Judging by his near-tumble off the Hogwarts Express and the lingering sensation of a Hungarian Horntail wreaking havoc on his frontal lobe, Sirius guessed that his plan to sleep off his hangover on the train had been a failure. He shut his eyes against the light pouring into King’s Cross and vowed that the next time James Potter burst into their dorm and demanded they each take six shots of firewhiskey to celebrate the end of sixth year, he’d hex him into oblivion before he could say “Listen up, lads.”
“Well, lads,” James said now, and Sirius’s fingers twitched toward his wand, “we held up like men. Let our medals in the hallowed Hogwarts trophy room reflect that not a single Marauder got sick—”
“Speak for yourself,” muttered Peter, still looking faintly green.
“—got sick more than once, yeah, and that no bed curtains were destroyed by drunk Padfoots like last time, et cetera, et cetera ad infinitum.”
“That was your antlers killed the curtains last time, Prongs,” Remus corrected around a yawn, before Sirius's sluggish brain had even comprehended the scapegoating. “An intoxicated deer is a fearsome creature. And I know a thing or two about those.”
“Stag, Moony, stag,” James said halfheartedly. Over James's shoulder, Sirius could see Mr. and Mrs. Potter standing among the throng of parents, both of them talking animatedly with Peter’s mum.
“Guess it’s that time,” Peter sighed, and resignedly presented the top of his head to James for a farewell noogie, which James administered with slightly less enthusiasm than usual.
“A good sport as ever,” Remus said, catching Sirius’s eye. He had fallen asleep on the train with his head on Sirius’s shoulder, and now his hair was disheveled, the tawny curls sticking up on one side. Sirius reached out and mussed it up some more.
“Going to miss me, Moony?” he asked with his most sickly-sweet smile.
“Hm.” Remus swatted Sirius away and ran a hand through his hair, though it didn’t do much to mitigate the damage. “Yes, I think so.”
“You’re supposed to have a witty comeback,” Sirius muttered, and Remus’s mouth quirked up at one corner and he shrugged.
“Yeah, well. I don’t.” There was a pause, and then he held his arms out, and Sirius said something about him being a bloody girl but he leaned into the hug anyway.
It’s odd, Sirius thought—he and Remus had been spending more time alone together these days, what with Peter being too busy snogging Mary MacDonald and James being too busy obsessing over his recent appointment as the Head Boy to Lily Evans’s Head Girl. Yesterday he and Remus had spent the last afternoon of term lazing about by the lake, their exams finished and the promise of summer sprawling out green and golden before them; it would be the first full summer Sirius spent with James in Hampshire instead of with his family at Grimmauld Place, and it was a prospect he still didn’t have words for. Now, however, standing on the crowded and steamy train platform, Sirius felt an odd aversion to the idea of spending the whole summer away from Hogwarts. He had half a mind to commandeer the train and head back with his friends in tow.
It was at this point that Sirius realised he had lingered in Remus’s hug for a beat or two longer than perhaps had been necessary. He quickly pulled away, but as he did so the stubble Remus was too hungover to shave that morning scraped against his cheek, and Sirius froze.
Hugging is a bizarre practice, he thought. Was it normal for them to be this close? He could feel Remus’s breath on his face and count the flecks of amber in his brown eyes, and, also, what the fuck was wrong with him?
Remus, frowning and faintly pink, was clearly wondering the same thing. “All right there?”
“Just trying not to be sick on your shoes, Moonbeam,” Sirius said brightly. It wasn’t a complete lie.
The crease between Remus’s eyebrows didn’t let up, and Sirius’s stomach did that twisting thing it did when Remus hung his penetrating gaze on him for too long.
“Oh, don’t give yourself wrinkles now, Moony, I already saw a new grey hair on the train.”
“I’m not giving myself any of those, they’re all thanks to you two,” Remus said, jerking his head over at James, who was craning his neck so hard trying to catch a glimpse of Lily it looked like it might snap.
“Guess we should help him, the poor thing,” Sirius said ruefully.
“Before he tries introducing himself to her parents,” Remus agreed, and started heading through the crowd to where his rationality was needed. Sirius followed, wiping his palms on his trousers as he went.
21 Berwyn Road
18 July, 1977
How is your summer going? It feels weird to ask and not dread the answer, because usually I can safely assume your summer is going terribly, what with having cursed Assyrian vases flying at your head from across the breakfast table and other such unpleasantries that occur on a presumably daily basis at the Ancient and Most Noble Townhouse of Black. That was quite the run-on sentence, which means you seem to be rubbing off on me in new and exciting ways. Please don’t turn that into a sex joke.
Anyway, I’m glad you’re at the Potters’, and I’m glad I don’t have to worry about you the way I’m used to doing in the summer. Though on second thought, now that we can use magic outside of school I do shudder to think what you and James must be getting up to. I’m not sure I want to know any details, but please give Mrs. Potter my sympathy and try not to wind up in St. Mungo’s.
I’m sure you already saw through that last bit, but I’ll amend anyway: I really would like to hear what you’ve been up to, as there’s only so many brick-sized paperbacks I can read to keep my mind occupied here. Old man Victor Hugo just spent about fifty tangential pages describing the intricacies of the Paris sewer system and I slogged through the whole thing without skimming, although maybe that’s not actually that hard for you to believe. I guess what I’m trying to say is I miss you two.
Thanks for your note last week. It was fine, though the first moon of the summer holidays always reminds me how much I appreciate you lot when it happens at Hogwarts. Next month won’t be pleasant either, as my dad has informed me he’ll be in Transylvania on a business trip during the full and won’t be around to help out. I don’t understand his decision, personally—I daresay werewolves are more charming and pleasant to deal with than vampires, though there is a possibility I’m a bit biased.
P.S. — Tell James thanks for the chocolate, though I’m afraid Ludwig got to it before I could. He did generously offer me some in the form of upchuck on my desk, though. He’s nothing if not a polite little owl-heathen.
Sirius read the letter twice (and the last paragraph once more) before finally putting it down. It was mid-afternoon and he was lying on his stomach in bed, trying to enjoy the meagre breeze from the Victorian lace fan he had stolen from his mother the year before and which he’d now charmed to levitate six inches from his face.
He jiggled his foot. He listened to Remus’s barn owl, Goneril, crunch loudly on the digestive Sirius had tossed her way. He decided to get up and find James.
When Sirius had first moved into the Potters’ estate almost a year ago, Mrs. Potter had given him his choice of any bedroom in the entire house, of which there were about seven or eight (he still wasn’t quite sure). He hadn’t been used to the idea of living in so much space—Grimmauld Place, while sickening in its old-money grandiosity, had been limited by the city and surely could not have been called enormous by many standards. The room across from James’s had been the smallest, but it hadn’t felt right for Sirius to live anywhere else in a house where, for all the Potters’ generosity, he still felt like an intruder.
He creaked open his door and padded across the oak-floored hallway to James’s room, the Victorian fan flapping along eagerly behind him. The din of The Clash grew louder as he approached the doorway, and Sirius found James sitting cross-legged on the floor, hunched over his broomstick as he used a nail file to whittle a single tail-twig to a point.
“Protex, Protex blue! All I want to do!” James chanted along.
“Buy me dinner first, at least,” Sirius said, flopping down on James’s gigantic bed. His room was decorated in a strikingly similar fashion to Sirius’s old room at Grimmauld Place—Gryffindor pennants draped across the walls, interspersed with Wimbourne Wasps posters and photographs of the Marauders throughout the years—the notable difference being that James’s aggressive decoration couldn’t be attributed to the fact that it would enrage his parents. Quite the opposite, Sirius supposed, given the amount of red and gold to be found throughout the rest of the house.
“And have you order the most expensive can of Alpo on the menu? I think not.”
“That’s… very rude,” Sirius said, inanely, staring up at the ceiling. James didn’t deign to respond, and Sirius couldn’t blame him. “Prongs.”
Sirius sat up, batting the fan away from his face when he nearly collided with it. With a jab of his wand the fan froze and fell to the bed like a dead bird. “Read this letter from Moony,” he said, holding out the folded piece of notebook paper.
James glanced up from his broomstick questioningly, and took the letter when Sirius made no attempt to explain further. He flicked his wand at the record player in the corner, which quieted by several decibels, and started reading.
“You need my advice on how to word this sex joke he’s practically begging for?” The heat worked James’s voice into a lazy drawl. “Pretty low-hanging fruit, Padfoot, I’m surprised you couldn’t do it yourself.”
“Hmm. Right, he wants to know what we’ve been doing. Don’t tell him about Gnome Wars, he’ll think it’s unethical.”
“Get to the last part,” Sirius said impatiently.
James read for a few more seconds. “That prat called Ludwig van Birdhoven a heathen?” he cried, miming a clutch of the pearls.
Sirius growled in annoyance and slid off the bed to sit next to James. “This part, you bloody tosser.” He pointed at the paragraph in question and waited as James’s eyes scanned the lines. “His dad’s bailing on the full next month. It’ll just be him and his mum.” James frowned, and Sirius added, “His mum’s a Muggle.”
“I know his mum’s a Muggle, Sirius, he’s been one of my best friends for six years.”
“So not only is he going to spend the night without us,” Sirius plowed on, “but he won’t get taken care of properly in the morning. Those wounds have to be healed with magic—”
“Not necessarily,” James rationalised. “He heals pretty fast on his own, you know that. Look,” he said when Sirius opened his mouth again to argue, “I think, for one thing, you’re being a bit dismissive of Muggle ingenuity. I mean, take airplanes, for example. How do they stay up? No one knows. But Muggles figured it out. Furthermore,” he continued loudly, barreling over Sirius’s defensive rebuttal, “don’t you think you’re being a bit, ah....”
“A bit what,” Sirius spat, arms folded tightly across his chest.
“You know.” James caught his eye and then quickly looked away. “Overprotective.”
“I’m not being overprotective!” Sirius spluttered. “He’s my—he’s our mate!”
“And he hates when certain mates of his are overprotective,” James said primly, inspecting his broom tail again. “He didn’t say he was worried about it—”
“He said it ‘won’t be pleasant,’” Sirius quoted. “Read between the lines, Prongs, that’s Moony-speak for ‘I’m fucked.’”
“Well, regardless of what’s between the lines,” James said, and Sirius could practically hear his eyes roll, “he can use magic at home now. He can look after himself.” He looked up at Sirius sharply, as if he’d just read his mind. “And that’s exactly what he’ll tell you when you write to him.”
“I’ll write to him anyway.”
James sighed, pushing his broomstick carefully off his lap. “I bloody know you will.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Sirius felt his face grow warm with something that felt like embarrassment as he picked sullenly at a hole in his cutoffs.
“All right,” James muttered, pushing his glasses up on his nose and pointing his wand at the mahogany desk on the far side of the room. What looked like a small wall calendar zoomed out from one of the open drawers. James caught it deftly before flipping to August, and Sirius scanned the page over his shoulder until he found the little circle indicating the date of the full moon. Saturday the 8th, whose square had already been written on in Mrs. Potter’s looping cursive.
“Cousin Priya’s wedding.” James gave a prolonged groan. “There’s no way I’m getting out of it. The Patil side of the family does not fuck around when it comes to weddings.”
“I don’t need to be there, though, right?” Sirius asked rather sheepishly.
“No, you don’t,” James said on an exhale. “Though my aunties will be sorry you’re not around to hear about how skinny you are.” He picked up the nail file and started sawing the edges of his fingernails. “All right, go to Moony’s without me. Get Wormtail to come down from Leeds and make it a party.”
“I wouldn’t want Wormtail there if you’re not going to be there,” Sirius said, then added the obligatory “no offense to Wormtail.”
That seemed to cheer James up a bit. Then he paused his nail filing, and Sirius picked out the faux-casual note in his voice as he said, “So just you and Remus, then? Canine retreat in Wales?”
Sirius could have tried to decipher the look in James’s eye if he wanted to, but he didn’t. “He’ll tell me to sod off. Like you said.”
“As I recall, you didn’t need a written invitation to show up on my doorstep last summer,” James said, grinning.
“Hang on, when did you switch from passive acceptance to active encouragement? Weren’t you telling me just a minute ago he could take care of himself?”
“And I stand by that,” James said, nodding importantly. “But it couldn’t hurt for him to have you there. And I also happen to know when to pick my battles.”
Sirius bumped his shoulder against James’s. “Thanks, mate.”
“Don’t get girly on me now,” James muttered, but he nudged Sirius back. “Go write your little letter. I’ve got twigs to file.”
He flicked his wand at the record player again and the music returned in full force. Sirius stood up and shook his arse all the way out into the hallway, Remus’s letter clutched in his fist.
“We’re in a garage band! We come from Garageland! Aaaah!”
James threw his nail file at him.
It was dusk when Sirius stepped off the Knight Bus at the end of a long, curving driveway on the outskirts of Remus’s village.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” he asked, but turning back toward the bus he realised the driver had already shut the door. It sped off haphazardly down the way they came, dissolving into thin air a moment before it would have rounded a bend in the dirt road. Sirius cursed under his breath and, after a moment fruitlessly debating other options, hitched his rucksack over his shoulder and started down the driveway.
He and Remus had spent the past couple of weeks exchanging letters back and forth which were terse on Remus’s end and eventually so on Sirius’s as well. I know you weren’t asking for help, you stubborn arsehole, he had written in what he considered a particularly persuasive paragraph, but I’m offering it anyway. It’s not a chore, it’s something I want to do because you’re my friend!! Why is that so hard to believe? Sirius suspected Remus knew he was being irrational, because he eventually caved. They settled on Sirius coming a few days before the full moon, as Remus had finally insisted that if he were coming at all, he had better come for a proper visit.
Now, walking along the driveway in the gathering dark, Sirius found himself wondering what exactly a proper visit might entail. He’d never been to Remus’s house before; none of them had. From what Remus had always said about it, there wasn’t much to do except sit around and stare at each other, a prospect that gave Sirius an unpleasant swooping sensation in his stomach and which he would therefore rather not dwell on.
The night was falling fast and it was cool for August, but Sirius was too lazy to rummage around in his rucksack for a flannel so he folded his arms across his chest and wondered how much farther he’d have to walk. He couldn’t hear anything but the chirping of crickets, nor see anything but the three-meter radius of dirt road and tall grass illuminated by his wand. Finally, as he was rounding another bend, he saw light winking through the trees, and then the house shifted into view like something wild emerging from the surrounding forest.
It was an old cottage, with a steep slate roof and a green front door. Ivy covered so much of the exterior that Sirius could hardly see the brick underneath, and if warm yellow light hadn’t been shining through the windows the house might have completely blended into the dark trees behind it.
Sirius crossed the yard and walked up the stone steps to the front porch, his mouth suddenly feeling rather dry; overhead, moths careened around the porch lamp in such a frenzy that the light seemed to be flickering.
He was just thinking now might be a good time to knock when the knob turned with a click and the door swung inward.
“Okay,” Remus called over his shoulder, and then he turned, saw Sirius standing like an idiot on the front porch, and froze.
“What,” Remus said, reasonably. He was barefoot, and the knees of his cuffed jeans were dirty, and he was carrying a large covered bucket whose smell Sirius could only describe as dodgy. “How long have you been standing out here?”
“I haven’t been—I just got here,” Sirius said defensively, and winced internally at how petulant he sounded.
The corner of Remus’s mouth twitched. “I thought the Knight Bus was supposed to be fast.”
Sirius hadn’t realised he’d been apprehensive until he felt the relief wash over him. “Wanker,” he said, pretending to kick Remus’s bare shin with his combat-booted foot. “Thought you were still pissed at me for calling you a stubborn arsehole.”
“You’re always calling me a stubborn arsehole.”
“That’s because you are.”
“Yeah, well. Not stubborn enough to stay mad at you for very long, apparently.”
He was grinning crookedly at him, the harsh porch light casting unflattering shadows on his face but illuminating the ends of his hair like a halo around his head. “What’s with the bucket,” Sirius asked, a bit too loudly.
“Was taking the compost out.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Sirius admitted, this time aiming a kick at the bucket. “Sounds like something crunchy and Muggley.”
“You’ll learn all about crunchy Muggley things this week, I think,” Remus said, swinging the bucket out of Sirius’s reach. “Listen, you go inside before all the moths get in. I’ll dump this and be right back.”
He gave Sirius’s shoulder a quick squeeze as he edged past him, a gesture which Sirius decided he largely preferred to James’s noogies. He watched Remus hop the porch steps and stride towards the woods at the edge of the yard, and then he turned and stepped inside the house.
Once, sometime in fourth or fifth year, Sirius had had the brilliant idea to prank Remus by hiding in his bed with the curtains drawn, so that when Remus crawled in to go to sleep he’d get the shit scared out of him. It hadn’t been until he’d cocooned himself in Remus’s blankets that he’d realised what a distinct scent his friend had, warm and musty and sweet, and he’d ended up lying there so long breathing in deep lungfuls of it that he’d fallen asleep. Of course, when Remus had eventually returned from the library he’d acted like he’d been expecting the intrusion, and Sirius had woken up sometime in the split second between being kicked out of the bed and landing on the floor, outside the confines of Remus’s drawn curtains where his scent was all but nonexistent.
Walking into his childhood home felt to Sirius like cocooning himself in Remus’s blankets again—the same musty smell like walking into an antique shop or flipping through the pages of an old library book. The living room that he stepped into was not untidy, but it felt on the verge of being so: empty teacups perched precariously atop the stacks of books that covered nearly every available surface, the rest of which bore a cluttered array of chocolates, old National Geographics, and vases of mostly-dead wildflowers. The furniture was comprised of an odd mix, some upholstered in tweed, others in velvet and threadbare brocades; the bookshelves lining the walls were brimming with leather-bound tomes and tattered paperbacks alike.
There was so much to look at that it took Sirius a moment to notice the old Baldwin upright along the far wall. He approached it, wondering idly how much longer Remus would be gone, and with his right hand plinked out a few bars of the Chopin nocturne that was open on the music stand. He was out of practice, and after a few too many nonsensical trills he decided he’d rather manoeuvre, ungracefully, into the opening bars of “Life on Mars?”
“Oh, this I like much better,” a woman’s voice said behind him, and Sirius whirled around.
“I didn’t know you liked Bowie, Mrs. Lupin.”
“Oh, please,” Hope Lupin said, leaning against the doorway that led to the kitchen and rolling her eyes good-naturedly. “Old people can have good taste in music too, you know. And call me Hope, love, haven’t I told you a million times?”
In truth, he had only met her a handful of times on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, but he supposed that was the sort of pesky detail that would only make her eyes roll again in that very Remus-like fashion. Like Remus, she was tall and thin; they had the same warm brown eyes and rather large, crooked nose (hers a little more so on both counts). Despite what she said she wasn’t old, though the long hair framing her young face was almost completely silver. She was wearing an old pair of dungarees and smelled earthy, like she’d been gardening all day, and Sirius was reminded of why he had always felt fond of her, though he really hardly knew her: even with her Muggle-ness aside, she was the sort of person his own mother would turn her nose up at.
“Put your bag down and stay a while,” Hope said, “we saved you some dinner.” He followed her into the small kitchen, which was just as eclectic as the living room: pots and pans hung from the exposed wooden rafters overhead, pressed flowers were pinned to the walls in orderly rows, and in the middle of the table, under a glass bell jar, stood a delicate bird skeleton.
“I hope you like squash,” Hope said, retrieving a plate from the oven and turning a knob on the stove until it clicked. The Potters had an oven in their kitchen, but Mrs. Potter and Pippi, their house-elf, used so much magic when cooking that it was impossible for Sirius to tell where the Muggle appliances ended and the magical additions began. He certainly had never seen either of them turn any knobs.
Hope set down a plate of butternut squash and green bean casserole, and Sirius thanked her hastily before diving in, realising only then just how hungry he was. “Some water, Sirius?” Hope asked. “Or I’ve got milk in the icebox, if you’d rather.”
“Sirius doesn’t know what an icebox is, Mum,” Remus said just then, smirking as he padded into the kitchen and towards the sink to wash his hands.
“Yes, I most certainly do!” Sirius said, feigning offense. “I took Muggle Studies!”
“He took Muggle Studies,” Hope repeated solemnly, giving Sirius a wink. “And I read Hogwarts: A History. We understand each other.”
Half an hour later saw Sirius and Remus sitting by the warmth of the fire pit in the back yard, staving off the cool night air. Sirius had spent the past five minutes watching skeptically while Remus constructed a pyre of twigs and sticks of varying sizes. (“I don’t get it,” he’d said, “if you Incendio any old pile of wood it’ll burn.” “Yes,” Remus had replied, crouching down to arrange one layer of sticks over the other in a criss-cross pattern, “but it won’t stay burning unless you build it correctly.” In the end Remus had been right, as usual, and Sirius had been admittedly impressed when they did Incendio the pile and within a minute the flames had grown several feet tall.)
Now they sat next to each other on a log-turned-bench, passing a bottle of Jameson back and forth while Sirius caught Remus up to speed on his summer.
“We weren’t forcing them to fight,” he was saying, preemptively diffusing Remus’s objection. “Confund a garden gnome and all he’ll do is think he’s got beef with whichever of his mates is closest.”
“You two are a parody of yourselves,” Remus said wearily. “And it’s still unethical.”
“That’s exactly what James said you’d say if I told you!”
“If he can foresee my objections then maybe he should listen to them.”
“He also foresaw you objecting to my coming to stay with you this week,” Sirius said, and he’d meant it to sound light, but it didn’t.
Remus grimaced. “And we wonder why he did so well in Divination.”
“Look,” Sirius said hastily, “I don’t mean to start this up again, it’s just—I was worried, all right? I knew your dad wouldn’t just fuck off during the full unless—I mean, not that you have to tell me—”
“There was a row,” Remus said. “When he was here last month.” He picked up a leaf off the ground and began slowly tearing it into tiny pieces, and was silent for a moment. The fire crackled and popped, sending sparks swirling up into the night sky, and overhead a patch of clouds slid over the waxing moon and hid it from view, for which Sirius was grateful; it never made things any easier, this close to the full.
“The thing is that I get it,” Remus said finally, his voice sour. “I get it, you know, you’re the head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and you think werewolves deserve to be put down, you piss off Greyback and he turns your only kid into one, like.... That’s years and years of guilt. You hold onto that much guilt for that long and it's bound to come back out as something else. I shouldn’t have expected him to keep it bottled up forever, I guess.”
Sirius recalled a time in second year, a few months after he, James and Peter had found out the truth about their friend’s monthly absences, when Remus received a letter from his mum saying that the divorce had gone through. That night, as they sat together in their usual corner of the common room, James alone among them had summoned the chutzpah to ask Remus how he was feeling.
“Well, they’ve been separated for a while,” he’d said, his voice oddly detached as he stared down at his open Potions textbook, “so it’s not exactly news. And it makes sense. You know, statistically speaking, the majority of couples grieving for a child end up divorced.”
Sirius and James had exchanged startled glances at that, and Peter had nervously said, “But… but you didn’t die, mate.” Remus had just turned the page of his textbook and shrugged his shoulders.
“Anyway,” Remus said now, “the bare minimum was all I ever got from him, because it’s all I ever needed. Now that I can patch myself up at home I don’t need even that, so. It’s no loss for either of us, really.” He swept the leaf-bits off his knee, and Sirius watched them flutter down into the black grass at their feet.
“Fuck him,” he said, this being the only thing he felt sure enough to say in that moment.
Remus laughed softly. “Agreed.” Sirius watched him raise the bottle of Jameson to his lips, watched his Adam’s apple bob and his nose wrinkle. He scrubbed a hand over his face as he passed the bottle to Sirius. “I’m glad you’re here, though,” he said, the hint of a slur slipping into his voice. “Really. I mean, it’s good to see you. I’m sorry for being—”
“Unbearably stoic?” Sirius supplied. “Maddeningly self-sacrificial?”
The corner of Remus’s mouth twitched, and he sighed. “Yes, that.”
“I forgive you, I suppose.”
“Ta, I suppose,” Remus said, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Okay, enough. I’m ready to talk about something stupid.”
“Tell me about all the stupid books you’ve been reading this summer.”
Remus squinted at him. “You’ll be sorry you asked.”
For reasons he couldn’t quite explain, Sirius doubted this very much.
Sirius woke the next morning due to the relentless dedication of a blinding shaft of sunlight streaming through the window onto his face. He opened his eyes blearily, and it took several seconds of blinking up at the pitched ceiling for him to remember where he was. When he did remember, he jolted horizontally towards the edge of the bed before realising he was the only one in it.
“Bit early to be so jumpy, isn’t it,” came Remus’s slightly hoarse voice from across the room, and Sirius groaned and sat up.
Remus was sitting cross-legged on the seat in the alcove of one of the dormer windows, a notebook in his lap and a pen in his hand. His thick hair was in a state of disarray that would have made James green with envy, and Sirius absently placed his hand on the pillow next to him. After the campfire the previous night, the two of them had tipsily teetered up the stairs to Remus’s bedroom, and Sirius, the thought of sleeping arrangements not having crossed his mind until that moment, had balked at the absence of sleeping bags.
“It’s a full-sized bed,” Remus had said, correctly interpreting the look on Sirius’s face. “I just figured—”
“No, this is fine,” Sirius had said quickly. “Shall we go head-to-toe, then?”
He hadn’t known why he said it—he never would have given it a second thought had it been James—and Remus had given him such a withering look that Sirius hadn’t said anything else on the matter all night. He had eventually fallen asleep, head-to-head and toe-to-toe with Remus but as close to the edge of the bed as possible.
“Sleep all right?” Remus asked now, and Sirius lied and nodded.
“What’re you working on?”
Remus pursed his lips. “Nothing. Writing.”
Sirius clambered out of bed and stretched, yawning loudly. Remus’s bedroom was small, but seemed to contain on all its shelves and surfaces roughly the same amount of books, both Wizarding and Muggle, as the entire downstairs; the numerous LP covers lining the walls ranged from Lady Sings the Blues to Abbey Road to the most recent addition, Talking Heads' self-titled. “Based on your bedroom,” Sirius had said the night before, “one would be forgiven for thinking that someone cool lived here,” and Remus had given him the finger without looking up from the Evening Prophet.
Sirius trudged over to Remus’s window seat and wriggled in next to him. He was only wearing boxers, which was nothing new, but when Remus stiffened slightly at his touch Sirius wondered fleetingly if he should have put on at least one more item of clothing. Remus was wearing a thin white t-shirt and shorts, and in the bright morning sunlight the pale scars cutting their way up his arms and legs were especially apparent, as were the fresh pink ones that must have been acquired last month.
He realised then that Remus was watching him, and with the awkwardness of having been caught staring Sirius cleared his throat and said, “Er, writing what?”
“Just copying a poem,” Remus said, indicating the dog-eared paperback open on his other side. “Trying to get a feel for the French because I don’t think this English translation is very good.” Sirius leaned into him slightly to get a better look at his handwriting in the notebook.
“On n’est pas sérieux quand on a dix-sept ans.” He looked up at Remus. “Well that can’t be true. I’m seventeen and I’m Sirius.”
Remus turned his head and looked at him strangely, his brow furrowed. “How did you know that?”
“I—” Sirius faltered. “I mean—I read, don’t I?”
“Er… yeah, sometimes....” Remus narrowed his eyes, and Sirius blurted, “I can teach you French, if you want. You know—so you can read more flowery girly poetry without having to resort to bad translations. God forbid.”
“Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est,” Remus sang, tapping his pen on his knee. "Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa—"
“Oh sorry, I didn’t realise you were already fluent.”
“If you teach me French, what will I get to teach you in return?”
He was looking sideways at Sirius, the corner of his mouth quirking up deviously, and Sirius’s heartbeat sped up accordingly. “Er,” he said. “Welsh?”
Remus nodded slowly, considering. “Might do. Though I think you’ll find it’s a language that doesn’t come easily to the tongues of little aristocrats who grew up with a French governess—aagh!”
“That’ll teach you to talk about my tongue.”
Remus wiped the saliva off his ear with a scowl. “Bloody dog,” he grumbled.
Remus, as it turned out, was absolutely pants at French.
Not that Sirius was putting all that much effort into the teaching of it. He’d never been in a car before, after all, so he had plenty else on his mind as Remus drove them into town in his mum’s old Ford Thunderbird—specifically, the queasiness that started gnawing on his insides before they’d even turned off the winding driveway onto the main road. There wasn’t much for it except to slide down in his seat, fix his eyes on Remus’s steady hands on the steering wheel, and hope for the best.
The sight of Remus Lupin behind the wheel of a hot-rod convertible was one Sirius never thought he’d have to prepare for, but watching him drive the thing with such characteristic care helped to instill a sense of reality to the situation. He checked his blind spots as they approached what looked like the town’s high street, and in one fluid motion he let up on the pedal and shifted the dildo-looking thing ('stick,' Remus had corrected him when he'd voiced this observation, which had only made Sirius laugh harder).
“Okay, Moony,” Sirius said as the car eased smoothly into the turn, “say ‘Je conduis la voiture très bien.’”
“I couldn’t possibly.”
“Sorry, what was that?” Remus said, turning the volume dial up on the car’s 8-track player until Joan Baez drowned out Sirius’s lesson. “The niiiiiight they drove Old Dixie down! And all the bells were ringin’!”
“You and your mum music,” Sirius muttered as Remus energetically banged out the drumbeat on the steering wheel.
“Mum music? Excusez-moi?”
“You know, the shit you like to play in the dorm—”
“If by shit you mean Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, I’ll have to ask you on my mother’s behalf to kindly exit her voiture.”
“So it is mum music!”
“I can’t believe you’re ignoring my practical application of the vocabulary I’ve learned today.”
“Very nice job.”
“Merci. And yes, those records were my mum’s before she gave them to me and she happens to have very good taste.” He pulled into a space on the side of the street and yanked the parking brake into place for emphasis. “As do I, thanks very much.”
“Oh, Moonbeam.” Sirius reached over to poke Remus’s cheek. “I do love how polite you are even when you’re getting your feathers ruffled.”
“Some might call it getting my pigtails pulled,” Remus muttered as he climbed out of the car. Sirius scoffed, and then scoffed again louder for want of a more biting rejoinder. “Let’s run in to Tesco and grab some things for dinner tonight,” Remus said, and Sirius was glad for the change of subject. “Then I could drive you around town, if you’d like. I dunno. There’s not much to see.”
“That’s what you think,” Sirius said as they headed up the high street and fell into stride. “You’ve been spoiled with it your whole life.”
Being from London, and being as sick of it as he was, Sirius could do little else than be enamored by Remus’s hometown. Quaint was the wrong descriptor, though it was the first one that sprung to mind; there was instead something quietly noble about the old Tudors and brick buildings lining the narrow streets, the proud brownstone library where Hope worked, the narrow bridges straddling the rushing river, all of it tucked away into the folds of the surrounding green hills. People actually smiled and said hello as they passed, and a couple of them (octogenarians, mainly) even greeted Remus by name.
“That’s Mrs. Roach,” he’d murmur to Sirius after exchanging some words in Welsh with a kind old lady, “she used to pay me to mow her lawn.” Or after passing a hippie who tried to convince them to submit to a palm reading, “He’s actually a second or third cousin on my mum’s side—tried to sail to India in a one-man sailboat a few years back but didn’t bring a map and crashed on the coast of Cornwall—hasn’t been the same since.”
Sirius took it all in. He’d never considered himself a particularly observant person, but then again he’d never really felt like this before—like being handed a flashlight to explore the nooks and crannies of a room he thought he knew perfectly well. James and Peter didn’t know any of this, he realised, didn’t know that Remus drove his mum’s Thunderbird and kept his left hand on the stick and walked around town in beat-up Birkenstocks and a holey t-shirt, his hair unwashed and his fingernails dirty. It was so unlike the buttoned-up prefect Remus was at school, but as Sirius watched him pick out vegetables at Tesco, holding them close to his scrutinising face and carefully pressing on them to test their pliability under his thumbs, he realised that these Remuses weren’t so different after all—this one just felt a bit more at home in his surroundings.
Later, in the still, quiet heat of late afternoon, Remus and Sirius sat on the wooden dock of a pond behind the Lupins’ cottage and shucked corn.
“This is without a doubt the crunchiest—Muggliest—thing—I’ve ever done,” Sirius muttered through gritted teeth. He gave a desperate yank on the top of his corn husk, and only a single sheaf came loose. “How did you finish yours so fast?”
“Pure unadulterated skill,” Remus said, sprawled out on the dock with his eyes closed and his face tipped up towards the sun. “Also, there were only, like, two ears. You should’ve seen how many I had to shuck for the Howell family reunion a few years back.”
Sirius’s fingernails continued to scrabble ineffectively at his corn husk until he swore and gave up, taking out his wand. One Vanished husk and several accidentally Vanished kernels later, he sheepishly dropped his ear into the bucket with the rest. “That one can be mine.”
The pond—or maybe it was a tiny lake, Sirius didn’t know for sure and was too embarrassed to ask—was surrounded by densely wooded forest on all sides; the back of the Lupins’ cottage was just visible through the trees behind where they sat, but the area was otherwise completely secluded. The water, green and murky, was still except for the ripples spreading out from the spot where Remus’s toes skimmed the surface; on the opposite bank, a long-legged bird stalked among the reeds.
Sirius sighed luxuriously and flopped onto his back next to Remus. The sun’s warmth draped over him like a blanket. “This is the life,” he said emphatically. “Is that the expression? Look at us sunning ourselves.”
“Well you know what they say. Southern California is just a poor man’s Northern Wales.”
“Yeah, dude,” Sirius said, employing his best American accent. “Know where we can catch some gnarly waves around here?”
Remus hummed and sat up on his elbows. “Don’t know about waves, but we could go swimming if you want.”
“No, in my Olympic-sized indoor pool. Yes here.”
Sirius chewed his lip. “Eh,” he said vaguely.
“Oh, come on, it’s so bloody hot out.” Remus balled up a sheaf of corn husk and threw it lazily at Sirius; it bounced off his shoulder and fell into the pond. “When have I ever had to bully you into doing something fun?”
“Never, and I should hope you’re not going to start now,” Sirius said, mock-prudishly.
“I won’t if you go swimming with me,” Remus replied, smiling sweetly—or maybe it was devilishly; Sirius wasn’t sure he could tell the difference anymore.
“Moony—” Sirius exhaled loudly. “Fine. If you must know—I don’t know how to swim. Like, not as a human, anyway. And Padfoot’s just alright.”
Remus’s eyebrows raised in surprise, but then he said, “Oh. That makes sense, I guess.”
“Well, I mean, you know. I can’t imagine your parents would see it as a very dignified activity for the heir to the Ancient and Most Noble—”
“—House of Black, yes, you don’t have to say the whole fucking thing every time, Remus,” Sirius snapped, pinching the bridge of his nose, but there was no real heat to it. He sighed. “My uncle Alphard tried to teach me, once. When Regulus and I were visiting him one summer in Devon. It didn’t go very well, and then Reg ‘let it slip’ to our mum, so....”
Remus was looking at him thoughtfully, his lips pursed. “Want me to teach you?” he asked. “I can—oh! This can be our trade-off, remember? You taught me French, I can teach you how to swim."
“I wouldn't say I taught you French. A couple sentences, more like.”
“Then how about we just start with getting you not to sink.” He was grinning his half-grin, eyes squinting in the sun, hair curling wildly around his head in the humidity. Maybe plunging his entire body in cold water was exactly what Sirius needed, after all.
“Excellent,” Remus said, and started to lift his t-shirt over his head.
Sirius had somehow forgotten that this would be a natural part of the deal. Of the four Marauders, Remus was by far the least likely to undress in view of the others; still, in the past couple of years he had grown less wary of showing his scars around them, and Sirius should have been at least somewhat accustomed to seeing him shirtless by now. And okay, yes, Remus had always been nice to look at, but had it always been so hard for Sirius to keep from staring? Or from noticing, as he did now, that he had a smattering of light freckles on his surprisingly broad shoulders to match the ones on his nose? He tore his eyes away, but they were drawn back, as they inevitably always were, to the bite—low on his side and warped with age, the deep mangled punctures the colour of tarnished silver.
Remus hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his cutoffs and hesitated, and Sirius hastily pulled his t-shirt over his shoulders and made a show of pretending to get it stuck on his head. Through the thin black cotton he saw Remus take advantage of the moment of privacy to slip out of his cutoffs; then, clad in nothing but his boxers, he swung his legs over the edge of the dock and hauled himself into the water with a splash.
Sirius was down to his pants in no time, as usual, and he scooted to the edge of the dock to stick a toe daintily into the murky water.
“You’re killing me,” Remus said. He was a few feet out, his head bobbing above the surface as he tread water, his hair dark and plastered to his head. “Must you make everything you do so posh?”
“Suck my posh dick, Moony.” From his crouched position on the edge of the dock, Sirius sprung up and launched himself into the water, causing what he hoped was a tsunami-like wave to crash against Remus’s head.
The water wasn’t that bad, in terms of temperature—quite nice, actually, after such a hot day. Unfortunately, by the time he registered this pleasant fact, he remembered he still didn’t know how to swim.
He surfaced with an enormous gasp, kicked out in search of some semblance of solid ground, and after finding nothing but water and slimy plant-like things in his vicinity, sunk beneath the surface again. Then an arm gripped tightly around his waist and hauled him upwards. Remus shoved him against the dock’s wooden ladder, and Sirius’s feet scrabbled for purchase on the slimy rungs.
“Swimming step one,” Remus said as Sirius spluttered and shook the wet hair from his eyes. “Don’t be a fucking idiot.”
He had Sirius pinned with his back against the ladder, his hands still tight on his waist. Sirius’s own hands gripped both sides of the ladder for dear life, afraid they would act on one of the dozens of other possibilities that were cascading into his mind at top speed.
“Just wanted to make sure you were a qualified teacher,” Sirius managed. “You passed the test.”
“Wanker,” Remus said, his voice low, but the corners of his mouth twitched. They were close enough for Sirius to see the droplets of water clinging to Remus’s eyelashes, which were, incidentally, long. His feet came to rest on the same rung as Sirius’s. Their knees touched.
“So—swimming?” His voice was much too loud. Remus’s fingertips tensed briefly against his sides, and then he slid away. The water that replaced his touch was cold.
“Yeah, okay.” He remained a few feet away, treading water. “Er, so, swimming step two. It’s good to know how to float.” There was a pause, and then he slowly approached Sirius again. “Okay, kick your feet out and try to get horizontal. You can hold onto the ladder if you—oh, or my shoulder, that’s fine too.”
Sirius did as he was told, frowning and gripping Remus’s shoulder as he tried to realign his body. His ears were waterlogged and his torso was stubbornly refusing to break the surface. “Motherfucker,” he muttered, floundering uselessly.
“Here.” Remus’s palm pressed lightly on the middle of his back, urging him gently upwards. “Tilt your chin up and try to arch your spine a bit. Pretend there’s, like, a balloon tied to your belly button and it’s pulling you upwards. Like an umbilical cord connecting you to the sky.”
“There’s something deeply wrong with you, Moony,” Sirius said, trying not to laugh, but he closed his eyes and tried to imagine it. After a moment Remus’s fingers brushed along his spine, and then they were gone. Sirius opened his eyes and saw blue sky, and dappled sunlight winking through the filter of bright green leaves, and Remus’s face, his features gone soft as he watched him. He was floating.
He was also at least half hard.
“Fuck,” he said, and toppled down under the surface again.
“Never? Not even once?” Hope’s expression was comically aghast.
“Until today,” Remus said, beaming at Sirius like Sirius had done anything even remotely impressive. “And he only got a little carsick.”
“All right, give me some credit,” Sirius said around a mouthful of meatloaf. “I took the Knight Bus here, didn’t I? I’ve been in a four-wheeled veesickle before.”
“Vehicle, love,” Hope corrected him. “And forgive me, but a magical bus simply isn’t the same as a good, sturdy car. A car that loves the road, plenty of miles on her. Preferably a convertible.”
She was looking wistfully over Sirius’s head, and Remus caught his eye and snickered. “Run away, Padfoot,” he said in a loud stage-whisper, “before she starts reciting all the love poems she’s written to her Thunderbird.”
“Just you watch out, Remus John,” Hope deadpanned, fixing a beady gaze on her son. “When I retire and get a ’62 Camaro I’ll need a new garage, and don’t think I’ve ruled out your bedroom.”
“Oh good, I look forward to seeing how you get it up the stairs.”
“Just what are you wizards good for if you can’t magick a car up to a first-floor garage, I ask you? And for your dear mother, no less?”
“She’s got me there,” Remus muttered to Sirius, and resolutely went back to his corn on the cob.
Sirius had been watching them in a kind of awe as they bantered. Having spent so much time with James and his family, he knew it was possible for boys his age to have a good relationship with their parents, but Remus and Hope seemed to have something else entirely—they were actually friends. Remus always teased him and James for unconsciously adopting each other’s mannerisms when they spent too much time together, but now Sirius noticed Hope resting her chin on her hand the exact same way Remus did, with her index finger bent back along her jaw, and he could swear that Remus’s Welsh accent had been thickening to more closely resemble hers.
“If you want, Sirius,” Hope was saying now as Remus cleared their plates, “I could show you your way around an engine. You know, just to see how it works."
“I understand if you don’t want to,” she added quickly. “God knows Remus has never had any interest, try as I might—”
“Isn’t it enough that I’m an exceptionally good driver?”
“Overly-cautious doesn’t necessarily mean good, sweetheart, I keep telling you—”
“Says the woman with more speeding tickets to her name than—”
“Anyway, Sirius,” Hope interjected as Sirius burst out laughing. “Just an idea.”
“No, that sounds really cool,” Sirius said earnestly, and he meant it. “I’d like that.”
“Oh, good.” Hope beamed at him, and her resemblance to Remus was suddenly striking. “Me too.”
Later that night, Sirius returned to Remus’s room after brushing his teeth and found him sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, his nose buried in a copy of the Evening Prophet.
They hadn’t really been alone together since the pond incident, which had ended abruptly when Sirius started complaining of stomach cramps, melodramatically doubling over in agony until he'd gotten his jeans on so that Remus wouldn’t see the real problem. He hadn’t—at least Sirius didn’t think he had—but there was a slight tension lingering between them nonetheless, and he was privately relieved that Remus was currently well occupied.
Sirius didn’t really know what to think about it, this getting a hard-on for your best friend business. Then again, it’s not like it was the first time it had happened, so he was using that as an excuse not to think about it. Nothing to see here, nothing new—even if that fact carried a bigger implication that he was even more reluctant to acknowledge. If it was normal then it wasn’t alarming, but if it wasn’t alarming—then what? What did that say about him?
He huffed and sat down on the floor. He was acting like Remus, overthinking things like this—Remus, who still hadn’t looked up from his newspaper.
“Can we put on a record or something, Moony?”
“Go for it,” Remus said absently.
“What do you want to listen to.”
“I don’t care.”
“Yes you do.”
Remus paused, chewing his lip. “Pet Sounds.”
“Some mood you must be in,” Sirius muttered, but he got up and sifted through Remus’s record collection until he found it and put it on. “What are you reading about, anyway?” he asked as the familiar music box tinkle of the first track started up.
Remus didn’t answer, so Sirius sat next to him on the bed and read the headline over his shoulder:
DARK MAGIC SUSPECTED IN BRUTAL SLAYING OF LIVERPOOL MUGGLES
Sirius swore under his breath. “They were in their home,” Remus said, his voice hollow. “A couple and their two little girls. The police were made to believe it was a gas leak.”
“They won’t come here, Remus,” Sirius said, trying to make himself sound more certain than he felt. “She’s going to be fine.”
“Liverpool’s barely thirty miles from here.”
“You know distance hasn’t got anything to do with it,” Sirius said gently. “Where was it they hit a couple months ago, Glasgow?”
“Right. Well—case in point.” There was a beat of silence, and for want of something comforting to say he reached over and put a hand on Remus’s knee. Remus finally looked away from the article and blinked at Sirius’s hand.
“It feels like… like we’re standing on the brink of something, doesn’t it? Like in a couple decades people will look back and say, there’s where things really started to get bad, but everyone just kept ignoring the signs until it was too late.” He chewed his lip for a moment, his eyes unfocused, and then asked quietly, “D'you ever think about what you’re going to do after Hogwarts?”
“Sometimes,” Sirius said slowly. A couple years ago he would have said professional Quidditch, no question; he can still see the exasperated look on McGonagall’s face when he said so at his first career advising appointment in fifth year. But somewhere in the back of his mind he must have felt the same shift in the wind Remus did, the same gnawing feeling that some dark and nameless spectre was looming ahead, because he answered the question much differently this time around. “I guess I’ve been thinking—I mean, it’d be cool to be an Auror.”
Remus cocked his head and looked at him, and Sirius did his best to hold his gaze. “You’d make a really good Auror.”
He was grinning for the first time since dinner, and Sirius grinned back. He hadn’t even told James about that idea yet—mostly because James was always going on about being an Auror someday, and Sirius didn’t want it to seem like he was copying. He glanced at the headline on the front page of the Evening Prophet, still open on the bedspread. The thought seemed laughably juvenile now.
“What about you?” he asked. “Still want to go to Cambridge? What’s their magical college called, again?”
“St Cyneburga. Yeah. But—but not for a literature degree anymore, I don’t think,” Remus told him, grimacing slightly. “I was thinking I’d apply for Defensive Magic instead. I talked to McGonagall about it at the end of last year and she said I’d have a decent shot. Only, er, I think they need at least an E on the Potions NEWT, so....”
Sirius bumped his fist on Remus’s shoulder. “So I’ll help you study, stupid. Far be it from old Sluggy to keep Professor R. J. Lupin’s tutelage from molding the minds of pimply Hogwartians for decades to come.”
“I’m not going to be a professor,” Remus mumbled, without much conviction.
“Oh yes you are. You’ll never have a better excuse to start a proper collection of woolen waistcoats.”
Remus rolled his eyes, but he allowed it. They fell quiet, listening to the music drifting breezily out of Remus’s record player. “Don’t talk, put your head on my shoulder....”
Of course he had to choose fucking Pet Sounds. Sirius’s eyes darted toward Remus, caught his gaze for a split second, and darted away. His fingers twitched involuntarily towards his knee.
Then Remus stretched his arms over his head, and his back cracked audibly. “Might need to go to sleep,” he murmured. “Starting to feel like shit.”
“Yeah,” Sirius said quickly, “yeah, I bet you’re knackered.”
They readied themselves for bed in silence, Sirius having lifted the needle of Remus’s record player before the song could have any more adverse effects on him. He let himself lie closer to the middle of the bed tonight, and fell asleep with Remus’s warmth just inches from his fingertips.
When Sirius next opened his eyes it was still dark and Remus’s bedroom reeked of pot.
He sat up on one elbow and blinked until his eyes adjusted to the dark. Remus was sitting on the window seat again, his knees drawn up to his chest, an orange ember glowing near his hand.
“How do I weasel my way onto the guest list for this party?”
“Shit.” Remus stubbed out the now-tiny joint on the windowsill and ran a hand through his hair. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Yes, well. Spilt milk and all that.” Sirius rolled out of bed and swiped up a t-shirt from off the floor, pulling it over his head as he crossed the room. He settled cross-legged on the window seat, his knee touching Remus's shin. Remus looked at him, his eyes half-lidded and his lips slightly parted, and Sirius experienced a bit of preemptive cottonmouth.
“Wait, this is fine, right?” he asked, suddenly unsure. “Am I callously barging in on Remus’s Alone Time?”
“‘Course not,” Remus said, sitting up a little straighter. “Want me to roll you one?”
“You’re a doll.”
Remus huffed a laugh and set to work, balancing on his knee the little wooden cigar box where he kept his supplies. Sirius watched his nimble fingers wrap a few pinches of pot in rolling paper, tucking the corner in the way Sirius could never master. Remus’s tongue darted out for an efficient lick and seal, and then he handed Sirius a slender, perfectly constructed cone.
“Simply amazing,” Sirius said appreciatively, plucking the joint out of Remus’s outstretched hand. “I'll never understand how you've conned the entire school into thinking you’re such a good boy.”
“I'm still a good boy,” Remus muttered, absently. “C’mere.”
Sirius stuck the joint between his lips and obediently leaned forward as Remus flicked his Muggle lighter. Lit from below he looked a bit spooky, the orange and yellow light creating stark shadows in the hollows of his face and making his bloodshot brown eyes appear black.
He held the flame to the end of the joint and Sirius inhaled deeply around the lump that had formed in his throat, thanking all that was good in the world that he didn’t cough (Remus, of course, never coughed). Sirius tipped his face toward the window to exhale a stream of white smoke into the night air, and when he turned back he realised Remus’s eyes were still fixed on him. He froze, not knowing what else to do but stare back.
Then moonlight spilled out from behind the clouds. Remus, partially caught in the glow, inhaled sharply and reached up to tug the curtain across his side of the window.
“That bad, huh,” Sirius said, as shadows fell over Remus again.
“Worst night for it.”
Sirius glanced up at the moon, and his stomach twisted instinctively—it was so round that the only way he could tell it wasn’t quite full was for the fact that Remus was sitting in front of him, fully human.
“It’s not painful,” Remus said slowly, his eyes fixed on a spot near Sirius’s shoulder. “On the full it’s painful. Obviously. But the night before, it’s more of... an itch, like, this bone-deep itch. Like if I stay in the light too long I’ll come right out of my skin.”
Sirius nodded like he understood. Remus got like this when he was high sometimes—forgoing any attempts at evasion or downplay in favour of being as frank as possible. Sirius used to find it a bit unnerving, but he’d learned to appreciate it, given how carefully Remus measured his words when sober.
“This helps, though, yeah?” he asked, passing him the joint.
Remus nodded. “More or less.” Sirius tried his best not to stare at the way his lips closed around the joint, or the way his cheeks hollowed as he inhaled. He shut his eyes and concentrated on getting a hold of himself, or rather, on getting a hold of this thing—whatever it was. Somewhere in the twisted, most likely concussed part of his brain where all of his bad ideas seemed like good ones, Sirius decided that being sober couldn’t possibly be helping him in this endeavor.
So he and Remus passed the joint back and forth until it was too small to pinch between two fingers without getting burned, and by then the moon had drifted well out of sight and left the two of them slouched against the window, laughing and being stupid with their shoulders pressed together. At some point one of them had put on Marquee Moon, just because it seemed like the thing to do, and when the title track started up Remus got a dreamy look on his face.
“I remember how the darkness doubled,” he sang along under his breath. “I recall lightning struck itself....”
“You do a good Tom Verlaine,” Sirius told him, watching his profile.
“Yeah,” Sirius emphasised, drawing the word out as though that helped to settle the matter. “If my wand wasn’t all the way on the other side of the room, I’d—listen, Moony—” He slung an arm around Remus’s shoulders and spoke in a low voice to discuss strategy. “I’d transfigure your lighter into one of those Muggle recording things, right, and record you doing a Tom Verlaine impression, and send it to Peter’s cousin he claims works in the music biz. Yeah? We’d get you rolling in Muggle money in no time and you could buy me all the carryout my heart desires.”
“You’re completely deranged,” Remus said, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.
“I’m hungry, is what I am.”
“So you’ve mentioned.” He slid down a little so that his head rested on Sirius’s shoulder. His hair tickled his cheek. Sirius swallowed.
“So if you’re Tom Verlaine, who’s your Patti Smith?”
Remus glanced up at him, still grinning, but like he wasn't sure if he should be. “What d’you mean?”
“I just mean—I don’t know why you haven’t, like—you know you’ve got the pick of the litter, right? You could make any girl in the school your Patti Smith.”
Remus scoffed and sat up, and Sirius’s arm slid off his shoulders. “Why are we talking about this?”
“I—” Sirius floundered. “I don’t know. It just seems like—like you don’t know. And I wanted you to know.”
He didn’t know why he was pressing on like this; thoughts were careening so wildly around his head he was only able to interpret the ones pertaining to immediate desires—and what he wanted right now was for Remus to know this.
“Well first off, it’s a categorically false statement.” Remus looked at him out of the corner of his narrowed eye. “Second off, look who’s talking.”
“What’s that supposed to—I pull plenty!”
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘once’.”
“Just because I didn’t tell you about the other times—”
Remus gave one of his signature exasperated noises. “Padfoot, you came back from Addy Corcoran’s dorm that night and made us all smell your fingers. I can’t imagine you having another sexual encounter and keeping quiet about it.”
Sirius felt his face grow warm, but he valiantly kept on. “As I recall, you refused to smell my fingers.”
“As I recall, I was studying,” Remus volleyed. “Excuse me for not tripping over my feet trying to get a whiff like James and Peter.”
“That was pretty funny.”
“It was cartoonish.”
“I’ve heard cartoons are funny. But listen—Moony. We’re talking about you. There’s no reason why you can’t go pull yourself an Addy Corcoran—”
“Sirius, please just shut up.” Remus suddenly had that feral look about him, the one he got when he felt cornered, and Sirius could practically see his hackles raising. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Sirius stared at him and Remus glowered back, and suddenly Sirius felt anger bubbling up his throat like bile. “Why do you have to be such a, a martyr about everything?” he bit out. “You wouldn’t believe I wanted to come visit you even though I’m your best friend, you won’t believe anyone would want to be with you—why do you make things so hard on yourself?”
“Do you need me to spell it out for you?” Remus hissed, his eyes round and wild. “Look—I know you and James and Peter love to forget, love to pretend you don’t care, but that’s not the way the rest of the world thinks, all right?”
“Did you know,” Remus interrupted, and Sirius was finding it harder and harder to meet his gaze, “did you know there’s no known record of a werewolf having children? My kind don’t reproduce, we don’t marry, we can't even hold down jobs. No one wants anything to do with us. So don’t—don’t sit there and tell me I’m bringing this on myself.”
He was shaking slightly by now, and he slumped against the window, looking utterly drained. Sirius had the sense to know that he’d lost the argument on a practical level; however, this was a point he was particularly unwilling to concede, especially in his current state. “Well—I never said anything about reproducing,” he said, bringing the argument back to safe, petty territory. “I’m just talking about sex. Snogging, even. You don’t have to tell a bird about—your problem, before you snog her.”
Remus made a small frustrated noise and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. Spider hands, Sirius thought. Long fingers. He stayed like that for a long moment, and then exhaled sharply and turned to look at Sirius, his face set, like he’d just made his mind up about something.
“You remember fourth year,” he said, “when you were still new to pot? And one night it was just the two of us in the dorm, and you started coughing. And so I would take a drag, and then make a tunnel with my hands and exhale into your mouth, and it would go down easier?”
Sirius nodded slowly, slightly embarrassed, but the memory sent a little whirl through his stomach. He struggled for a moment in getting his attention to rejoin Remus’s story.
“I learned that trick from… from this boy called Declan. Muggle boy—he lived down the road, though last I heard he'd joined the fucking RAF so not anymore, I suppose.... Anyway, we were friends for a while, or for a summer or two, at least. This particular summer was the one after third year, the summer you spent with James in Provence. I wasn’t hearing much from you lot, of course, and I was.... Well, I had Declan. And, you know, I liked him. We’d read a lot of the same books, liked a lot of the same music. And I didn’t have to worry about him guessing the truth about me, obviously. When he asked once why I looked peaky I told him I was anemic, and that was good enough for him.”
Remus paused for a moment, his eyes a bit unfocused. When he continued his voice was quieter, as though he had forgotten Sirius was there and was talking instead just to himself. “We were smoking up in his barn one afternoon. And I started coughing, and he said, here, let’s try this, it’ll help. He was a year older, so, you know, very wise and experienced in my eyes. And he exhaled into my mouth, only… only he didn’t make a tunnel with his hands. And, well. One thing led to another, as they say. And I… I liked it. I mean, it made sense, like. Up until then, nothing else really had.”
Sirius knew something important was being said, but the meaning of it was dancing just beyond his reach; he felt like he was chasing after it wearing leaden shoes. “Anyway,” Remus continued, “then his dad walked in on us, of course. Big, no-nonsense kind of bloke. It was terrible. He said if I ever came near his son again he’d kill me, and—and so I ran.” Remus swallowed, hard. “I saw Declan in town a few days later. He had a black eye, pretended not to notice me. I never spoke to him again, after that.”
He finally turned to look at Sirius, his face hard, his eyes searching Sirius’s for a challenge. Sirius seemed to have lost the ability to speak, his mind an echo chamber of deafening white noise.
“So, no,” Remus said bitterly, “the werewolf thing isn’t my only problem, when it comes to… that. Because apparently my luck wasn’t rotten enough as it was.” He looked away, and appeared to sag; all at once he looked very old. “Now please leave me alone.”
He slid off the window seat and crossed the room, climbing into bed and curling in on himself.
“I remember how the darkness doubled—I recall lightning struck itself—I was listening to the rain—I was hearing something else—”
Sirius lifted the needle of Remus’s record player and turned it off. When he finally tiptoed to bed he got in carefully, settling near the edge of the mattress once again. He stared at the pitched ceiling and listened to Remus breathing, and it was a very long time before he fell asleep.
For several weeks during the winter of fifth year, after the Incident, Remus wouldn’t allow Sirius in his presence unaccompanied. Sirius could never imagine Remus asking James and Peter to enforce this decree, so it was a mark of how badly Sirius had fucked up, and how badly Remus had taken it, that the other two knew instinctively not to leave them alone together.
He’d never been able to think of that period afterwards without feeling sick to his stomach. Remus would listen to him when he spoke, but wouldn’t reply unless he was being asked a question; he wouldn’t smile at him; he would flinch away when Sirius touched him accidentally and Sirius hadn’t known what to do except adopt a permanent hangdog expression and hope that Remus was a secret Legilimens when he looked at him and thought as loudly as possible: I’M SORRY I’M SORRY I’M SORRY. The truth was that Sirius hadn’t had any idea how to apologise—the magnanimity of what he had done made the prospect of coming up with an adequate apology seem near impossible.
In the end it had been Padfoot, the morning after the next full moon, who had coerced Prongs and Wormtail to head back to the castle while he stayed behind. He’d nestled his giant furry body against Remus and licked his wounds until he woke up and said “Bloody dog,” and then, quietly, “I missed you, too.” They had finally talked about it later that day in the hospital wing, and Sirius may or may not have cried a little bit, and things hadn’t been perfect between them after that, but it marked the point when things started to mend.
This time felt similar—the chill emanating off of Remus was palpable from the moment Sirius woke up to an empty bed and the sound of his footsteps creaking down the stairs. Only now, the thing he needed to say to Remus in order to make it better wasn’t an apology; it was something else, though he couldn’t wrap his head around what it could be.
He was sitting at the kitchen table now, watching Remus pick at his beans and hastily averting his gaze every time Remus looked his way.
“Love,” Hope said, her brow furrowed as she leaned across the table towards her son, “why aren’t you eating? This is your hungriest day of the month, or I wouldn’t have made so much food.” She yanked gently on a lock of his hair, trying to draw a smile out of him, but he just mumbled something unintelligible and shoveled a forkful of beans into his mouth. Hope shot a questioning glance at Sirius, who quickly went back to cutting his sausage into coin-sized slivers.
“Right,” she said on an exhale, her eyes darting once more between them as she stood up. “Well, I’ve got to go to work.” She sighed as she was met with silence again, and reached out to squeeze Remus’s hand on the table. “Make sure he eats more, will you?” she said to Sirius, and Sirius nodded awkwardly. Remus’s ears turned slightly pink.
She kissed the top of her son's head, grabbed her satchel from the coat hook by the door, and left.
Silence fell over the table once again. Remus drummed his fingers on the tabletop, then ate one more bite of his breakfast before standing up, his chair scraping on the wooden floor. He put his plate in the sink and then passed behind Sirius’s chair as he made for the door to the living room. As he did so, his elbow brushed the back of Sirius’s neck and Sirius flinched so hard that he dropped his fork. It clattered loudly onto his plate, and Remus froze. For a moment, his face betrayed him: his mouth was a hard thin line and his eyes blinked rapidly, like he was trying not to cry. Before Sirius could say anything (and what would he even say? It’s not you, it’s me?), Remus had squared his shoulders and left the room.
The rest of the day slipped by in a similar fashion: Remus mostly stayed in his room while Sirius went anywhere but, feeling more and more like an intruder, the way he sometimes did at the Potters’. He eventually ended up in the kitchen, helping Hope make the beef stew they were to have for dinner. They talked about cars, and she taught him how to use a gas stove, and she didn’t ask what was going on between him and Remus, for which Sirius was grateful.
When Remus trudged into the kitchen as Sirius was setting the table, his heart stuttered almost painfully. He had grown paler, and the circles under his eyes darker, over the course of the day. He caught Sirius’s eye, his face expressionless, and Sirius quickly looked away.
To save them from another silent meal, Hope put on a Josephine Baker record and told them anecdotes about her day, while Remus, to Sirius’s relief, ate three helpings of stew. After dinner, with moonrise fast approaching, the two of them did the washing up while Hope brought pillows and blankets down to the cellar. It felt odd, after helping to make a whole meal without once using magic, to point his wand at the dishes and watch the grime siphon away into nothing.
“So,” he said finally, handing Remus a stack of clean plates to put away. “How should I come down to the cellar tonight? Seeing as, I mean, I assume we can’t open the door once you’ve transformed.” He chanced a glance at Remus; he was frowning, like he was having difficulty processing Sirius’s words. “I could go down there with you,” Sirius continued hastily, “I know you never want anyone with you when you transform, but—”
“You won’t be in the cellar with me,” Remus said, his voice hoarse from disuse. “My mum, she—she can’t know you’re an Animagus. And even if she could, she wouldn't really understand. There’s no way she’d let you anywhere near me.”
Sirius opened his mouth and closed it. He hadn’t even thought about that. “Well, what if I sneak down, you know, after she’s gone to bed—”
“No.” He stepped closer, his eyes wide and beseeching, and Sirius’s heart hammered in his chest. “Sirius—please don’t do anything stupid tonight. Please. You cannot open the door.”
Sirius swallowed. “Okay,” he said. “I promise.”
Remus’s shoulders visibly relaxed. “Thank you.”
“Time to go down, Remus,” Hope said then, appearing in the doorway.
Remus nodded, biting his lip. He drew his wand out of his pocket and held it out to Sirius, not meeting his gaze. “Hang on to this for me, would you?”
Sirius reached out and took it, but before he could say anything Remus had shouldered past him. He pocketed Remus’s wand and followed him to a door off the living room, which was triple padlocked and reinforced, Sirius guessed, with magic.
Hope wrapped Remus in a hug and whispered something in his ear. He nodded, and she kissed him on the forehead. “See you in the morning, sweetheart.” She opened the door, and Sirius caught a glimpse of a rickety wooden staircase leading down to the dimly lit cellar. Remus slipped inside without a backward glance and shut the door behind him.
Hope exhaled sharply. “Right,” she said, and bent down to lock each of the padlocks in turn. “Lyall usually reinforces these with some sort of heavy-duty locking spell. He always did it wordlessly, so I’m not sure I could tell you....”
“I’ve got it,” Sirius muttered. “And then just silencing charms, yeah?” He drew his wand and set to work.
“Thank you,” she whispered when he was through, giving his shoulder a squeeze. Sirius nodded quickly; he suddenly felt rather nauseous.
By the time he got to Remus’s bedroom and looked out the window, the full moon was looming hugely just above the tops of the trees in the distance. Two floors below the wolf was howling, but Sirius couldn’t hear it.
By the time Hope’s footsteps creaked up the stairs to bed, the moon was high in the sky and Sirius had read the first act of a dog-eared play on Remus’s bedside table called Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, though he wasn’t sure he had taken in a single line. His ears kept pricking up at the slightest noise, but each time it had been Goneril ruffling her feathers, or the trees outside creaking in the wind, or once, a couple of foxes play-fighting in the backyard. Nothing that sounded like a werewolf tearing itself to pieces, though he knew that’s exactly what was happening down in the cellar.
When the hall light finally went out and he heard Hope’s bedroom door shut, Sirius decided the coast was, for all intents and purposes, clear. As quietly as possible, he slipped out the door and down the hallway. On the stairs, he employed a trick he had learned sneaking around a similarly creaky old house growing up, and placed his feet on the very edge of the stairs near the wall, where the wood was most fortified. It took him a while, but he made it down in relative silence and made a beeline for the cellar door.
This would prove a singularly difficult obstacle. He stepped back and stared at the door, tapping his wand on his chin. He needed opposable thumbs to open it, obviously. How to slip inside, re-lock the door, and transform into Padfoot, all before the wolf got to him?
He stepped closer and reached out, and his fingers tingled as they passed through the sound barrier his silencing charm had created, hanging like an invisible curtain a couple of inches in front of the door. He hesitated only a moment before leaning forward and pressing his ear against the wood.
Though he knew what to expect, the sudden noise still made him jump. The wolf was growling and barking horrendously below, the noise interspersed with the groan of splintering wood and the harsh tinkle of shattering glass. Every now and then the growling became muffled, and Sirius knew the wolf was biting itself.
He began to panic. He should be down there; it was his job to keep Remus’s teeth from himself, and here he stood only a few feet away, doing absolutely fuck-all. He clenched his teeth and pointed his wand at the doorknob, his muscles tensed and ready to spring and transform as fast as he could, when suddenly the noise down below stopped.
He frowned and leaned back outside the sound barrier. Silence fell over him again. Then, to his horror, the door rattled on its hinges.
His mouth went dry as he stared at the padlocks, swinging noiselessly from their latches. He slowly leaned towards the door again, and as soon as he cleared his invisible barrier, the wolf’s ferocious growling returned, only this time twice as loud—it was directly on the other side of the door, ramming against it with all its considerable strength. It could smell him.
“Remus,” he whispered, inanely, placing both palms on the vibrating door. “Remus, it’s me—it’s okay—”
The wolf only gave a strangled howl, and the sound of its snapping teeth was so near that Sirius felt himself break into a cold sweat. In his desperation and mounting fear, he did the only thing he could think of, and transformed into Padfoot.
The wolf’s scent hit him, potent and angry and near enough to kill. But the wolf wouldn’t hurt Padfoot. The wolf was Padfoot’s friend, just like Remus was Sirius’s.
He stood up on his hind legs and placed his front paws against the door, whuffling softly until the wolf’s snarls died down and were replaced by sniffing noises. Silence, and then—a plaintive whine and a light scratch at the door.
Satisfied, Padfoot wagged his tail and curled up on the floor. After a moment, he heard the wolf settle on the stairs with an oomph. He waited until he heard the wolf’s deep rumbling snore on the other side of the door before resting his head on his front paws and closing his eyes.
His ears pricked up at the first sound of creaking on the wooden stairs. He startled awake, transforming back into Sirius only a moment before Hope emerged in the living room doorway.
“Sirius?” She was wearing a paisley dressing gown and slippers, her silver hair piled in a loose knot on top of her head. “What are you doing down here? Why are you on the floor?” A fearful note crept into her voice, and her eyes darted to the cellar door, still closed and padlocked. Sirius scrambled to his feet, running a hand through his hair and hoping he didn’t smell too much like dog.
“It’s okay, I’m not—I didn’t—er.” There was an awkward pause as he racked his brains for an excuse. “I was up early and I just wanted to, you know. Keep him company. From a distance.”
Her face softened immediately. “Oh, you’re sweet.” Sirius felt his cheeks grow warm, but fortunately Hope was busy with the padlocks. Sirius drew his wand and removed his silencing and locking charms, and when Hope opened the door the hinges squealed audibly. She flipped on the light switch and gasped.
“What? What is it?” Sirius nearly tripped over himself in his haste to reach the doorway and peer over her shoulder. Remus was slumped over on the stairs, motionless, his face hidden from view.
“Grab a blanket, please, Sirius,” Hope instructed quietly as she bent down to tend to her son. Sirius snatched an afghan from the back of the sofa and hurried back to hand it to Hope, who draped it over Remus’s naked body.
“Here—let me—” He edged past her and carefully descended a few steps. Crouching down, he gently shifted Remus onto his back and tucked the afghan closely around him; then he got an arm under his shoulders and an arm under his knees and, straining, lifted him up. He staggered up the rest of the stairs and made swiftly for the sofa, trying to ignore the way Remus’s head was lolling back limply over his arm.
He laid him down as carefully as he could; then Hope sat down on the coffee table to assess the damage while Sirius just stood there, his heart in his throat. He had been there with Remus countless times immediately after a full moon—had seen firsthand the moonset transformation before helping James and Peter carry him, freshly human, to the narrow bed in the Shack. But Remus had never been seriously injured those times; it was their job to make sure of that. This wasn’t the case now—in just the couple of hours before Padfoot had been outside the door the previous night, the wolf had done good deal of damage: a bloody nose and a split lip, vicious teeth marks that left his right forearm mangled and bloody, and—his stomach dropped as Hope drew the blanket down to Remus’s waist and he saw it—an enormous purple bruise covering nearly his entire left side.
Hope felt around his ribcage while Sirius watched anxiously; he had a sickening feeling that the bruise was a result of the wolf lunging at the door, trying to get at him.
“Nothing broken,” Hope said matter-of-factly, tucking the afghan up under Remus’s chin again. She put a finger in his slack mouth, and Sirius was confused until he realised she was checking for knocked-out teeth. “And not nearly as many bites as last month, that’s good.” She wiped her finger on her dressing gown, and Sirius sat down next to her on the coffee table, watching the steady rise and fall of Remus’s chest.
Hope shot a sideways glance at him. “I don’t mean to put you on the spot, love, but do you know a spell to stitch up his arm?”
“Oh—right. Yeah,” Sirius said, but his mind had gone blank—it had just occurred to him, because apparently he was the stupidest, most thoughtless piece of shit on earth, that he hadn’t practiced any healing charms in preparation for this. Wasn’t that the entire reason he was here?
He reached out and took Remus’s limp hand in his own clammy one, bending his arm into a more workable position. His stomach turned at the sight of the wounds tearing up his flesh from wrist to elbow, but they had all clotted by now and none looked very deep.
He knew the spell—could clearly remember practicing it on a freakishly lifelike dummy in one of Pomfrey’s first-aid classes a couple years ago. It was just a matter of concentration and execution. He drew his wand and cleared his throat awkwardly, all too aware of Hope’s eyes on him.
“Vulnera Sanentur.” A wisp of purplish mist flowed from the tip of his wand and circled Remus’s wrist, which Sirius was still holding tightly with his left hand. The mist snaked up Remus’s forearm, and then dissolved. The wound appeared unchanged.
Sirius swore loudly in his head. He kept his eyes from darting to Hope to gauge her reaction, took a deep breath, and repeated the spell. This time, the smoke wound more quickly around Remus’s arm, and the dried blood covering the skin was siphoned away, leaving the wounds clean. Relieved and emboldened, Sirius repeated the spell a third time and watched as the wounds slowly knitted themselves together.
“Nice work,” Hope murmured appreciatively, running her fingers over what were now fresh raised scars on Remus’s forearm. She turned to look at him then, her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “He trusts you, you know.”
“I—” Sirius floundered, taken completely off-guard. “I mean, not more than he trusts you.”
“But I’m his mum,” Hope said, rolling her eyes good-naturedly. “You’re different. I won’t thank you for being his friend, because he’s not a charity case, but.” She sat up a bit taller, and Sirius could see, suddenly, where Remus got his stubborn sense of pride. “But, you know. Thank you for the rest.”
Sirius wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but she didn’t seem to think an explanation was necessary. “I’ve got some—what do you call it—dittany,” she said brusquely. “In the medicine cabinet upstairs. Should help with the scars.” She stood up and rested her hand briefly on Sirius’s head before heading up the stairs.
Sirius let out a deep breath. He turned Remus’s hand over, absently tracing the lines of his palm with his thumb. If he’d fucked up in any way, if the scars turned out any worse than the others, he didn’t know if he could forgive himself.
Anxious to make himself useful again, he pointed his wand at Remus’s face and healed his bloody nose and split lip; after years of acquiring minor injuries in the name of pranking, mapmaking, and Quidditch, these simpler healing charms were old hat.
By now pale early-morning sunlight was streaming in through the picture window above the sofa, catching the copper and the scattered strands of silver in Remus’s hair. Without thinking, Sirius reached out and gently brushed the loose curls back off his forehead.
Remus gave a little groan, his eyelids fluttering open, and Sirius’s heart stumbled as he retracted his hand. “Hey, Moonbeam,” he said, smiling weakly.
“Hey.” His voice was raw after decimating his vocal cords all night. He blinked rapidly as he came to his senses and tried to sit up on his elbows.
Remus inhaled sharply and winced, clutching his side. “Fuck me,” he mumbled as he flopped back onto the pillow.
Hope emerged just then at the bottom of the stairs, holding a fistful of brightly-coloured vials and a bar of chocolate. “Oh, good, you’re up,” she said, and was at her son’s side in an instant.
Sirius remained sitting awkwardly next to her as she fussed over Remus and began dabbing dittany on his arm. Now that Sirius had gone through his pitiful repertoire of healing magic, his continued presence in the room felt to him like an intrusion. He stood up, swaying with drowsiness as he did so. “I’ll just, er, leave you to it, shall I?”
Hope startled slightly when he spoke, as though she had forgotten he was there. “Oh—of course, love, go get some sleep.” As he turned to go, she took his hand and looked up at him, her face unbearably kind. “Thank you again, Sirius—I mean it. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”
Sirius nodded jerkily and tried to smile, but was sure it looked more like a grimace. He glanced at Remus, who was watching him through half-lidded eyes; there was a speck of melted chocolate on his lower lip.
Then Sirius remembered something. “Your wand, Moony.” He drew both wands out of his waistband and handed Remus’s to him. Remus’s fingers brushed his as he took it.
“’Course.” He lingered for a beat longer before turning from them and heading swiftly up the stairs to collapse on Remus’s bed.
It wasn’t quite the golden hour, but the sun was low enough in the sky that it cast a shimmering haze over everything that it touched, and when Sirius looked up from his work he thought he had never seen two colours better suited for each other than green and gold.
He was sitting at the end of the dock next to his discarded combat boots and an open copy of Healing at Home with Herbs, his toes skimming the water while he mashed up a fistful of St John’s wort with Hope’s mortar and pestle. He’d slept through most of the day, though not quite as long as Remus, who was still passed out on the sofa when Sirius had come downstairs. Hope, perhaps sensing his desire to be helpful, had taken pity on him and sent him out with the book and a list of plants and herbs to find in the woods behind the house, and he’d spent the next few hours hunting them down and getting himself covered in dirt in the process.
He squinted at the recipe open next to him, sifted through his pile of collected greenery until he found the calendula, and picked off eleven petals. He sprinkled them into the mortar, and as he muttered the book’s preferred liquidising spell the dock bobbed slightly under added weight.
Sirius pretended not to notice, fussing over his concoction (now a lumpy, orange-brown sludge) until Remus reached the edge of the dock and sat down next to him. He was barefoot, as Sirius had grown to expect, and his cuffed light-wash jeans had days-old grass stains on the knees. “Hey.”
Sirius let himself glance up at him. “Hey.” He was still pale, with dark circles under his eyes and an unruly bedhead, but his mouth turned up slightly at the corner when Sirius met his gaze.
“Got something in the mail,” he said, pulling a photograph out of his back pocket and handing it to Sirius. “Cleans up rather well, doesn’t he?” James was wearing an embroidered kurta, standing between his mother in a sari and his father in dress robes. He looked balefully up at Sirius as Mrs. Potter stood on tiptoe and attempted to flatten her son’s hair, to no avail. Snickering, Sirius turned the photograph over to read the writing on the back.
Moony and Pads,
Behold my suffering, for now is the winter of my discontent. If I ever attend another wedding that isn’t mine and Evans’s, it will be too soon. At least the food’s good.
Return to me soon my fairweather friends.
Yours in hardship,
“Ever the drama queen,” Sirius muttered as he handed the photograph back to Remus. In truth he had thought about James very little during his time here, a realisation that made his stomach twinge a bit with guilt. Why couldn’t he seem to treat his friends as well as they deserved, these days?
“Feeling any better?” Sirius asked, turning back to his sludge.
Remus shrugged. “A bit.”
“And your arm?”
Remus held his forearm out for inspection. The scars were still raised and fresh-looking, but appeared no worse than the new ones Sirius had seen in the past. “Mum says you were brilliant.” Sirius blew a puff of air out through his nose. “You were, Sirius,” Remus insisted. “This is loads better than anything my dad’s been able to do.”
“Yeah, right,” Sirius muttered, but decided to let it go. “Was the least I could do.”
Remus unfolded his long legs and let his toes dip into the water next to Sirius’s. “Mum also said…” he began, and hesitated. “She said she found me on the stairs this morning. And that you’d been sleeping outside the cellar.” He said it like a question.
“I didn’t sneak in or anything, don’t worry.”
“I wasn't worried.”
Sirius shifted self-consciously and started to pick the remaining petals off his calendula stem. “You were right on the other side of the door,” he said, dropping a few petals into the pond and watching them float on the surface like tiny rafts. “Going nuts because you could smell me.” Remus stiffened next to him, and Sirius quickly added, “But then I turned into Padfoot, and you—you calmed down, and went to sleep.”
Remus was silent for a long moment. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
“Don’t mention it.” Sirius poked sullenly at his sludge with his index finger.
“What is that, exactly?”
Sirius gestured at the open book on his other side, a bit embarrassed. “An herbal thing for your bruise. Still needs the mullein leaf....”
Remus huffed a laugh. “You’ve been hanging around my mum too much,” he said as Sirius extracted the leaf in question from his pile of forest finds. He tore it into three long strips, as per the book’s instructions, set the pieces on fire with his wand, and quickly dropped them into the mortar. The mixture bubbled and the leaf-bits dissolved, leaving behind a thick, greenish-brown paste.
“Looks bloody disgusting,” Sirius admitted, holding the mortar up to his nose to sniff it. “But it doesn’t smell too bad.”
“It’s brilliant,” Remus assured him. “Do I just, er, slap it on?”
“Yeah. Do you wanna, er....”
Remus nodded and hitched his t-shirt up, wincing slightly as he lifted his arms and pulled it over his head. The bruise was still angry-looking, the dark purple blooming across his side from just below his armpit down to the werewolf bite on his waist, but a bit more of it had turned green, which Sirius thought was a good thing. Remus reached for the mortar and pestle in Sirius’s lap.
“I could do it,” Sirius blurted. “I mean—if you want.”
Remus stared at him, his brow furrowed. “Yesterday you kept... flinching away, every time I touched you. After—after what I told you.” He looked away and dragged his feet back and forth through the water, feigning nonchalance as he asked quietly, “Aren’t you still worried I’m about to jump your bones?”
Sirius’s face burned. “That’s not—that wasn’t what that meant,” he said miserably.
“What did it mean, then?”
Sirius wanted to dive headfirst into the pond and drown himself. He had spent hours in the woods hunting down herbs and agonising over what he was going to say when this conversation inevitably arose. In a horribly Remus-like fashion he had even practiced various scenarios out loud, but none of them were anything like what this was turning out to be.
“You gonna let me put this gunk on you or what,” he mumbled.
Remus glanced at him, chewing his lip. “Yeah, okay.”
Sirius dipped two fingers into the thick paste and scooped up a glob of it. Remus turned toward him slightly, and Sirius reached up and smeared a long stripe down his ribcage, where the bruise was darkest. Goosebumps broke out across Remus’s skin and his nipples hardened slightly, but Sirius forced himself to stay focused on the task at hand. He continued to paint Remus’s side carefully, making sure the entire bruise was covered in an even layer. When his fingers reached his waist, he accidentally brushed one of the gruesome, silver puncture-scars of the werewolf bite, and Remus flinched.
“Shit—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s okay,” Remus murmured. “You can. Touch it, I mean.”
Sirius looked up at him uncertainly, but Remus’s face was open and sincere. Heart pounding, Sirius traced his thumb over a small bit of the scar that stretched from his spine to his navel in a vague, warped oval, feeling its grooves and ridges as the air between him and Remus turned crystalline. It felt like being entrusted with something immeasurably valuable, and for a moment Sirius was speechless.
“I’m no good at this,” he said finally, not fully sure what he even meant. He glanced up at Remus, who was frowning slightly, waiting for him to go on. This was the moment, Sirius realised, and immediately everything he had practiced, all the lines he had rehearsed, vanished completely from his head. Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, he blurted ineloquently, “I just—I just I don’t want you to think that no one could love you if they knew you were a werewolf. Or, or if they knew you were—gay, or whatever. I mean… I love you, and I… I know both of those things.”
Remus had gone completely still next to him, but Sirius couldn’t yet bring himself to look him in the eye. “Sirius....”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m—” Sirius ran a hand through his hair frantically; he thought he might vomit, or pass out, or both. “I really want to kiss you, Remus.”
The words hung over them on the still summer air like a mosquito net. Sirius took a shaky breath and closed his eyes, thinking that if he gave in to his current impulse and apparated to Iceland, he’d probably splinch the majority of his vital organs in the process. The resulting image didn’t seem too far off the mark, really: Remus sitting at the end of the dock next to a heap of wet guts.
Just as his resolve to stay put began to falter, Remus broke the silence. “So kiss me.”
Sirius heard the words clearly enough, but it took a moment for them to drift into his brain and settle at the bottom like sediment. When they did, he opened his eyes. Remus’s face was inches from his own, and in the end, it was the easiest thing in the world for Sirius to lean in and close the distance.
The press of their lips was dry and Sirius didn’t linger; after a few seconds he slowly pulled away, remaining close enough that he could feel Remus’s shallow breath on his face, and waited.
Remus’s eyes flickered open. He swallowed. Then he surged forward, and this time their mouths collided, and opened, and Sirius thought, of course he tastes like chocolate.
Kissing Remus felt symbiotic. They moved and breathed with each other; every swipe of his tongue in Remus’s mouth elicited a shudder, or a sigh, and when Remus’s fingers tangled in his hair and pulled, Sirius responded with a breathy little moan that would have been embarrassing if he’d had his wits about him. He twisted his own fingers into the curls at the back of Remus’s head, while his other hand slid over his bare shoulder, down his scarred chest—and got caught in the cold, sticky paste on his side.
“Eurgh,” he grumbled, pulling away as Remus gave a surprised burst of laughter. “This shit had better work, I swear to god....” He wiped his hand on the wooden dock and looked back up at Remus. His cheeks were pink and his eyes fever-bright, and a grin was slowly tugging on the corners of his mouth. Sirius could have looked at him until it was too dark outside to see.
“You know… you might have said.”
“I might have—” Sirius spluttered. “Look who’s talking!”
“I’ve been saying so for years,” Remus volleyed, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Yes, well. You clearly didn’t account for my abnormally thick skull, through which only the most direct of come-ons can penetrate.”
“Oh, ‘I don’t understand what flirtation is,’ says the guy who just used ‘come-on,’ ‘penetrate,’ and ‘abnormally thick’ in a single sentence.”
“Please, that was just plain dirty talk. I’m a much more tactful flirt than that.”
“Give us an example, then,” Remus suggested.
Sirius hummed; it was hard to concentrate when he was so giddy he felt drunk. “I don’t know if this counts,” he said, “because I didn’t know at the time that I was acting on flirtatious impulses, but… that poem you were copying the other morning—I knew it was Rimbaud, because I—well, I knew you liked him, so I'd been reading his stuff a little bit last year. Guess I was hoping I’d be able to quote him organically in conversation and you’d be wildly impressed, but that never really happened, did it.”
To his credit, Remus clearly was trying to hold a straight face. “That’s—Sirius, that’s very sweet,” he said from behind the fist he was holding over his mouth to keep from laughing. “Much more tactful than I was expecting to give you credit for.”
“I’ll show you tact,” Sirius sneered, and wiped a glob of healing paste on Remus’s cheek, resulting in an indignant squawk and a subsequent tussle over the mortar and pestle until they were dropped into the pond and had to be sheepishly Summoned back.
The sun had now fully descended behind the tops of the trees, occasionally winking at them when the wind ruffled the leaves. On the far side of the pond a bullfrog had started to croak, and on the dock, all offenses momentarily forgiven, Remus leaned into Sirius and covered his hand with his own.
On the morning of his last day at the Lupins’ cottage, Sirius woke up in the middle of the bed. He blearily blinked the room into focus, and then his stomach swooped as he registered the arm slung around his waist—Remus’s—and the hot breath on the back of his neck—also Remus’s.
He pressed his face into the pillow and grinned stupidly to himself as the memories from yesterday stumbled groggily back to the forefront of his mind. They’d spent the whole day outside together, swimming and gardening and traipsing around the woods, and when Sirius had gone to have his first engine lesson with Hope in the garage Remus had tagged along, if only to lounge in the front seat eating an apple and making faces whenever Sirius peeked at him from behind the open hood.
There had also been kissing—lots of kissing, against trees and against the dock ladder and against the walls of Remus’s bedroom, so much kissing that it was amazing their perpetually red lips weren’t a dead giveaway. In fact he was probably kidding himself thinking that they had maintained any semblance of secrecy at all, but Remus didn’t seem to care whether Hope knew or not so Sirius didn’t either.
If he was being totally honest, however, he was secretly a bit relieved that there hadn’t been anything more than kissing since the first one on the dock two days ago. He’d never been with a guy before, after all, let alone his best friend of six years, and he’d never been with anyone who made his palms as sweaty as Remus did. It was brilliant, of course, but it was also a bit terrifying, so he was happy to let Remus set the pace until the moon fatigue wore off. Better to acclimate slowly, he figured, and to reign in his heart and his dick until his brain could catch up with them.
But his brain functionality wasn’t off to a great start, today—because now Remus was kissing the nape of his neck, his early-morning movements slow as molasses, and Sirius found himself responding instinctively by arching his back and pressing into him. Then Remus’s fingers found his jaw, gently tilting his face around so he could kiss him. It was a slow kiss but it deepened quickly, and there was something hungry and intentional in the way Remus’s tongue licked into his mouth, and in the way his warm hand slid slowly from his jaw to his neck and down to his chest, where his thumb brushed Sirius’s nipple.
Sirius was breathless and more than half hard by the time Remus pulled away to grin wickedly at him and whisper in his ear, “Better hurry down or our breakfast will get cold.”
Then he was gone. Sirius’s jaw worked furiously as Remus tugged on a pair of jeans, but he left, smirking, before any sound managed to leave his lips.
By the time Sirius had meditated long enough on the image of Madam Pince in a bikini and was able to make it downstairs, Remus was halfway through his first plate of eggs and sausage (and of course, of course it had to be sausage).
“Morning, Sirius,” Hope said brightly, turning from the stove as Sirius sat down across from Remus.
“Morning,” Sirius responded equally brightly, though he was doing his best to glare across the table. Remus seemed not to notice, but no sooner had Hope set down a plate in front of him than Sirius felt Remus’s bare foot sliding over his under the table.
“You’re looking so much better, sweetheart,” Hope said as she sat down adjacent to them. She was right—the dark circles under Remus’s eyes had all but disappeared, and the colour had returned to his cheeks.
“My twelve-hours-of-sleep scheme worked as planned, then.” Remus’s big toe nudged Sirius’s ankle. “Wanted to be well-rested, seeing as it’s Sirius’s last day here and all.”
“I’ll remember that next time,” Sirius said tightly, “before I make fun of you for wanting to go to bed at nine.”
“I’ve always got your best interests at heart,” Remus told him, taking a bite of sausage in a way that completely belied his statement.
As much as Sirius had grown to like Hope and enjoy her presence, she could not have left for work fast enough that morning. He tried to listen and nod along while she chatted with them, but everything about Remus was proving to be a distraction—from his wild hair to his obscene lip-chewing to his foot, which hadn’t let up on its slow assault under the table.
Finally, after Sirius had consumed two full plates of food in his frustration, Hope glanced at her watch, swore, kissed each of them on top of the head, and hurried out the door.
Sirius let out a long breath and wiped his palms on his jeans. Remus drummed his fingertips on the table as they listened to the Thunderbird roll down the driveway and out of earshot. Then he stood up. He’d been chewing his lower lip so hard it was swollen.
He skirted slowly around the table and came to stand next to Sirius, where he finally met his gaze. “Finished?” he asked, reaching for his empty plate.
Sirius stared at him. Then he stood up so fast the blood rushed from his head and he stumbled dizzily into Remus, who steadied him in his arms. Recovering quickly, he tried to play it off as a sexy shove rather than a swoon, and he told himself for his own sake that it worked. Remus huffed as Sirius pushed him back against the counter and crowded into his space, standing slightly on tiptoe so they were eye to eye.
“Think you’re pretty slick, eh?”
“I didn’t,” Remus said, his voice hitching, “until I saw how affected you were by a bit of footsie. Now I think I’m the slickest bloke this side of the—”
Sirius shut him up with his mouth. Remus gave a little moan and kissed him back, both hands reaching up to tangle in Sirius’s hair. Then, in a move so stealthy it nearly made Sirius dizzy again, Remus flipped them so Sirius was bent backwards over the counter, Remus’s body flush against his from knees to chest. He groaned into Remus’s mouth and dug his fingernails into his back, and soon enough Remus was growling in his ear, “Upstairs—bed—now—”
Sirius didn’t need telling twice. They stumbled up the stairs, Sirius snorting with laughter when Remus tripped on the top step and nearly wiped out; but then Remus’s mouth was on his again and he was backing him into the bedroom. They kissed with a desperation Sirius had never come close to knowing before, and once Remus had pulled Sirius’s t-shirt over his head, Sirius sprung back and kissed him harder to make up for the second of lost contact.
Eventually the backs of his knees hit the bed, and he fell backwards onto it before scrambling up to lean against the pillows. His legs fell open instinctively and Remus climbed onto the bed and knelt between them. They were both breathing heavily, and they both, Sirius noticed with a lurch as he glanced down, were hard. He swallowed as Remus sat back on his heels and reached up to pull his t-shirt over his head.
His healing paste, amazingly enough, seemed to have worked—the bruise on Remus’s side was more green than purple now and was about half the size it used to be. Sirius reached out and gently ran his finger down it, feeling Remus shudder slightly under his touch.
“Is this—I mean, is all of this—okay?” Remus asked, his voice low and suddenly uncertain.
“Yeah,” Sirius breathed. “I think—I think I’ve, erm.” He let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “I think I’ve wanted this for a long time.”
A grin flashed across Remus’s face. “I think I’ve wanted it longer.”
“Okay, it’s not a competition, Remus.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that combination of words coming from—oh.”
Sirius’s hand had drifted from Remus’s ribs. He watched Remus's eyes flutter shut as he palmed him through his jeans, and then Remus took a deep breath and leaned down to kiss him. Sirius pulled him closer and Remus settled on top of him, his weight pressing him into the mattress.
When Remus rolled his hips, Sirius gasped embarrassingly loud. But then he did it again—and again—and Sirius’s head flopped back onto the pillows, a high-pitched moan escaping his lips, and embarrassment was suddenly the furthest thing from his mind. He wrapped his legs around Remus’s waist and dragged his fingernails down his back, and Remus made a low sound into Sirius’s neck before he bit down.
Sirius swore, his hips bucking, and before long he was babbling, “Please—fuck, Moony, I want—can I—”
“Can you what,” Remus breathed roughly into his ear, grinding down again.
“Can I—with my mouth—?”
Remus’s breath hitched, and he lifted his head to look down at Sirius with wide eyes. “Really?”
Sirius nodded and brought his hand up to cup Remus’s jaw, his thumb tracing his lower lip. Remus kissed his palm, and then Sirius tightened his legs around him and rolled over so that he was straddling him. Remus exhaled heavily as Sirius leaned down to kiss his throat. He slid his tongue along his collarbone and down to his chest, and when he took Remus’s nipple in his mouth Remus gasped, and Sirius felt his blood begin to boil with an insane recklessness. He had no idea what he was doing, he realised as he trailed kisses down Remus’s scarred stomach, but the thrill of it was propelling him forward—the thrill and the pure, single-minded desire which was only now making its urgency known to him. He didn’t think he had ever wanted anything with such simple clarity.
He placed one more kiss on Remus’s hipbone and glanced up at him. Remus was sitting up on his elbows to watch him, his pupils dilated and his lips parted, a blush creeping down to his chest. He was beautiful, Sirius thought with a jolt to his stomach—how had he never realised the extent to which that was true?
Remus met his gaze and managed a tiny nod, and with shaking fingers Sirius undid the button of his jeans. Remus lifted his hips to help him pull them off and Sirius tossed them over his shoulder. He’d seen Remus naked before, of course, but only after the full moon—never when he looked so debauched, and never when Sirius could let his gaze linger. Now he drank in the sight of him as he slowly peeled his boxers off, swallowing when his eyes dropped to his flushed cock, curving up towards his navel. Remus was breathing hard, his eyes wide and dark as Sirius settled between his legs and bracketed his hips with his elbows. Heart thumping wildly, Sirius leaned in and tentatively licked the bead of precome that had formed at the tip of his cock.
“Sirius—fuck, I won’t—don’t expect this to last very—”
Remus’s voice trailed off into a prolonged moan as Sirius took the head of his cock in his mouth, and he slammed his head back onto the pillows, his hands fisting in Sirius’s hair. He was big—Sirius hadn’t fully realised it until he felt the stretch, but he wrapped his hand around what his lips couldn’t reach and tried bobbing his head. He gagged a little, unused to the odd, salty taste and the weight filling his mouth, but the sound Remus made was so beautiful he kept going just to hear it again. It didn’t take long for him to get the hang of it, and once he did he realised he’d be happy staying there for hours doing nothing else, never mind the growing ache in his jaw or the drool dripping down his chin. But it wasn’t long before Remus’s legs began to twitch and his back began to arch, and when Sirius took him deep enough for his cock to hit the back of his throat he came hard, stuttering out Sirius’s name. Sirius gripped his hips tightly and swallowed.
Remus groaned, sounding utterly defeated. He batted lazily at Sirius’s shoulders and Sirius climbed up his body to kiss him, letting Remus lick into his mouth and taste himself. Sirius was painfully hard by now, but Remus didn’t need prompting—he fumbled with Sirius’s fly and wrapped a hand around his cock, and Sirius thrusted into it, his face buried in Remus’s shoulder. He lasted only a few strokes before his entire body spasmed and his mind went completely blank, and he swore into Remus’s neck as he spilled over his fingers.
They laid like that for some time, catching their breath, the fingers of Remus’s clean hand combing through Sirius’s hair. Then Sirius groaned and rolled off of him to survey the mess.
“Thanks for this,” Remus said, gesturing at the come smeared over his stomach and chest.
“I think it suits you,” Sirius slurred, and then he sat up on his elbow and beamed at him. “And—hey, Moony—now you actually are slick. Get it?”
Remus’s cheeks turned pink and he tried to maintain a world-weary expression, but it didn’t help that his mouth was twitching. “I hate you.”
“You love me.”
Remus scrunched his nose. “No comment.”
Sirius reached for his wand on the bedside table and Vanished the mess; then he scooted closer and rested his head on Remus’s shoulder, realising as he did so that in fewer than twelve short hours he’d be hurtling back to Hampshire on the Knight Bus. The only thing harder to believe than his imminent departure was the fact that it had only been five short days since he had arrived.
“Don’t forget about me when I leave,” he said suddenly, tilting his head and looking beseechingly up at Remus, eyes wide and dramatic. “Start of term’s two whole weeks away. A lot can happen in two weeks.”
Remus pursed his lips, considering. “That’s true,” he said slowly. “But you made a good enough impression just now. I'd go so far as to say I'm not likely to forget it.”
Sirius bit him on the shoulder.
Sirius pointed at the black box on the left side of the engine.
“Good,” Hope said. “Piston?” Sirius pointed, and she nodded her approval. “Good. And, let’s see… distributor? Excellent.”
Sirius looked over his shoulder and wiggled his eyebrows at Remus, who was leaning against the garage doorway with his arms folded over his chest. He wiggled his eyebrows back, and Sirius grinned.
“Are you sure you don’t have a drop of Muggle blood in you?” Hope asked, turning to him and squinting.
“No doubt about it, I’m afraid.”
“You must just be a natural, then. Remus grew up around cars and I don’t think he knows the difference between a carburetor and an alternator—”
“Mum, I’m right here.”
“I know you are, sweetheart, and you know I love you dearly.”
“To be fair, he was very helpful when I was changing the tire this afternoon,” Sirius offered. “Handed me the right wrench when I asked for it and everything.”
“Oh, yeah, there’s hope for me yet,” Remus said, rolling his eyes. “Anyway, I’m gonna go dump the compost, which is something I know lots about. I’ll leave the master and apprentice to their trade.” He grinned crookedly at Sirius as he turned to go, and Sirius watched his retreating back head towards the house.
Then Hope cleared her throat, and Sirius whirled around. She was busy cleaning the dirt out from under her fingernails, but Sirius had an inkling that this was purely to save him from embarrassment. “C’mere,” she said, jerking her head toward the far side of the garage, her mouth turned up at the corner. “I want to show you something.”
Sirius followed her, wading through the maze of cardboard boxes, bags of fertiliser, old bikes, and other miscellany that inhabited the garage along with the Thunderbird. In the far corner, beneath a dusty window through which the last of the evening sunlight was weakly streaming, was a large object he hadn’t noticed before as it was covered with a canvas tarp that blended in with the walls.
“I know I’ve just been teaching you about four-wheeled vehicles the past couple days,” Hope said as they approached it, “so I don’t know how you feel about the idea of just two, but....”
Sirius opened his mouth to voice his confusion, but then Hope dragged the tarp off of the object and his question died in his throat. She dropped the tarp to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust that swirled around, and then settled on, a gleaming black and silver motorcycle.
“It’s a Norton Commando,” Hope said as Sirius reached out to touch the headlight. “Found it at a flea market in Cardiff maybe eight, ten years ago. It was what you’d call an impulse buy.”
“It’s brilliant,” Sirius breathed, running his hand now across the leather seat. He couldn’t take his eyes off of it. “Do you ride it much?”
“Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it. I really don’t—I’m much more of a four-wheel kind of girl, as it turns out.” She grinned toothily at him. “To the surprise of no one.”
Sirius skirted slowly around the bike to inspect the other side. The hazy sunshine streaming in from the window reflected off the silver in bright pinpricks of light. “I was wondering if you might like to have it,” Hope said.
Sirius tore his eyes from the motorcycle and stared at her. She raised her eyebrows at him, beaming expectantly. “You’re joking.”
“I’m really not. Remus has no interest, and I’ve got too much of a bias for my Thunderbird—all it’s going to do is sit in here and rust.”
Sirius was gaping at her, but he could already feel it turning into an elated grin. “Holy shit,” he murmured, running a hand through his hair. He reached out to touch the metal and thought it felt warm, suddenly, under his fingertips.
“There’s a condition, however. Two, actually.” Hope crossed her arms and made what looked like a valiant attempt at a stern, parental expression. Sirius stood up straight and looked her eagerly in the eye to show he was listening.
“One: you can’t take it home with you tonight, not least because I doubt that magical bus will let you bring it onboard.” Sirius’s shoulders drooped, but he supposed it made sense. “You need to do your homework first. So I’ve got a few books you can take home instead—I want you to learn about motorcycles like I’ve been teaching you about cars. Learn how to take care of them, learn the theory behind driving them—and next time you come visit, Christmas or Easter or next summer, I'll take you to get your license.”
“Deal.” The introduction of a deadline both buoyed his spirits and increased his motivation—he was always up for a challenge, especially when this was the thing he stood to gain from it.
“Two,” Hope said, and paused. Sirius found himself tensing slightly. “You have to wear a helmet.”
“Oh.” Sirius barked out a laugh. “Yeah—yes. I promise.”
“Both of you.”
“I—what?” Sirius glanced down at the motorcycle. “Oh.” There was clearly room for two on the long leather seat. An image sprang unbidden into his mind: speeding through the green Welsh countryside with Remus’s arms around his waist, Remus’s chin on his shoulder. He felt his face grow warm.
Hope again acted like she hadn’t seen, and again Sirius wondered if it was a very generous ruse. “Remus will be a good influence, in that regard,” she said, and Sirius grinned, remembering how Remus had refused to move the Thunderbird an inch until Sirius had buckled his seatbelt. “But I wanted to make it an official rule anyway.”
“I’ll wear it,” Sirius said, and then glanced at her tentatively. “I—yeah. We both will.”
She nodded once, like his word was enough to seal the deal, and Sirius felt a rush of affection for her. He hurried to her side and wrapped his arms around her in a hug.
“Thank you,” he said, his face buried in her silver hair.
Her eyes were slightly shiny when he pulled away, but he returned her favour and pretended not to notice. She reached up and put an affectionate hand on his cheek. “Okay,” she said then, rolling her eyes and laughing like she had reached her daily limit on sentimentality, “you can go tell him now.”
Sirius beamed at her and turned to go. “Oh, and Sirius.” She squinted at him contemplatively, her hands on her hips. “Just to cover my bases.... Don’t make the bike any more dangerous than it has to be, okay? You know—with magic. No speed-enhancing spells or, I don’t know. Flames coming out the exhaust pipe. That sort of thing.”
Sirius pursed his lips for a moment, thinking—but speed and fire weren’t exactly what he had in mind. And what he did have in mind surely couldn’t be more dangerous than Quidditch, say, or running around with a werewolf once a month. “Deal,” he said, giving her an exaggerated wink. She laughed and shooed him away.
Sirius stepped out of the garage and into the waning sunlight. He breathed in a deep lungful of summer air, warm and still untouched by the coming September crispness. Remus emerged from the edge of the woods then, wiping his dirty hands on his jeans and swinging the empty compost bucket at his side. He waved at Sirius from across the yard. Sirius ran to meet him.