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A River In Egypt

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Sirius really likes talking to Remus.

Not in a poofy way. They don’t talk to each other like girls do when they gossip endlessly about clothes and makeup and all that drivel, like the girls he overhears in the Gryffindor common room. Those Fifth Year girls who go on and on about boys all the time. Anyway, he has James to discuss Quidditch and dates with, which is how guys talk to each other, right?

James will say something like, ‘Hey, Padfoot, that friend of Evans’s fancies you rotten,’ and Sirius knows what’s coming but it’s fun to pretend he doesn’t, keep the conversational ball rolling, so he’ll reply, ‘Which one?’ as Evans has many friends, and all of them fancy him.

‘The blonde one. Alice,’ James answers. ‘I don’t suppose you’d ask her out, would you? Take her to Hogsmeade. Buy her some Honeydukes fudge. Persuade her to put in a word for me with Evans.’

Sirius, who has done this many times, with no apparent furthering of James’s cause, will shrug and say, ‘Fine. Lead me to her.’

Remus doesn’t talk about dates or try to pair Sirius off with various girls. They’ll be sitting in the common room doing their Charms essay about the different incantations for deafening and muting charms. And Moony will suddenly say something like, ‘The wand movement’s important, but the spell itself isn’t even relevant. Sordino. That’s just a word.’

And Sirius, who is clever enough to figure out exactly what Remus means, but who wants to keep him talking, says something like, ‘What on earth are you on about, Moony?’

Then, Remus spouts about how the wizard creates the magic by focusing on the intention behind the word, and Sirius will zone out a bit – he knows it all, anyway – because he likes just to hear the cadences of Remus’s sweet, husky voice. Only, he doesn’t put it like that to himself. What he says is that Remus does go on a bit with his theories, so he’ll just rest his ears and listen without hearing. Though somehow he usually manages to retain a fair amount of what Remus is saying.

They talk about other things, of course. Remus is always interested in hearing the latest exploits of the Black family. They’ll be in the dungeons, looking up Potions ingredients, and Remus will say something like, ‘I see you got an owl this morning.’ He mentions it casually, not pushing, giving Sirius plenty of space to talk or not to.

Usually, Sirius does talk, because for some reason he feels better when he's discussed things with Remus. He tells him about how his mother puts him down in front of the extended family.

‘It doesn’t seem like much, really, Moony. She doesn’t actually attack me or anything. But if we’re all sitting in a restaurant or somewhere and I talk to anyone she’ll lean across and snap that I’m shouting and to keep my voice down. Stupid, isn’t it? Why should I even care? Or she’ll sneer that I’m so vain and spend all my time in front of the mirror. And then everybody stares at me, and they give me these blank looks, like they’re wondering how someone so ugly could bear to go anywhere near a mirror. I don’t know why I let her get to me. But she always does.’

Remus doesn’t comment about the mirror, but he does reassure Sirius, because he understands how devastating public criticism can be. He later blurts out to Sirius, embarrassed, ‘You’re the least ugly person I’ve ever seen.’

More seriously, if he has a run-in with his father, he tends to tell Remus rather than James. James gets on famously with his dad, simply can’t understand how Sirius can have such major issues with his parents.

‘He wants me to be able to curse and hex people, in the name of keeping the wizarding world pure. Doesn’t sound so bad, really, does it, Moony? I mean, we hex the Slytherins all the time. But when I don’t want to live like he does he calls me a, a - ’ Sirius can never quite finish that sentence, the one where his father casts doubts on his masculinity.

They are not quite yet at the parting of the ways, Sirius and his family, but they are running downhill fast at this point, during Sirius’s OWL summer.

He also likes Remus talking to him, of course. Remus thinks his family are dull: they’re not an old wizarding family like the Potters, or dysfunctional like the Blacks. Remus is very deprecating about them, and says that they just do ordinary things, like going for picnics and holidays to the seaside. But these things aren’t ordinary to Sirius, who loves the unfamiliar detail. For instance, they don’t fly to the seaside on broomsticks or use a Portkey, like a normal family, because Remus’s mother is a Muggle. They go by train.

‘Hardly the Hogwarts Express, Pads. These trains are crowded and dirty and they’re always late or cancelled.’

Sirius sits next to Moony, perhaps with a hand resting lightly on the back of Moony’s chair, drinking in every word.

Of course, Sirius likes talking to James best, especially rehashing those dates James sends him on so anxiously. ‘Prongs, I did my best. Honest. But she wanted to talk about herself, not about Evans. Or you. Or even me.’

‘You owe me a couple of shags, Padfoot,’ James says jocularly sometimes, when Sirius has come back especially late from a date. Sirius always laughs, and doesn’t tell James that he hasn’t shagged a girl. Yet. Remus knows, though. He seems to know everything about Sirius these days. And Sirius knows things about Remus too. He's told him that he thinks he might like boys, not girls, and Sirius is careful to keep his secret.

*

Sirius really likes looking at Remus. Nothing perverted, not like – really looking. Hell, he wouldn’t even be able to describe him, and isn’t sure of details like the colour of his eyes. Sirius isn’t a girl. He doesn’t take in things like hair and noses, unless they are variously very greasy or very long, like Snivellus’s.

At meals, he often watches Remus eating. It’s quite irritating, actually. Remus cuts his food up very small, possibly because he is trying to get as far away from the wolf as he can. He concentrates especially on slicing his meat into minuscule cubes. He won’t touch vegetables except peas and tomatoes, and always puts a well in the middle of his mashed potatoes to pour gravy into, and resists mixing the whole lot up together just for the hell of it.

Though he’s finicky, Remus enjoys his food. He may have diced his meat up, but he will usually put four or five tiny cubes of it on to his fork at one time, rather spoiling the point, Sirius feels, but if it makes him happy… He eats very slowly, savouring every bite, which can also be annoying, because he’s usually still on the main course when everyone else is champing for their pudding, and of course they can’t start on the second course till everyone at the table has finished their first. It has been known for a few Gryffindors to discuss quite seriously whether Lupin shouldn’t be moved to Ravenclaw for a while so they can get their pudding a bit sooner.

Sometimes Sirius is so absorbed in watching Remus that he forgets about his own dinner, and doesn’t finish it until even Moony’s plate is long since empty.

He watches James eat too, of course. Not Peter. Peter chews with his mouth open, and all his friends avert their eyes as much as possible. James doesn’t care about the state of the food as long as it gets from his plate to his mouth in reasonably edible form. He eats with his mouth closed, of course, but he does eat very fast, shovelling in his meal as quickly as possible, as if he were starving. Sirius wonders sometimes how James doesn’t get fat, the way Peter does, because he eats for an army. Remus too remains thin, but that’s because he gives his food so long to metabolise between bites.

Of course, he looks at Remus more, simply because it takes him three or four times as long as James to get through his dinner. It’s as uncomplicated as that.

He often watches Remus in the dormitory, in the morning. He’s not some sort of queer or something. He doesn’t watch other guys dressing! It’s just that sometimes, when Remus is doing up his shirt or putting on his shoes, a shaft of sunlight from the open window will catch his profile and his hair, in a blaze of white and gold, and the bright colour will hit Sirius between the eyes, and he’ll have to sit down on his bed for a minute to catch his breath.

The light on James would have that effect as well, no doubt, except that Sirius isn’t going to be watching James doing up his tie in the first place. That would be – sick and wrong. At the very least.

In lessons, the Marauders are not allowed to sit together. Remus always ends up at a desk in the front row, Sirius near the back. Sirius welcomes the opportunity this gives him to learn from Remus. In Transfiguration, for instance, it’s useful to see how exactly Remus holds his wand, because though Sirius and James are undisputedly top of the class in the subject, Remus is good too. It isn’t his fault he wasn’t in on the Animagus work, after all.

While he is studying exactly how Remus is performing a given spell, Sirius also wonders occasionally what animal he would have become, apart from a wolf. He thinks a cat, because Remus has that quality of being self-contained and secretive yet affectionate too, and as loyal as a dog in his own way. Also, Remus has those distinctive, very light brown eyes that can look almost amber, like a cat’s eyes. Well, maybe he’s said he doesn’t know the colour of Remus’s eyes, but that’s just in theory, because anyone would notice eyes like that. Even James, probably, though he and Sirius don’t discuss Moony’s eyes, of course.

During Quidditch matches, he and Remus and Peter always sit together to cheer James on. Sometimes, Sirius, who enjoys Quidditch, finds his concentration slipping, and thinks it’s quite interesting to see how Moony, next to him, is reacting to the match. He’ll watch Remus furrowing his brow when the opposing team seems about to score; when Gryffindor are playing Slytherin, he will lean forward as far as he can, his fists clenched and white with tension. Or he’ll give a big, broad grin when Gryffindor score, and if they win, he will be up on his feet cheering.

This isn’t typical Remus behaviour, and Sirius sometimes wonders whether Remus would like to have been in the Quidditch team if he hadn’t been a werewolf and unable to make the commitment. But Remus doesn’t talk about Quidditch, or not the finer points of it; he might if Sirius ever spoke about it to him and not James.

He watches Moony late at night in the common room, when the lights are turned down low and Remus is bent over the last few inches of parchment, concentrating on finding the perfect sentence to end his essay, his mouth slightly open – he doesn’t look stupid like that, not at all, not like Peter would – his hand curved round his quill, his legs twisted round the legs of the chair.

And naturally, he looks at James as well, James slouched on a sofa, nearly asleep, but not admitting to himself that he would be happier upstairs in bed. But somehow his eyes don’t linger on James. Not that they linger on Remus either, just that Remus is somehow always in his line of vision.

*

Sirius really likes touching Remus. All right, that sounds completely gay, but it isn’t at all, not the way he means it.

He touches James all the time. He’ll thump him on the back after a successful Quidditch match, and he’ll link arms with him on the way to the Astronomy Tower for a session on the telescopes, and he once kept his hand on James’s leg for a full half hour after Evans had been especially scathing and Prongs was really upset.

Padfoot does a fair amount of the actual touching, when he tries to comfort Remus after full moon nights. He often curls up with Remus and sleeps with him for a while before Madam Pomfrey comes to fetch him. The dog is a boon to both of them. He’ll nuzzle Remus when Remus’s face contorts with pain and he’s trying not to cry, and if there are tears, Padfoot can lick them away so quickly that nobody’d ever know.

It’ll be cold in there, and they can’t light a proper fire because of Pomfrey, so it always flickers out too soon, and the warmth of the sun he can see rising through the window never begins to reach the shabby room, the bed with its ripped hangings. And Remus will be lying on the bed shivering, and Sirius won’t even think about it, about putting his woollen cloak round him and lying next to him, rubbing his hands to get some circulation into them. And perhaps he may like the feel of Remus’s cold, goose-bumped skin next to his just because he can infuse some heat into it. It’s like bringing someone back to life.

It’s not only Padfoot. When Remus is in the Hospital Wing, Sirius sprawls next to him, perhaps with his head beside Remus’s on the pillow, just to provide a bit of warmth and human contact. It isn’t a lot, but he knows how much a touch can mean. Remus has sometimes hugged him when his family have upset him more than usual. Regulus is the master at this, sneering at Sirius in front of all the Slytherins, goading him into an impotent rage: siblings so often have that effect.

Occasionally, Sirius will fling his arm casually round Remus’s shoulder when they’re on their way to Charms, just as he’d put his arm round James. Perhaps he’ll notice especially that Remus’s shoulders are quite broad for someone so thin, and sometimes he might feel that he doesn’t really want to remove his arm when they arrive in the classroom, so then he will often put his other arm round James, in a jokey way, drawing them all together. He has once or twice put an arm briefly round Peter, but Peter hates to be touched.

And that’s the funny thing about Remus, that he normally doesn’t like anyone touching him either. He’ll put up with Madam Pomfrey, of course, because as he says, ‘She’s a healer, and she makes the pain go away.’ Certainly, James never claps Remus on the back or play-fights with him as Sirius does.

Sirius has been known to shove Remus in earnest when they’re in a bad mood with each other, and Remus will shove him back. Though the sparks between them then, the fire and the anger, are hardly affectionate, there is a sort of satisfaction in pushing Remus away, in being mad with him, that fulfils an emptiness, a need in him. He doesn’t want to analyse this too closely.

When they’re alone in the History of Magic section in the library, surrounded by tall shelves of books with dull gold binding, and the lamp that always smokes and gutters so nobody else will sit at that table, Sirius often reaches out for Remus quite deliberately, puts his arms round him and holds him close. He doesn’t know why he does this, but he would do exactly the same to James if the spirit moved him to, which it never has yet.

And it’s strange, that touching Remus, from the lightest of butterfly touches, fingers just grazing his face by mistake, to the hugs they sometimes exchange, just because they do, always sets his skin tingling, always affects him greatly. His heart will sometimes thump so hard he can almost hear it, and he'll need to cling on to Remus while he tries to regain his equilibrium.

It’s a friend thing, obviously, even though touching James never has that effect. Though it might if he did it more often.

*

Sirius really likes kissing Remus. Probably, it is a bit weird to kiss one of your mates, but not that weird. He has kissed James of course, when they were kids and Best Friends, and once or twice, when nobody was looking, they'd give each other a very chaste peck on the cheek.

Kissing Remus isn’t quite so chaste, but it’s not actually worth obsessing about. Just something they do from time to time.

It’s the sort of thing that happens after one of the many rows with Regulus, when he's been taunting Sirius about the amount of gold his parents have sent him, while Sirius has received nothing but a Howler telling him what a disgrace he is. Sirius has been known to get so furious that he cries with temper and frustration, and Remus tactfully looks away until he feels better, but keeps Sirius’s hand firmly clasped in his. And then, they’ll turn to each other and somehow their lips will graze, and it’s pleasant. Because it’s just Remus, his mate, saying, ‘Sod Regulus, I like you.’

It happens again when Sirius has been glancing across the classroom at Remus and Remus glances back, and they smile at each other. It seems natural when they meet up later to, well, kiss. On the mouth, but really that is a detail. It’s like hugging Remus in the library, a bit impulsive perhaps, but not important. No sweat.

After the moon, Remus shivers and moves closer to the warmth of Padfoot’s fur, and the boy inside suddenly feels hot all over at the contact. He’ll change back just when Remus is burying his face in his ruff, and of course the angle will be awkward, so their lips meet, and they’ll both blush, a bit guilty, actually, and then they’ll kiss again. Perhaps rather more deeply this time, because they’re all alone and there’s nobody to see.

He often kisses Moony out of pure affection, because he likes him so much. They’ll be lying very close, and he’ll be stroking Remus’s hair, which looks quite coarse but is so soft under his fingers, and he loves to touch it and could touch it forever. He’ll gently let his lips slide down Remus’s neck, because Remus enjoys that as much as being kissed on the mouth.

Sirius often wonders how Remus feels, liking other boys, whether it’s just part of him and so he doesn’t mind it or whether it makes him uncomfortable with himself. After all, he’s sixteen now, and it must be hard to be so unlike the rest of his mates. When Sirius thinks about it he’ll press his lips to Remus’s very gently, as if to show that he understands and won’t condemn him.

But then he'll do something stupid, that he's ashamed of later, like the afternoon of the Divination OWL when he gangs up with Peter and James and they tease Remus because he’s never even been out with a girl, let alone kissed one. Even Peter has kissed a girl. Remus goes red, and Sirius looks away and won’t catch his eye.

Sirius really can’t fathom why he's behaved like that. But afterwards, he draws Remus aside after dinner, and they go down and sit by the lake, and Sirius says how sorry he is. And they put their arms round each other, and everything’s fine again.

*

Sirius really likes – well, he isn’t going to think of it as sleeping with Remus, because that’s just a technical term. What they do isn’t actually that big a deal. Not like really sleeping together would be.

Anyway, the progression is so seamless that Sirius doesn’t even consider it a new phase. Obviously, he wouldn’t sleep with James or even think of it, but this is only, well, supercharged kissing.

He and Remus might hide away in empty classrooms or one of the many secret passages they’re mapping at the moment. They’ll hug for a while, then burrow into each other, furtive, giggling nervously, not too worried about being caught in the heat of the moment.

They don’t actually talk about it. At dinner, Sirius might say, ‘We’re getting on really well with the map, Prongs,’ and when he glances at Remus he can see that he’s trying not to laugh.

And when they’ve been working on an essay together and got into a heavy discussion about the uses and misuses of magic, somehow their chairs have moved closer together, and therefore their faces are closer together. It’s one of the evenings when James and Peter and all the good little Gryffindors have gone up to the dorms before lights out, and the two of them can therefore explore each other’s mouths pretty thoroughly, to the point where they are finding it difficult to breathe and will probably end up curled next to each other in Remus’s bed.

Sometimes, when the other two are around, usually at the weekend and because Quidditch practice has been cancelled, they’ll sneak off to the Shack. It’s in the Shack that they’re at their most adventurous, with the privacy charms in place and nobody for miles around to interrupt. It’s in the Shack where they’ve perhaps done a bit more than just kissing; though Sirius really isn’t going to categorise things too much.

And after all, they are good friends, as Sirius is always at pains to point out, and why shouldn’t friends get close to each other? ‘Anyway, we can stop whenever we want,’ he says, though Remus doesn’t seem to want to.

Ironic, because the Shack has such terrible associations for Remus, that they should have had some of their best times on the tattered four-poster, with a proper fire in the fireplace and the room charmed to look halfway presentable and not as if it’s been torn up by a wild animal.

Now, he hopes that Remus too thinks of the Shack with a little spark of pleasure at the recollection of what they do there. When he’s bored in a lesson, Sirius lets his mind roam to their most recent encounters, and it’s like a physical shock sometimes just remembering those intense Saturday mornings, as if he could almost put out his hand and feel Remus solid and warm beside him.

Really, Sirius is only doing these new things with Remus because Remus needs him. It’s like doing him favour, actually. Moony’s organised enough, he’s intelligent enough, but he’s very reserved; and Sirius feels sorry for him being different from his friends in so many ways. He needs someone to help him express himself, to stop him becoming isolated in his own head. Sirius is good at that. It’s easy for him and he enjoys it too.

He does worry a bit about how it will be when he finds a girl he really likes, the way James has, and Moony gets left out in the cold, but he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

 

End