At half past nine on September twenty-ninth, 1976, the Gryffindor Fifth Year Boys’ Dormitory was currently the center of an Emergency Marauder Council. James Potter (in crisis; caller of the Emergency Council), Sirius Black (in puberty; failing to grow a goatee), Remus Lupin (in pain; having recently stubbed a toe), and Peter Pettigrew (incontinent; unwitting prank victim) were each perched on the ends of their respective beds, facing one another. A thick quiet pervaded the room as the Council was silently called to order.
James said, “My Words have gone black.”
“Wow,” Peter said, a little breathless, crossing his legs.
“Fucking wow,” Sirius said, still harboring the juvenile impression that using expletives for emphasis made him seem more grown-up and rugged.
“Er, yeah, wow,” Remus said, not wanting to break the mood.
“Yeah,” James said solemnly, looking at each one of them in turn.
“Who the fuck was it, mate?” asked Sirius after an appropriate moment of reverent silence had passed. “Who said them?”
James closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, removing his glasses and polishing them for dramatic effect before answering.
“Lily Evans,” he said in a hushed, low tone.
Peter, Remus noted, looked as though he were on the verge of wetting himself. Perhaps he already had; it was difficult to tell in the low light.
“Evans?” Peter said a little shrilly, clutching his knees and leaning forward, the threat of hyperventilation keeping him from expounding further.
“But she fucking hates you, mate!” Sirius finished for him.
“I - well, hate is rather a strong term, isn’t it?” said Remus, absently curling a hand over the grey Words inked on his own arm, hidden beneath his shirt and robes.
“Loathes,” supplied Peter, swallowing around a mouthful of air and relaxing his grip on his knees.
“Doesn’t matter,” said James. “She’s said my Words; they’ve gone black. She’s my Soulmate.”
Another silence fell upon them. This was, Remus reflected, all a bit heavy for fifteen.
“What ab- what about her?” Peter squeaked. “What about her Words? Did they - you know – ”
“Well, what the fuck about them, Pete?”
“I just - did they go black, too? I mean, is it - is it a Match?”
Sirius and Remus looked directly at Peter; James looked down at his lap.
“I dunno,” said James. “I mean, they don’t have to go at the same time, you know? Mum and Dad had their Words make a Match twenty years apart, and Dad’s not until after I was born. And besides,” James continued, “just because mine have gone black doesn’t mean hers will. She could have somebody else’s Words on her arm, or – ” He stopped, suddenly, this only just having occurred to him. “Oh Merlin,” he whispered, looking imploringly at Sirius, “what if she has got someone else on her arm? What I’ve found my Soulmate but I’m not hers? You know it doesn’t have to mean a Match, it - “
“Shut the fuck up, James; of course she’s got you on her arm, too,” Sirius said firmly. “Even if Evans – ” he stumbled, unused to saying the name as something not entirely unpleasant to utter, “ - does loathe you, she’ll come ‘round.” He got up and crossed over to James’ bed, putting a comforting arm around James’ shoulders, who looked up at Remus expectantly.
“Er,” said Remus unhelpfully, “at least Evans is a bit of a looker, yeah?”
“Yeah,” James, Sirius, and Peter sighed together. Remus let out a breath as well.
“She’ll come ‘round to you, mate,” Sirius said again, squeezing James’ shoulder in a consoling gesture. “Just give her some fucking time, and things will work themselves out.”
“Well, that’s easy for you to say,” James replied, his expression catching on something close to confused resentment. “Your Words went black in First Year; you’ve got it all sorted.”
Sirius pulled a pinched face, and Peter’s eyes went even wider.
“This isn’t about the fact that Caroline Baldwin said my Words in First Year - “
“I thought you said it was Agnes Featherbaugh?” Peter interjected at the same time Remus said, “I thought you said it was Clarice Bixby?” although Sirius ignored them both and barrelled on, “ - this is about the fact that nobody knows what makes people’s Words go black when they do, just that they fucking do. And I think that having them go now, when Evans clearly - dislikes you, only gives you that much more time to figure out how to change that. She’s your Soulmate, Prongs. The mate to your soul. The jam to your toast. The half you never knew you were missing until you didn’t go looking for it and just turned up in the middle of a conversation. You’re having a fucking moment, James, right now. The moment of your fucking life.”
Peter, clearly moved by Sirius’ impromptu, impassioned speech, shifted his legs underneath him, and Remus thought he heard the soft squashing of damp fabric.
The speech seemed to have also struck a chord with James, who straightened his shoulders and determinedly set his jaw, although this effect was somewhat diminished by his dawning resemblance to a love-struck Fifth Year girl.
“You’re right, Sirius,” James said, a new strength of character seeming to overtake him, buffeting his next words with a sudden force of will, “you’re absolutely right. Now that I’ve found her, Lily, my Soulmate, I must do everything in my power to win her and keep her. I’ve got – ” here he counted quickly on his fingers, not because he needed to, but rather for dramatic effect, “ - three more years to make this happen before we leave school and the consequences for harassment are determined by the Ministry and not Headmaster Dumbledore, even though he practically runs the Wizengamot anyway.”
“That’s the fucking spirit, mate,” Sirius hooted. James beamed. Peter let out a high-pitched whine.
“Go get her,” said Remus, attempting to smile but coming up with something more like a hopeful grimace, scratching at the spot on his arm where his own still-grey Words were scrawled uncomfortably on his skin like a plaster that had been pulled too tight upon application.
The Council continued on in this vein for a few minutes, exclamations of encouragement spliced between optimistic suggestions for wooing the fiery-tempered Evans, before Peter, perhaps impatient after marinating in his own urine, asked what Lily had said.
Even Sirius let out a whispered, “fuck,” and flicked a look at James.
“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t fucking want to, James,” he said. Words were intensely private things, and people generally kept them covered under fashionable bracelets or the long sleeves of their robes. Often, the only people to ever see the grey inscriptions were those present at a person’s delivery at birth and a person’s Soulmate themselves, but even that didn’t guarantee disclosure.
It was a social custom that people kept, not only to respect the private lives of others and avoid potentially awkward situations, but also to keep conversations as naturally worded as possible, in hopes that the Words might be said on their own and not interrupt the spontaneity required to make a Match, the grey inscriptions turning black when a person’s Soulmate spoke the Words that would tie them together.
Remus had no plans on ever discussing his own Words with anyone. Quite frankly, he didn’t like them. They weren’t happy; they weren’t hopeful or optimistic like the stories he’d read, songs he’d heard, or anecdotes he’d been told.
Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’tve? they read. No, it certainly didn’t bode well for Remus’ future love life, not that he’d ever have much of one anyway, what with the whole, turning into a ravening beast once a month thing. Sure, he had a Soulmate, but if that was the question they were going to ask of him? Remus would rather not have been born with Words at all.
“Think I’ll keep that between Lily and me, mate,” James said, unconsciously tugging at his sleeve. “Not that it’s anything bad, mind; just that I think it’s a bit - I dunno, private, or special, or something.”
“Don’t fucking worry about it, Prongs,” said Sirius. “Like Moony said. Go get her.”
It took two years before Lily Evans found herself (once again) being serenaded in the Great Hall by Black & Potter’s Singing Bacon Barbershop Quartet. She’d retaliated by bearing down on her horrible harassers from the other end of the table fully prepared to rip Potter a new hole in his neck from which to breathe with her freshly manicured fingernails, when she’d stopped dead in her tracks, Potter’s poetically painful musical salutation turning the Words on her arm a deep midnight black.
They’d gone on an evening stroll of the grounds later that day.
James returned around eight, opening the door to the Seventh Year Boys’ dormitory with a drooping, besotted grin on his face that was quickly shunted aside by an unexpected expression of disgust.
“The hell is that bloody noise, Moony?”
“It would seem,” Remus said to James, not looking up from his book, “that Sirius has bought himself a guitar.”
“I have indeed,” Sirius said, attempting a power chord and failing spectacularly, “I needed something other than the motorbike to round out my image.”
“He’s a proper rock-and-roller now,” said Remus dryly.
Sirius pointed the neck of the guitar threateningly at Remus and flicked a pick at him. “That’s punk rock-and-roller to you.”
“Wouldn’t dream of thwarting your adolescent attempt to ‘stick it to The Man’ by erroneously lumping you into a different genre; my sincerest apologies.” Remus, still reading, toed the pick off the side of his bed and folded his middle and ring fingers to his palm, waggling his wrist in Sirius’ general direction. “Fuck the police.”
Sirius mustered a dignified G7 in solidarity.
James just winced. “Look, Sirius, I suggest you give it up now and leave it to the professionals, like The Electric Fizzing Prick Pistols, or whatever. You’re never going to get Cressida Pyle to shag you by serenading her with that thing.”
“I thought you said Deirdre Boothe was your Soulmate?” Remus said, though this was lost under Sirius’ noisy shrieks of “The Electric Eels! The Buzzcocks! The Sex Pistols, you unintelligent, conformist git!”
“Touchy, Padfoot; touchy. One would almost think it your time of the month.”
“No,” Remus said, “that dubious honor falls to me.” He frowned, finally shutting his book as he uncrossed his legs and reclined on his bed.
Sirius turned to face Remus properly, letting his guitar fall slack on the strap across his shoulder, all previous posturing seeming to transform into a full-body expression of concern.
“Yeah, it is,” he said, taking a breath as though debating on what to say next, before pursing his lips and refocusing on the guitar, wrapping a hand around the neck and working his fingers into a position that would probably contribute to arthritis in his later years.
The chord he played, Remus thought, would most definitely contribute to deafness in the present day.
Sirius Black often received oddly-shaped parcels in the mail, usually parts for the motorbike he kept “hidden” behind some Charmed shrubbery on a far corner of the grounds. The package he received on September ninth, 1978, was slim, flat, square, and quite obviously a record. He managed to snatch it from the leg of his raven before the ill-tempered bird purposefully dropped it in his porridge, and held it aloft like a trophy.
“Could do to develop your battle cry a bit further, Padfoot,” James said, wincing and working a finger into his ear canal as he attempted to re-orient himself after a piercing whoop loosed in Sirius’ excitement.
Sirius ignored him and proceeded to rip through the paper, cooing softly as the cover art was revealed.
“What’ve you got?” asked Peter, leaning over the table, but Sirius just clutched the album protectively to his chest like one would a small child.
“Only the most anticipated single of the season, Pete, by the most talented group to ever exist,” Sirius said, caressing the edges of the album.
Remus didn’t even need to look up to identify that one. “The Whizzpricks?” he said, hiding a smile as he braced himself for the inevitable reaction, ducking a sausage automatically.
“The BUZZCOCKS! Honestly, Lupin, how many times do I have to tell you - oi, stop laughing you monarchist arsehole – ”
“It’s the sixteenth time he’s played it today,” said Peter sadly, looking up from the unfolded Map in front of him as Remus, preemptively wearing a set of abnormally large orange earmuffs, entered the room. Sirius was standing next to Remus’ enchanted Victrola, locked in a power stance and performing what appeared to be a particularly difficult series of hip gyrations. Remus was a little disappointed that Sirius had slung the guitar so low.
“HI PETER; HULLO SIRIUS,” Remus shouted, giving them a little wave.
“Tell him to stop,” Peter said, clutching at his head.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” Remus shouted again.
“I said tell him to stop!” Peter flopped backwards onto his pillows.
“I THINK MAYBE SOMEONE SHOULD TELL HIM TO STOP,” shouted Remus a third time.
Peter moaned, and Sirius thrust backwards hard enough that he accidentally dislodged the needle from the record.
Remus waited until Sirius had finished swearing before carefully lifting one side of the earmuffs from an ear.
“You look a bit peaky, Wormtail; your head all right?” he asked. Peter just continued to moan and pushed his face into the pillows.
“My head is most certainly not all right,” Sirius said, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “I’ve been trying to get it right all day, and I keep forgetting the G4 in the ending! And then I have to start all over at the beginning, because I can’t wear out only one part of the record, see. And stop your bloody yowling, Pete; you sound like a cat in heat.”
The sounds emanating from Peter’s bed immediately dropped in volume to something that could only be described as mewling. Sirius turned his attention back to the Victrola and reset the needle.
“Well, practice makes perfect, eh, Padfoot,” said Remus, cheerfully dropping the earmuff back down, smiling as Sirius’ hips swiveled back into view.
One week and fifty-seven repeated plays later (Remus had wisely left his earmuffs on for all of them), Sirius Black burst into the Great Hall and flounced rebelliously over to the Gryffindor table.
“Gentlemen,” he announced with a flourish as he sat down to dinner, “I have mastered the song.”
“Congratulations, mate,” said James. “Pass the chicken, would you?”
Peter nudged the platter over while Sirius preened. “You’ve all got to listen to it,” Sirius continued, eliciting a grimace from all parties.
“I think we’ve all heard it enough, haven’t we?” said Peter, a sweat breaking over his brow.
“Moony still hasn’t heard it; keeps wearing those bloody earmuffs all the time,” Sirius said, sounding somewhat wounded. “And Prongsy here spends all his time with Soulless Evans, so I know he hasn’t heard it.”
“Why don’t you play it for Mathilda Smithers? You know, your Soulmate?” suggested Peter.
“I thought you said it was Kendra Winston?” Remus said at the same time James said, “I thought you said it was Callista Beckett?”
Sirius frowned deeply, before a thought seemed to occur to him.
“Moooony,” he said, drawing out the vowels as long as he dared before turning to face Remus and turning on - oh Merlin, say it wasn’t so - the Puppy Eyes.
“Siriussss,” Remus replied, feeling himself weaken. He was so very, very weak.
“Lemme play it for you?”
Remus suddenly found his own plate of chicken incredibly fascinating.
“Pleeeease?” Sirius leaned in, and a single warm breath behind Remus’ ear was, apparently, all it took.
“Okay,” he said automatically. A single thought permeated the haze, and he clarified: “But only once.”
Sirius’ mouth turned up in a wide, wicked grin, and Remus nearly choked on his next bite.
James dug a fork into his mashed potatoes.
“You and me, Peter,” he said, “are going to find a way out of this.”
The thing was, Sirius Black actually had an excellent singing voice.
Not that Remus had heard it much recently, what with the deliberate earmuffs and all, but a private performance from Sirius was definitely something he could get behind. If only Sirius would get behind him.
“So, what’ve you got?” Remus closed the door to the dormitory behind him and leaned against it, folding his arms across his chest.
“It’s by the Buzzcocks,” Sirius said, sitting down on the edge of his bed and settling the guitar on his lap.
“I gathered that much,” said Remus. “Next I suppose you’ll tell me it’s their latest single. I hear Wormtail loves it.”
“Har-har,” said Sirius. “Now shut up and let me get in the zone.”
“Of course,” said Remus, making a small gesture with a hand.
When his hair fell across his face like that, Remus thought, he really did look just a little bit like a proper rock-and-roller. Sirius began playing the introductory few bars, and Remus was surprised that instead of the power-anthem he’d assumed the song to be, Sirius was playing it slower, like a ballad, like - a love song.
“You spurn my natural emotions; you make me feel I’m dirt, and I’m hurt,” sang Sirius, and then the magic was gone.
“Oh, really touching,” said Remus, Sirius flashing him a glare but continuing to play.
“And if I start a commotion, I run the risk of losing you, and that’s worse,” Sirius continued to sing, taking them into the chorus, which Remus found entirely unexpected.
“Ever fallen in love with someone, ever fallen in love, in love with someone, ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’tve fallen in love with...”
Remus’ blood ran cold at the same time the Words on his arm began to burn red-hot, and his lips parted to let out a soft “oh,” which went unnoticed as Sirius went into the second verse.
Remus’ first thought was, I am certainly not calling an Emergency Marauder Council over this.
His second thought was, although this is definitely an emergency.
“I’ve got to go,” he said suddenly, his voice sounding obscenely loud to his ears. “I’ve – ” he fumbled behind him for the door handle, “I’ve just - I’ve got – ”
He barely heard the bungled chord and Sirius calling after him.
“Shit,” Remus said tonelessly, staring at his arm, sleeve rolled up to his elbow, “bloody fucking shit, shit, shit.”
The evidence was irrefutable. Remus’ Words had gone black.
“Gone Black, indeed,” he said, involuntarily letting out a giggle that really turned out to be more of a whimper.
“What’s that about me?” said a voice from behind him.
“How the hell did you find me?” asked Remus incredulously, immediately shoving his sleeve back down. “That must’ve been, what, only five minutes?”
Sirius shrugged. “James and Peter left me the Map.”
“Oh,” said Remus. “Well, bugger off. I’m about to get emotional and I’d prefer to do it in private.”
“No can do, I’m afraid,” said Sirius sadly. “You started making a scene back there; s’only fair you finish it.”
“It’s none of your business,” Remus said.
“I think it’s plenty of my business,” Sirius said, straightening up. “Here I am, playing you the best song of the century, and you run off before I finish the chorus, clutching at your arm like a Crup’s got hold of it and you can’t shake him off. You tell me what to make of that.”
“You make nothing of it,” Remus said quickly, “absolutely nothing. ‘It’s’ not even anything to make something of.”
Sirius looked away from him, and Remus couldn’t figure out the expression playing across his face. He looked almost sad, but that didn’t make any sense.
“I’m not stupid, Remus,” he said. Remus shifted uncomfortably.
“I never suggested you were.”
“I know I’m on your arm.”
Remus couldn’t even summon up words of protest through his shock.
“It’s all right, though,” Sirius continued, refocusing on Remus’ face, “because you’re on mine, too.”
“Don’t you dare – ” Remus started, anger starting to bubble up inside him, “don’t you even - ”
“I’m serious,” Sirius interrupted, holding up a hand to silence him. “It was you. All the way back in First Year, right when we met, the first thing you ever said to me. James was even witness.”
“I thought you said your Soulmate was Natalie Grantham?” said Remus sharply. This had to be a cruel prank. Any minute, James and Peter would appear from wherever they’d been hiding since they’d left dinner and say, ha! gotcha this time, Moony!
Sirius rolled his eyes. “I was lying, you twit. What, you think the first thing I’m ever going to say back to you at the tender age of eleven is hallo, nice to meet you, you’re my Soulmate? Of course not. And of course it’s you. Read it,” Sirius said, rolling up his robes and holding out his arm.
“How do you know?” Remus said, looking down even though he didn’t want to. “You don’t know; you can’t possibly – ” Remus stopped when he saw the Words, just as black as his own, feeling suddenly faint. “Anybody could say that.”
“But you’re not just anybody, are you?”
“I - Sirius, I’m not anyone. I might have said it once, when we met, back in First Year, but that doesn’t mean I said it.”
Sirius leaned in towards him. “I know you did. And I think you’re somebody.”
“I’m nobody, and I’m not on your arm. I’m also running out of indefinite pronouns, so just - stop, all right; stop this.”
“You’re on my arm, Remus,” Sirius said, placing a hand on Remus’ wrist and tugging his sleeve up. Remus did not resist, seemingly frozen, unsure whether panic or fear was the correct emotional response. Sirius regarded the black Words written there with a half-smile.
“Oh thank Merlin,” he said on an exhale, “for a moment I thought I might have gotten it wrong.”
This indignity caused Remus to come back into himself and he pulled his arm away. “Oi!”
Sirius laughed. “Well, there was always the possibility that you really were just offended by my singing.” He sobered slightly, and presented his own arm again. “You do remember this, though?”
Remus blinked. He did remember; he knew - and there they were, his Words on Sirius’ arm, irrefutable evidence of a clear Match. He remembered Sirius Black in the Great Hall, during the Welcoming Feast, delivering a particularly well-crafted insult to James Potter, and Remus had spoken without thinking, without introduction.
“I can tell that we’re going to be friends,” he said again, now, seven years later, reading the Words inked on Sirius’ arm from birth.
Sirius looked at him, and linked their fingers together.
“Maybe a bit more than that,” he said.
Remus just smiled.