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The Shortest Distance Between Two People

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i.

First year is waking up one morning and finding out it wasn't a bad dream. It's hoping desperately that mother and father won't find out and knowing that they will. It's dreading the arrival of the owls every morning and going to bed every night with weird rashes, funny twitches, or the word TRAITOR spelled out in large, twinkling letters on his forehead.

Sirius spends the first three months of school hating everyone indiscriminately. Big or small, quiet or loud, stupid messy hair or neat pigtails. Everyone.

He hates – virulently, obsessively hates – Gryffindor tower and the stupid, smiling portraits of Jolly Old Gryffindors of the past. They frown down on him whenever he passes, and he plots ways to avenge himself, spends hours soothing himself with the imagined sound of a spell cutting through centuries-old oil paint and canvas. The rest of the time, he plots elaborate ways to get re-sorted.

His quote-unquote housemates don't know what to make of him, so they ignore him. In general, this suits him fine except one night when he returns to his dorm and finds his linens glued immovably to the mattress, and no one will tell him who did it. He spends the next week systematically, alphabetically even, putting squishy things in beds and that's enough to keep him grinning for days.

All they know, and all they've decided they need to is that he is no Gryffindor. And he couldn't agree more.

In astronomy class, Sirius sits next to the boy who knows all the answers. He has sharp eyes and a secret, lazy smile, and he never raises his hand. "Calypso," he mouths when the professor asks a question or "Retrograde motion," and he rolls his eyes when no one else knows the answers.

Halfway through the second class of December, Sirius resolves to steal the boy's homework for the next seven years and wash his hands of astronomy class and its stupid lunar cycles.

---

The boy doesn't go along with the plan.

"You want me to just give you my homework?" he asks, clearly confused. The sharp arch of his eyebrow seems to say "This wasn't covered in Hogwarts: A History." He seems the type to have shelves of guidebooks with titles like So You've Decide to Go to Wizarding School or A Young Boy's Guide to Homework Shakedowns with useful advice like "Remain ridiculously calm. Ask obvious questions. With any luck, your assailant's head will explode from sheer frustration."

"Your homework," Sirius repeats. "Exactly."

"Why?"

Sirius does not say "Because I am Sirius B-L-A-C-K, and you probably aren't even full wizarding." He's been around enough to know that that doesn't go over so well with some people. Instead, he says, "Because otherwise I will spell your underwear onto the outside of your clothes, and you will walk around like that all day, and people will laugh."

Both of the boy's eyebrows shoot up for a moment, but he rallies quickly and says, "Is that all?"

"Argh," says Sirius, and he throws up his hands and stalks out of the room.

---

If Hogwarts were the sort of school to have lockers, Sirius would've spent most of his first months being shoved into them.

While the Gryffindors deal with the Great Sorting Mistake by plugging their ears and chanting "La la la la" until they can almost believe it hasn't happened, the Slytherin deal with it by punching him in the face every time they see him.

He tries to put up with it like a good sport for a while, secretly nursing the hope that a proper boxing will knock things back into place, and he will suddenly become a Slytherin like he was supposed to be all along. But patience is not a Black family virtue, so he only holds out for three days before he starts fighting back.

The numbers are never in his favour, though, and a curse, no matter how clever or quickly executed, can't do much in the face of a sharp kick to the stomach. He falls into bed most nights with a throbbing nose and bruises spreading out across his chest and stomach like oil slicks.

Things are headed in pretty much that direction on the day his life changes. It's him and a bloody huge, box-shaped girl Slytherin and her greasy, first-year lackey in an out-of-the-way stretch of hall he should've known to avoid. They've just started in on the taunting part of the programme: traitor, mudblood lover, how can you stand to look at yourself? Sirius mentally docks style points every time Severus Snape repeats himself and every time the girl giggles into her sleeve. Behind his back, he fingers his wand and bides his time.

A flying black blob comes hurtling onto the scene just as Snape is finishing up and wraps itself around the girl's waist, carrying her to the ground. Sirius hesitates for less than a second before whipping his wand around and shouting out curses as fast as he thinks of them.

Between Sirius and the blob, they land some good hits, and the Slytherins stage a fumbled retreat before too long.

"Let it never be said," Sirius declares, sinking back against the wall and holding two fingers to a nostril to stop the bleeding, "that Slytherins are not the most cowardly group of bleaters known to man or Muggle."

The blob sits down beside him and breathes out a laugh. He's a Gryffindor about Sirius's age with tangled black hair and stupid full-moon glasses. He's got a shiny black eye at the moment, which Sirius assumes to be a product of the recent scuffle and not a default state of being.

As they sit there, breathing hard, Sirius does not think My saviour! because he's not a silly, sentimental girl, but he must've been looking grateful because the boy executes a practiced scowl and says, "Don't thank me or I promise you, I will be sick all over your robes."

"Deal," says Sirius.

---

With James comes Peter whose awkward, distant friendship Sirius finds himself pathetically grateful for. Peter may think James loony for taking on the Gryffindor pariah, but he keeps it to himself and is always willing to do the boring bits of Sirius's homework, even if his answers are usually wrong.

Between them, James and Peter are able to cajole, bully, and bribe Dormmate #3 into switching places with Sirius and so by the time Christmas rolls around, Sirius has moved into the little east-facing room and well beyond the reach of tawdry linen-gluers. The boy who knows everything and some other bloke who works across from Sirius in Herbology round out the roster, and soon Sirius has a name to put to the face and the irritating habit of withholding homework answers.

Remus Lupin. He never joins in when Sirius, James, and Peter crash at the end of the day and complain about professors, the latest assignment, the latest scuffle with the Slytherins, although he seems perpetually amused by the whole thing. He listens, half-curled on his own bed across the room, with a book on his lap and smiles at their jokes.

He reads books so much that he actually smells like them, and he half-chokes and rolls his eyes the day Sirius gets around to telling him this.

"Oh," he says, which is all he ever really says.

---

The Slytherins are cunning, as the song goes, and they adapt quickly to the sudden emergence of a unified Team Gryffindor. The bloody noses and scrapes appear again, only now Peter and James mope and complain and pick at things right there with him, and he's got the satisfaction of looking out over his Christmas pudding at Snape's swollen lip and rainbow black eye across the Great Hall.

Sirius is in the bathroom one afternoon, meditatively shoving scraps of toilet paper up his nose when Lupin barges in.

"Didn't anyone ever teach you to knock?" Sirius asks plaintively.

Lupin ignores him and leans into the door frame. "Do you enjoy bleeding all over everything? Because you seem to do it an awful lot."

"Yes," says Sirius. "It's a brilliant hobby. You should try it. Very rewarding."

"It doesn't help that you can't punch, you know," Lupin continues as if Sirius hadn't even opened his mouth. "Magic is very useful, and it certainly has its place, but it can only do so much when someone is kicking you in the genitalia."

Sirius isn't sure whether to blush or snort at the word "genitalia," so he settles on turning pink and exhaling sharply. "I could still best you in a fight," he says, tucking his chin against his chest defensively.

When Lupin says, a little too quietly perhaps, "No, you couldn't," there's something odd in his voice that makes Sirius turn and look him straight in the eyes. He's got bright, brown eyes with tiny, sharp pupils.

"Prove it," Sirius says, and Lupin does.

ii.

Second year is lazy winter afternoons in the tower. It's ignoring both homework and the melting snow seeping in through the window frame with equal vigor. It's James jumping from bed to bed, singing improvised victory songs with poor rhyme schemes, when the Montrose Magpies beat the Cannons for the third time in a row.

"I can't believe you like the Cannons," says James, bouncing in place on Peter's bed. They've hung chains of paper hoops around the room because Peter insisted they at least try to get into the holiday spirit this year and hanging paper chains seemed easier than not beating up Slytherins. Whenever James reaches the vertex of a jump, he reaches up to try and touch one of the chains.

"Shut up," says Sirius, pulling pillows over his head.

James rears back to jump and manages to put a foot in the wet ink of Peter's Transfiguration essay. Peter yelps, but James is on a mission and has no time for trivial apologies. He jumps and lands on the end of Sirius's bed, making a black sock mark on the covers and accidentally stepping on Sirius's toes.

"Oy!" says Sirius, and he makes an abortive attempt to push James off the bed.

"You're such a plonker," says James cheerily, perching on the left corner of the bed and ignoring Sirius's feet battering his ankles.

"I know you are, but what am I?" answers Sirius.

"A plonker."

"I know you are, but what am I?"

"A plonker."

"I know you are, but what am I?"

"I will actually kill you both if you answer that, Potter," says Remus from the bathroom, and James and Sirius grin at each because they know, or at least think they know, that Remus can talk big but when it comes right down to it, he's basically harmless.

---

Remus gets sick a lot and has to stay in the infirmary for long stretches of time, which starts to worry Sirius and the others once they've known him for a while. He claims it has something to do with having a "weak immune system" which in turn has something to with "medicine" and "science," although he never bothers to explain what any of those things are. The odd thing is that in the dead of winter when everyone from Dumbledore to the youngest of first-years is bed-ridden with the flu or rasping from a cold, Remus is always perfectly healthy.

James and Sirius and Peter are more envious than curious at first. But when Remus starts coming back from his infirmary visits covered in thick, white bandages and the rancid smelling ointment Pomfrey uses for sealing wounds, they can't help but theorize and prod Remus about what exactly his mysterious illness does. Remus accepts this with grace for a few months before telling them to sod off and stop prying into matters that don't concern them.

When Sirius figures it out, he has to sit down for a couple of minutes and marvel at how completely brain dead he must be not to have seen it sooner.

It comes to him in History of Magic, and he has to physically clamp a hand over his mouth to keep from shouting "Eureka!" Across the aisle, Remus lifts an eyebrow at him and widens his eyes a little, but Sirius just shakes his head and tries to staunch the impulse to jump up on the bench and crow, "No more games, Remus Lupin! Now I have you figured out!" Something tells him Remus probably wouldn't find that funny.

After class, he grabs James by the sleeve and drags him back to the tower and tells him everything.

"That makes perfect sense," James says eventually.

"Yes, yes," replies Sirius, "but what do we do about it?"

James frowns and knits his eyebrows. "There's nothing wrong with being a werewolf," he says in a tone of voice that clearly indicates that this is something his mother has told him repeatedly. Sirius's mother has said exactly the opposite, but recent experience has made Sirius more inclined to trust James than dear old mum.

James doesn't get a chance to extrapolate on this "there's nothing wrong" concept because suddenly there are footsteps on the stairs: Peter's heavy ones followed by Remus's barely audible ones. Sirius resents the shiver that runs down his back when he thinks that a werewolf who can move without making a sound has been sleeping in his room for almost a year.

Don't be stupid, he tells himself, this is Remus. He's obsessively clean, he likes doing homework, and he sounds like an anatomy textbook whenever he tries to be rude. He's Remus. Nothing's changed.

Sirius's fingers start digging spasmodically into his thigh nonetheless.

When the door opens, Peter breezes in and heads straight for his bed, complaining about their History reading assignment the whole way. Remus, however, freezes just inside the door and flicks his eyes from James, who is attempting to look both aloofly macho and sensitively concerned at the same time, to Sirius, who probably just looks constipated

He doesn't move, and neither do they, although Sirius silently begs James to do something now, right now, to make the horrible, yawning fear in his stomach – and its partner in crime, nagging guilt – go away and never come back.

Eventually, Remus swallows. "I can," he says and swallows again, "I can ask Professor McGonagall to transfer me into another dorm room. I won't bother you again, just please, please don't tell." Then he shuts his mouth firmly, lips curling inward, and looks faintly revolted with himself for telling the truth without being badgered into it.

There's silence for a moment, except for Peter who sits up in his bed and starts saying "What? What?" almost convulsively. Finally, James shakes his head.

"We aren't going to tell anyone," he says like that should've been obvious, and Sirius would resent being included in that 'we' without being asked except it's true: he would never tell anyone. He would never want to.

"Besides," he adds, interrupting James and summoning a lopsided smile to offer up to Remus as something in between a reassurance and a promise. "No one else at this school is nearly as brilliant as we are. Where would you go?"

Remus remains petrified for a moment, like someone's starched his limbs into that awkward akimbo, but then he relaxes around the edges and huffs, laughs and shakes his head, mouthing "Mad, the lot of you."

"Done and done," declares James, smacking his thigh.

"What?" says Peter loudly. "What, you bleaters? What is going on?"

"Damnation," says Remus who, in Sirius's opinion, is possibly the only person in the world who could ever get away with using a word like damnation. He cards his fingers roughly through his hair and sighs. "All right," he says. "I'll tell it from the beginning, but I'm only doing this once."

---

After that day, Sirius is much more aware of the odd things Remus does: flinching at sudden movements, hearing noises that are barely audible. He notices the small scars– the one dipping into Remus's eyebrow, another slipping under his jaw – first and the nightmares second.

Remus doesn't usually have nightmares – only on nights when the sky is cloudy and the moon is hidden. For all that Remus hates the moon by day, Sirius figures, he wants to know where it is at night.

On those nights when he hears Remus tossing in his sleep, Sirius remembers his own nighttime fears, and the nights spent in Black Manor, muffling sobs with his fist so that mother and father wouldn't know.

Sirius wonders if that's how Remus feels, and he thinks, some nights, about crossing the distance between their beds so that Remus doesn't have to make it through alone. But he's twelve and already he knows that it isn't proper or right to sleep in a friend's bed, whatever the reason, so he contents himself with lying awake in his own and listening until Remus falls asleep.

iii.

Third year is Hogsmeade at noon. It's butter beer frothing in a mug so high that the liquid almost seems to be clambering out toward the door and freedom. It's snowball fights outside the shack on the far edge of town and trying to figure out who actually has frostbite on their fingers and who is just a giant sissy (ie. James).

"But it hurts," James is saying on this particular afternoon. He's torn off his glove and is shoving the afflicted hand into the face of anyone nearby, which includes the waitress who took their orders and brought their drinks.

"So you've said," answers Remus, picking at splinters of wood in their tabletop with his thumbnail. Under the table, he's swinging his feet, and his slush-covered boot kicks Sirius in the knee for the eleventh time.

James makes a pathetic whimpering noise and turns huge eyes on Peter. Peter manages a decent eye roll even though he's busy pinching his nose to try to restore feeling. He passes his almost-full mug of butter beer to James who promptly wraps his fingers around it and wriggles contentedly.

"See? Peter cares about my pain."

"Soft touch," chastises Sirius with a disapproving look in Peter's direction. Peter shrugs. Remus kicks him again, and this time a glob of snow drops off and begins to ooze down the lip of Sirius's trainers.

"Frostbite is characterized by white, waxy skin that feels numb and hard," says Remus, doing his signature impression of an encyclopedia. "Your fingers are sort of red and puffy. I think, and I might be wrong about this, but I think that's what people refer to as cold."

Sirius and Peter duck their heads in an attempt not to laugh because they know it only encourages James. Whack, whack, whack goes Remus's boot under the table, and Sirius actually has to slump down in his chair and stretch out in order to kick him back. Stupid Remus and his stupid long legs, Sirius thinks when his toe only barely manages to scuff Remus's kneecap.

Across the table, Remus makes a wide-eyed, sort of offended face which lasts exactly fourteen seconds before collapsing into his weird, slanted grin. Sirius grins back. And then all four break into laughter as the bell over the door jingles and a shivering Snape and his soggy cohorts slink in.

---

Remus tends to get disagreeable around the full moons. Sirius never noticed before, in those years past when he was busy trying not to get beat up on a semi-regular basis but now that time and inclination are on his side, it's hard to miss. Remus gets short-tempered. He goes on walks to "clear his head" which they learn to translate as to "keep from knocking your heads together." He still does his homework but refuses to share, forcing James and Sirius to look up the answers to McGonagall's stupider questions in their texts or deal with the consequences of not doing their work at all.

"You're all pointy," Sirius observes three days before the full moon when James is in detention and Peter has closed the curtains to his bed in a desperate bid to finish a Potions essay that's almost a week overdue.

Remus seems confused by this remark to begin with – that is, he doesn't immediately tell Sirius to sod off as he often does when the moon is waxing – so Sirius takes the opportunity to drop down on the end of the bed and look as harmless as possible.

"Grumpy," he says by way of clarification.

"Wouldn't you be?" asks Remus which is hardly an answer although it sounds like one. Remus is better at sounding perfectly reasonable while actually being stubbornly unreasonable than most people are at breathing.

"Sure," says Sirius with a shrug. "I'm just letting you know so that in the future, when someone not as hideously cultured as I points it out, you won't be able to accuse us of not telling you. Because we are – I am. Right now."

Remus makes a sharp "hmph" in the back of his throat, ending the conversation, and resumes reading the textbook spread across his lap, held at the perfect incline by the knobbly bones in his knees. His trousers have patches made of brown corduroy sewn into the knees because his kneecaps are always rubbing against the fabric there. Sirius, whose own pants have been charmed to stay starched and stiff through sleet and snow and minor civil wars, envies those little soft brown squares. He wants to – in a mindless, epicurean sort of way – rub his thumb across them, which is acutely embarrassing once he thinks about it.

Sirius decides that afternoon that he envies Remus Lupin in ways he never expected to envy anyone. Except for the werewolf bit, that is. Sirius can't imagine spending two days every month flat on his back in the tender care of Madame Pomfrey in exchange for what? Super smelling powers? No, no deal there.

But other than that. If he could be like anyone in the world, he'd want to be more like Remus. He wants all of Remus's quiet rages, his black razor humour, his little facial ticks that can change a smile to a frown in seconds flat. He wants to be able to take an interest in anything and everything, regardless of how dry or boring. He wants to be able to make silence mean something like Remus does.

He sits on the end of Remus's bed for a very long time, greedily numbering the things about Remus he wants for himself. By the time his legs start cramping up, the one window into the tower is turning a pastel buttercup colour. He gets up and shakes out his legs, more than a little embarrassed to have been – let's face it – staring at Remus for at least an hour but then James rushes in and starts shouting about a secret passage he may or may not have fallen into, and the afternoon's epiphanies are forgotten for the time being.

iv.

Fourth year is Lily Evans. It's girls in general – a threat to the natural order of things that Sirius never saw coming. It's long, painful nights of listening to James recite his first fumbled attempts at love letters or compose long lists of potential, romantic Christmas presents.

Peter is the first to get a girlfriend, which is enough to keep him bragging for weeks. She's a tiny, dark-haired Hufflepuff, and they sit together at the far end of the Gryffindor table during meals and hold hands and act disgusting in general.

Sirius can accept this because he and Peter have never been all that close. Peter's sudden disappearance from their lives doesn't do much to change Sirius's worldview. But when James starts trying to carry Evans's books for her – and gets a bloody nose for his trouble – Sirius's stomach crinkles up into a tight, frightened ball. Oh no, he thinks. Not James too. Oh no, oh no.

"Maybe you should ask her first next time," Remus advises as they walk down the hall, occasionally detouring to avoid carolling ghosts. James is looking pathetic and determined at the same time, a look which Sirius has never seen on him before but which he will be immensely tired of before the year is through. Sirius is dragging behind the others, feeling all pinched together and angry on the inside.

"Rather than just grabbing her books, I mean," Remus adds when James glares at him.

"Shut up," hisses James.

"I probably would've hit you too. In her place."

James sniffs. "That's because you're evil."

Remus smiles sharply, and Sirius glares at his back and wonders how he can possibly joke about this. Remus is supposed to be the perceptive one, and Sirius can't understand how he can't see that the world is coming to an end.

---

"The world is not coming to an end," says James later that night when he, Peter, and Sirius have snuck away to work on That Thing that Remus Can't Know About.

"Well of course you don't think it is," retorts Sirius. "If you realised the world was coming to an end, you wouldn't fancy Evans and then, ipso facto, the world wouldn't be coming to an end, you see?"

"You don't ever actually make sense, did you know that?" says James, and he drops the celery-like plant he's been chopping up into their cauldron. 'Mlurp,' goes the cauldron, and it lets off a bubble of smoke that makes them cough long enough that Sirius has forgotten what they were arguing about by the time he's able to speak again.

Peter pokes a spoon cautiously into the potion. Nothing immediately bursts into flames, so they all relax and lean back on their heels.

"I think June Whitfield fancies you," Peter says casually. "Ravenclaw, third year. She's sort of pretty."

"Ew," says Sirius.

---

It's sort of like the Plague, actually, except instead of black buboes the fourth year boys are all sprouting sestinas and similes about jewels and eyes. James has actually taken to referring to Lily's eyes as 'orbs' and about the only thing that keeps Sirius from socking him in the stomach on a regular basis is Remus's solid and constant grip on the collar of his shirt.

It turns out that Remus is the only other one in the whole of Gryffindor who appears to be immune. His head-clearing walks become more frequent and become more of an excuse to get away from James's bad poetry but otherwise, he seems exactly like he's always been. After a while, Sirius starts tagging along on his walks too. It's that or give up and demand that James choose between him and Lily – and Sirius honestly isn't sure his masculinity could survive that.

"What do you think of girls?" Sirius asks on one of their walks. They've ended up on a little hill overlooking the lake, which is where they often go to get away because Remus fancies the view. Which just goes to prove that Remus is definitely the only person in the world who actually likes the Forbidden Forest. Sirius has always secretly thought it was scary – dark and echoey and not pleasant at all – but nothing really scares Remus and that's comforting in a way.

"Specifically or generally?" Remus asks back.

"Generally."

"I don't know, Sirius. They're girls, people. What do you want me to say?"

"You don't think they're unnerving?" Sirius says and kicks at a loose crop of pebbles. They go bumbling off down the hill until all their momentum runs out, and they skitter to a stop. "All squishy and frilly and cheerful, I mean?"

Remus turns and looks at Sirius. His eyebrows twitch together for a moment but then he gets them under control and forces them into something more detached and philosophical.

"I've never really thought about it," he breezes.

Sirius collapses onto the ground and stretches his legs out in front of him. The moss underneath him is still wet from the last failed snowfall, and water begins soaking through his trousers. But that he can ignore. He knows how to deal with damp pant legs; it's this growing up thing he can't get a handle on.

"I don't like them the way James and Peter do," Remus adds suddenly. Then he bites his lip and looks back out at the lake to avoid Sirius's eyes.

A year ago, Sirius wouldn't have even blinked because a year ago they weren't supposed to like girls like James and Peter do. But now? And Remus says it like it's meant to be a confession, so Sirius looks up, squints at the sunlight, and asks, "Yeah, but what does that mean?"

Remus thinks about it and shrugs. "I don't know." He sits down as well, folding his legs in front of him and cocking his head to one side. Remus's knee is just barely touching Sirius's hip, and it's warm even through all their layers of clothing. "Can't imagine you'll have problems with girls for long, though," he observes. "They follow you everywhere. I'm sure we'll just... grow into it. Eventually."

"Probably," says Sirius who doesn't feel sure at all.

---

A week and a half later, Sirius kisses Remus outside Greenhouse #2. It's early afternoon, about five minutes into Herbology. James is occupied pestering Lily, and Peter is playing with his Hufflepuff's hair. Over the buzz of conversation, their professor is trying to explain the proper spells to protect plants from frost.

Remus is at least trying to pay attention, but even his patience is waning. The patches on his pants are blue denim today, and he's wearing white wool mittens that are unravelling at the fingers, and something indefinable about the pants and the mittens and Remus in general makes Sirius grab his wrist, drag him out of sight, and kiss him.

It's nothing like books make it out to be. In books, it's all swelling emotions and rising heat and ripping bodices – or so he has gathered from looking at the covers of the books that sometimes get left in the common room overnight. Instead, it's awkward. Sirius's hands don't seem to know what to do, so they give up entirely and hang uselessly at his side. Remus's neck is bent at an angle that can't be comfortable and while he hasn't started screaming "rape!" yet, it's possible he's died of shock within that last thirty seconds, and Sirius just hasn't noticed.

In passing, Sirius wonders if the fact that they're both boys explains why things aren't like they are in books. If that's why he doesn't feel any need to spontaneously declare his undying love for Remus. If that's why his stomach feels tight and topsy-turvy. If that's why he's more scared at this moment than he's ever been in his life.

When the kiss stumbles to a conclusion, Remus pulls back and looks blitzed, wide-eyed, and if not frightened then at least completely blind-sided. "Um," he says unhelpfully.

"Sorry, sorry," Sirius whispers and glances over his shoulder to make sure that their sudden disappearance has not yet been noticed.. "It's just, I was thinking, and Peter and James are always talking about... you know, kissing, and I figured we've got to figure out what... you know, is like some time, and it seemed like a good idea at the time."

"In Herbology?" Remus hisses back.

Sirius's brain runs a quick analysis of that, and he's relieved to find no undertone of "You're disgusting, don't ever speak to me again!"

"Look," he says. "It was just a thing I thought of. Nothing to get worked up about, right? It was just...a thing and, and maybe we should be getting back to class now?"

Remus frowns, not at Sirius but at some hard-to-solve puzzle that his mind has stirred up. Sirius turns to walk back around the greenhouse and into the mess of bored students when Remus mutters, mostly to himself but entirely audible, "Back to class, yes. Because I know how important proper plant care is to you."

Sirius glances over his shoulder and grins despite the weird, doomed feeling in his stomach. "You should be flattered I was able to tear myself away," he says and before Remus can respond and do something silly like suggest they talk about it, he grabs Remus's wrist again and drags him back into the real world – where friends don't kiss friends behind greenhouses.

v.

Fifth year is paws and teeth and fur. It's the look of shock turned to alarm turned to wonder on Remus's face when he finds out what they've been keeping from him for these last two years. It's the way he doesn't quite ask "You did this for me?" but Sirius can tell he's thinking it.

Sirius learns more in the first month of being a dog than he has in the past four and a bit years of school. He learns about all the secret place on the grounds he's never seen before because his eyes have been just a little too far off the ground. He learns how to identify people by smell. Peter smells sort of muted, like a carpet or a favourite sweater. James is something brighter, like soap and the oil he uses for polishing his broom. Remus smells brightest of all, like sharp cedar and ozone.

He also learns that maybe Lily Evans isn't so bad after all, but he suspects that has less to do with becoming an animagi and more to do with this maturity thing that Remus is always going on about. She's still sort of a pill, and James isn't any less irritatingly infatuated with her than he was before, but at least she doesn't seem inclined to give in to his happily ever after, and Sirius figures that puts them on the same team.

So when Evans dumps her breakfast in James's lap a week before Christmas and tells him that she wouldn't date him even if it meant the slow and painful demise of the entire human race, Sirius silently dubs her the newest member of the 'Keep the World From Coming to An End' Coalition and cheers her on much to James's irritation.

---

They haven't talked about the kiss since it happened. Summer hols and fear and not being big girls who need to talk about their feelings every second of the day has interfered. Sirius does not figure it's one of those things that happens to all boys of a certain age because he's never kissed James and in retrospect that probably would've been the more logical choice if this was just boys being boys. In fact, Sirius doesn't think about the kiss at all because he's at that age where thinking about things like kissing one of your best friends leads to all sorts of physical awkwardness that he just isn't willing to deal with.

But staunch denial can only get you so far. He tried it when he was sorted into Gryffindor and look how well that turned out. He's been trying it with James's Lily obsession, and it isn't working at all. Going by the track record thus far, ignoring his feelings for Remus – although he hates calling them that – isn't going to get him anywhere.

However, until he can find a better way to start the necessary conversation than "So, sometimes I have dreams about you. What's that all about anyway, mate?" – which, Merlin, he's embarrassed to admit in his own head – they're stuck. Stuck in this interminable situation where just being in a room with Remus makes Sirius breathe a little faster, just sitting across from him in the Great Hall makes Sirius's heart beat out God Save the Queen or something equally celebratory and embarrassing. He's almost convinced, some days, that he can feel his heart pounding a dent into his rib cage because it beats so hard.

Plausible deniability are the watchwords of the day. Now Sirius doesn't look in Remus's direction, unless there's something else in said direction that he could reasonably claim to have been staring at. He doesn't talk to Remus unless he's guaranteed a finite beginning and end to the conversation. As long as they don't do anything to make it worse, Sirius figures, these – okay, yes – feelings will fade and things will go back to the way they were before when Remus had all the answers and Sirius had none. Right now neither of them have answers, and Sirius doesn't like it at all.

---

Which is why he never sees it coming when Remus pulls him into a deserted classroom one Friday afternoon and starts kissing him like there aren't going to be all sorts of horrible ramifications because of it.

"What?" Sirius manages to ask out of the corner of his mouth. Remus shoves him against the closest wall and doesn't really answer, but the fingers of his left hand reach up and touch that corner of mouth and a bit of Sirius's lower lip.

"You've been avoiding me," Remus murmurs eventually and presses his tongue into Sirius's mouth.

Okay, thinks Sirius, okay okay okay, and then his brain promptly shuts down. Neither of them are exactly polished kissers, if only because of a lack of experience, but that's more than made up for by the fact that they don't really have anything to compare this to either. Sirius gets the sense that Remus is still trying to figure out what's going on, like his brain wasn't involved in the decision to drag Sirius into an empty classroom and it's trying desperately to play catch-up.

Doing a pretty good job so far, Sirius decides. Remus presses forward with his tongue, exploring, testing, and Sirius isn't at all ready for the way his body reacts when Remus's tongue slips against the roof of his mouth and then darts away. He groans, a dark, demanding sort of noise, and his hips jerk out of their own accord to press against whatever will press back – in this case, Remus. And that leads to a whole chain of events that ends with Remus gasping in a way that sounds so much like pain that Sirius instantly pulls back and tries to apologize.

Remus untangles his hands from the ends of Sirius's shirt and uses one to cover Sirius's mouth and the other to hold Sirius's right wrist to the wall. "No talking," he says and returns to kissing Sirius, except on the neck this time, just below his pulse, and less kissing than sliding his tongue from point A, ie. just below his pulse, to point B, just above his collarbone. Sirius's whole body is shaking, so he does the only things he can do, which are 1) opening his mouth and lapping his tongue against Remus's palm and up and around his index finger and 2) yanking Remus's shirt tails out of his pants and shoving his fingers up to dig into Remus's belly.

This goes on for a while, and there is a lot more rubbing and touching and licking. Remus, Sirius decides, makes the most intoxicating moaning-growls when he's pleased, and Sirius would be thrilled to go on finding new ways to do just that – even if his cock has grown so tight that it's almost painful now and rubbing against his jeans is no longer satisfying so much as immensely frustrating – when the chime sounds, signalling the end of lunch. Remus jumps back, tense like he's about ready to bolt through the door, and stares at Sirius. Sirius stares back and tries to steady his breathing. After a painfully long stretch of time, Remus smiles and then Sirius smiles and before too long, they're laughing so hard that Sirius's knees give way and he sinks down to the floor. Remus comes and joins him.

"Well," says Sirius. "We should do that again."

Remus smiles, and the tip of his tongue peeks out from under his overbite. "Hm. You think so, do you?"

They laugh again, and Sirius finds himself watching Remus's mouth which is shiny with saliva and red from being kissed. He now knows exactly what it feels like to desperately want to kiss someone, and he figures if this is how James feels about Lily all the time then maybe he isn't so crazy after all. Sirius can easily imagine composing sonnets about Remus Lupin's mouth.

After a brief silence, Remus reaches out and grabs Sirius's (slightly rumpled) tie and draws it across his lips to wipe them off. Then he gets to his feet and jerks his head and says, "We better get out of here before class starts."

They make it out just as their Runes professor is making his way in, and Sirius has to cross-step, stumble, and edge against the door frame to avoid crashing into the man. From the horrified look he makes upon seeing the two of them, Sirius figures he'll be checking all of his desk drawers and his chair twice before he sits down

---

In the end, it's not like they've picked out a china pattern or anything. They don't hold hands and go for romantic walks in the woods. Sirius has yet to climb up on to Hogwarts's roof and proclaim his love for Remus to the world.

But now there are whole days when he'd like to.

vi.

Sixth year is the year he doesn't like to think about.

On the morning after, James tries to convince him not to go pounding up to the infirmary to try and explain everything. But Sirius can't fathom how Remus could possibly not want to see him, not want to hear his explanation. In the scenario he's worked out in his head, Sirius will explain calmly, logically, that he never meant for things to turn out the way they did, and Remus will put on that wide blinking owl face he uses when he's contemplating things or weighing the value of a particular argument and eventually, he will see reason – because he is a reasonable sort of bloke – and they can all go beat up Snape together.

But from the first time they spoke, Remus has never been one to go along with Sirius's carefully thought-out plans and this time when Sirius goes to talk to him, he doesn't even acknowledge that Sirius is there. And Sirius ends up staring at Remus's back on the little infirmary cot until Madame Pomfrey comes to steer him toward the exit.

---

"I can only apologize so many times and still mean it!" Sirius shouts on a Saturday, almost a week and a half before Christmas, when Remus has still not forgiven him.

"Somehow I'm not surprised," Remus snaps back. He's bent over his suitcase, shoving clothing into the remaining crannies around his books. He's been packing for the better part of today because for the first time in the six years they've been here, Remus is going home for the Christmas break. "You know," he says, "for most people sincerity doesn't come with an expiry date."

Sirius scowls. "That's not what I meant."

"No, of course not. Merlin forbid you say anything intelligible," Remus says as he straightens, turns around, and folds his arms across his chest. "What did you mean then, Sirius? I'm listening."

Sirius swallows and can't think of anything to say. Most of him wants to take this opportunity to kiss Remus rather than talk it out and for that he's both ashamed and angry with himself. Remus taps his foot and raises his eyebrows, waiting, and so Sirius chokes out the only thing that comes to mind.

"I am sorry."

Remus shakes his head. "I don't care even a little."

---

Sirius mopes around the castle for most of Christmas break. After he's spent a week avoiding everyone, he spends a couple of days throwing things at walls, watching them break, spelling them back together, and doing it again. It's a better outlet than, say, falling into bed and crying, which is the only other option he sees open to him. And – in secret, when he's very sure no one is around – he does a bit of that too. But only a bit.

Peter and James do their best to keep him occupied, but working on the map and playing pranks on other students can only do so much. Sirius doesn't quite know how to explain to them what Remus means to him, except that it probably involves words like crucial and integral and very very. And it would probably involve lots of weird looks and uncomfortable confessions too, so Sirius decides it's easiest just to avoid it altogether.

Things only get better when, three days before the break is over, Remus comes thumping into the dorm and punches Sirius in the nose. Sirius goes down, slams his head on the end of James's bed, and immediately blacks out. When he wakes up in the infirmary fifteen minutes later, the others are there, spread out in chairs or on the floor, catching Remus up on the map work done during the last two weeks. Sirius tries to sit up in bed to let them know that he's awake, but he gets woozy almost immediately and has to lie down again.

"You have a concussion," James informs him.

"You bled all over the place. It was brilliant," Peter adds.

"Don't do it again," Remus says, and Sirius knows that Remus isn't talking about getting a concussion. He's saying that now things will be better. Not the same, never the same again, but better. It's enough.

vii.

Seventh year is the year it doesn't snow. The ground freezes solid, and the grass becomes so brittle that it crackles under footsteps, but still it doesn't snow. Weeks pass, and Christmas trees are put up in the Great Hall and the common rooms, and still not a flake.

During the first week of December, Remus spends whole afternoons on the hill near the lake, watching the sky. Sirius goes with him sometimes, and they talk about boring things, safe things, like upcoming N.E.W.T.s or what they plan to do when school is over. Remus hugs his knees to his chest and doesn't talk about how he'll never find a good job, and Sirius lies back on the grass and doesn't talk about how he still maybe has feelings for Remus.

Eventually, Peter and James and Lily start joining them, and they all smile and pretend that their futures are full of possibility and that there are lives and jobs and families lurking just beyond the lake -- not war.

Finally, on Friday after classes have finished, they give up watching the sky and march out to the Quidditch stadium for an end-of-year scrimmage. James bets Lily and Peter that they'd never be able to beat him, even two on one, and before Peter has a chance to open his mouth, Lily is saying "Oh yeah?" and kicking her broom into the air.

Remus collapses on the third to bottom row of bleacher seats and bends his neck from side to side until it pops. Then he slips down into the spot where feet are supposed to go and rests his head on the seat behind and his feet on the seat in front and watches as Lily almost scores a point. Sirius sits down on the bench beside him and watches him watching.

In the sky above, Lily is hollering something like "James Potter, you cheater" and chasing after him as he loops up and around the hoops at the far end of the field.

"What did he do?" asks Sirius.

Remus shrugs. "Who knows."

Lily manages to tackle James when they get close to the ground, and there's some rolling and hair-pulling until finally James falls back and starts yelling "Okay, okay, you win!" And Lily, sitting on his stomach, bends over and kisses him on the nose.

"What a difference a year makes," says Sirius, and Remus stretches, brushes his shoulder against Sirius's thigh, and smiles. When his hand ends up on Sirius's shoe, right over the laces, neither of them move away.