the door.
"School nickname," Remus said, shrugging. "They won't call the police, will they?"
"Are you kidding? They'd get shut down. The police know about these places, and they aren't exactly happy about them, but as long as things stay quiet, well, you know."
"Yeah," Remus said, stumbling under Sirius' weight. He needed to get them home. He supposed they could take a taxi, but he didn't have any money left, and Apparating would be much quicker. "Can you help me get him into the loo?" Remus asked.
"Shouldn't you get him home?"
"Does he live in the loo?"
Remus smiled. "Sort of. It's another one of those things you don't want to know about."
The stalls were blessedly empty, and Remus purposely bypassed the first one in favour of the second.
"It was an interesting night, Remus from Little Orton. Get home safe, all right? And Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas," Remus said, shifting Sirius into a less awkward position on his shoulders. He smiled. "And thank you. I really mean that."
"Wait." Andrew grabbed some loo roll and took a pen from his pocket, scribbling quickly. "Here," he said, stuffing the paper into Remus' jeans pocket. "Next time you're in town. Or who knows. If things don't work out with the pretty boy here, look me up in a couple of years."
Andrew looked at the sleeping Sirius hanging from Remus' neck. "You're a good friend."
"So are you," Remus said, and closed the stall door, Apparating the two of them away with a crack.
"Owwww! My head," Sirius croaked, and Remus woke with a start as Sirius' elbow jabbed him painfully in the side.
"Shit! What time is it?"
"Moony?" Sirius sat up abruptly and winced in pain, holding his head in his hands. "What the hell are you doing here, and what the fuck happened to my head?"
"What am I doing here? What am I doing here?" Remus said, his voice rising. "You stupid arse!"
"Oi, shut up, will you? My head is splitting."
"Of all the foolish, thick-headed, dim-witted, senseless and utterly stupid things you've ever done, Sirius Black, last night has to be one of the stupidest!"
Sirius glared at Remus. "Is 'stupidest' even a proper word?"
"Of course it's a bloody word. What the hell kind of question is that?" Remus said, leaning forward and pushing roughly at Sirius' shoulder.
"That did not hurt."
"Not my shoulder, my head, you heartless bastard. What did you do to me last night? Bludgeon me in my sleep?"
"I wish," Remus said, pulling back the covers and sitting up. He pulled open the top drawer of the bedside table and rummaged through it, tossing a packet at Sirius' head.
"Ow, Moony!" He picked up the packet and shook the contents inside. "I need water," he whined.
Remus grabbed his wand from the table and pointed it toward the door. "Accio—"
"NO!" Sirius yelled, tackling him and knocking the wand from his hand. "Shit!" he said, wincing and rubbing his head. "You want to cause a flood? James, the rat bastard, did something to my shower, and until I figure out which bloody spell he used... If you try to summon water, the pipes will burst and flood my entire flat."
"Found that out the hard way, did you," Remus said, snorting.
"Shut up. Wait till he gets back. I'm going to summon his knob and drown it."
"Good luck with that," Remus said. He rolled his eyes and sighed, got out of bed and brought Sirius a glass of water from the kitchen. "And don't say I never do anything for you," he said, dumping the packet of powder into the water and stirring it with his recovered wand. "Drink up."
Sirius drank it down quickly and grimaced. "Ugh. Disgusting."
"Would you rather have a hangover?"
"Shut up. Hey, that's not your wand."
"It's my dad's old one. Mine still has the trace on it, remember?"
Sirius grinned widely. "Moony, Moony, Moony! Nicking your dad's wand? My little protégé is all grown up! I'm so proud!"
"You," Remus said, pointing his finger in Sirius' face, "are the reason I've had to resort to a life of crime! What the hell has got into you? You run out on Prongs and ditch his family for Christmas, you go out clubbing every night, get piss drunk, snogging everything and anything in sight with legs and lips, and Merlin knows what else you do when you go home with them!
"Do you know what kind of hell I've been through the past three nights? Freezing my bollocks off, performing illegal magic on Muggles in front of other Muggles, not to mention Apparating without a license! Lying to my parents, pretending to be sick and sneaking out of the house. I'm risking not only expulsion, but possibly Azkaban for assault on Muggles, and it's all your bloody fault!"
Sirius narrowed his eyes. "You were following me?"
"Of course I was following you, you stupid arse! Prongs made me swear in my own blood that I wouldn't let you out of my sight, but that's not even the point."
"Oh?" Sirius said coolly. "Then what is the point?"
"The point is that you're a stupid, reckless arsehole who doesn't give a shit about anyone else!"
"I am, am I? Well then you can just get the fuck out of my flat and leave me the fuck alone!"
"Fine!" Remus said, rummaging around on the floor for his jeans.
"Fine!" Sirius echoed, kicking at the bedcovers and scowling. "Who the hell told you to follow me around? What I do is my own damn business. I don't need a fucking minder. Some of us are of age, you know, and don't have to resort to stealing an adult's wand."
Remus stopped fastening his jeans and whirled around, furious. "And some of us aren't pathetic enough to let some bloke ten years their senior drug them into a stupor, act like a whore and then let them have one off with them in front of thirty other blokes in a bloody Muggle nightclub!"
Sirius froze, a look of sheer terror on his face. "What did you just say?" he whispered hoarsely.
Remus clapped his hand to his mouth and sank onto the bed. "Oh shit," he whispered. "I'm sorry." Sirius had likely been just as out of his depth last night as Remus had. "I'm sorry, Padfoot. Honest, I didn't mean that."
"What—" Sirius swallowed hard and Remus could see his hands shaking in his lap. "Moony..."
Remus crawled across the bed and pulled Sirius to him. His whole body was shaking now, and Remus hugged him close, gently rocking and rubbing his back, the same way Sirius did for him after the full moons.
"I'm sorry," he whispered again, and Sirius made an almost sobbing kind of sound into Remus' shoulder, but he didn't cry. Sirius never cried, and maybe that was the problem.
"I thought it was a dream," Sirius said. "It felt like it was a dream. Like I was flying without my broom. I couldn't feel anything, or rather, everything just felt good, like I wasn't myself. It was...it was nice, actually."
Remus stilled his hand. He wasn't quite sure what to say. With a strange sense of déjà vu, he remembered a similar conversation from a few months ago, and he hadn't known what to say then either.
"I almost didn't want to wake up. But I always do. With a splitting headache. And I'm still me."
Remus sat back and bit his lip. "Have you got any tea? Actually, you do. I saw it on the worktop. I can make some. Tea would be nice right now."
"Haven't got any milk," Sirius said, and scooted away, lying back, one arm behind his head. "You don't have to stay. You're probably really disgusted with me right now. I would be if I were you."
"You're not me."
"More's the pity."
Remus stared at him.
"That was supposed to be funny," Sirius said, and turned his head away.
"I don't want to talk about it anymore, all right? I don't want you sitting there feeling sorry for me."
"The only person who feels sorry for you is you."
Sirius turned and glared at Remus, but it was Sirius who looked away first. He sighed. "All right, I'm an arse. I'm not going to apologise for it."
"I didn't ask you to."
"No, suppose not, but I wouldn't even if you did ask."
"Now that's the Sirius Black I know and love," Remus said, and he couldn't help but smile.
"Do I what?" Remus asked, puzzled.
Remus bit his lip. How the hell was he supposed to answer? "What kind of question is that?"
"A proper one, with a subject and a predicate, and even a nice little question mark at the end. You're biting your lip again, which means you don't want to answer it. It's okay. I understand. I suppose I already knew the answer anyway. You must have been pretty shocked when you followed me last night."
Remus nodded slowly. "Of course I was. I... I never would have guessed..."
Sirius laughed without humour. "Even Prongs doesn't know, and he knows pretty much everything there is to know about Sirius Black." He turned his head to the side and gazed directly at Remus. "You gonna tell him?"
"What? Why would I tell him?"
"He asked you to spy on me, didn't he? Said he made you promise in blood. He'll be glad to know he's got such a loyal minion," Sirius said bitterly.
Remus narrowed his eyes. He didn't like where this conversation was going. "I'm nobody's minion. What the hell are you on about?"
"The big bloody erumpent in the room! And you haven't said a single word about it."
"It's too early in the morning for this, and I haven't had my tea. What are you talking about?"
"I'm gay, Remus. Or at least I fancy blokes maybe more than I fancy birds. I went to a gay club and, how did you put it? Whored myself out?"
"I didn't say that!"
"You did! I didn't know the bloke gave me drugs, but that's beside the point. I don't think I've ever seen you that angry, and you've never yelled at me like that before, not once in six years. You don't even yell at me for hexing Snivellus anymore, and I know it bothers you when I do it, even though the bastard is always trying to pull one over on us. I may be reckless, but I'm not an idiot. I know what that means, even if you'd rather pretend that nothing's different. Admit it. It disgusts you. I disgust you."
"You really are an idiot," Remus said. "A really huge one."
"Am not!" Sirius said, sitting up.
"I am not!"
"You are! Remus exclaimed, and in exasperation, he leant forward and kissed Sirius full on the lips.
It only lasted for a few seconds but it felt more like hours. His heart was beating so fiercely in his chest he thought it might actually explode. What had he just done?
"You kissed me," Sirius said, and he sounded shocked.
"Um, yeah, sorry. I...I shouldn't have done that. I just didn't know how else to shut you up without hexing you."
"Is that why you did it then?"
"Yeah. Well, no. Not exactly." Remus caught sight of Sirius' hurt expression and threw up his hands in exasperation. "Oh my God, you really are an idiot!" He grabbed the front of Sirius' t-shirt and kissed him again, this time a lot more slowly, and a lot more deeply.
"Oh," Sirius said a few minutes later. "Maybe I am." His face split into a grin. "Ha! You little bastard! You were jealous!"
"Hmph. Was not," Remus said, his lips twisting into a pout.
"You were! That's brilliant! Nothing fazes the stoic and cool-headed Moony, until he finally sees the man he loves snogging someone else—"
"The man I what?"
"—and it sends him into a frothing rage!" He reached out and pinched Remus' cheek. "You're such a romantic! Riding in on your trusty white broom and saving me from—" Sirius froze, a look of awe on his face. "Merlin's balls, Moony, did you stun those Muggles last night?"
Sirius raised his arms and fell back onto the bed, rolling around laughing with joy, and Remus couldn't help joining him. "And you dare call me reckless!"
They lay there side by side, and Sirius closed his hand around Remus' squeezing gently. "How did we get home? I mean, I remember some things about last night, or at least I think I do, but there are a lot of bits that are kind of blurry."
"I Apparated us from the loo." He glanced sideways at Sirius. "I didn't have enough money left for a taxi."
"Maybe being an idiot isn't so bad after all." At Remus' incredulous look, Sirius continued, "Well, if I hadn't been, you'd never have been so wonderfully irresponsible, and I'd never have got to see this side of you. It's refreshing, really."
"Oh, shut up." He shook his head. He never wanted to go back to that club again. "The club! Oh shit!"
"I forgot about the coat check! Our coats are still there!"
"I'll buy you a new coat."
"I don't need a new coat."
"I'll buy you one anyway. A warmer one."
"But what about my scarf? It was the scarf Lily knitted for me last Christmas."
"Prongs hated that scarf. I had to stop him twice from setting it on fire, and another few times from trying to sleep with it under his pillow, the jealous bastard. He really hates that she gives you Christmas presents, you know."
Remus laughed and then gasped. "Christmas! It's Christmas and my parents are going to skin me alive! I need to floo them. What am I going to tell them?"
"I kidnapped you and held you hostage? Don't worry. I'll take care of it. Your mum loves me. Well, most of the time," Sirius added as he padded into the living room, Remus following behind. He lit a fire and tossed a handful of floo powder in the fireplace, calling out Remus' address and sticking his head in after it.
Remus paced back and forth while Sirius talked to his mum. Merlin knew what he was telling her. His stomach growled and he realised he was starving. He kicked Sirius lightly. "Hurry up. I want breakfast and you haven't any food at all in your kitchen."
Sirius got to his feet. "I've got some biscuits and Marmite somewhere," he said absently, brushing soot from his hair.
"I repeat, you haven't any food at all in your kitchen. Marmite is not food. It's a bloody fungus," he said, following Sirius back into his bedroom. "Are you coming with me?"
"Your mum's making poached eggs," Sirius said, putting on a clean shirt.
"Is that a yes?"
Sirius grinned. "Do snitches fly? Don't forget your wand," he said, grabbing it off the bedside table. "Though I'd better hold onto it until you can sneak it back where it belongs. Are these yours too?" he asked scooping up the Muggle coins and coat check ticket Remus had removed from his jeans pocket last night.
"Actually, it's James'. He gave me some money for, ah, expenses. I hope he doesn't mind I spent it all," Remus said.
"Serves him right," Sirius said, picking up a crumpled piece of paper that had been next to the coins. "What's—Oi, Moony! You little bastard! What exactly did you do last night? And more importantly, who the fuck is Andrew Mulroony, and why the hell did he give you his address and phone number?"
"Um...." Remus clapped his hand to his mouth to stifle his laughter, and raced out the bedroom for the floo.