It’s a common enough dream: the full moon has risen, and Remus isn’t in the shack, and he isn’t bound and locked in the cellar at his grandparents’ old house, and he isn’t -- anywhere in particular. Or he’s in the Hogwarts grounds, walking back to the castle. His feet start to crunch on the ground like snow, and then he realises -- he’s a wolf. He’s a wolf and he didn’t even notice. But now he can’t stop noticing. He feels -- wolfy. Too hot in his own skin. Everything is the wrong colour. He feels sick.
In his dreams, this sickness is only a ghost of how being a wolf really feels. How it would feel to suddenly -- realise. He’s never been caught out like that. He can’t imagine missing the change. It’s -- it’s not something you miss. But in dreams? In dreams you can shed your skin without noticing.
And after a while, being a wolf -- as far as he remembers it -- doesn’t feel like sickness at all. It feels like taking off confining clothes at the end of the day.
The dream-moon is big. Bigger than he’s ever seen it. And it’s -- moon-colour, but brighter, too. Not white, not grey, not yellow. Like ageing paper, or annual honesty seedpods, which feel like small circles of paper when they're rubbed between finger and thumb. There was a plant in the driveway of the house he lived in when he was ten. East Kent, only a few miles from the sea. He knows the type of plant better now -- it’s a staple in a lot of the medicinal potions Professor Slughorn liked to set them in preparation for their OWLs, and there are places where it sprouts just... outside the castle, in piles of scrub. It’s not precious enough to be in any of the greenhouses, but it’s made its way here anyway. Maybe somebody threw their underbrewed potion out of a window, frustrated, and somewhere in the potion were the unconsumed seeds, just biding their time. They look like crisps, like the wide eyes of some animal at night.
Remus wonders what function magical properties of plants serve to the plants themselves. Surely the plants don’t want to be cut up and burnt on the bottom of cauldrons, or strained through nets made from dragongut, or for their seeds to be harvested for night-vision draughts. Does the ministry have to regulate some plants? Do they have to make sure that magical potency isn’t being bred out of them?
His mind is moving very fast, and he is thinking of the greenhouse, and it is like he doesn’t have a body -- but wasn’t he --
Remus looks up and then he looks down again, at his hands. His fingernails are little silver crescent moons, no, they’re yellowing fast, turning the colour of old parchment. He looks up. Slughorn is teaching the class, but it’s not a potions class. It’s a -- Defence lesson. Except it’s not really about defence. He’s holding up a gun.
“When a werewolf appears human,” Slughorn says, “they can be killed like any other man.”
“What the hell’s that,” Sirius says.
Remus looks down at his porridge. “Porridge,” he says. He'd cut up a banana and put the pieces in, and some brown sugar, and he’s slowly been stirring it for a few minutes, waiting for it to cool down.
“Not you,” Sirius says, impatiently. Remus presses the back of his right hand to his left cheek, pauses, and then stirs the porridge for another minute before he can bring himself to eat it. It’s hot, and it sticks to the inside of his mouth.
“This?” James says, as Sirius slides onto the bench so that he’s facing opposite him. Next to Remus, who slides over a bit so that their bodies don’t touch. Sirius manages to kick him -- lightly -- anyway. “Breakfast.”
Sirius snorts, and leans over, and prods at the thing on James’s plate with his wand. “Think McGonagall would dock points from you if she saw this, mate.”
James rolls his eyes, and says, “it’s supposed to look like that.”
Peter butters his toast and watches James and Sirius carefully. He doesn’t say anything. He’s not had his coffee yet.
“Why?” Remus asks, before he can help himself. He’d been studiously ignoring it until Sirius came down and shattered their lovely breakfast peace. But no longer.
“Well, it was my sausages,” James says. He cuts into it and reveals that it is, at least, still sausages inside. He puts a piece in his mouth. “Still is, really.”
“What is it supposed to be,” Remus says. Sirius is wiping his wand on his sleeve with a very thoughtful look on his face.
“Is this supposed to be the bog that we found in the forest last April?” he says.
“Shhh,” James says, pushing his hair out of his eyes and glancing around. He starts talking to Sirius in a furious whisper and Remus stops paying attention. Peter pokes him in the back when they’re on their way to Charms and Remus shrugs and just mouths, “MAP!” at him.
Pretty standard, non-full moon morning, all told. Remus keeps having to remind himself that the dream wasn’t -- that it isn’t real, and he has to forcibly stop himself from seeing the moon everywhere, but -- well. Sirius pushes a flask of coffee over to him in History of Magic as he copies James’s Transfiguration notes from last week down, and Remus looks up at the ceiling and thinks, another three years to go before I’m out in the real world again.
“Do you know what Legilimency is?” Peter asks, flopping down on the rug by the fire and purposefully spilling books and parchment in front of him. He looks at the scrap of paper that he’d read the word from and scowls. “I’ve got another word here but it’s smudged.”
“No,” James says. He doesn’t look up from his book.
Sirius isn’t paying attention -- his head is thrown back, and he’s waving his wand in the air, creating lots of floating orange-brown leaves that disappear before they hit the ground.
“Yes,” Remus says, finally, when Sirius doesn’t answer. James peers at him over his book, but doesn’t say anything as unkind as, how do you know something that I don’t.
Remus knows a lot of things the rest of them don’t, they just don’t usually come with long Greek or Latin words and textbooks in the library. They come to him in dreams, they come to him at night when he is trying his best to forget them, they come to him in the long summer holiday, they come to him every time he receives a letter from his parents full of euphemisms about clinics and sanatoriums.
Remus feels very heavy and alone. “Legilimency is like -- mind-reading,” he says, finally. “Kind of. I bet the other word is Occlumency, that’s the defence against it.”
“What?” Peter says, sounding much less cool than he’s trying to. “You mean people can -- can --”
James has closed his book and is regarding Remus with keen interest.
“Not really,” Remus says. “It’s very hard, and brains are...” he waves his hands in the air and raises his eyebrows.
“Yes, exactly,” Sirius says, and he casts off his spell with a flourish that brings a pile of leaves down on Peter’s head. Peter splutters and throws them off. Some of them land in the fire, where they start to burn wetly and dissolve, but the fragments that are caught in Peter’s hair don’t fade.
“Oh, you’re joining us?” James says.
“Well,” Sirius says. “Looks like you and Peter need Remus and me to play tutor in remedial brain studies. Not that it’ll mean much to him...”
“Sirius,” Remus says. He rubs at his forehead with the palm of his hand. “It’s a fairly uncommon type of magic,” he says, finally. “Why were you asking about it, Peter?”
“Fireworthy told me to research it,” Peter says, glum. “I’m meant to be researching it with Crispian, but I haven’t been able to find him anywhere and when I asked Madam Pince about it -- she shrieked at me until I got out of the library.”
“Fireworthy,” James says, with disgust.
“Five inches of parchment,” Peter says, mournfully.
“Moony?” Sirius whispers. Remus is staring up at the ceiling. He can hear Peter snoring, and James always falls asleep in about five seconds, so it often ends up being just him and Sirius talking until dawn.
He doesn’t ask why Sirius has trouble sleeping too, but he can guess.
“Yeah?” Remus says. He scoots over and Sirius clambers into his bed, because it’s a cold October and they never much like talking across the room. Sirius casts a quick charm to suspend Remus’s blankets above them like a tent, and another to fill it with light that nobody else can see. Just the two of them. Their own little world.
“You’ll have to teach me how to do that,” Remus says, wistfully. Sirius has a surprising knack for whimsical charms, although he mostly only does them out of thoughtless boredom, and seems kind of scornful if anyone brings them up. But now, past midnight, he smiles and says:
“I’ll write it down for you.”
Remus smiles at him, and then looks away. He’s sure he’s got some cauldron cakes that he smuggled away from dinner stowed somewhere. He rummages but he can’t find them.
Sirius hands him a brown paper bag full of marshmallows that he’s pulled out from somewhere and holds a finger to his lips. His mouth is floury, and when he grins Remus can see flour on his teeth, too. “Honeydukes,” he says. “They have expanding chocolate in the middle. Melty.”
Remus eats one, gingerly, and can’t stop himself from smiling at Sirius again. “So,” Sirius says, as casually as he can. “How do you know about Occlumency?”
Remus rolls his eyes, but he knew this was coming. “Why do you know about Occlumency?”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sirius says. “You know how I know about Occlumency. You’ve met my mother.” He does a crude mime that involves him pressing his hands to his face and looking aghast, but it looks kind of -- sinister in the flickering, orange light. Half of his face is cast in darkness, and his eyes look hollow, and his cheeks look hollow, and he looks like he could be a different, much worse version of himself.
“Well, you know how I know about Occlumency too,” Remus says. “I expect you’ve worked it out by now.”
Sirius pokes him and says, “if you don’t tell me I’m going to take the marshmallows away and I’ll share them all with Peter.” He takes the bag back but he doesn’t hold it out of Remus’s reach.
“Peter doesn’t like marshmallows,” Remus says, and he steals one back -- holds it aloft, between his index finger and his middle finger, and then puts the whole thing in his mouth and sucks on it until all the flour has come off, and then until the marshmallow loses its consistency and collapses.
“Remus,” Sirius says, sounding pained. Remus wipes at his mouth.
“Fine,” he says. “They taught me basic Occlumency here when I was younger, in case any older students tried to work out what was wrong with me.”
“Older students?” Sirius says. “When you were a little firstie?”
Remus shrugs, and stretches. God, he’s tired. But he can never sleep much the week before the full moon. When he was younger he thought it was because of the moon, that it must have some kind of weird, rippling effect on him all month, but he’s pretty sure now that that’s not true. That the rest of the month, it’s just the moon, the same as it ever was. The same as it was when he was a baby, and his mum had hung a mobile of the solar system above his bed. There are photographs. It was just a plastic dream. Now, he thinks that the pain he feels throughout the month is -- just terror, on some primal level. His body understands the rhythm of each month -- of each twenty-eight days, which are both less than and more than a month, 11 months of the year -- better than he will ever understand calendars, clocks, or how some people can read the sky like a compass. He’s sixteen, but his body feels like it has lived many lives.
Sirius’s face seems to pass from mocking to furious and then to impassive in a second, with the flickering of the blanket light, but he doesn’t say anything. Remus doesn’t say -- you worked it out. He doesn’t say -- you’re the people Dumbledore was worried about, and you weren’t even older.
Partly because it’s not really true. The older he gets, the more sure he is that Dumbledore must have known this would happen. That there was no way that nobody would work it out. The Occlumency lessons -- from Dumbledore himself, in the headmaster’s office that he’d only inherited the summer before, that glorious summer when he’d come to Remus to offer him the place -- had merely been a precaution against -- what? Malicious older students. The wrong person being let in on the secret.
For similar reasons, Remus had taken the odd day off in lessons that had nothing to do with the full moon in first and second year. He’d sleep in the Hospital Wing if it was empty enough, but he’d stay and hide in his dorm if not. “We don’t want you catching anything else,” Madame Clarise had said to him when he’d turned up once in the middle of an epidemic of Flobberworm Flu. He’d tried doing it in third year, too, but it was -- he was already trying desperately hard not to fall behind. He wasn’t like Sirius, or James, or even Peter -- they'd all been brought up by wizards and witches who had taught them as little children with Hogwarts in mind. Remus had been bitten at five, and his mum was a muggle and his dad spent all of his time working or writing letters to all of the different magical communities the world held (a lot, apparently) to try and find some kind of cure, some kind of treatment. Even when they'd taught him magic, it had been haphazard. It had not been aimed at making him a good, well-rounded student.
Remus had turned up at Hogwarts only two weeks after Dumbledore had delivered his letter personally. He hadn’t even known what half-blood meant. The first time someone had asked him if he was half-blood or a muggle -- “you can’t be pureblood, look at you,” -- he’d looked around, wildly. How did they know? Was there something wolfish about his eyes? Had hair started to sprout from his knuckles? Could they see that he had a wolf’s heart, a wolf’s brain? That his heart was beating out of his chest, because his body was too small to hold it? That he was dangerous, and that he shouldn't have even been there?
He'd never been around so many people before, let alone other people his own age.
“Piss off, Black,” an older girl had said. She hadn’t been talking to Sirius, although she might as well have been, considering what he was like for the first month of their first year at Hogwarts.
She’d explained to him that the girl had been asking about Remus’s parents, and she said that it was fine if they were muggles -- that just means that they’re not magic like you are. “Oh,” Remus had said. Nobody had been able to tell about him, after all. He’d looked down at his robes -- too big, the colour of flakes of charcoal rather than properly black -- and he knew that underneath, he was wearing his favourite jeans, with flowery fabric lining the pockets. Nobody else knew that, even. Just him. Just him and his mum, who was far, far away, and who wasn’t magic. Nobody here knew. Nobody knew him. They thought he didn’t know what muggle meant. He was opaque.
“I don’t think anyone ever tried anything,” Remus says to Sirius, “if it makes you feel any better. I think Dumbledore overestimated how interested Slytherin seventeen-year-olds were likely to be in a sickly Gryffindor boy of twelve.”
At lunchtime the next day, after Remus has had his third cup of tea since waking up, he throws a teacake at Peter, who only just manages to catch it. He frowns back at him. “Yeah?” he says, clutching a Quidditch magazine that he’s just borrowed from James to his chest, as if to protect it from any further food missiles.
“Legilimency,” Remus says, quietly. “Free this evening?”
Peter rubs at his forehead. “I saw Crispian in defence this morning, and he says he got loads of notes from Sn--ivellus yesterday --” his eyes dart to the side, but neither James or Sirius is paying either of them any attention, preferring to argue loudly with Lily Evans about teasing the firsties instead -- “you know, they sit together in Charms, and he was moaning about it there...”
“So you got the notes from him?” Remus says. Peter shakes his head.
“We’re going to meet in the library tonight,” he says. “I’m not sure I trust him. Can you look it over for me tomorrow? It’s due on Friday.”
“You don’t trust Crispian?” Remus says. He’s always seemed like a good enough sort. Well, he’s always seemed like a boring Ravenclaw, but the older Remus gets, the more admirable that seems. But his stomach has started to gnaw inwards. He knows who Peter means. He doesn’t mean Crispian.
“No-ooo,” Peter says, with feeling.
“What does Snape know about it?” Sirius says. They’re sitting under Remus’s duvet again. Sirius has produced a big bag of gummy worms today, and Remus isn’t that keen on how they wriggle in his stomach, but he eats them anyway.
“Aren’t you tired?” Remus says. He’s lying on his back, staring upwards at the flickering light. Sirius kicks his leg, but not hard, and Remus looks up at him.
“I can’t sleep either,” Sirius says. Remus snorts -- Sirius didn’t seem to have trouble sleeping before he found out that Remus can never sleep during the week before the full moon, a year or so ago -- but doesn’t bother arguing.
“Oh, he’s just evil,” Remus says, and he feels vaguely guilty as the words leave his mouth. He stares up again, as if the words are hanging in the air, as if maybe he can take them back. He doesn’t really think Snape’s evil, just unhappy, and horrible with it. “He’s probably read all of the books in the restricted section -- you know Slughorn gives him notes whenever he wants, he’s top in potions.”
Sirius sneers, but he can’t stop the sneer from turning into a yawn.
“Look,” Remus starts, and he puts a hand on Sirius’s shoulder. “You should try and sleep.”
“You don’t think I’m trying?” Sirius says, in a dangerous tone of voice. Remus’s hand falls away. “I’m not lying. I don’t like you that much.”
The words sting a little, although Remus has heard worse, and he also knows that it’s kind of -- a joke. “I have trouble sleeping the rest of the month, too,” Sirius says, “I just don’t come and bother you with it.”
“Weird dreams?” Remus says.
Sirius shakes his head. His hair is in tangles, thrown against Remus’s pillow -- it probably needs a wash, but Remus likes it like this. It’s a bit longer than Sirius likes, and he looks so -- spikey. Like an illustration from a book.
Remus awkwardly hooks an arm around the top of Sirius’s head, because he doesn’t really know what to say. Sirius grips his arm, and Remus thinks he’s going to push him away, but he doesn’t, he just holds him like that, and they’re forming this weird shape between their bodies, the boundaries of it the points at which their bodies intersect. Remus moves closer, until the sides of their heads are touching too. It’s little more than a lock of hair, but it’s -- it’s the most they’ve touched like this. Deliberately. Remus is scared to do anything, in case he ruins it.
They lie there for a while, not speaking, and Remus thinks that Sirius might be asleep, but his breathing is too sharp. Finally, Sirius shifts, and moves his hand from Remus’s arm -- but doesn’t move his head away -- and he says, “I was never any good at going to sleep all emotionless.”
“Oh,” Remus says, quiet, ghostly. He’s still scared of ruining whatever this is. Sirius keeps talking.
“She started making us practice it with her when we were kids -- she didn’t really tell us why. Just, I dunno, when all you nice normal muggle boys would be praying before bed --” Remus doesn’t interject to point out that he wasn’t a nice, normal muggle boy, and he certainly didn’t pray before bed “-- we’d be lying there, trying to think of something really boring so that we didn’t go to sleep angry or happy or sad or anything.” Sirius pauses for a beat and then says, “actually God might have worked for that, but I never thought of it. I used to think of wallpaper, and porridge. Beige. Parchment. The older children of my parents’ friends who always just talked about the houses their parents owned...” he raps his knuckles on Remus’s shoulder and says, “it didn’t really work.”
“It didn’t work?” Remus says, thickly. He’s so tired. It’s hard to follow what Sirius means.
“I bet you never had any trouble thinking of anything boring,” Sirius says, with a nasty tone, but Remus knows he doesn’t really mean it nastily. “Bet you can just think of all of those stupid books you like about the elves that behaving nothing like elves.”
“I don’t think they’re boring,” Remus says. “They’re really rather exciting, thank you. James thinks so too.”
“James wouldn’t know a good book if it bit him on the arse,” Sirius says, cheerfully. “Actually, that’s a good idea for a spell, cheers.”
“You came up with that,” Remus says. “I had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Sirius twirls his wand between his fingers, and mouths words to himself that Remus assumes are probably Latin and probably about books and bums. Remus is about to ask Sirius to shove off, he thinks he’s about to fall asleep, when Sirius says, in a quiet voice. “Did Dumbledore ever make you test it?”
“What?” Remus says.
“You know,” Sirius waves his wandless hand in the air, “did he ever try and read your mind?”
“It’s not really --” Remus starts to say, but he sighs when Sirius makes a disgusted noise at him.
“I know, I’m not Peter,” he says.
“He tried the spell a couple of times, to show me,” Remus says, “but I was twelve and he was gentle, so not much actually happened. He saw some stupid memories --" Remus swallows the memories back down, as they try to flush his mind with images of cooking with his mum, being sick, having all of his ribs re-set by Madame Clarise after the second full-moon of his time at Hogwarts, but he loses his train of thought.
“My mum used to try it while we were sleeping,” Sirius says. “Test that we were preparing ourselves before bed.”
“Christ,” Remus says. “How old were you?”
“She started a little while before I came to Hogwarts,” Sirius says. He twirls his wand around in his fingers and shoots a couple of tiny gardenias into the palm of his other hand, and tucks them into Remus’s hair. “Don’t touch them,” he says, “they’ll fade away on their own.”
Remus rolls his eyes, but he stays still. He can smell the flowers. “She still does it,” Sirius says. “When I go home. Only I don’t think she’s trying to make me stronger anymore.”
Remus looks at him, stricken, and touches his arm. “She can’t reach you here.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so either,” Sirius says. His eyes look so dark. He passes a hand over his face. “But sometimes she turns up in my dreams and just the way her eyes flash...”
Remus doesn’t have anything to say to this. He can’t put his horror into words. “Is that why you don’t sleep?” he says, finally.
Sirius snorts. “I sleep,” he says. “I’m just bad at it. Keeping up at the back, Lupin?”
“I hate you,” Remus says, and then he says, “Well, I’m going to sleep now,” but he doesn’t move from where he’s gingerly wrapped around Sirius and he falls asleep like that, and when he wakes up Sirius isn’t there but the smell of the gardenias is.
In fourth year, Remus had ended up paired with Snape in potions. They’d never paid each other much attention before that -- Snape hated Sirius and James, and so he kind of hated Remus by association, but they’d never been alone together to really confirm or confront it.
“That billyroot isn’t crushed,” was the first thing Snape said to him. “You’ll ruin the potion.”
Most of the things he said to Remus, those first few weeks, were like that. It was better than actual insults, or arguments. It stung at first, but Remus wasn’t good at potions -- not terrible, not as bad as Snape thought, but definitely not good -- and Snape was very good, the best, so in the end, he couldn’t have really expected anything else.
It was when Remus started missing lessons that the problems started. He would have thought that Snape would have preferred it if he wasn’t there -- but mostly what happened was that Snape became... curious.
“Ill again?” Snape said, one Monday after there’d been a particularly bad moon at the end of the previous week. Remus’s skin felt too tight. He felt as if there were new scars all over his body, although James had sworn that he didn’t look any different than usual. He didn’t sound concerned.
“You just look like you’ve been throwing up all weekend,” Sirius had said, helpfully, as Remus had tried to eat breakfast that morning.
“I wonder why that is,” Remus had said, as he mauled a big rasher of bacon.
“Somebody should go back to be-d,” Sirius had said, in his best sing-song voice.
“Piss off, Sirius,” James had said, and he’d stolen Sirius’s fried bread from underneath a slice of coal-dark black pudding. “Let him go to lessons if he wants.”
Remus had wanted to. It didn’t help. The day was a haze of notes he took too long to take down, and that made no sense when he looked them over. It wasn’t a moon thing -- it was just an exhaustion thing. A body-stitching-itself-together thing. By potions, late afternoon, Remus had just been glad that he was going to be somewhere cool and dark and quiet, where the teacher would basically pretend that he didn’t exist. He suspected that he’d been put with Snape because it meant that Slughorn wouldn’t have to look at him. Snape would teach him. He knew it all already.
“Just tired,” Remus had said.
“I went to the hospital wing to see you on Friday,” Snape said. “Thought you might want my notes from Thursday.”
“Oh,” Remus had said.
“You weren’t there,” Snape said.
“I was back in the dorm, sleeping,” Remus said. He’d actually been at St Mungo’s, having some kind of reconstruction done on his back that he doesn’t really want to think about. “Another bout of ‘flu.”
Snape narrowed his eyes. “If it was ‘flu you’d still be in bed, Lupin. Or...” and he waved his hands at his ears, impatiently. Pepper-up. Remus sometimes forgot that Snape had grown up with one magical parent and one muggle, too. Like -- Remus. Snape did his best to make people forget it. But of course -- he knew what regular ‘flu was, what it was actually like.
“That’s why he looks like he’s about to keel over,” Sirius had said, appearing from nowhere, his voice far too loud. “Watch out!” and then he knocked into Snape so that whatever he’d carefully been cutting up -- seed pods? Remus had already forgotten -- fell into the cauldron.
“Idiot!” Snape said, furiously, as the liquid inside the cauldron started to fizz green. It was meant to be golden, and light. Sirius didn’t laugh, or apologise, he just looked at Snape like he was something on his shoe, and tossed his hair out of his eyes, and he went back to the cauldron that he was sharing with Hester Morland, who Remus was pretty sure was responsible for the anonymous notes of terrible poetry that the Hogwarts owls kept dropping onto Sirius’s hash browns.
Snape didn’t tell Slughorn what had happened -- he flicked through his textbook, furiously made notes in the margins, and started to repair what Sirius had done by muttering to the potion like it was a naughty dog, and stirring it counter-clockwise. By the end of the lesson it was almost back to how it was supposed to look.
“Hmm,” Slughorn had said. “I hope your partner isn’t dragging you down?”
Snape curtly shook his head. Remus wished that he’d said yes -- but he guessed that Snape was too worried he’d get swapped to Sirius or James, or even Peter, who was slightly less hopeless than Remus at potions but worse at following directions. In previous years Snape been partnered with Lily Evans, who had always been the closest he had to a friend among... well, anyone, but Snape had started to sit with some of the nastier Slytherins at dinner, and when he and Lily hadn’t been put together at the start of the year they hadn’t protested. Remus wondered if something had happened between them at Slug Club parties. He knew Sirius and James were always invited, but they had started to compete with each other to find new, outlandish ways to dispose of the invitations, and as far as he knew, neither of them had ever gone.
“Evans always goes to the Slug Club,” Sirius had said once, “maybe you should wash your dress robes, Potter.”
James had made a rude gesture and then had put a fairly vigorous charm on his invitation, which spent the rest of the day trying to shove itself up Sirius’s nose.
James had always been so lighthearted about his dislike of the Slug Club, and of Slughorn himself that Remus almost felt it was a joke, until one night when James was tutoring Remus for his potions OWL, long after lights out. Slughorn still wouldn't even look at him, and he was hopelessly behind. James had said, angrier almost than Remus had ever heard him, "I'll never forgive him for the way he treats you."
While clearing all of the rubbish out of Grimmauld Place, a year after Remus had lost his job and Sirius had returned from being as well as dead, Remus paused, legs crossed, half-covered in dust in the middle of Sirius’s old room. Tucked under the bed, he found -- a stack of invitations to the Slug Club. Smoothed out, stained, in different states of grossness. Years' worth.
“I didn’t know you kept these,” he said, knocking Sirius lightly on the leg with one of them. Sirius was at the window, standing with one arm braced against the wall.
“Oh,” Sirius said, and looked down. He grimaced, and stared at them for a second before he started to speak. Gathering his memories. Pulling everything together. “Yeah, for a while I told myself I was being invited because I was clever. Good. Like Lily, or Snape, I suppose. Not that he was good. But -- no family ties there.”
“You could have gone,” he said. “James would have gone too.” James had never mentioned it, but they both knew that James had to have been invited.
“James hated all that stuff.”
“He’d have gone for you,” Remus said, but Sirius shook his head again.
“Anyway, once Regulus started going I realised it was still about blood and family, even if he tried his best to disguise it. Oh you’re such a good student, Lily, you can barely tell you’re a mudblood.” His impression of Slughorn's plummy voice was better now than it had been when they were his pupils.
Remus smiled, lopsidedly. “Do you want to keep them?”
Sirius shook his head, and Remus passed him the small stack of parchment. The invitations were faded colours and they smelt of house-elf magic and dust. Sirius tore them up and fed them to the fire they had going in the grate, because even though it was April, it was cold and grey outside. Remus took the last one back before Sirius could burn it. It was the oldest one. “You’ve got to keep one of them,” Remus said. He paused. “Do you ever wish you could go back?” he asked. “Do it over?”
“I wouldn’t go to the Slug Club,” Sirius said. He tugged on Remus’s hand and Remus stood up, unfolding his legs, which creaked like an old house in the wind. Remus brushed Sirius’s hair out of his eyes. “I don’t know,” he said, but with a sigh that meant yes. “It feels like it was a million years ago.”
Remus had always felt older than his age. He had been a year older than his friends when he started Hogwarts -- a secret he hid until sometime during fourth year, somehow -- but even beyond that... he felt older. Not more mature, but closer to death. Like an old man who had somehow skipped youth and middle age overnight. But Hogwarts seems -- it always seems, at any point in his life after he left -- like it was only a week ago. And also like it happened in a different life. “I do,” he said. “I think I’m probably just skirting over the bad parts when I think about it, though.”
Sirius laughed his horrible laugh. “You know they’re mostly all I can think about.”
Remus’s body felt wrong, like it doesn’t fit in this space, but then, it never did. He pressed his hands to Sirius’s face. Ran a finger over where it felt like a cheekbone was about to break through, a compound fracture, and then he kissed Sirius there, twice. “No,” he said, firmly. “I’m going to tell you another story.”
And then he did.
“Remember when we sat on the roof?” Remus says.
Or maybe he says -- “remember when you turned into Padfoot for me, for the first time?”
Or maybe he says -- there are so many stories that he can tell, and they’re all tied together; all of them are little dots of memory, days past that he never wants to forget. I don't know where to begin, so I'm just going to begin somewhere.
The bad days were just as important as the good days, they’re just not as much fun to pick over.
In sixth year, it was only getting worse.
“He was in my dreams again last night,” Sirius says, cross-legged under Remus’s blankets. He looks around. “Think I should just make a proper tent? Can’t be hard.”
“Are you sure you weren’t just dreaming about him?” Remus says, tired. He’s lying down, staring up at the blankets’ canopy.
“Don’t be stupid,” Sirius says. “You know it feels different.”
Remus does know. “Do you really not think he’s targeting them?” He says. “James is the one who keeps talking about it.” He puts on a James Potterish-voice and says “let’s all talk loudly about Lupin’s Furry Little Problem!”
“Think he thinks Peter is too thick,” Sirius says. “James...” he looks thoughtful, and then shrugs. “He hasn’t said anything,” he says.
Sirius has taken to sleeping during the day, at weird times. He skips some lessons, naps at dinnertime and raids the kitchens at night. “He can’t be doing it this much,” Remus says, one night, swirling a big mug of cocoa with one hand and writing a History of Magic essay with the other, while Sirius pokes at the map with his wand. "If he's doing it at all, it can't be this much."
“I know,” Sirius says, furiously. His eyes are pink. “I just can’t -- I find it hard to tell, now.” He rubs at his face with both hands.
Remus has given up on telling Sirius to try and rid himself of emotion before sleep. He’s progressed from replying with “you don’t think I’ve tried that?” through “I don’t think it says anything good about you that you’re so good at it, Lupin,” and now he just makes angry noises if Remus tries to bring it up.
It’s hard to know what it is that Snape wants to know, now. Two years ago, a year ago, he was just curious about why Remus was so sickly -- Peter had started listing different muggle illnesses that his dad was scared of whenever Snape was in earshot, getting bolder the more James and Sirius laughed -- but now it was something else.
One summer, maybe between third and fourth year, they’d all gone to stay with James’s parents, who were old and fond and liked to bake weird, Victorian cakes and jellies and serve them all countless cups of herbal tea every day. The first night, they’d all slept in the house, but it was hot and stuffy and the sleep was best described as fitful. The next day, Sirius had dragged them all out to the tangle of forest that met the end of the garden -- Peter by his elbow, James and Remus by asking alone -- and he’d said, we’re making a clubhouse.
It had ended up as a weird, lopsided treehouse that James’s mum had had to come out and stabilise before she let any of them get into it, her hands on her hips. But she and James’s dad had brought out more tea, and airy blankets, and all four boys had slept there for two and a half nights, until the rain came and it turned out that the charm that James had thought would make the twiggy roof waterproof had not done any such thing.
“The treehouse still there?” Sirius asked James, every first day back at school after that, until he ran away from home and started living with James himself. James would always laugh.
It’s what Remus thinks of, now, when he thinks of the web of secrets that they’ve built up over their years here, with his secret at the root of the rest of them. If it’s a treehouse, it’s the tree. If it’s a clubhouse, it’s the club. The thing about legilimency is that you can’t read someone’s mind like a book -- you just kind of see into it, images and weird flashes of feeling. If there’s one secret you want, it’s not that useful. But what if you want anything? What if their whole internal life is this web of things that you want to know how to destroy? What if you’re trying to cut through all of the branches?
Remus doesn’t want to think about what it means that Sirius is frightened to sleep. What does James dream about? Evans’s red hair and adventure, possibly. Quidditch. What does Sirius dream about?
Maybe Sirius dreams about the same things that Remus dreams about, some nights -- dogs, wolves, and the moon, full and round as the rim of his mug of cocoa, as the pupils in his eyes.
“I’d never been able to work out why you’re friends with them,” Lily said to Remus, once, after a fairly haphazard Gryffindor prefects meeting that had largely consisted of Kingsley Shacklebolt, a tall seventh-year, asking Remus if he could possibly try and get his friends to lose them less house points.
Remus had spread his hands, and said, “I’m not their mother, Kingsley.” Lily had laughed, but now she was considering him, thoughtfully. It was fifth year, and it was a warm spring. Remus’s sleeves were rolled up, and his arms were starting to get freckles. “I think I know,” she said, as she tied her hair up into a loose knot and started to stick pins to hold it in place.
“What’s there to know?” he’d said. “I like them.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But you like that they’re like that. You don’t want them to stop.”
“I could stand them to stop some of it,” he said. He rolled his eyes. “Can you imagine what they’d do if I started trying to make them stay in the tower after lights-out? You’d find me, a week later, transfigured into a crystal paperweight or one of those embarrassing records that Sirius likes or something.”
“What embarrassing records does Sirius like?” Lily asked.
“He’s only heard the ones my mum has,” he said, and grinned. “Lots of terrible Beatles knock-offs, Dusty Springfield, Donovan...”
“I like Donovan,” Lily said, her eyes narrowed.
“You would,” Remus said, teasingly. “You’re a girl.”
Lily rolled her eyes, said, “I don’t know why I bother!” and walked away. It was the longest conversation Remus had ever had with her.
Remus never found it in himself to learn to like Donovan, but he’d always secretly liked Dusty Springfield. When his mother died, midway through the first year after he’d finished at Hogwarts (she’d died quickly from cancer, and Remus spent a long time worrying that he’d caused it to happen by lying so often to people at Hogwarts about how he had to visit her because she was terribly ill) Remus’s dad had given him her records, because he only liked to listen to the Quidditch and recordings of his friends singing terrible, old, scratchy folk songs about ravens and elves and portents of doom.
“What’s this?” Sirius had said, one day, when he’d arrived back from some outing for the order that Remus knew absolutely nothing about. He was drenched, although outside it was a clear, dry day, and when Remus moved to cast a drying spell he’d curtly signalled no.
“One of my mum’s records,” Remus said. It was the Monkees. The sleeve was faded and crumpled in one corner. Sirius took his jacket off -- there was a new crack in the leather, across the left sleeve -- and shook his hair, and did a funny little dance to the music that made Remus’s heart swell.
“Anything you can tell me?” he asked, casually, and Sirius’s face didn’t crumple, but it didn’t do anything else, either.
“Didn’t think so,” he said and he slipped his arms around Sirius’s waist -- his shirt was drenched too, despite the leather jacket -- before Sirius could clatter his way upstairs, away from him. Sirius rested his chin on his shoulder, and smoothed Remus's hair down with his damp fingers, making goosebumps rise along the back of Remus's neck. By the time they separated, Remus’s hair was half-soaked, and stuck to his skull, but he didn’t mind. It dried with time -- sticky, and sticking-up where Remus had touched it afterwards, but dry all the same.
They played the record three times in a row, all the same side, and made themselves hoarse by shouting along with it -- Oh what can it mean! -- until the neighbours started banging on the walls.
“Were you a punk?” Harry asked them, once, that long dark summer they spent cooped up in Grimmauld Place, destroying strange cursed artefacts that the children shouldn’t really have been allowed anywhere near.
Remus was carefully untwining a nasty charm that had been put on an ornate cake-fork (it tried to stab anyone muggleborn in the eye, except it couldn’t distinguish very well and mostly seemed to just decide to do it if it found some aspect of you particularly annoying), and didn’t answer. Until --
“Yes,” Sirius said, and Remus couldn’t stop himself from laughing, violently. The fork vibrated, and started to turn black when he wouldn’t let go of it.
“He was not a punk,” Remus said. “Look at him! He had long hair. In the summer of 1977, he was listening to the Wizarding Wireless at James’s parents’ house in the west country and the handful of Donovan and Animals records he’d stolen from my mum.”
“She sent me a copy of Rubber Soul for my seventeenth birthday,” Sirius said, and grinned. “I used to sit in the front room and play Norwegian Wood over and over again, until James’s dad came and told me that I was going to break the needle, and then he made me listen to all of his weird wizard folk stuff instead.”
“Think he and my dad had the same records?” Remus asked.
“Oh, I’m sure of it,” Sirius said. “They used to wear the same glasses, too. I told James that'd be him one day.”
Harry was looking between them, kind of hungrily. “Are you a punk, then?” Remus asked him, and Hermione snorted.
“I think punk’s supposed to be dead,” Sirius said, and he squinted down at the fork in Remus’s hand. “I think you’d better finish that or it might try and make sure we’re all dead, too.”
It’s 1985, and Remus is teaching English and basic magic to some magical children in West Germany, when House of the Rising Sun comes on the radio, which has been crackling along in the background for a while. He turns it up, and says, try your best to write the lyrics down, even though that’s a difficult task even for people who speak English natively. The words are too quick. But he wants an excuse to listen to it, and to -- remember.
His hair is long now, longer than Sirius’s ever was when they were teenagers (although not as long as it was after). He’s started to turn grey -- there are patches scattered through his hair, which is otherwise somewhere midway between tawny and colourless.
He feels old, and alone, and he thinks about the summer between sixth and seventh year, when he wasn’t talking to Sirius, and he was barely talking to James because neither of them knew what to say, and he was writing to Peter but he barely had the energy or the will to pick up a pen. It was the last time he’d really spent time with his mother, and it’s bittersweet, and that’s what he thinks about now, rather than his friends. Washing up with her, by hand, because his dad was out. They’d moved that year while he was at Hogwarts, to the house in Cornwall that his dad still lives in now -- it’s longer than he remembers his dad ever living in one place before, much longer -- and he always thinks of one night when it was raining outside, loudly, smacking against the window. And she was playing the Animals, and their house was warm, and nobody knew who they were for miles and miles, and Remus had a stack of unopened letters under his pillow.
It was hard to blame Sirius for it when it happened, but hard doesn’t mean impossible.
That was the problem in letting your biggest secret, your worst secret, become the basis for lots of other secrets. The basis for friendships, and secret nicknames, and secret spells, and clubhouses and maps and a language of strange references and jokes. It stops being your secret -- it’s everyone’s secret. It’s a code and a key.
Or, maybe. “I just wanted to sleep,” Remus hears Sirius say, when he thinks Remus isn’t there. There’s a pleading tone to his voice.
James sounds hard, unhappy. Unlike James. “You’d sell Remus out for a good night’s sleep?”
“You don’t understand,” Sirius says, miserable.
“No,” James says. “But you did it.” Remus is in the bathroom, and they’re in the dorm. He presses his forehead against the door -- which is thin, and the paint is starting to peel -- and he doesn’t leave until he’s heard the door slam. His face is damp.
Sirius is still in the room, lying on his back, looking resolutely up. As if the ceiling is the night sky. He doesn’t look at Remus, and Remus does his best not to look at him. He picks up his bag, and quickly leaves. It’s transfiguration today, and he can concentrate better without Sirius on the desk next to him, but he’s also not as good without Sirius there to help him, egg him on.
“Why would he care that much?” James had said, when Remus tried to explain it all to him. Tried to explain -- Snape to him, and Sirius’s fear of him reading his dreams. “Isn’t it a lot of -- effort?”
Remus thinks about his disturbed, disturbing dreams over the past year, and the copies of the Daily Prophet that Lily’s taken to writing on, furiously, in the common room. “Don’t you see what they’re doing?” she says, to whichever younger girls she’s managed to get to listen to her. Hester is usually there, taking notes. “Don’t you see what they’re leaving out?”
“Practice,” Remus says. It’s like how -- the Great Hall’s ceiling shows miniature heavens, how in Defence Against the Dark Arts they learn the theory behind spells they’re not meant to really throw their whole body, all of their magic behind, yet -- faint wisps from their wands. Like how in fifth year McGonagall had met with all of the Gryffindors in her office, one by one, to ask them what their career aspirations were, and it had all seemed so -- far away. Even to Remus, whose response had been something like a pained shrug.
It’s like how a treehouse is just a house, but smaller. How house rivalry is about other things, too. You can’t be pure-blood, look at you. Remus still thinks about that, even though the student who said it -- one of Sirius’s older cousins -- is long gone. Knots tighten in his stomach, in his back. James is reading over his History of Magic essay, making stars in the margin when he thinks Remus has got something wrong. For his sixteenth birthday, Remus’s mum had sent him a copy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and so Remus says, “you know that this --” he gestures to the essay, which is about an incredibly boring campaign in the goblin war “-- isn’t all that warfare is.”
“Warfare?” James says. Usually Remus forgets that he’s a year older than his friends, but sometimes -- sometimes he’s painfully reminded.
“You should talk to Lily sometime,” Remus says, and then cuts him off and says, “I mean, actually talk.” Fifth year prefect meetings already feel like a distant memory. “You’ve seen who Severus has started sitting with at mealtimes. Those boys in the year above -- half of them seem ready to murder me whenever we make eye contact.”
“That’s how I’ve always felt around Snape,” James says. Remus briefly thinks, if only the group had split differently -- he knows that somewhere, Sirius and Peter are sitting together, not-talking, writing essays for each other (Sirius does Charms, Peter does History). But that’s a stupid thought, and he scrubs it away. He and Sirius are where the break formed -- there was no way they were ever going to be on the same side of it once the dust had cleared. But Sirius knows -- he doesn’t have to explain.
James will know soon, of course. And he’s not dense -- he’s quick, and always has been. Remus is sure he understands what he’s saying, but that he -- doesn’t want to. That he’s trying his best not to. “I mean, boys I’ve never even spoken to,” Remus says. “I’m sure some kind of war has already started. Some day soon, it’s going to be hard for the world at large -- our world, anyway -- to pretend it hasn’t.”
They all still sleep in the same room. Sirius has taken to curling up as Padfoot, on his bed, and he smells and gets black hairs everywhere. Remus finds them on his socks, even though he’s sure Padfoot hasn’t been anywhere near his bed. He almost points this out to James, mostly so he can say that Sirius is now his furry little problem, but the words die on his tongue, and he flicks the hairs away silently instead.
What’s impossible to explain to James is the scale of it. Throughout fifth year and the start of sixth year. It’s like how Remus found it impossible to imagine how the rest of them had kept their animagus work from him when they revealed it to him on his sixteenth birthday, halfway through fifth year. He’d known that they were up to something -- he’d wanted not to know, but he was too close to them to have missed it. He didn’t want to think about secrets they were sharing without him. Was this where the group was fracturing? Was this how they forced him out. But this? It was like the world had torn, slightly, instead of his friendships. They had broken it open to remake themselves -- and all for him. They had torn the world open and wrapped it around themselves -- all four of them at once -- like a cloak, or a blanket.
And so -- James had known, of course, that Remus and Sirius sometimes slept in the same bed. That sometimes they would lie awake, not-sleeping, staring up at the bottom of Remus’s blankets as if they were outside, gazing at the moon and the stars. But Remus found it hard to expand that for him -- to say, we were always worried, and so we started to fray. That it wasn’t so much about the fear of Snape finding out that one thing, the one terrible, ugly secret, but the fear of Snape unravelling them from the inside in search of it.
“Why did you do it,” Remus had said, hollowly, when he saw Sirius for the first time after it had happened. It was a few mornings after. He was scratchy and creaky all over, and he had new scars across his left thigh and the right side of his face and across his ribs that nobody thought would ever fully heal.
He hated himself for the little, petty thought: I look like shit.
Sirius had sounded a little cold, but he looked terrible. He’d tried to meet Remus’s eyes, but he kept looking away. “I was so tired,” he’d said. “I just wanted -- I thought then he’d stop. I thought it would all stop.”
Much, much later on, Remus had thought, while hugging Sirius so hard he thought both of their bodies would break open -- I should have known. I should have known that Sirius wouldn't want to be the secret-keeper. I should have known that it would have eaten him up and left nothing behind.
It’s in the summer between sixth and seventh year that Remus thinks about this the most, after he forbids himself from dwelling on it for months and months of angry schoolnights that he spends awake and alone.
He finds himself wanting to do what he was sure James had wanted to do -- he finds himself wanting to pretend that none of it is happening. He looks at his parents over dinner, and thinks -- they’re starting to look older. He thinks about the unexplained muggleborn deaths that the Prophet has had to start reporting, even if they’re not investigating them properly or giving them due consideration and respect. He writes to Peter, and he thinks about the letters under his pillow. What would he give to make it all stop? Himself, for the rest of them? Or one of them, even though he loves them, for everyone else he loves? Both? Because he knows that Sirius hadn’t thought it would just be Remus. He knows that Sirius had thought they would both be blamed, that they would both be to blame, and that maybe Remus would have died or maybe he would just have been exiled, expelled, but that Sirius would have seen to it that he would have shared some kind of horrible fate.
And now -- they’re in different afterlives. They’re both still living, apart from each other, and they didn’t manage to stop the war, and they didn’t manage to die for it.
Remus opens the letters, slowly, over the last few weeks of the summer.
I know I don’t deserve forgiveness, Sirius wrote, in all of them, in various different ways. He had not pleaded.
What had happened was this: after a week of no sleep, just naps instead of dinner, Snape had cornered Sirius in an empty classroom where he had been practicing some spells, loopily, dreamily, thinking about when he’d be able to slip outside and to the weeping willow without being noticed, and Snape had said, “not hiding your half-breed friend in here with you then, Black?” and Sirius knew that by half-breed he just meant half-blood, which wasn’t much better anyway, because purity isn’t even a fucking thing that exists or matters, but it still made his stomach drop, and he’d never hated anyone as much as he hated Snape right then.
“Or is his mother still ill,” Snape had said. “We were all thinking that she should just hurry up and die, and then maybe Lupin would have a chance at passing some of his NEWTs.”
Sirius didn’t remember what he did or what he said, but he had a long cut down one arm, and when James found him there, a few minutes later, he’d said -- in a voice that felt old, and wrong -- “James, I think I told Snape.”
“You told Snape what?”
“I told him how to get beneath the willow,” Sirius said, and James had sworn and turned and he ran, he ran so fast it hurt, and he didn’t change into the stag, he stayed himself, a small-for-his-age boy in big robes and messy hair, and he ran and he ran, and Sirius thought: I just wanted it to stop, but it never will.
Or rather -- this is what Remus pieces together from the letters Sirius has sent, what James had told him at the time, and the long, exhausting conversations that he’d had with Dumbledore on Sunday afternoons for a few months after it had happened.
“It is hard to keep the truth from clever friends,” Dumbledore had said, first. “I had hoped --”
Remus had looked down at his hands. There were little, half-moon scars around his knuckles, too inconsequential to see unless light hit them at an angle and made them silvery with scar tissue. He wondered if other werewolves had these scars too, whether they were a telltale sign too mundane to have made it into the textbooks.
Remus had hoped, too.
Those last few months before they won but also lost the war, as 1981 reached its peak and then started to slip into an angry autumn, Remus had found himself, every time he saw Sirius -- at Order meetings, in the back of grim wizarding pubs in places in Wales and Northumbria and Norfolk that he felt only magic could make livable, bearable -- wanting to grab Sirius’s hands and press them to his face, and say -- “I know you can do it. Read me.”
He found himself searching his dreams for any sign of Sirius there. For any sign that Sirius might be looking -- for signs. That he might be trying to prove Remus innocent to himself.
Remus had thought about Sirius’s betrayal of him, only a few years ago -- Christ, was it only such a short time ago -- as many things. Heartbreaking. Reckless. Stupid. Murderous. Self-destructive. As -- a betrayal. As -- a mistake. As -- thoughtless. As -- calculated. But as it becomes clearer and clearer that Sirius thinks of Remus as -- a potential leak, as a spy within... he thinks of it as something else.
Remus’s parents had been so sure that Remus wouldn’t be accepted to Hogwarts, that that first year -- that lost year, the year that he would have started at Hogwarts if he had been... not a werewolf -- they had started to teach him themselves. They had spent the years before that saving up for textbooks and equipment, along with the erratic moves across the country and miracle “cures”. And so -- he had spent that year indoors, reading whichever textbooks his dad had found cheap or secondhand, in between reading Tolkein and Le Guin paperbacks that he’d managed to get from local libraries and dingy junk shops, second-hand bookshops, sagging racks in newsagents. They’d never really spoken about why Remus couldn’t go away to school, or why he was supposed to mostly stay indoors and not make friends with the other children around him -- he knew why already. He was -- dangerous. It wasn’t his fault, and his parents told him that often, but -- it was still the case, whether it was his fault or not.
At Hogwarts, he’d found it hard to make friends in the first term. He had a strange, erratic prior knowledge -- he knew all about different plants and magical creatures, and he could speak Latin, but he knew nothing about potions or charms or how to fly -- and he had never really learnt how to talk to children his own age. He’d never had a chance to before. He had built up this rich, strange interior life around elves and orcs (he secretly thought of himself as something like an orc) and it turned out that the other children at Hogwarts were just like all the children everywhere else -- loud, strange, and if he got too close to them maybe he would endanger them.
Over time, of course, he’d made friends, and he’d both let them into his own private world -- Peter in particular had taken to Tolkein, and he knew that Sirius had stolen his copy of the Hobbit maybe ten times now, even though he openly scoffed at all of his funny paperbacks -- and built this new world with them. The secret he had come to guard the most fiercely was one that they had taught him. A secret that wasn’t kept from the outside world at large, who viewed Remus as just another kid, but a secret from his parents, from Dumbledore, from even the worst part of himself. The secret was this: Remus wasn’t dangerous. He wasn’t a threat. He was kind, and slightly afraid of losing his friends, and rubbish at potions but good at Defence Against the Dark Arts.
So now, when he thinks back to Sirius’s betrayal, he sees it as -- Sirius shattering that secret, that hard-won and closely-guarded truth. It wasn’t a secret -- it was a lie. That’s what it was all built on. He hadn’t seen Remus as just a friend -- as someone worth protecting, rather than someone he needed protecting from. He’d seen Remus as a burden, too. And along with being a burden -- Remus was a weapon. A dangerous thing that he could use.
That’s the thing about legilimency that he and Sirius hadn’t been quite able to get across to their friends as fifteen and sixteen year-olds. That’s the thing that Slughorn had tried to drill into them when he taught them about truth draughts. It’s the kind of thing that Remus imagines they would have talked about in Philosophy, had Hogwarts thought Philosophy worth teaching. Truth isn’t immutable. It isn’t absolute. It can change. It depends on you, and what you believe, even if you think it doesn’t. Remus was always dangerous, even if most of the time he was only as dangerous as the rest of his friends. And -- it’s the thing he finds it hardest to believe, but it’s the thing he wants to believe -- he was worth trying to save, and protect, despite that. As well as that. He was only a weapon when Sirius made him into one. And the idea that Remus was worth loving -- worth protecting -- was only a lie when one of them stopped believing it.
Now, in the midst of war, as the days grow shorter but the weather stays hot, and angry, and full of thunder -- Remus thinks of Sirius often. If Sirius appeared to him now, he would Sirius back as a friend, as more, because he loves him. He thinks -- are you still making me into a weapon? Is that all I am to you? Or are you afraid I’ve already done that myself?
Either way, he can feel the gap between him and the rest of his world widening. Like the sky is cracking open to reveal the true darkness beneath.
Remus refuses to use psychic warfare against anyone. Dumbledore had asked him and Sirius, early in the war -- he knew that they were mostly self-trained, but proficient. “I mostly just know defence,” Remus had said. “I can talk it through with the others, but I can’t help with assaults. Won’t.”
Sirius had shaken his head. They were still friends then, proper friends, something else too, and they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, hair messy and curling at the ends. This was the era that Remus could imagine Harry looking at photos from -- if he could ever get hold of any -- and thinking that they were punks. Let go from school and parents, they’d reverted to muggle clothes. Cheap, scavenged from market stalls and the kind of junk shops Remus had scoured for books as a child. Sirius didn’t really understand how these clothes worked, so Remus sometimes had to help him get dressed if they didn’t want to stand out. “These trousers need a belt,” he’d say, and he’d push Sirius’s arms out of the way and snake a belt around his waist, and he’d do the buckle up while studiously trying to pretend that this wasn’t strange, that he couldn’t feel Sirius’s hand ghosting around, looking for a place to rest it on Remus’s neck.
Maybe Sirius did understand, but he wanted Remus to help him get dressed anyway. They got to see less and less of each other, and it was awkward but intimate and funny, which was -- well, it was something.
“Too much misinformation,” Sirius had said. “They’ll be expecting it. We’ll just see horrible dreams.”
Dumbledore had nodded. “I thought as much,” he’d said, and it was only then that Remus realised that he hadn’t really wanted them to do it -- that this meeting had been some kind of reminder, or warning.
Remus tries to remember this, only a couple of years later, when his ties to his friends are fraying and he thinks -- is Sirius doing this? Is it him in my dreams, or is it a ghost of him? Does he really not trust me? Or am I an easy scapegoat?
He dreams of the moon, and he dreams of wolves, and he’s so fucking bored of all of the dreams that he could cry. He dreams of being a werewolf, and then he wakes up, and he has to walk around and take part in his actual life of being a werewolf.
He knows -- he thinks he knows -- that Sirius wouldn’t do it to him. Not even now. He wouldn’t get at the truth that way, and he knows it.
He also knows that Sirius looking for the truth -- no matter what desperate measures he had to go to -- could be, in some way, proof that Sirius is innocent. Or, not innocent -- it's hard to stay innocent during wartime -- but loyal, still. Not the betrayer.
But then -- often what you see in dreams is what you want to see. Or -- you interpret what you see to be a message about whatever you’re most worried about. So -- maybe it’s the same in other people’s dreams. If you force your way into them. Maybe it’s not truth he wants, now, just justification. Maybe he just wants to think -- there's nothing here worth my loyalty.
Remus splashes cold water on his face. He can feel the scars on the right side of his forehead when he frowns. They are tight and slightly blue, as they usually are in winter, even though it’s only the start of September. He tries to wake up, to throw it off.
In the end, in wartime like this -- in wartime that bleeds into peace, where battles don’t really start or end -- they are all weapons. It’s not something he can get used to, and he forgets it when he sees someone across a room with the right kind of hair, or jacket, or when he smells nutmeg and musk, grass clippings, engine oil.
When Remus is around other werewolves -- when he's undercover -- his dreams change. They are more wolfish, bestial. More difficult to put into words. It's a struggle to wake up, sometimes, and to remember -- what's real. His body. His woolly jumper with the scratchy sleeves. Sometimes, though -- rarely -- he'll have dreams that are the opposite. Usually just before the full moon. Defiant. He'll be entirely human. He'll be less skinny, and his hair won't be so dull, and he'll be with Sirius and James and Peter. Just doing something mundane. Looking in Honeydukes. Taking the train. Sirius's motorbike, but along a long, empty road, and not the sky.
After their conversation with Dumbledore about -- the dreams, and legilimency, and unacceptable forms of warfare -- Remus finds himself worrying about Sirius. He thinks about him as a teenager, unable to sleep. He thinks about him as a teenager, unable to rid himself of emotion. Every time they curl together in bed, he worries about both of them. Is this -- is this too much? He runs a hand through Sirius's hair. Later, he wants to laugh bitterly when he remembers this. His fear. All of the love in his body. He was so afraid of it.
Over Easter in fifth year, James’s parents are taking him abroad to see some distant cousins of his mother’s who live just outside Rome. Over the past year or so, Sirius has taken to slinking off with James when he goes home for the holidays, so he spends the week before the Easter break in a terrible mood at the prospect of having to spend two weeks by himself in the castle.
“It’s just going to be me and Snape,” he says to Remus. They’re in the astronomy tower, with the rest of their class, filling in star charts and talking about astrology, which Remus can never imagine believing to be anything but a lot of old rot. Remus is controlled by some big stupid thing in the sky -- he knows what it feels like, and the stuff about what house Aquarius was in when he was born or whatever doesn’t mean anything.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Remus says. “I know it’ll be hard.” Sirius rolls his eyes at him.
“It’s no fun taunting him when James isn’t here,” Sirius says. James is currently teasing Peter about his sun sign.
“My sign is not shit,” Peter says. “Stop filling in my chart!”
“Although,” Sirius says, and taps his mouth with his hand, thoughtfully. “I have been wanting to try out that modified jelly-legs curse than James and I have been working on...”
“Sirius,” Remus says, despairing. “If you lose us any house points over the break I think Lily’s going to murder me.”
“Who cares about house points,” Sirius says, and Remus privately admits that he’s got a point. “Think any house that cares about the points over having fun has already lost, mate.”
“Yeah, Gryffindor’s got the right idea,” James says, both arms thrust in the air with vigour. Some nearby girls start laughing and he immediately starts looking around with what he thinks is nonchalance, pushing up his hair at the back.
“Why don’t you come with me, then,” Remus says, despairing.
“What, you want me to test the curse out on you?” Sirius says. “You won’t like it, it’s meant to give you gills.”
“No,” Remus says, and he closes his eyes and rubs them, hard, with the palm of his hand. “I mean, why don’t you come and stay with me. Over Easter.”
Remus’s house is small and most of his stuff is packed in cardboard boxes, and he’s never had a friend to stay before, but -- well. He’s never had a friend to stay before. His heart leaps into his throat.
“Are you sure?” Sirius says, slowly.
“Yeah,” Remus says. “My parents loved you at the dinner party last summer. Thought you were a right little aristocrat.”
“Fuck off, Lupin,” Sirius says, and he turns back to his star chart and starts spelling out rude words in it. But he says yes later, and Remus’s parents are willing (if nervous), and -- well, that’s the start of it.
It’s the start of Sirius’s love affair with Remus’s mum’s records, which they listen to most evenings -- but it's the beginning of other things, too. Remus’s mum takes them to London for a day, as a belated treat for Remus’s birthday, and they find a cinema that’s showing -- The Man Who Fell to Earth. Remus doesn’t care much about David Bowie either way, but his mum likes him, so he says -- let’s see it.
He’s seen hardly any films, at least for the past few years, and certainly nothing really that prepared him for -- this. He sends away for a poster that summer, even though he still doesn’t really care about David Bowie. He lies on his bed some nights that summer, too hot to sleep, too sweaty and tired to bother going to find his father to beg for a cooling charm, and he stares up at it, at David Bowie’s strange face, and the wallpaper starting to peel off the walls behind it.
It’s only later that he finds out that that was Sirius’s first time at the cinema. Which meant -- it was Sirius’s very first film. David Bowie, as a beautiful alien, starved for water, just before the start of that long, hot, dry summer.
“He’s a singer, isn’t he?” Sirius says, reminiscing. They’re sitting by the common room fire. It’s the start of the Christmas break in 7th year, and they’d all promised to stay for the holiday (the full moon falls on Christmas day, which, as far as Remus can tell is some kind of horrible cosmic joke) but both James and Peter faltered at the last moment and gave in, so it’s just -- Remus, and Sirius, and a handful of younger students, and Lily Evans, somewhere else in the castle, maybe just hiding in her dormitory, who says that she can’t bring herself to endanger her parents and sister by going home to them. “Your mum’s got his records.”
“Yeah,” Remus says. “I still can’t believe that was your first time.”
Sirius grins. “I’ve seen three now,” he says. He counts on his fingers. “Your mum took us to see Star Wars, and James’s dad was playing around with this old telly that he found and we watched something that he said was called A Western.”
“I think he just meant that was the genre,” Remus says. Sirius narrows his eyes at him.
“Which was your favourite?” Remus asks.
“Oh, the David Bowie one,” Sirius says. “Star Wars was good too but -- I dunno. Maybe if they make another one they should cast him in it.” His voice has a slightly dreamy tone, and Remus feels a slight pain at the back of his throat.
“Ugh,” he says, to mask it. “You’ve got the same taste in men as my mum, I hope you realise.”
“I do not,” Sirius says, horrified. He wraps his hand around Remus’s wrist and it takes Remus a second to realise that he’s not trying to be violent. “Look at me,” Sirius says. Remus looks around wildly, but the room is empty apart from them. It’s late. Sirius has charmed some chestnuts so that they’re suspended above the flames, and slowly turning.
“The chestnuts are probably roasted by now,” Remus says. He feels a dull heat washing over him, and Sirius presses his other hand to Remus’s face, and Remus finally looks at him. Satisfied, Sirius softly runs one knuckle over the hollows of Remus’s cheeks, the scars at the top of the right side of his forehead, and the little indent between Remus’s nose and his top lip.
“What are you doing?” Remus croaks, from very far away, from a small place where he is trying to hide inside himself.
Sirius kisses him, and it’s very gentle. Remus wasn’t aware that Sirius could be so gentle. Remus is clumsy in return, not having done this -- kissing -- before, not really, not unless you count a weird, brief snog with Robin Gladegg behind the greenhouses in third year that James took about two years to get over because Gladegg was such a funny name.
“Look, James,” Remus had said. “What are your parents called again?” because, really. But it hadn’t worked.
Remus opens his mouth, and it feels strange. It’s slow. He kisses Sirius back. Sirius’s knuckles are still on Remus’s face, and his other hand moves up to Remus’s hair, where it tangles in. Remus doesn’t know what to do with his hands so he puts them on Sirius’s shoulders, just one of them brushing against the side of Sirius’s neck.
Remus feels like -- he wants to stay here, doing this, forever. He feels like he wants to do -- other things. He's painfully hard, and just from one kiss. He's also just -- terrified.
When they break away, breathing heavily, Remus sees Lily sitting on the dormitory stairs. “Well,” she says, and Remus’s stomach turns into a black hole, and he doesn't know what to do, and he finds himself, his head a void, running away -- the whole thing's a blur, even though Lily and Sirius both are calling his name, even though he knows that Sirius can find him wherever he goes, because Sirius has the stupid map.
He hides in the girls’ toilets on the first floor, the ones that are always wet because a ghost lives in them and she mostly seems to like causing minor floods. What else is there to do when you’re dead. Sirius doesn’t like ghosts, and won’t bother looking for him here. Remus looks in his pockets for his wand, and he finds the map in a pocket inside his robe, folded up, blank. He had it, after all. He opens it up and says I solemnly swear I’m up to no good, and he sees that they haven’t moved. That Sirius and Lily are both in the common room. Maybe they’re bonding over how stupid boys are, he thinks, sourly. Lily and James went on their first date in Hogsmeade a couple of weeks ago, and James used way too much sleek hair potion, and his hair still hadn’t really recovered by the time he left for the Christmas hols.
“Tell him not to bother next time, will you?” Lily had said to Remus at Sunday lunch, the morning after their date. None of his friends had bothered emerging, but he was catching up on reading. “His hair looked -- well. It was very strange.”
Remus had laughed, and said, “there’s going to be a next time?”
“That’s up to him,” Lily had said, but she was smiling.
“Sirius,” Remus had said, that night, as he crawled into Sirius’s bed with all of his own blankets. It was cold, even though there was still a fire merrily bobbing away in the grate.
“Remus,” Sirius said, but he didn’t turn to look at him.
“I mean,” Remus said. He started to arrange the blankets, and Sirius took pity on him and sorted them out, wordlessly, with a flick of his wand. It was like they were in a tent again. The blankets were dark red, but they looked black, because Sirius hadn’t made any light.
“It’s just,” Remus said, his voice faltering in the dark. It would be easier if he could see his face. “It would be so difficult.”
“Remus,” Sirius said. His voice sounded thick, and tired. “It was just a kiss. I’m trying to sleep.”
They woke up in the same bed, but on very different sides of it, not touching at all. Remus picked up his blankets, and smoothed them down on top of his own bed, and wished that Sirius had just gone to James’s house for Christmas, like he was sure he had wanted to.
Remus ate Christmas lunch, slowly. He was next to Lily, and Sirius was on the other side of the table. Other students from various years and houses were there too, but he was tired and his head hurt and the turkey made his mouth feel dry. There were breadcrumbs and nuts in the stuffing, and he felt it fall apart on his tongue. He looked up at the ceiling and it started to spin, slowly. The sky up ahead was hazy rather than cloudy. Lily put too much bread sauce on her food. Sirius was too keen on the sprouts. Dumbledore didn’t really understand crackers. Remus found a miniature astrolabe in the palm of his hand, and he carefully stowed it in his sock so it didn’t get lost, and he drank a small glass of sherry (the perks of being the oldest student in the school) and then, after some strangely-worded, badly-sung carols, he stood up.
“I need to go to the hospital wing,” he said, and fled.
By the time James and Peter were back for spring term -- their final spring term -- it was like nothing had happened other than a boring holiday. Almost everything about that last year seemed to be prefixed with final, until it hit the last month -- the final month -- and it started to affect even smaller things, things that had been beneath their notice before. What if it’s the last time we use the gross toilets in the astronomy tower? Best scratch our names into the enamel. What if it’s the last time we hide in the room of requirement while Filch looks for us? What if it’s the last time we get stuck in a staircase? What if it’s the last time we’re all together for Remus’s change?
It was in that last month that Remus snuck out to find Sirius one night -- it was long since the last time they’d sat up together, talking about nothing well into the early hours. Sirius had been able to sleep much better once Snape knew. Or at least, he seemed to.
Besides. There had been that long, dead stretch of time.
Sirius was trying to smoke, sitting huddled on the sloping bit of roof just below the window of the Gryffindor boys’ dormitories. “You’re going to freeze,” Remus said, and wished he’d brought his blankets, but he awkwardly pulled himself up and over to Sirius on his knees and wrists (his hands were too tender to lean on, after an accident in charms earlier in the day that he was blaming on Peter).
“I’ve got these to warm me,” Sirius said, and showed him a half-empty carton that Remus was pretty sure he’d stolen from James’s mum, who’d been trying to quit for years.
“I don’t think a bit of smoke from a cigarette is going to do you much good,” Remus had said, and he declined when Sirius offered him one. “Lung cancer is not something that I need,” he said. Sirius shrugged, like he was shaking something from his back.
“Did you mean it?” Remus asked.
“What, a cigarette?” Sirius said. He held the crumpled packet out again.
“No,” Remus said, and pushed it away, lightly. “The kiss.”
Sirius’s eyes were black. “Of course I meant the kiss. It was a kiss, wasn’t it.”
“I mean,” Remus said. “Did you mean anything else by it?”
Sirius looked at him. “Did you want me to?”
The cigarette was burning down in his hand. Remus had heard him coughing as he clambered out of the window, and didn’t point this out to him. Sirius had his new leather jacket -- he’d bought it for himself on his eighteenth birthday, and it was too big -- around his shoulders. He was probably trying to make sure it had the right kind of smell.
Remus rubbed his arms with his hands, remembering too late that they were red and raw, and winced. “I feel like you did mean something by it,” he said.
Sirius looked up. Out here, Hogwarts seemed very dark. The castle windows were small, and deep, and light from within didn’t really pollute the sky -- not like light in every town Remus had ever lived in did. This was why you could get such a good view of the stars from the Astronomy Tower, and tonight they could see the vague shape of the Milky Way below it. Above it. Like a vein. An arm cut open to reveal the network of things that holds it together. One night in fourth year, the whole school had tried to find their way onto a little patch of roof, or even some grass out of the castle’s shadow, because the northern lights had made their way here -- to Scotland -- and they’d lit up in the sky in weird overlaid colours, like gemstones harshly cut, or coloured film in a projector.
“What did you mean by difficult?” Sirius said.
Remus laughed, quickly. “I’m -- you know,” he said. “I’m destined to be a poor, sick, itinerant wanderer. And as soon as I leave Hogwarts I have to register at the ministry and get a big, ugly tattoo.”
“A tattoo?” Sirius said. He’d finally dropped the cigarette -- it was more of a stub now -- and he was lighting another one with the tip of his wand. It looked inelegant.
“Yeah. Probably the least dignified place they can think of. So my arse, probably.”
“Don’t register,” Sirius said, seriously. “Lily’s not registering as muggleborn. That part-veela girl in the year above didn’t register, either. She just dyed her hair black.”
Remus shook his head. “I’m already known to them, it’s just a case of formally doing all the paperwork,” he said. “Besides, my dad works there.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it,” Sirius said.
“What,” Remus said. “Go on, tell me what you suggest.”
“Run away with me,” Sirius said. He flung an arm around Remus’s shoulder with dramatic flair, but he left it there, and curled his hand around a lock of Remus’s hair where it almost reached the collar of his robes. “We can leave this dingy place behind and go wherever we want, and no stupid friends of Severus or You-Know-Who will be able to find us.”
Remus sighed and rested his head on Sirius’s shoulder. “My dad can probably help me falsify some of the stuff,” he said. “He hates his department at the ministry anyway.”
“There’s a magical town in Greenland,” Sirius said, and started counting places on the fingers of his free hand. “Greenland... Alaska... Malta -- you’d like that, it’s warmer -- Indonesia...”
Remus closed his eyes and pressed in closer to Sirius. “I want to just stay here,” he said. “I know we all keep saying -- this is our last term here! This is our last detention with McGonagall, probably! -- but I didn’t really feel it. I can’t.” But he was starting to.
Sirius patted him on the head, and ran his fingers through Remus’s hair. “There’s a whole world out there,” he said. “Ooh, there’s a small Greek island too, I think...”
“So that’s all I meant,” Remus said. “I didn’t mean that you were difficult, even though you are --”
Sirius shook Remus’s shoulder, slightly, and Remus looked up at him. “Think of The Man Who Fell to Earth,” he said, and when Remus groaned he added, “you remind me of him a bit, you know.”
“You think I look like an alien,” Remus said.
“You just remind me of David Bowie a bit,” he said. “You don’t really look like him, he’s a bit prettier than you, but, I dunno.”
“Well, thanks, Sirius,” Remus said.
“Anyway,” Sirius continued, grimly. “Think of that bit when the American professor says the motto of -- the Royal Airforce? Do any of them use broomsticks? Think I can join? -- to David Bowie. Per ardua ad astra.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Remus said. “Through difficulty, to the stars. Haven’t you always found it suspect how many famous sayings there are that basically mean that? How often we have to be told not to give up.”
“I thought you were going to make a double-entendre,” Sirius said. "Think you can also translate that word as hard."
“Hardship. No, no. Forget I said anything,” Remus said, but he leaned back into Sirius. He could smell the cigarette smoke, and the weird nutmeg soap that Sirius always nicked from James’s parents.
“We just have to go on through,” Sirius said, at last. “It can’t be as hard as you think.”
“My dad used to teach me Latin when he thought I was never going to get to go here,” Remus said. “He thought maybe I could just become a classicist. I always used to frustrate him because I didn’t want to sit still and learn Latin. I wanted to hear about monsters and curses and ghosts.” He wanted to keep talking because he didn't want Sirius to realise how badly he was shaking, even though they were curling in on each other. Was he cold? He couldn't even tell.
“My parents had us taught it too,” Sirius said. “You know, they made us learn French and Latin and some Ancient Greek, and they made sure we could recite the sacred 28 and various crucial spells before we were five. I was an excellent pupil.”
“I am constantly amazed that you turned out how you did,” Remus said.
“What,” Sirius said. “Badly?”
“Yeah,” Remus said, and then they kissed, hands in each other’s hair, Sirius’s cigarettes forgotten as they slowly slipped further and further down the roof.
For Remus’s twentieth birthday, Sirius gave him a card that sang Donovan songs horribly whenever he opened it. But he opened it over and over again, because inside it, Sirius had written, with his terrible-on-purpose penmanship:
you’re prettier than david bowie really xx
The charm wore off with time, but Remus carried the card around with him, beaten-up and faded at the bottom of his suitcase. After the war ended -- after all his friends were dead, or dead to him -- he travelled around Europe, teaching defence and odd bits of Latin and charms and anything else anyone wanted that he knew anything about. The card came with him, although he never opened it. There was a photo on the front of the card of the Perseid meteor shower. It was a long exposure, so he could stare at it for half an hour at a time and not see the same star -- meteor -- fall more than once.
Do they even fall? They can't fall year after year. They're always there again when summer rolls around the sky. But, well. They do look like they're falling.
At some point he thought he’d lost it -- that many moves will do it. But when he was packing to leave Hogwarts once again, at the end of the one year he taught there, thinking, I can’t believe they’re making me leave again! -- and at the same time, silently thanking the magic in the air around him that his departure after one year in the job was only because of his secret getting out, and not anyone actually being hurt -- he found it, on top of a neatly folded pile of his robes in the corner of his bedroom. He smiled at it, and packed it in with the rest of his things, and took it home, to the cottage in Cornwall he’d inherited when his father had died three years earlier but that he hadn’t visited since the funeral. It was time for it, now. He was done running. He wanted to be somewhere easy for his friends -- he did still have friends -- to find.
“Remember when we kissed on the roof,” Remus says to Sirius. He’s trying to untangle Sirius’s hair because he spent all afternoon up in the attic and he’s got a horrible suspicion that there’s something dead in there.
“The roof below the dormitory window,” Remus says. “You’d stolen some cigarettes or something.”
“God, they tasted foul,” Sirius says.
“We’d already kissed once but that time I panicked and ran away and hid in the girls’ toilets.”
“Oh, I remember that,” Sirius says. Remus finds the dead thing and levitates it with his wand so that he doesn’t have to touch it, and he sends it into the fire.
“You should probably take a shower,” he says. Sirius isn’t paying attention.
Peter writes lots of letters to Remus that last long school summer, even though Remus doesn’t often write back. They’re funny. He's a good writer. He doesn’t talk about Sirius, or James, or any of it. Remus finds him wanting to write about them himself just... because he’s tired of not talking about it. Not to Peter, though. He has a journal with rough paper that he wants to write in but he’s worried that he won’t be able to think of the right words. Not something that Peter seems to worry about much.
It’s that, maybe, that does it. By the time he sees Sirius for the first time after the summer, after months of not talking, he thinks -- I’m tired of not talking to him. I’m tired of pretending that he doesn’t know me better than anyone.
When he writes to his mother and says that he’s friends with Sirius again -- he never told her why they’d stopped speaking, but she knew that they had -- she writes back and says, just make sure you’re sure. I just don’t want you getting hurt.
Lily’s pregnant, and Remus is helping her make breakfast in her new kitchen because James and Sirius made dinner the night before and they’re both still asleep in different parts of the house.
“How’s marriage, then?” Remus says. “Loving, obeying, all that?”
“Pfft,” Lily says, and blows a loose strand of hair out of her face. “I worry about James sometimes,” she says. “I’d have never said yes if it wasn’t for --”
“Yeah, I know,” Remus says. He’s already moved in with Sirius because there’s not really another option, but it doesn’t mean he has to like it. Or -- he likes it, but it doesn't mean he has to think it's for the best. It's like he suddenly skipped half of his life.
“I had other boyfriends at Hogwarts,” she says, “but I don’t know if he’s ever even kissed anyone else.”
“What, Prongs?” Sirius says, bleary-eyed at the door to the kitchen. “Nah, we kissed once.”
“Yeah?” Remus says.
“It was fourth year and I’d already kissed four girls and James hadn’t kissed any so I snogged him a bit to make him shut about it. He was rubbish at it then, too.”
“It was my first kiss,” James says, appearing in the hallway behind Sirius. “Why are you telling my wife all of my secrets, you horrible man.”
“I think I’ve burnt this pancake,” Remus says, with a sigh. “No, don’t worry, I’ll eat it.”
“Put loads of syrup on it, you won’t be able to taste the difference,” Sirius says, and he walks over to Remus and reaches into the cupboard by his head (standing on his tip-toes, because he’s a bit shorter than Remus is) to get out a pale pink china plate for Remus to eat his blackened pancake from. “Or were you looking forward to trying to outdo James in the long-suffering stakes?”
It’s almost a normal breakfast, except for the fact that barely anyone is allowed to know where they are, and they keep the wireless on in the background all morning, just keeping an ear out, just in case. They grab moments when they can.
“Can you believe we each thought it was...” Remus says. He’s buttering toast for both of them in the half-derelict kitchen in the cottage that he can’t stop thinking of as his father’s cottage. There’s a rusting AGA pushed against the far wall. He feels old, and it all feels like it happened a lifetime ago. His friends died or were taken away from him when they were all practically children, and now he’s in his mid-thirties, and both he and Sirius are turning grey, with hollow cheeks.
“Yes,” Sirius says. He’s on his fifth cup of tea. There’s a big pot in the middle of the table that Remus’s grandparents -- his mother’s parents -- had given to his parents at their wedding. It’s earthenware. Deep red. He smiles, but it’s just like -- his mouth is stretching. “It was war,” he said. “They worked out how to use us against each other.”
“By we you mean Peter,” Remus says, dryly. “God, he was always so good at that at school, as well. Knowing how to play people off against each other when he wanted something. Little shit.” He can’t stop it sounding slightly fond, even though he doesn’t mean it fondly at all.
“Remember when Dumbledore was setting up the Order, the summer after we left Hogwarts?” Remus says. “You know, there’d been that massacre in the Western Isles and he said he was done waiting for the ministry to do something about it.”
“Yeah,” Sirius says. “I was the youngest person there and my nose piercing had just started to get infected. Everyone looked at me like I was scum.” He grins. “It was great, I loved it.”
“He asked us if we thought the Order should have a motto,” Remus says, “and you said mottos were for fascists and aristocrats, and you were doing your best to be neither.”
Sirius snorts. “Well, it’s true,” he says. “Fuck the lot of them. You’d think that too if you’d grown up in it. Christ. Toujours Pur. Can you imagine.”
“Yeah,” Remus says, and smiles. “Well, no. But I know what you mean.”
Throughout his time in the Order -- the second Order, their second chance -- Remus takes the wolfsbane potion even though it makes him feel rotten.
“It makes you feel like shit, Moony,” Sirius says. Remus smiles at the old nickname. “Why don’t you leave it and we can go running somewhere remote again?”
Remus shakes his head. “You know why not. It’s too dangerous.” He doesn’t say -- you know you can’t leave the house, because he hates that Sirius can’t leave it almost as much as Sirius does, and if he brings it up he doesn’t know if he can bear it. Sirius hates this house, he’s always hated this house, or at least he has for as long as Remus has known him.
“When I was little,” Sirius says one day when they’re cleaning old poisons out of the cellar (in bottles that look worryingly like old wine bottles, with purple corks), “I used to love this house.” He looks around the room, at the weird, wrought-iron flourishes in the corner, the dyed glass windows that glow but look out on nothing, and a weird pile of Kreacher’s filth and treasure in one of the corners. “I used to love how secretive it felt -- it was like being in a secret club. All these weird rituals. I didn’t realise until I was older that it was just creepy, and not cool, and that it wasn’t a club I wanted to belong to.”
Remus smiles. “Well, we’re moving our own secret club into it instead,” he says. “We’re flushing them out.” But, of course, the Black family had lived there for so long, so many of their secrets and lives were woven into its fabric -- the magic that held it up, that allowed it to be livable -- that they weren’t really able to do that. It ended up as a gloomy patchwork, and Remus was always half-relieved to leave, half-heartbroken to leave Sirius behind.
“When the war is over,” Sirius says, one afternoon, when there isn’t anything for either of them to do but lie on the ludicrous four-poster bed that they share, their heads touching, their hair tangled together, “we’re going to burn this house to the ground, and then we’re going to run away somewhere else.”
“Yeah?” Remus says.
“We’ll take Harry with us,” Sirius says. “I’ve always thought the lad could do with a couple of weird gay dads. Maybe his friends too. The less annoying one, with the cat.”
“I’m better suited to being a weird gay uncle,” Remus says. “You’re more of a dad.”
“Remember when you told me I was like your mum,” Sirius says. “I was so furious. I wanted you to think I was cool, and sexy. I didn’t want to be like your mum.”
“I think I said that you had the same taste in boys as my mum,” Remus says. “I didn’t say you were like my mum. Anyway, my mum was cooler than you ever were.”
“You know, I always wondered,” Sirius says, “D’you think Bowie was one of us?”
“Gay?” Remus says. “I think he’s married to a woman now.”
“No, I mean, magic,” Sirius says.
“He’s got too vivid an imagination,” Remus says. “Wizards don’t care about aliens, and stars. They just care about what the placement of the stars says about them. They’re about five hundred years behind."
“He probably likes both,” Sirius says, thoughtfully.
“Probably,” Remus agrees, and he rolls over gracelessly and kisses Sirius’s cheeks, his eyelids, under his chin, and on his mouth, and Sirius closes his eyes but smiles, and it looks painful but also as true a smile as Remus can remember for a long time.
After James and Lily had died, but before he'd left for Europe, McGonagall had come to find Remus. He'd been expecting Dumbledore, maybe. He'd found out about it all by owl. He'd been undercover. No need for that, anymore.
Her face was blotchy. Remus realised only after she left that it was term-time.
She had taken one of his hands between hers, only briefly. She hadn't known what to say, but Remus hadn't, either. "You were always such a good student," she said. "But I'm not sure I ever told you how proud I was of you. Am."
Remus thought that something like this would have made him cry, once. "I always thought," she said. "I always thought that of my students, you could use -- you could get a lot out of going away to University." She'd said it before, and Remus hadn't listened then, either. "I used to think you'd like one of the old Scottish universities but now I think -- well. I've always liked Oxford. As far as England goes."
"What would I do there," Remus said. How many weeks had it been. Two?
She shook her head. "You've got almost a year to think about it," she said. "I know someone who studies arcane magic there. But you could do something else. Be a normal student. Literature. History."
"I don't mean..." Remus said, and trailed off.
"I know," she said. "I know you don't feel it, but you are still so young." Remus shook his head, but he didn't mean no. But it was unimaginable. The idea of being a student again. The idea that he might, one day, make new friends.
“I always thought it was sad that you -- all of you -- didn't have enough time,” McGonagall says. She is getting old, now, and it makes Remus feel old to think about this, too. She was young for a head of house when he was at Hogwarts, he thinks, even though she had still seemed old to him back then. They all had -- even the defence teachers who were often barely older than the seventh years. By their sixth year, Remus had started to wonder if Dumbledore was going to run out of willing (or at least desperate) graduates for the post, and if he was just going to ask them to take turns at teaching each other.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Remus says. He suddenly sees a flash of James and Lily arguing about a stupid hat James had bought for the baby while Harry was trying his best to bite through his teething ring, and he feels sad. He’d forgotten about that. If it wasn’t for the song the teething ring had been singing at the time, or for the scary, banshee face on the top of the hat...
They could have been any young couple with their whole lives ahead of them.
“I miss them,” he says. “I still wake up and can’t believe they’re gone, all these years later.”
“Oh yes, James and Lily,” she says. She stirs her tea and then pours him a cup. “But you and Sirius, too.”
Remus blanches slightly. “Oh, I always know what’s going on,” she says. “Didn’t you, when you were teaching?”
“I think I missed a lot,” he says, but he knows what she means. He’s always surprised that children -- teenagers, even -- don’t realise that how they’re feeling is written on their faces. That they are never as subtle as they want to be.
“Sirius and I,” he says, and he sighs. “We had some time, didn’t we. I think we had years, if you add up all of the months and weeks and scattered moments.”
“Is that enough?” she says.
“There are moments where I think -- I’ll never be so happy again,” he says. “But I’ve got to bet that I might be, or what’s all this for?” His tea is still too hot to drink. McGonagall makes it strong, and with water so hot that it scorches the tea, but he likes it like that. It makes him think of afternoons spent in her office, catching up on work he’d missed, while she dug out old books she thought he might like and told him, fiercely, that he needed to step out of the long shadows cast by certain classmates of yours.
Well, it happened, he thinks, but this isn’t what she meant. “But -- no,” he says. “It’s not enough time. Is it ever? I feel like I was never young. They were, maybe.”
McGonagall laughs. “You were young,” she says. “I had to chase you from the Quidditch pitch once... it must have been your fourth year or so, and you and Sirius had decided to turn up at Gryffindor practice -- neither of you was in the team, by the way, although I always thought you might make a good keeper, quick reflexes -- and you were wearing the most hideous costumes, and then the two of you cast that curse on James...” She shakes her head.
“James had spilt a pot of indelible ink on Sirius’s History of Magic essay,” Remus says, and he laughs at the memory. “He didn’t mean to, but Sirius didn’t think he was contrite enough. So...”
“So Sirius doused him with ink, too,” she says. “Yes, yes, it was very -- well, it wasn’t clever, but it certainly made a spectacle of you all. What were you dressed as?”
“I think Sirius thought that that’s what stationers wear,” Remus says.
“Hmm,” she says. “I always thought he was so clever.”
“He was an idiot,” Remus says, and it doesn’t sound as kind as he means it to. “God, I was so worried, the whole time -- all those months and days I felt sick with terror, I thought it would be so difficult, and it was even worse than I’d thought, but I’m so glad that I went for it.”
“If you could do it all again?” she says.
“I’d happily make the same mistakes,” he says. Then he inclines his head, a concession. “Well, maybe not where Peter is concerned.”
At James and Lily’s funeral, attended by a weird motley group of Lily’s relatives and those of their friends who hadn’t been killed at around the same time as them, Remus gives a reading. He’s the last of James’s close friends left.
It's a few weeks before he will pack his suitcase and flee the country. He's already started to think about it. Or, he has been thinking about it for what will seem, very quickly, as long as he can remember.
He reads To an Athlete Dying Young, the A.E. Housman poem. He can’t believe James never even made it to 22. As far as Remus could remember, so far 22 has been a rotten year, and James wouldn’t have liked it. But -- 22, and 21 should carry the promise of so many other years after.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
Remus’s voice cracks at the end of the line, but he continues to read the rest of it. It’s not fair. It’s just consolation given when no consolation is possible. He hates the poem, then, fiercely, although later -- years later -- he flicks through a poetry anthology and comes across it unexpectedly, and he finds himself weeping, heaving big silent tears, in the middle of a bookshop in Paris.
After the funeral, when he's getting drunk with Kingsley Shacklebolt, he finds himself thinking about Hogwarts, although he'd promised himself he wouldn't. He thinks about how -- so many of the students there will remember James Potter, head boy. He thinks about them looking at the Daily Prophet over those stupid, long wooden tables. He thinks about how many of the students there... were there when he was there. Has it really been so few years? A year at Hogwarts seemed to last the blink of an eye. He scrapes his hands over his knees, and Kingsley has to repeat himself three times before Remus hears him and says, yes, I want to keep drinking until the bar runs dry.
It’s the summer after Hogwarts -- after they’ve finally finished -- and they have their NEWT results, and Sirius’s are great and Remus’s are fine, more than fine, and completely irrelevant to any of the jobs he has any hope of getting. He hasn’t got the tattoo and he isn’t registered, but it means he’s working for cash in hand, for people who don’t know his real name.
“It’s not like this money is really mine,” Sirius says. “Any more than James’s money is his. What did we do for it? We were just born under the right sign.”
“I guess I was just born under a bad moon,” Remus says, and Sirius groans.
“It just feels wrong,” Remus says. “You don’t understand because you’ve always had it.” It’s not strictly true -- those last couple of years at Hogwarts, before Sirius’s weird uncle had died and after he’d run away from home, he’d not really had anything. But he had Hogwarts, and now he has money, and a weird flat full of artefacts that Remus isn’t sure he wants to touch.
“Just --” Sirius says. “Live with me. I hate being alone with my own thoughts.”
“What a fantastic offer,” Remus says. “I wonder if I’ll hear a better one this century.”
“Remus,” Sirius says, and Remus laughs and bats his hand away from where they’re trying to curl into his shirt.
“It’s fine, I know what you mean,” he says. “You’re dying to get your hands on my David Bowie poster and my battered collection of queer poetry paperbacks.”
“You’ve got a collection of gay poetry?” Sirius says. “Fuck me, you never told me that.”
“Most of it’s pretty miserable,” Remus says. “That’s what you’re inviting into your home.”
“Misery?” Sirius says. The fraught years ahead lap at their ankles like waves, and foam, and the sea beyond.
“Misery and some poor rhyming,” Remus says, “although I actually like that.”
“I think we can handle it together,” Sirius says. He loops a finger into Remus’s belt buckle and kisses the side of his jaw.
And they can’t, but they do.