"Ergo," said the tortoiseshell cat, "the orange Perspex will never do."
"Oh, yes?" Remus said, trying not to sound snippy with the feline intruder. He wasn't sure if it was a wolf thing, but there were cats in his territory, and it set him terribly on edge.
"She's right, you know," Hermione said, unloading a large number of thick sample books and sliding them across the table with a smoothness that Remus was sure she meant to be enticing, but which made him twitch in alarm. "You ought to be ashamed of those draperies as well."
"Chartreuse," the orange cat sniffed, looking up from the leg it had been licking. "Sui generis."
"That's Latin for 'bin them'," Hermione clarified.
Remus rubbed his temple, feeling a tension headache coming on. "Decorating is not one of my talents."
"Ergo Hermione," Tortoiseshell replied, stretching. "She'll create a comfortable living environment you can be proud to bring strange men and women home to."
"Have you been seeing anyone recently?" Hermione asked, looking across the table at Remus with luminous, hopeful eyes.
Remus dropped his head onto a wallpaper sample book and cursed quietly to himself.
He had suspected that his grandmother's house was a trifle dated--there were floorboards visible through the black-and-white checked lino on the kitchen floor--but he hadn't thought that there were serious problems. He had assumed that redecorating would involve a good coat of paint and perhaps a fruit basket. He'd agreed to let Hermione use the house as her final project for her course in Magical Interior Design: most students fixed up their own rooms, but the poky flat Hermione and Ron lived in was horrid, despite the bright smile she put on and the high shine on the copper-bottomed cauldrons she hung in the kitchen. Remus had fallen hard for her story of woe. Now his name was on a contract, she had engaged a team of unionised interior elves with gambling addictions, and her damned felines were shedding disdainfully on his every possession.
"Your house has a lot of potential," Hermione said, and patted Remus' hand encouragingly, as if she were being subtle.
No, Remus thought sullenly, Neither the house nor I have potential.
With a practiced flick Hermione unrolled a thick parchment and set lead weights shaped like eggplants on the corners. Remus looked up as she cast a complicated spell and a model of the house rose, wraith-like, from the parchment. "You can't honestly tell me that you find it attractive as it is." She pointed with her wand. "The wallpaper dates from before Grindelwald, and it's cabbage roses as big as bludgers, for goodness' sake. The woodwork has all been painted brown, and your hall... well, the Perspex has to go. The turquoise Formica in the kitchen makes me want to weep, Remus, truly. Now." She moved her wand through the parchment house purposefully. "Instead of four poky little rooms on the ground floor, if we remove this wall and this one--"
"The roof collapses?" Remus asked hopefully.
"He's a man," Tortoiseshell said, leaping onto Hermione's knees. "Ergo, he is hopeless."
Remus couldn't help himself. He bared his canines at the cat, whose ears flattened gratifyingly.
Hermione cleared her throat. "Look, you'd have a lovely big room, and a library nook, and a dining area, and then the kitchen, wouldn't that be nice?"
Remus crossed his arms defensively. "What I choose to do in the privacy of my own library--" he began. Hermione glared him into silence.
"You will like it," she said decisively. "We'll strip the stairs--the cats have done a scratch test, and they say that it's oak. Do you really need three bedrooms?" She ran her wand through the first floor, and more walls dissolved. "If it were my house, I'd keep this as a guest room, and then have a large master bedroom here with a walk-in closet and en suite bath."
"That closet's the size of my room. No, wait--it is my room."
She fixed him with a look of pity. "Remus. Your Sex Pistols posters will have to go. But I'm sure you can find someone--er, something--to take their place."
"I can't afford all this, Hermione," Remus said, lying through his teeth (his third book reinterpreting Wizarding folktales was due out at the start of the new year). "I'm afraid--"
Hermione gave him a smile that was pure Lockhart. "As I said, I'm giving you a discount for letting me use the house as my final project. It may take me all year, but I'll make it beautiful, you'll see." She bounced to her feet and leant over the table to kiss Remus on the cheek. "Thank you--I'm so excited! I'll start the first of the month!"
Remus smiled weakly. I am a jellyfish, he thought. She has made me invertebrate with a flash of her swatches. I'm doomed.
Remus believed in operant conditioning, he really did. After weeks of Hermione enthusiastically binning sixty years of accumulated clobber, he now had an overpowering urge to run every time he heard the words, "Remus, would you be a love and--?"
He blinked again at the list Hermione held patiently out, and then took it, trying to hide his resentfulness. He said his mantra in his head: she meant well. Really she did. He looked down.
"Yarn? You want me to buy yarn?"
She went on for a good five minutes about the bedroom and then went off on a dangerous tangent about the colour scheme, when a simple 'yes' would have sufficed. Remus smiled and nodded at her sample cards yet again, but still she snatched back the list and made some esoteric corrections to the colours and weight of the yarn. Remus sighed and memorised the Apparition coordinates as she ran upstairs to measure something once again.
Remus Apparated into a dark alley and walked out into a postcard-perfect English village, complete with cobbled road and quaint signs hung over all the shop doors. He turned right, as per his directions, and found the Busy Bee wool shop just past the newsagents. The shop windows held cheery displays of baby blankets and lovely thick sweaters and several fanciful hats. Remus hoped that no one he knew would see him entering the den of femininity. The door rattled cheerily as he pushed it open.
"Good God," Remus said reflexively, and the door slipped from his fingers and banged shut with an indignant clang. The man behind the counter turned and gave him a sardonic look, and Remus flushed as if dipped in boiling water.
"Some call me that, but not lately, I admit."
"Severus! I'm sorry--I didn't expect, I thought you'd disappeared…."
"Not well enough, apparently. Can I interest you in haberdashery? Care for some embroidery floss? Elastic in your choice of seven widths?"
"What? No! I just--I never thought I'd see you again," Remus said limply, and Severus held up one hand with a pained look on his face. Remus blinked and shook his head, which felt as full of cobwebs as his cellar had been. He pulled out the parchment from Hermione. "I have a list," he said, and then reddened again under Severus' black stare. "The Granger girl's fixing up the house I inherited from my grandmother and she sent me here for yarn. And things. She's going to be throwing afghans. Or perhaps the afghans will be throwing things." Remus realised that he was babbling and bit his tongue, hard.
"And you didn't think it odd," Severus said in a low, silken purr, "that she directed you to this wool shop, which is located at the opposite end of all England from your hometown?"
"I Apparated in," Remus said blankly. "How do you know where I live?"
There was an awkward pause. "It was on the dust jacket of your book," Severus said finally. "Granger sent it to me. She found me two years ago, entirely by accident, whilst on holiday and taken by a fancy for crocheting waistcoats. The fashion fortunately died out, but the girl has taken me on as a project. She feels that I am lonely. I feel that I have finally achieved blessed peace and quiet. But whenever I get an attractive male customer she invariably has a hand in it." Remus tried by force of will to look anything but flabbergasted. He was afraid it didn't work that well. Severus sneered. "You needn't look so shocked, it's never been a secret that I'm queer."
"I'm shocked that you find me attractive," Remus said, and then set Hermione's list on the counter to avert an explosion. But Severus didn't deny it as he set about filling the order in resolute silence.
"Here's what was in the shop," Remus said, setting the two bulging carrier bags on the table. "Half of what you wanted had to be ordered specially. It'll be in next week."
"And--?" Hermione said, the strain of not being nosy causing her to bounce a little on her heels. The interior elves crawling around measuring the grade of the floor didn't look up, but their ears rotated to catch every word. Remus supposed that more wagers were being made. He wondered what his odds were.
Remus shrugged. "That's it, really," he said, grabbed his garden gloves, and headed outside, whistling something with a calypso beat, to plant his tulip bulbs around the skip. He allowed himself not to feel guilty for finally having pulled something over on her and for being really rather pleased about it.
Hermione had seen the picture of Remus wailing in his christening gown, the bundles of yellowing letters that he could neither bring himself to read nor discard, his old textbooks with enchanted hearts that revealed his initials entwined with those of any of a dozen crushes, the marks his gran had made on the back of the kitchen door to measure his height, the rings on the basement walls where he'd had chains before the Wolfsbane made his affliction bearable, and the box--with careful preservation spells--of enough beaded and fringed suede to make her collapse with laughter (although she had been rightfully envious that the trousers were still a perfect fit, he thought smugly).
She didn't need to know how his heart had skipped sideways when Severus had turned around, or how he'd felt as if that dark gaze had stripped him bare, or that after all these years he still wanted to make Severus smile. After Hermione left, he resolved, he would hunt down his copy of It's Shocking--Electricity! Theory and Practical Applications in the Muggle World and make sure that the initials were still charmed hidden. Just in case.
Remus had no one to blame for his predicament but himself. Hermione looked around at the disarray of the house helplessly. There had been another row with the interior elves this morning, beginning when Hermione removed six Japanese pinball games and four slot machines from the enchantments in the cellar behind which they had been hidden. It had concluded with half of the elves taking off for Monaco and the remaining crew demanding time-and-a-half for being asked to work on Buy Nothing Day.
"No, there's no way I could possibly go pick up that order," she said with a decisive shake of her head. "You are free, aren't you? Won't you be a love--?"
Remus Apparated resentfully into a rain shower and dashed for the Busy Bee muttering "jellyfish" to himself.
"Do not drip on my floor," Severus said, and Remus sheepishly banished the water from his hair and clothes and the floor.
"Impeccable timing, Lupin. I suppose you expect me to put off my lunch hour to fill your order."
Remus glanced at the clock: it was twelve noon exactly. "I certainly don't expect an invitation," he said, smiling as he mentally cursed Hermione. "But as Hermione's removed my kitchen and I've eaten nothing but instant noodles for the past week, perhaps I could join you?"
Severus frowned. "It's a Muggle pub," he said. Remus shrugged and pulled a ten pound note from his pocket. Severus took up a pair of fourteen-inch double-pointed steel knitting needles, looked at them regretfully for a moment, and transfigured them into matching black umbrellas, one of which he handed to Remus. He locked the door behind them and swept ahead of Remus down to the high street's crossroads.
Remus was amused to find that Severus was enough of a regular that he could place an order for the usual. He even had a regular booth at which someone had left a copy of the latest Prima. He imagined Severus sitting here, day after day, studying patterns and perhaps occasionally sneaking a read of the latest slimming schemes and film star exposes. The current issue featured tattooed women and the men who loved needling them. Severus rolled it up and stuck it behind the salt and pepper pots.
"So," Remus said, biting into a well-vinegared chip blissfully, "how did you end up here?"
Severus moved his salad around with his fork, then speared a tomato and ate it in three quick bites. "Dumbledore left me the shop--his family's fortune was made on the Unravelable Mufflers we all had to buy with our uniforms, you know. Said I'd spent enough years spinning lies and willing to die for him that a future of spinning, brewing lye, and dyeing ought to be comfortingly familiar. They do a good handicrafts course now in Azkaban. It's supposed to be therapeutic. When I was released, I came here."
Remus looked at him for a moment; Severus looked pointedly at Remus' chips. He slid the plate to the centre of the table and made a 'help yourself' gesture. "And contrary to Hermione's belief, you aren't lonely? You've not met someone?"
Severus' smile was thin. "I am legally required to tell any potential lovers that I'm a life sentence prisoner on license for murder, and I would have to obtain Ministry approval to live with anyone. I'd really rather not be bothered." His long fingers snagged two chips, and he ate them together with precision.
Remus grinned. "We're in the same position, then. Hermione seems to feel that the end result of her decorating will be me bringing people home. This is the lounge, this is the kitchen, this is the cellar where I turn into a monster every month, this is the bedroom, shall we shag?"
Severus snorted. "Has she tarted up your cellar?"
"She's attempting to make it pretty," Remus said, and Severus snorted. "The bloodstains keep showing through the paint. Last I heard she had an elf down there with stencils trying to incorporate them into a design. She's trying."
"Yes, she certainly is," Severus shot back, and ate another chip. "Has she tried improving you yet? For example, your clothes."
Remus clutched the front of his cardigan closed with one hand. "Why? Will she?"
Severus looked at Remus and slowly ate the last chip. "You're wearing a necrotic yellow shirt and a knobbly green jumper. With blue checked trousers. To a female, that is a siren call saying, 'improve me.'"
Remus shifted uncomfortably. "It's rather academic to me, I'm afraid."
"Don't tell the Granger, or she'll attempt to become a permanent fixture. It wouldn't hurt you to smarten up, though, would it? You're not desperately poor these days--you'll be going on tour to all kinds of exotic places, I believe, after the new book comes out. Are you externalising some kind of internal self-loathing, or are the rags nostalgic?"
"I find it amusing that you are giving me wardrobe advice."
Severus shrugged. "In caecus terrae, luscus rex est." At Remus' blank, annoyed stare, he shrugged. "In the land of the poorly dressed, he who wears black is always in style."
After forming into teams determined by loud and occasionally violent rounds of rock-paper-scissors, the losing elves began sullenly hauling Remus' furniture out into the back garden. The winners enjoyed a quick drinking game in the shell of the kitchen and then began tapping the walls with mallets.
Remus watched as his mother's squishy chaise was levitated down to the shed. "Good riddance," Orange said.
"It's all coming back in again," Remus said, defensively. "Hermione promised I wouldn't have to buy new furniture."
"But the elves will be making a few alterations with that atrocity. And your bolsters," Orange said, and rolled her eyes in a horribly human fashion.
"I have bolsters?" Remus asked numbly, as the cabbage-rose wallpaper began rolling itself apologetically from the walls with a loud ripping noise, earning a round of applause.
"They are cinnabar," Tortoiseshell informed him. "Ergo, they do not go with the tatty aubergine chaise."
"I'm sorry?" Remus tried. "I never meant to have bolsters."
A large section of the wall dividing the lounge from the dining room vanished in a cloud of plaster dust, and Remus hastily collected his rucksack and headed towards the hall.
"Where are you going?" Hermione called, leaning over the new kitchen counter that had appeared in the rather gaping gap in the dining room wall where once there had been portraits of his famous ancestors: Dennis with an arm around the Lord of Buckingham and Arsene with the Crown Jewels.
Someone had dropped the entire crate containing his grandmother's ceramic dog collection down the stairs, and Remus had insisted that Hermione reparo them herself. Not that he liked them any better than she did (as a child, her Alsatians in particular had given him screaming nightmares). He simply felt, sometimes, that she was growing to be more at home in his house than he was. He looked at her, her face haloed by soft curls and wearing one of her many crisp hand-sewn aprons, the head of a dachshund in one hand. She belonged here in a way he did not. So here he was, running away, he thought, shrugging into the stylish overcoat his aunt had given him two Christmases back.
"Out," Remus said shortly; but at her hurt look he relented, as he always did and always would, damn it. "Severus has some academic papers about Germanic folklore to discuss over coffee and biscuits." He waved at the cats. "Ave, felicae."
"Noli aliquid facere quod non faciam," Tortoiseshell said, from the sunny windowsill.
"He doesn't do anything untoward anyway," Orange purred, rubbing fur off on Remus' new, unchecked trousers.
"They don't like the bolsters," Remus said, running one hand distractedly though his hair and dislodging a shower of plaster chips. "Severus, I don't even know what the hell a bolster is."
Severus looked at Remus through the steam of his coffee and raised an eyebrow. "Do you have sex?" Remus blushed from his hairline to the collar of his second-best shirt. Severus set his cup down and smirked. "In the abstract sense, Lupin. A bolster is what one shoves under someone's arse to obtain easier access during sex." He raised one finger. "And before you ask any tedious, Grangerous questions, ask yourself if you really want to know the answers."
Remus sipped his drink and realised that no, he didn't really want to know, because then he would be insanely jealous. He inhaled a mouthful of cappuccino in shock and then spent several minutes desperately trying to catch a breath. At least battling asphyxiation kept him from wondering too much about when he had started feeling proprietarily about Severus Snape.
"So," he said, wiping his face with the handkerchief Severus had proffered. "The colour of the bolster makes no difference, really."
Severus rolled his eyes. "If your house has become infested with women, Lupin, your safest option is to say yes to everything until they leave."
"It may be years."
"I thought," Severus started, and then stopped, looking down to straighten the papers on the table.
"You thought what?"
"I'd have thought," Severus said, with the bland look of scornful disinterest that Remus now knew to read as dissembling, "you'd be used to women by now. You've certainly spent your life under their collective thumbs."
"I just can't say no," Remus said, and Severus made a sour face. "I've got no defences against them--it's not a good thing," Remus continued. "My mother and gran mostly raised me until I left for Hogwarts. I have an unholy dread of disappointing women."
"I'm surprised Tonks let you go, then," Severus said, inspecting one of the pastries carefully before taking a bite.
"It took three years for me to work up the nerve to tell her that I didn't really want to be with her. By then, of course, we were already married. I was probably saved by the fact that the one thing she really wanted I couldn't give her." Severus raised an eyebrow, and Remus found himself mesmerised by the bit of pastry on Severus' upper lip, and then by the flick of Severus' tongue claiming it. Remus blinked and made himself look down, at the table. "She hadn't known that werewolves can't have children. Then she tried to make herself think it didn't matter. The divorce was a relief. We could finally stop lying to each other. She's pregnant now, you know."
"I've seen her. Madness to put knitting needles in her hands," Severus said. "No sense of where to stop, and stitches dropped all over. The babies are going to have thigh-high booties and blankets big enough to cover a hippogriff. And her colour sense is dreadful."
"Twins?" Remus said, and then flushed again.
"It runs in the family," Severus said, blander than bland, and started eating Remus' pastry. "Next time, find a woman you can say no to."
"No," Remus said, and held out a hand for his jam tart. Severus took one last bite and handed it back. Remus raised an eyebrow and took a bite from where Severus' mouth had been just seconds before. "No more women."
This time it was Severus who choked on his coffee. Remus returned the handkerchief and borrowed a smirk from Severus' repertoire.
"Hermione wants to exchange this yarn for some that matches this paint colour exactly," Remus said, biting back a yawn. He could only find the peace to write in the early morning hours, before the elves descended. Severus looked up at him over his reading glasses, his smirk widening as he took the proffered skein in one hand and the paint sample in the other. He raised an eyebrow in question.
"And what colour did Hermione say she wanted, exactly?"
Remus pointed. "The same as the paint."
"And what colour is the paint, Lupin?"
Remus' chin went up a notch. "Green. The lounge's green, or it will be."
Severus set the wool and the paint sample down and returned to his ledgers. "Hermione's on to you, although I will say that you gave her a run for her money. The paint and the wool match, exactly, and both are a rather dreadful artificial red that I certainly never would stock. I wagered you might keep it a secret from her until the end of the month, so do let Iffy know she owes me."
Remus summoned a chair and sank down, dazed. "I'm good at hiding it, usually."
"Why bother?" Severus said, dipping his quill in the ink and doing severe things to the accounts due. "It's not a dreadful secret. Transforming into a ravening beast, yes, I can understand a certain reluctance to make that public--"
"You never apologised for outing me, you know," Remus said, tugging free the end of the scorned red yarn and wrapping it absently around his fingers.
"Nor have you ever apologised for trying to eat me," Severus said, raising and lowering one shoulder carelessly. "I've no interest in rehashing the past, Lupin." Remus kept his eyes intent on his finger-weaving. Severus wrote a quick dunning notice, and then continued. "One might also want to hide a criminal record--the neighbours, you know. Or the practice of magic."
"I've written fifteen Mills and Boon romances," Remus said. "Girl, boy, love, tragic misunderstanding, tears, pain, reconciliation, sex. That's something I don't advertise." He glanced up through his fringe. Severus looked particularly sour, his cheeks taking on a slapped flush.
"Chances are," he said, with a razor-sharp flick of his eyes, "I've read one or two of them."
"Prudence Summer," Remus said, frowning in concentration as he reached the point in his muffler where he had to start weaving the two sides together. "That's my pen name."
Severus sucked on his quill, leaving a streak of black across his lip. "The pastry chef with asthma and an adorable three year old child?"
Remus reached out, with the hand that wasn't tied up, and rubbed the ink off with the pad of his thumb. Severus froze, eyes narrow, and Remus blinked in consternation. "Yes," he said, smiling faintly. "The research for that story was fun, at any rate. I learnt how to make all sorts of sweets."
"Useful, I'm sure, Prudence," Severus said, casting a drying spell over the ink on his correspondence and tidying everything away.
Remus knotted an uneven fringe along the muffler's edge. "It's not a secret that most of the work I've done in my adult life has been food service. I can cook practically anything."
"I thought you made that up for the book-jacket biography. To appear well-rounded."
Remus held up the irregular muffler, and Severus repressed a wince badly. "No, it's all true, sadly. Even the bit about the poodle grooming." He folded the muffler into his pocket and stood, buttoning his coat. "So you think that colour blindness is nothing, comparatively?"
"Nothing at all," Severus said grandly. "Of course, Hermione won't trust you ever again."
Remus' step faltered at the door, and he half-turned to look back.
"I do love it so when you laugh at me," he said, grinning. "If I'm not back in a few days, send out a search party."
"I'm finding it hard to trust you," Hermione said, fists planted on her hips. "I've very disappointed that you lied to me."
"Ergo," purred Tortoiseshell, so softly that only Remus heard (or perhaps Hermione just pretended not to hear), "you are in the doghouse."
Remus made profuse apologies. He allowed Hermione to sit him down yet again with the swatches and colour cards and paint chips, only this time she asked him such sharply pointed questions that he felt the prick of each on his skin.
"We'll be ready to paper the walls and paint as soon as you leave," Hermione said, setting down her quill decisively. "Then all your refinished furniture will be moved in, the draperies will be hung, and decorative accents will be placed in key focal points." Remus nodded: he had known all along that, somehow, all the work would culminate in baskets of fruit.
Orange looked up from Hermione's knee. "It's not just a matter of vanishing walls now, you know," she said.
"Decoration is an art," Tortoiseshell confirmed, and wiggled her haunches, preparing for a leap to the mantelpiece. She landed heavily, and a cloud of Floo powder wafted up, making everyone sneeze.
"Anyway," Hermione said, rubbing her hands through the thick pile of a carpet sample. "Colour is important. We've spent weeks in class discussing colour and mood. Colour can make a small room seem spacious, or a large room cozy, or project a feeling of calm, or comfort, or elegance."
"I want to project the feeling that I actually live in this house," Remus said, and then ploughed his own words under with panicked back-pedalling. "Is there anything wrong with the colours here? Anything truly peculiar? And if there is, you can fix it, right?" He picked up one of the sample cards and glared at it.
Hermione looked torn. "I want you to like the way the house looks." But her expression said, But I want to do it my way.
"Hermione," Remus said gently, summoning the patience he'd refined when teaching, "why don't you just show me what you'd do, and let me decide? It may be that I literally can't see what you're fussing about."
By the end of the meeting, Remus' jaw hurt from repressed yawning, and he was glad to usher Hermione out through the snapping tarp that had replaced his front door. He staggered upstairs to his room, deciding to skip dinner, only to find a note informing him that his bed was down in the shed being fixed up, and here was a squashy purple sleeping bag, We Regret the Inconvenience. The shower's water-warming spells had been removed for maintenance. He crawled into the sleeping bag hungry, cold, and damp, and dreamt finally and horribly of his travels through the mountains during the war.
He woke unrefreshed, wrote four and a half feet (art born of suffering, he thought), and decided that what he really needed was to Apparate to a restaurant he knew that served bangers and mash for breakfast, with a side of eggy toast. After that, well, he rather thought he'd take his quill and parchment--no, his notebooks and biro--to the Busy Bee and borrow Severus' back room. Again. He changed into his third-best shirt (once he had Permanently Stuck the buttons on, it wasn't that shabby) and put a Pressing Charm on his trousers. He managed to smile civilly at the first shift of elves as he left, giving Iffy the muffler and collecting Severus' winnings for him, and pretended he didn't see money changing hands.
"I'm closing the shop now, Lupin," Severus said, and pulled down the lever that shut off the shop's electricity. Remus blinked at the sudden darkness.
"I don't want to go home," Remus said. "The elves have some very important races to get to this week, so they're going to work around the clock for the next few days. Stripping the woodwork. Sanding the floors."
"Is Hermione disappointed that the elves have discovered that money makes a much better master than any man?"
"I don't think so. I think she thinks it's a phase."
"Wait until they discover the stock market," Severus said darkly. "You can't stay in the shop overnight. You might pilfer my sock wool or knit balaclava helmets." He rattled the keys in his hand. "You could come home with me for dinner. I have a chicken pie and one of those Muggle machines for viewing films on the telly."
"That sounds wonderful," Remus said, standing and sweeping his books and papers into his rucksack. "I'd say something about not wanting to be an imposition, but I'd be lying."
"So long as you don't have ulterior motives," Severus said, and locked the door. He flicked his wand to draw the shades and set a few simple protective spells on the shop. "I'll have to Apparate you there," he added. "Give me your hand."
Remus tried not to feel giddy as Severus took his hand. Don't want to hang on too tightly, he thought, but I don't want him to think I find his touch distasteful. Because I don't. Damn.
"You can let go now, Lupin," Severus said, sounding amused. "We've arrived. I imagine you're used to better."
"It's very homely," Remus said; it was. "I enjoy rooms with walls and without flocks of interior elves playing five-card stud." Severus conjured up a fire in the stone fireplace, and Remus looked around with interest. The parlour was comfortably cluttered and decorated in a functional way that made perfect sense to him. There were pegs for clothes with clothes on them; there were baskets here and there full of yarns and needles. One particular basket of black worsted seemed to be slithering about; when Severus noticed Remus looking, he picked it up and shoved it in the broom cupboard. Remus was sure that swatches had never crossed Severus' threshold, and he felt a tension he hadn't been aware he'd had drain away. He set his bag down on an end table covered with topographic maps and folded his coat over it. "Can I help with anything?"
Severus glanced at him. "The use of magic in the house is monitored by the Ministry. I prefer using other methods if possible. The pie will take twenty minutes or so in the oven. I can show you my goats whilst it's cooking."
Remus coughed. "You have goats?" Severus glared at him. "Of course you do. I would love to meet them. I hope you don't have cats."
Severus stared at him a moment longer, and then went into the kitchen to fiddle with the ancient black stove. "No. No cats."
"Good," Remus said absently, gravitating naturally towards the bookcase and then starting with guilt as Severus caught him at it. Severus nodded at the door, and Remus followed him out into the yard in the light of the waning gibbous moon.
"What do you do at full moons these days?" Severus asked abruptly as they finished their tour of the barn and were crossing the rocky yard on their way back to the warmth of the house.
Remus shrugged and wondered if Severus had noticed his two days' absence, for all that he'd said nothing. "I stay in my cellar. The Ministry provides Wolfsbane now--it's illegal not to take it, you know. Quite a windfall for the Potions makers."
"I wouldn't know about that," Severus said. He held the door for Remus and locked it behind himself, going straight to the oven. "If you would hand me two dishes--"
The pie was scorching hot, and they each had two large servings before retiring to the sofa to digest and watch one of Severus' Muggle films. The sofa sagged naturally towards the middle; at least, that's what Remus supposed, because it seemed as the film progressed he was being drawn closer and closer to Severus.
He gestured at the flickering screen with his beer bottle. "Why'd the girl get locked up again?"
"It's symbolic of the oppression of the male patriarchy," Severus said.
Remus frowned. "So what's the symbolism of all the dancing food?"
"Sex, Lupin. Look at the expression on the girl's face--positively orgasmic."
Remus burst out laughing. "You're a dirty old man."
"You have no idea," Severus said. Remus half-turned his head to study Severus in profile. "Watch the film, not me," Severus said.
Remus set his bottle down on the floor, yawned and stretched his arms up over his head, and settled in with one arm draped along the back of the sofa, halfway around Severus' shoulders, and his leg pressed against Severus' from knee to hip.
"That's not subtle," Severus said, "so don't go thinking it is."
"But is it unwelcome?" Remus asked, and when Severus turned to look at him he leant over and kissed him, very lightly, his hand sliding to the side of Severus' neck.
"No," Severus said, one hand light on Remus' waist, "not unwelcome."
Cliché, cliché, cliché, Remus thought, making out like Muggles on the sofa. But after a while they moved off the sofa to the bedroom, and Remus was far beyond caring about anything besides the man in his arms by then.
Severus eyed Remus uneasily over breakfast the next morning. Finally, he set his coffee down and looked at Remus, almost meeting his eyes.
"Do we need to talk about--this?" he asked, making a vague pass of his hand that might have meant peel me a banana or stop the bus but which Remus interpreted as something related to the fact that they were now not merely friends despite-it-all but friends who had sex, washed each other in the shower, and woke tangled together, sharing slow and needy kisses. Or at least he hoped that was what Severus meant.
"I don't have one night stands," Remus said, bluntly. "I have two failed relationships under my belt. I want something serious--I want the promise of a future. We could start dating," he added, dubiously. He knew instinctively that that was another female territory, involving flowers and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes and bad poetry. He could do the bad poetry, he had full confidence in that, but he doubted that Severus would receive it in the proper spirit.
Severus snorted, and for a second his eyes shone with what might have been humour. "I think we have been dating, but neither of us noticed."
"Not very observant, then, are we?" Remus said, the knot in his throat relaxing enough that he could start in on his buttered toast.
Remus checked with the elves' union-appointed leader (who was also Hermione's bookie) as he entered the kitchen and felt smug that he was beating the odds. He avoided Hermione, who seemed the sort to notice he was wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Tonight, he decided, he would bring an overnight bag. And a toothbrush.
"You've been here two weeks, Lupin," Severus said, and Remus half-turned away from his stir-fry, one of the many things he'd become proficient at during his year in San Francisco.
"I have, haven't I?" he said. The wok took advantage of his momentary distraction and flamed up spectacularly. Remus chastised it with the chopsticks and a fistful of spices that smelt heavenly.
"Your clothes are in the wardrobe," Severus continued. "Your wok is in my kitchen, and your Sex Pistols posters are rolled up under my bed in the misguided hope that I wouldn't notice."
"In the olden days," Remus said, spooning rice into soup bowls, "it would have been considered forward, but these days it's considered a good thing. The Americans call it proactive."
Severus coughed. "I believe that's a euphemism for streetwalking, Lupin."
"I want to see you as much as I can before the full moon, and the book tour. I'll be gone for nearly a month--won't you miss me?"
"I'm sure you'll find ways to inflict yourself long-distance."
Remus set the rice bowls at each place and the stir-fry in the centre of the table. "Expect it. When's your next appointment?" He pinched out the candles he'd set on the counter, leaving just the glow of the hurricane lamp hanging on its hook.
"The twentieth," Severus said, glaring at the broccoli as if daring it to fall from his chopsticks. The broccoli was apparently suicidal. Severus obliged it.
Remus tapped a finger on the table. "Are you planning to tell them?"
"Possibly," Severus said, eyeing a piece of tempeh with deep distrust. "You do know I am forbidden to practice the Dark Arts and to consort with Death Eaters, and the like." He set it back down again and reached for the chilli pepper sauce.
"I'm honoured," Remus said dryly, "to be in such distinguished company," and was rewarded by a most discomfited look from Severus, whose eyes were watering. "It hasn't escaped my notice that I'm a Dark creature, Severus. I'm sure my people will have objections of their own." Remus refilled Severus' water glass and summoned a handkerchief. "Not my mum, she'll be… tolerant. The Werewolf Registry."
"If all the world thinks this is a spectacularly bad idea," Severus said, "who are we to carry on?"
Remus got up and went to put his arms around Severus' shoulders. After a rigid moment, Severus leant his head back to rest against Remus' shoulder, and Remus kissed up along the curve of his neck.
"I'm happy," he said softly, and thought, stupid words that don't say what I want to say, but he had the feeling that he could write books and still not reach the end of the story he was beginning. "I'm happy with you. I don't plan to let my them, or your them, or any them take that happiness away. It's ours. They've no right to touch it."
Severus snorted. "You're wrong, you know. The price of not being in Azkaban is my privacy. I'm not free, and I never will be. I could be recalled to Azkaban any day, should it be determined that I am… in danger of falling into bad habits."
"Have faith," Remus said, and was rewarded by a rich, genuine laugh (albeit a bitter one) and an arm around his waist. He let his eyes close for a moment. He had always been one to squirrel away his galleons in vaults and had never been tempted to place large wagers on Quidditch or buy lottery tickets. It was strange, then, that here he was, gambling his heart on a future with Severus, and it didn't bother him at all.
Hello from sunny Salem! I'm absolutely knackered, but my editor has given me unlimited FlooXpress privileges, and I feel I ought to abuse them. Love you, miss you, hope all is well. It's a weight off my mind that you're going to keep an eye on Hermione. Tell her I was joking about painting the door yellow, but she oughtn't to sneak up on me with questions like that. Doors are just… door coloured. Babbling, sorry. Will write again tomorrow. RJL
You don't need to write back--it's expensive, I know. But I was glad to know that the door will be oak. Oak is brown, isn't it? I trust your judgement. Somehow I knew Hermione wouldn't walk all over you
the way she does me. Tell Dodgy thanks for the Canadian hockey tips--I'm quite honoured, and if I do win any bets, I shall buy him some souvenir tea towels. I have three or four events every day, each in a different town. Wireless talks, and book signings, and readings in schools and at Homes for Aged Wizards, and interviews. It's not even worth my time to figure out where I am, I'll not be there in a few hours anyway. Damn, that sounds as if I'm depressed; I'm not, it's interesting, but I'm tired and it's bitterly cold here. My hand froze to my wand today. That looks naughty in writing, doesn't it? Would that I were with you and doing naughty things. Yours, RL
Severus--Consider yourself kissed. The jumpers are a Godsend, as are the mittens. I trust that nothing is pink. Love you--have to run--
I look good in green? I'll have to remember that. I hadn't noticed the spell on the tag, but it really is rather clever to have the clothes identify their own colours. And yes, I think I would rather be taken for an idiot than tell people that I'm colour blind. If all my secrets ever got stripped away like the layers of an onion, I'd feel horribly naked.
There's a blizzard here, maybe you read about it in the newspaper, so my schedule has been reduced to just the places I can get to. Pubs and the like. I hardly know what to do with free time anymore. I tried writing--the local history is intriguing--but my thoughts kept turning to you. I think you'd love some of these places. Maybe someday we'll visit, what do you think? Love, R
Dear Severus: Of course, I wasn't thinking. It makes sense to not allow prisoners on license to leave the country. Yes, I do understand--possibly better than most--the meaning and consequences of "for life." I wish I were there to talk to you. It will work. We will find a way to have our chance together. I didn't ask and you didn't mention about your appointment: how did it go? Love (and I mean that), Remus P.S. Please don't ever say ergo to me again. I'm allergic.
Severus: Whatever, she can do as she likes with the furniture. And the kitchen, and the bedroom, and the stairs. She can do as she likes with the house if I'm not going back. You've put a grin on my face and I hate that I've no time to write properly--it's because I'm hurrying to get home. Are you sure? Truly? You can do as you like with me, you know. Love, your Remus
"Remus!" Hermione said, jumping down from the stepladder and throwing her arms around him. "I was expecting you back two days ago. You're looking thin--didn't they take care of you over there? "
"I've been pining," Remus said, and tugged one of her plaits. "I got lost in the neighbourhood. I didn't recognise the house without the skip in front. The brick walk is also rather nice. Is my stuff in the house or still in the shed?"
"Well, I did want to ask you about some things," Hermione said, pulling him up to the door (the stained glass was, he had to admit, classier than the Perspex had been) and into the hall. "Whether you really wanted to hang onto them…."
"I'm moving in with Severus," Remus said. "I'll take all my clobber with me. The stairs look lovely. Very--polished and shiny. What did you do with the chaise? Where did all its spots go?"
Hermione's jaw had dropped: Remus had never actually seen anyone's jaw drop before, and he watched her with trepidation. "You're… what?"
"Moving in with Severus," he repeated, and poked the fruit in the basket on the table. Despite the gloss, it appeared to be real. "He asked, I said yes. I just want to grab my things and get out of your hair. The plants are a very nice touch, very… green. No Devil's Snare, I hope."
"Ingrate," Orange said, and bit Remus on the ankle. Hermione did not stoop to move her until she saw blood.
"What about the house?" Hermione said, her voice wavering. She was blinking back tears, Remus saw, and he hardened his heart.
"You can have it," he said, and named a rent a few galleons higher than what he knew she and Ron paid for their poky flat. "A bit expensive, but you can use the library as an office. Work at home. And the commute won't be so long for Ron, either, once the Floo is connected. You said yourself the guest room would make a lovely nursery."
Hermione stopped blinking, and the tears spilled over. "But I was fixing the house for you."
"No," Remus said, gently, and handed her a handkerchief. "You were fixing the house to match your dreams. It's only fair that you get to live here. I found the answer to my dreams somewhere else. So everything works out for the best in the end. Happily ever after."
"You're cracked," Tortoiseshell said from the sunny windowsill. "Vere furis."
"Ergo," Remus said, "it must be love."
Ave, felicae............Hello/Goodbye, cats.
Vere furis..............You must be mad
In caecus terrae, luscus rex est........In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Noli aliquid facere quod non faciam.....Don't do anything I wouldn't do.