It’s the summer before their fifth year, and Remus is finally able to spend it at the Potters’. James had invited him before, of course, had asked the boys over for Christmas holidays and other breaks, but it somehow had always coincided with the moon or another inopportune time that Remus’s mother would make up to keep him home. Every time Remus would beg and plead, but she would shake her head and tighten her lips and Remus would look at the dark circles under her eyes and feel even worse for asking.
This time however, after explanations and promises and almost-tears, Mrs. Lupin allows him to spend a few weeks out of her sight - and Remus has two-and-a-half months with the best (and only) friends he’s ever had. He’ll have to come home for the full moon, of course, but he’s still unsettled at the thought of spending all that time away. James promises that his parents don’t suspect anything about Remus’s furry little problem, and Remus believes that James would never utter a word. But there’s something in the way Mrs. Potter tilts her head as she looks at him - with a genuine smile, and constant offering of sweets - that makes him feel queasy for making them unknowingly harbor an adolescent werewolf in their home.
Regardless of this guilt, final exams have finished and it would take a stronger man than Remus to not enjoy the incoming heat of the summer. The night before they’re bound to leave, Sirius methodically unfolds the clothes that Peter tries to pack away into his suitcase and Remus catches his eye. They exchange a smile, one full of the promise of the months to come, and the inside of Remus’s chest glows. He loves the inside of the castle walls, loves the mystery and the inclusion and the protection it brings him, but itches to leave.
When they step off the Hogwarts Express the next day the heat is a pillow over Remus’s mouth and nose as he tries to breathe in the thick wall of air, beads of sweat rolling down his back under his heavy secondhand robes. Mrs. Potter runs right to Sirius, cooing over him and brushing his shaggy hair out of his eyes. Sirius laughs, and James complains about being neglected all the way home.
They’re given guest rooms, and Remus and Peter thank the Potters while James and Sirius run to the pantry to steal some crisps. Remus stands in his room, looks around, marveling at the size. It’s for guests, and yet it’s larger than any room in his own house. A small part of him seizes up inside, thinking about this, so he flops down on the bed and ignores it, plans to let the stuffiness of the room consume him.
Before he can relax, Sirius bounds in through the doorway.
“You’re not seriously staying in here?” he asks, incredulous. Remus raises an eyebrow. “I’ve slept with you lot for years, we won’t begin having separate rooms now. And I’ll be damned if I’m the only one left on Prongs’s floor like usual.”
Remus considers the large, well-decorated (silent, stuffy) room around him, and gathers his blankets.
Jame squawks when they dump their sheets on the floor. Peter, already laying on his back on the carpet, hurries to get his own as to not be left out.
“I’ve calculated the probability of Worm rolling over and crushing us, and the odds of survival are decent,” Sirius says, making a show of sighing and wiping his brow in relief. Peter throws his pillow at him and threatens to suffocate them all, prompting a pillow war so loud that Mr. Potter bangs on the ceiling from the room downstairs.
Every day the boys sleep until noon and wake up to Peter’s Muggle record player (“Nothing wrong with The Beatles . . . you lot have no taste at all,” Peter had muttered in defense as the other three rolled with laughter at the idea that any band named after an insect could make good music). It’s too hot for Quidditch, so they spend every other minute in the sun by the lake right in the back of the house, covered in sand.
Remus is suddenly tall, his limbs too long for his body, his skin freckling within five minutes of sunshine, the small brown dots interrupting his long expanses of scar tissue. He keeps his shirt on most days, letting the fabric soak in the water and swirl around him like a blanket. The other boys don’t make fun of him for it, even though they’ve seen him in various stages of undress in the past four years. He likes its softness against his skin, weighing him down, keeping him cool when they step out into the sun again.
When they tire of the lake they walk down the dusty road into the Muggle town to sit on stone walls and buy fizzy drinks from the corner store. The Muggle owners know James - he charms them. The store owner’s daughters swoon over him and Sirius, and one over Peter, too. One even bats her eyelashes towards Remus, which he finds extremely alarming. He’s accepted that long hair and soft curves are not what he wants, but when the boys nudge him, he half-smiles back.
James ruffles his hair and tilts his head to show off his cheekbones, like he does on the castle grounds when Lily Evans and her friends walk past, and Peter nearly falls over himself, but Sirius just smiles and smiles, and Remus finds himself watching him.
Remus often finds himself watching Sirius. He watches Sirius wink at Mrs. Potter after eating all her crisps, and watches him splash James in the face. He is broader, now, and Remus notices. The brown of his skin grows even darker, and his hair has gone right down to his chin since his mother hasn’t had the opportunity to cut it away since Christmas.
Remus is glad that Sirius is staying away from his home. There is something about Sirius’s shoulders that seem to relax, something about his smile that seems to widen, when he knows he won’t have to go back to dark hallways and frosty family dinners. Remus has never met and never plans to meet the Blacks, and Sirius rarely speaks about them except to call his mother some choice words - but James makes offhand comments to Remus, sometimes, like it’s burning him up inside to not be able to share his worry, and Remus feels deep relief and guilt when he thinks of his mother’s exhaustion and sore hands and dependable forehead kisses every night before he goes to bed. It’s for this reason that Remus watches him, he tells himself - to make sure that Sirius is happy, away from his family. His eyes are darker, and sometimes he looks at Remus with them and falls silent, thick eyebrows furrowed. He doesn’t look away when Remus notices, keeps on meeting his eyes. He sometimes sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, furrows his eyebrows. It makes Remus want to break something.
It’s just that Sirius is a summer boy. It’s in his name. Sirius laughs when Remus tells him this, and Remus explains how the S sounds like the popping open of a soda can, the fizzling out of a firecracker, the hiss of a sprinkler. Sirius stops laughing, and tilts his head. Remus’s cheeks burn. He doesn’t mean to say these things. It’s just that sometimes his mouth gets ahead of his brain.
“Damn, Moony. You’ve always been the one for words,” Sirius says. He looks at Remus and smiles wide, hair floppy, and gets up to find James. Remus blinks. He imagines that there are sunspots in his eyes.
One night, on the cusp of July, Remus can’t sleep. The moon is this week; tomorrow morning he’s being sent home for a few days to weather it out. He can never sleep the night before. He feels a thrumming like he’s standing on a floor that won’t stop vibrating or riding in the Knight Bus on a particularly rough road. He feels like an animal, sometimes, and it scares him.
The room is too hot, too full of the sounds of sleeping boys breathing in tandem. He lays on his back. He can barely see in front of him in the dark, but he can sense a fly that had snuck in through the window is now circling the light bulb. (His senses work overtime, on nights like these.) After a while, when the thrumming is impossible to ignore, he slips out of his blankets and steps over Sirius and Peter’s dormant forms. He slides open the back door and pads towards the edge of the lake, the darkness heightening his awareness of the damp grass under his feet. He sits down and dips his feet into the black water, briefly entertaining the idea of some creature coming up to bite at his toes. A few minutes later a body sits down next to him, with much less grace and a much larger splash.
“Out for a nighttime swim?” Sirius asks. “How rebellious of you.” He lifts a torch from his side, shines it into Remus’s face. Remus shoves his hand away, rolls his eyes.
“You know me.” He looks closer at the torch. “Where did you even get that? It’s a Muggle thing.”
Sirius lifts the torch away, facing it upwards to that its light is swallowed by the sky. “Shop girl gave it to me. Couldn’t resist my charming good looks.”
“Will you be seeing her a lot over the summer?” Remus tries for casual. Sirius snorts.
“Moony, you’re terrible at trying to dance around things. Make it less painful for all of us and lose the shame of being nosy.” He furrows his eyebrows again. “No, I wasn’t thinking of it. I have better things to do. But that would be interesting. Would drive my mum up the wall,” he muses. “We can match Padfoot and Evans.”
It’s Remus’s turn to snort. “You’re mad if you think that will happen.” Sirius wags his finger, tilts his head at Remus.
“Never underestimate the power of true love,” he lectures. “Besides, think of the double date sabotage. The possibilities are endless.”
They lapse into silence, and the thrumming come back in full force. There’s an itch under his skin, a constant hum through his muscle, and Remus doesn’t know what to do with it. He swishes his feet in the water and is hit by a sudden bitterness at how unfair it is, that he has to sit in a cellar for a night and howl and scratch at himself and the walls as his mother sits alone at the table clutching a cold cup of tea when Sirius and the boys get to eat Mrs. Potter’s bacon and stay up all night laughing. He swallows it down, concentrates on Sirius’s warm arm pressed against his.
“I don’t want to go home,” he says to Sirius. It’s a normal thing to say - Sirius has said it to him all the time - but he finds himself whispering.
“Join the club,” Sirius says, and Remus turns to see a bitter smile twist up the right side of his face. He feels a hot flash of guilt, but before he can say anything, Sirius turns to him.
“Sorry, Moony,” he apologizes. “I don’t want you to go home either. It’ll be different, when we’ve gotten the thing.” This is their code for their Animagus forms. Sirius smiles, and Remus wants to hug him and James and Peter for their efforts.
The cool night breeze ruffles through Remus’s hair. “You’ll have it soon,” he responds, unusually optimistic. Sirius smiles wider.
The itch under his skin comes to the surface, the humming in his ears grows louder and louder, and he wants to run away. Instead, he looks at Sirius’s absurdly long eyelashes.
He leans in to kiss him.
He has no idea what he’s doing and a good sized part of some corner of his mind is screaming, but most of him shuts off except for the part that processes the softness of Sirius’s lips, and the looseness of his hand holding onto his arm, and the stillness of his body.
It’s this stillness that makes Remus pull away. Sirius’s eyes are wide, and he looks like he’s been hit in the stomach by a Bludger. Remus thinks of his burning cheeks, of the fact that his lips were closed the entire time, and feels thoroughly fifteen, into the hollow of his bones. He clears his throat, but no sound comes out, and the longer he watches Sirius not moving the tighter and more constricted his throat seems to get. He shoots up, his feet leaving an audible splash in the water, and turns away. He mumbles a “sorry”, but it doesn’t get past his chest as he walks away. He can hear his blood pumping in his ears. He’s always wanted to kiss this boy, he’s decided. When he’s laughing and sleeping and shouting and eating and slobbering over everything. He’s okay with the theory. But the reality of it . . . He doesn’t know what will happen after this.
He creeps back into the bedroom, creaking a floorboard as he goes. James sits up at the noise, gazing bleary-eyed, but Remus shushes him and James flops back into his pillows, promptly falling to sleep. Remus crawls beneath his blankets, his breathing still rapid.
He lays there for an indeterminable amount of time, eyes wide, straining against the dark. He hears the faint sound of footsteps outside the hall. They linger outside the door, giving Remus enough time to throw his blankets over his head and feign sleep. The door opens and Sirius walks inside. Remus breathes into his pillow, his breath blowing back at him in the already warm air and making him sweat. Sirius stands still, but then crawls into his own sleeping area. Remus relaxes, but thinks the lump of fabric is too still to be asleep. They lay like that for the remainder of the night.
The next morning Remus is scheduled to be sent to his mum first thing in the morning. There’s barely enough time for him to shove down a piece of toast before the Potters are pushing him into the fireplace. The boys say goodbye, of course - and he won’t be gone for more than three days, but it’s the moon, so James and Peter rush up and trap him in a bear hug. Something inside him breaks when Sirius stands outside the circle - close enough to be friendly, but still set apart. They don’t meet each other’s eyes the entire time. Peter, at least, seems oblivious - but James looks at them both with a quizzical expression, and before Remus is sucked into the flames he sees James turn to Sirius with furrowed brows.
The moon is terrible that night. The moments before he turns Remus always feels ill - a mix of physical aching, too much energy contained in one system, and a sense of fear and dread and the sudden, quick desire to hurt something.
The night erases itself, like it always does, and all Remus is left with is the residual pain. When Remus wakes up, before his mum rushes down with clothes and a blanket and tea, he feels worse than he has in a while. His ribs are sore - normal, but painful - and he looks down at his body littered with an unusually strong amount of bruises and scratches - long, deep ones. He wonders what inside him made the wolf so angry. He closes his eyes, leans his head against the cool stone wall, and thinks of Sirius’s half-hearted smile as he left the Potters’.
He’s bedridden all that day, and settles in with a book, throwing yearning glances at the yellow rays of sunlight piercing through his unshaded bedroom window. At half ten, the doorbell rings. Remus looks up from his book through the window, trying to see who would be calling. The Lupins are not popular.
He can’t see anything, and considers getting out of bed to check, although the pounding in his head and the lingering pain of recently repaired ribs deters him. He forgets about it for a moment, closes his eyes, and only opens them when his mother knocks at the door.
“You’ve got friends here, Remus,” Mrs. Lupin announces, and before Remus can move in walks Sirius, his hands clasped in front of him and a sheepish grin on his face.
“Hey Moony,” he says, eyes travelling across the bedroom. “Nice place.”
Remus is suddenly aware of the small size of the room, of the haphazard bookcase next to his old used desk, and thinks of the descriptions he’s heard of the china and furniture and house-elves of Sirius’s house. Not knowing what else to do, he coughs, wincing as it jostles his sore ribs.
Sirius’s face melts into one of genuine concern. He steps forward, unsure, but Remus waves him away.
“I’m fine,” he manages. There’s a silence, and Sirius shuffles where he stands. “Not that I don’t appreciate the visit, but -”
“I’m sorry about last night. Well, not last night, the night before last night, but last night too, I guess. You know, the sympathy kind of sorry. Not that I’m pitying you.” Sirius cuts him off, his ramble all in one breath. “I didn’t know what to do and it’s not everyday you get kissed by one of your best mates, and I -”
“It was the moon,” Remus says, and he searches for a further explanation.“I don’t know what came over me, I’m sorry, I’m sure that’s what it is.”
Sirius seems to deflate. “Oh,” he says. He licks his lips, and Remus can’t help but flick his gaze from his eyes to his lips and back again. Then he blinks, and steps closer to Remus’s bed.
“Are you sure?” He asks, and there’s a hint of his humor again, his sideways smile coming into play. “Because I was thinking, you know, maybe I wouldn’t mind kissing a mate, because it’s not really a mate, is it? It’s Moony. And Moony deserves better than some close-mouthed statue kissing.”
Remus has no idea what to say. Once the silence has gone on for an unreasonably long amount of time, Sirius starts fidgeting again.
“Was that too much?” he asks. “I rehearsed it and everything. Just in case. Not to be cocky. I really tried.”
“No,” Remus manages. Sirius raises a brow. “It’s . . . fine.”
“I’m glad,” says Sirius. “So maybe, we could . . . ?”
“Now?” Remus sputters. Sirius looks at him.
“I mean, unless you’re busy,” Sirius says. Remus shakes his head, gestures him to come closer, and Sirius does.
It’s . . . better, but messy, and awkward. Remus expected Sirius to know what he was doing but the other boy is acting as inexperienced as he is. It starts off close-mouthed, again, and Remus has to stay still on the bed to keep from jostling his ribs and Sirius is standing still gripping Remus’s forearms, but it’s soft and sweet and Remus would die if there was a Legilimens within a three-mile radius.
They break apart. Remus blushes bright red and Sirius looks a little pink himself. A thought occurs to him.
“Was that your first?” he asks. He wonders where his tact went.
“Um, no,” Sirius says, and Remus’s stomach drops. Of course not. He was stupid to have thought otherwise, with the amount of girls hanging off him at school.
“The other night was,” continues Sirius, and - oh, this is much more interesting.
Before Remus can question him further, James and Peter peek past the door. Sighing - as if thanking Merlin its occupants were both clothed and decent - both edge into the room.
“We haven’t started shagging right here on the bed, if you were worried,” Remus says. James snickers.
“What naughty words you’ve been teaching him!” he says reprovingly to Sirius. “Anyway, Padfoot told us everything, and we talked some sense into him -”
“- threatened him, more like -” supplied Peter.
“ - well, yes, that too. Thanks for that, Peter, you have a knack for subtlety. Anyway, now you’ve got us here. And to apologize further for this young lad’s foolish mistake, we’ve brought a gift!” Like a king bestowing a knighthood onto a deserving lord, James brandishes a large cookie, with blackened edges and a soggy dark brown middle.
“It’s oatmeal! Your favorite!” James says. “We made it ourselves.”
Remus looks at it. It has the words sorry Sirius was a twat written on it in pink frosting.
“We tried to find rainbow sprinkles, for the whole gay thing, but it didn’t work out,” Peter informs them. James steps on his foot. Remus thanks them both.
A half hour later, right before Remus’s mother apologetically shoes them out when she notices Remus falling asleep during their conversations, Remus pulls James closer.
“Could you tell?” he asked, not sure he wants to hear the answer. James snorts.
“You’ve been staring at each other since we hit puberty. Trust me, I didn’t want to be able to tell, but it happened anyway,” he says. Suddenly serious, he continues, “You know it’s fine, right? Whatever happens, we’ll be cool. Unless you start snogging in the common room. That’s just not on.” Remus reassures him that no, they will under no uncertain terms be doing anything like that, ever, and would he please never mention it again?
Before Sirius turns to go, he walks back to Remus and squeezes his hand, smiles that sunshine smile. Remus thinks he’ll be sending quite a lot of owls in the next two days.
Once he hears the shutting of the front door echo up the stairs, Remus is struck by the sudden stillness of the room, and wishes he could jump up and run outside to meet up with the others without falling over where he stands. He grabs his book back from where he put it on his bedside table, but the words swim before his eyes as he imagines Sirius laughing at him for opening a book again when there are so many pranks to be done and ideas to discuss. Remus feels a strange urge to write their initials in the margins of his pages, like some horrific second year. Instead, he stares out the window, letting the heated air wash over him, feeling almost like the brush of the arm of a summer boy against his own.