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Elucidation Practice

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Sometime midway through his fourth vodka in front of the bathroom mirror, Remus’s mind finally gives up its charade of relative sanity and cracks right down the middle. He’s staring at his own reflection, which is currently straddling some no man’s land between bewildered and nauseous, trying to piece all his scattered brain-shards back together when he hears the tight thunder-crush between his ears, or maybe it’s just the crackle of the radio in the living room where Talking Heads are playing through the intermittent static; he blinks stupidly at himself and sticks out his arms and his tongue, recites a few lines of Rilke—not a stroke, then—and finishes the rest of his drink, looking back at his face as if seeing it from outside himself, the old scar curling under his chin, his mother’s crooked nose. There’s a scurry like a mouse deep inside him, shaking through the rafters of his body and up his spine-rungs until it reaches his mouth and breaks apart on his molars; he needs another drink, he thinks, or a cigarette, or maybe a fuck, but that sets his mind on a crash-course down The Streets Which Shall Not Be Named again and he has to grab onto the edge of the sink to keep his entire digestive system from caving in on itself. Blank grey slate, he thinks desperately, dead worms on the sidewalk after rain. James Potter’s three malformed chest hairs.

They’d been sitting in the living room, listening to a Muggle radio station and going through the dusty box of Christmas decorations that are mostly Sirius’s, scavenged from antique shops and his Uncle Alphard’s attic. Remus had taken one of the glass tumblers from the kitchen and Transfigured it into a glass star for the tree they didn’t have, all the more impressive for paying no attention to where his wand was pointing (directly at his crotch), and then Sirius had smiled at him—that sweet, unmeasured thing Remus sometimes manages to pull out of him without ever knowing exactly how, the one that crinkles his eyes and makes his mouth go crooked on the left side the way he likes. He’d looked at Remus the way he does after an extremely off-color joke or when they used to spread the map out across their knees in Sirius’s bed at night after everyone else had gone to sleep, like Remus was something surprising and beautiful, or else the most expensive entrée on the menu at his favorite restaurant and Sirius had been starving for it for a veritable lifetime.

Crack, went Remus’s brain.

“Moony?” Sirius, from the open door, making him jump. In the mirror, his face is chalky, the thin skin of his knuckles gone white where he grips the sink. “Are you drinking in the loo again? That’s not normal, mate. I mean, you might’ve at least invited me—who paid for your fucking alcohol binge tonight, I’d like to know?”

“Your uncle Alphard, if you want to get technical about it,” says Remus, which stops Sirius in his search for his lighter long enough to punch him in the shoulder. “Sorry, I mean—I’m sick, er. I think.”

“Do you want to get your clothes off?”

Yes yes yes, screams one half of Remus’s fractured mind. “Why the hell would I take my clothes off,” says his drunk but fortunately rational mouth. He spares a brief, dizzy moment to feel self-satisfied at the fact that he can still form complete sentences when his thoughts are bursting and careening off each other like popcorn kernels in a Muggle theater.

“The last time you got sick you took off all your clothes,” says Sirius, kneeling beside Remus at the toilet. His knees don’t crack like Remus’s do, and if he notices that Remus is taking great care not to let their thighs touch, he doesn’t show it. “Remember? I walked in because you didn’t lock the door and there you were, bits out in the wild—”

“I was fifteen and it was everywhere and Christ, please, please don’t—”

“You’d had a lot of strawberries, if I remember correctly. And I do,” says Sirius, cheerfully unhelpful, and he smells like cigarettes and laundry soap when he presses his hand to Remus’s forehead and then into his hair, smoothing it back and forth in soothing tidal motion like he does just before and after the full bloom of the moon, saying Moony, Moony, moony moony Moony in sweet cyclical harmony, one arm around his shoulders and his mouth red and very close so that Remus wants to vomit, and cry, and lean over and kiss him, or maybe crawl inside him and sink to the bottom for a while—

“Oh God,” he groans. The jolt that cramps up his stomach and into his throat means bad things. He knows this. What goes up must come down, and what comes down is subject to a toxic neurological cocktail of emotional upheaval, hormones, and sheer blind panic.

“Shhh, Moony, I’ve got you. You’re all right,” says Sirius, “I’ll aim you,” and bless him, but he does, holding him by the hair and shoulders as Remus leans over the toilet to vomit impressively for the first time in three years.

It is just after one o’clock in the morning. It is snowing, the sort that will melt at dawn, making its soft kissing sound against the bathroom window. It is wartime in London, though most of London doesn’t know it and never will. It is late November 1978, and Marquee Moon is playing on the radio, and Remus Lupin is in love.

People used to joke about it sometimes, when they were in school. Just Remus at first, and then later both of them: Black and Lupin, bent as butcher’s hooks, ha-ha when’s the wedding Lupin, bought the dress yet you giant queer. He’d feign deep confusion at his Astronomy homework the same way he would when someone started opining loudly about the latest dismissal of werewolf rights legislation in the Prophet—I don’t understand why the Ministry doesn’t just bloody well round them all up and have done with it, I mean, it’s not like they’re human anymore—over breakfast, and sometimes Sirius would punch someone, and Peter would say Oi you, and James would become outraged on both their behalves (but after a while mostly just on Sirius’s), and afterwards Remus would initiate a measured sort of distance from Sirius that he told himself was kindness but was really equal parts self-preservation and that deep gut-fear of exposure—in all regards—that gnawed always at the back of his mind, even then: cutting himself to spare Sirius the pain of it, but really only ever to spare himself.

But then, the one thing he always managed to forget he could count on: Sirius would catch onto his “insufferable self-sacrificing bullshit,” because Sirius was really a very sharp knife who just happened to be conveniently shaped like an extremely attractive human being. He’d get into bed with Remus at night with a bag of Bertie Bott’s or Muggle crisps or a joint procured from the stash that James furiously tried and failed to find at least three times a week, passing it back and forth between themselves and feeling the burn of ineffability at the touch of their fingers, or possibly it was just the weed.

“All right?” Sirius would say.

“All right,” Remus would answer, and he’d flush in the dark, and they’d make each other laugh and Sirius would kick in his sleep and Remus would wake up warm on the cold mornings, tucking it all safely into his heart-meat, where he kept his best secrets.

After the Incident, under the axe-hang of the February moon in sixth year, when the world was still a rind of ice and winter-bones, he woke up in the Shack with a pile of blankets lumped around him and Sirius’s fingers in his hair, everything in Remus straining for him like a moth to a flame. “You should go back,” he said, which was what he always said when the mornings dragged him aching back into being, and to which Sirius had never listened even once. Not said: James will think we’re having it off. Also not said: I want to be having it off, I want to be having it off so badly it turns my guts into a fucking hangman’s noose sometimes and I have to think of crushed flobberworms and James’s back hairs until it goes away.

Except it never goes away, of course. Not when Sirius started going out with Mary Macdonald later that year, or when Remus himself lost his virginity in a profoundly anticlimactic three minutes to Caradoc Dearborn, about whom the rumors were spectacularly untrue, during prefects’ rounds that rounded around to one of the seldom-used classrooms on the third floor early that May. It became an ache in his bones late at night, a hunger thrumming beneath the voracious moon-hunger that opened him up at the most inexplicable times as if to call attention to his empty mouth, his starving hands, and his heart screaming with it against his ribs: I want, I want, I want, I want you.

It never goes away.

“I’m not going anywhere, you shit,” Sirius told him, tinged June-red in the February grey. And then, “I think you’re the bravest person in the world, you know. And I’m not just saying that because of, I mean, your general consumptive shredded-ness at the moment, or whatever’s in your hair, you’re just—you’re fucking unbelievable. In a good way.” His fingers in Remus’s hair, the song of his pulse against Remus’s temple. “You make me want to be better. In addition to paying attention in Runes, and rolling my own cigarettes with actual finesse, I mean,” he said, leaning down, covering Remus with his own body, his own beating heart, shielding him from the last of the moon-fingers stretching through the bars in the window. His eyes were so soft. “You do.”

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment you fall in love with someone, because by the time you realize it, the thing’s already been stitched into your shadow and sitting under your fingernails like a splinter for so much longer than you could’ve know to look for it. When exactly was the precise moment the first cell mutated and your tumor began to grow, when did you first realize your heart was beating in your chest, how long have you had a hairline fracture running right down the center of your brain, Remus Lupin, you incomparable berk—you can’t know these things. But if Remus had to guess—if he had to try and uncouple the chain-links that led him here—he thinks: that morning in February, freezing in the Shrieking Shack with Sirius, verbose at the hush of sunrise, breathing into each other on the dusty bed like they were the only people alive in the entire world. That might have been it.

London in winter is something of an amnesiac dream, the streets and the rooftops washed out with a downy-soft layer of snow that glitters like the Muggle Christmas lights people are starting to string up around their doors and balconies. Their neighbors across the alley have a strand of them wrapped through the iron railing of their balcony with the browning ivy, and Sirius, enamored of anything that could potentially cause catastrophic house fires, won’t be satisfied until he’s blown every fuse in their overpriced Kentish Town flat hanging them wherever an outlet or overtaxed extension cord allows. The height of competitive consumerist festivity, Remus supposes, would be to explode something in the name of Christmas Spirit.

He supposes he shouldn’t find Sirius’s enduring fascination with every innocuous and occasionally lethal Muggle thing as sweet as he does, or as arousing, but that’s just the way his poor cracked crybaby brain wants to work, fragmented as it is. Everything he does, every boring, toast-and-tea household chore and game of Gobstones he loses, every song on the radio, every record in their joint collection, every crossword clue tackled together—it all runs back to Sirius, Sirius, Sirius, an endless orbit of longing and loving and the sort of dreams he wakes up from with a hand already down his pajama trousers and Sirius’s name held behind his teeth like a charm on the thread of his breath, during which Sirius definitely takes longer than three minutes and knows exactly what to do with his tongue. Twenty-six down this morning was B-E-S-O-T-T-E-D.

Most days it doesn’t make him unhappy, being in love with someone he knows he’ll probably never have and will, in all likelihood, never fall out of love with. In the ongoing cosmic joke that is Remus Lupin’s life, he figures he ought to take what he can get, and if that means he gets to hoard Sirius’s vast, expansive presence on the warp and weft of his memory, or the jangle of his laughter in the dark, or the feeling of his cold feet on Remus’s cold feet in his bed at Hogwarts, or the wicked bloom of his smiles—the Remus-smiles, the ones that are only for him—then it’s probably a fair trade. When he looks up now on cold, clear nights above their flat, he can see Sirius, too bright to be blurred by the electric hum of sleepless London, and it makes him smile. A fire is still warm, after all, even if you’re the only one standing around it.

So that’s that sorted, he thinks, ducking into the alley that’s become his favorite to Apparate from, and he’s fumbling for a cigarette in his front pocket when his fingers stutter on a few Galleons that weren’t there when he folded them last week, which means Sirius has put them there to avoid the accusing looks Remus shoots him whenever he asks Remus to pick up a curry for dinner while he’s out and then hands him enough money to buy a prize-winning pony, saying, “Keep the change, mate,” like Remus is doing him a favor. The thought of Sirius going through his clothes is by turns irritating, vaguely creepy, and strangely appealing, in a way that makes him worry for his brain-state and dredges up the old fear, again, of falling as a burden to the person he loves most.

The Camden Head has just opened by the time he Apparates, fresh from the killing fields of his latest hilariously futile job search, during which he’s turned down by the library (not the one where he lost his first job), the Muggle hospital (as a night janitor—why do you need that much time off, they’d asked, and Remus didn’t much like arguing with people carrying clipboards and suspicious stains on their uniforms), and finally as a seasonal assistant at an overstock greenhouse where they keep puffapods and fanged geraniums (they’re not looking right now, but check back in the spring!). He tells Sirius about it over his fish and peas, with a small pang for that last one; he’s always liked to watch things grow, something about the feeling of dirt and wholesome fecundity under his fingernails.

“Fuck them all,” is Sirius’s expert verdict, gesturing violently with a chip that very nearly winds up in Peter’s ear canal. “Sorry, Pete—what a bunch of bullshit, Moony, let’s go round to the place and fill it with hungry adolescent flobberworms. I’d ask you what sort of troglodytes can’t tell a man with ten green fingers and toes when they see him but I’ve got my ideas—here,” he says, heaping Remus’s plate with some of his extra chips, “I think we’ve earned a good artery clogging.”

Lily, listening with an amused sort of twist at her mouth, eyes him over her beer. “One of these days you’re going to burst something important with the dramatics, y’know. I feel like I need a nap just from listening to you, it’s exhausting.”

“A life lived at a stable blood pressure is no life at all when you think about it.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” James exclaims through a mouthful of potato, which he immediately swallows after being given a Look.

“Right, you tell that to the clogging arteries and Remus’s prospective employers.” Her foot taps against Remus’s boot under the table, and he looks across the table from the last of his peas to find her frowning, but not unkindly: a frown from Lily means she cares, and a glare means an imminent what-for delivered by solid steel lungs that’ll rattle around your skull for weeks after, but either way, it means she loves you, for some reason. “Listen, Remus—I know the thought of asking for help for you is basically the equivalent of Sirius here abiding by traffic laws, but couldn’t you ask Dumbledore if there’s anything out there? I’m sure he could at least give you a recommendation, right, that’s got to be good for something.”

“Or maybe he knows where to find you a job, mate,” says Peter. “He’s Dumbledore, he can make stuff happen.”

Remus, already indebted to Albus Dumbledore in every cardinal direction for possibly the rest of his impoverished life, shakes his head and finishes the rest of his beer. The Order may not be a paying concern, and for all he knows this might have been the plan all along: let the werewolf in, give him regular meals, suffocate him with a generosity that’s more like basic human decency and he’ll wear your leash for as long as you can hold it. But it’s something, at least. Purpose, if not a way to assuage some of the fear and frustration that crackles in his limbs on the nights when he has nothing better to do than clean the bathroom and wait up for Sirius to come home from his late shifts clearing the tunnels of boggarts and doxies, feeling thirteen years old again, like his bones don’t fit together properly and he has to weigh every word on his incisors to determine whether it’s smart enough, or clever enough, or if it’ll make Sirius laugh.

And, in some miraculous turn of fate or maybe just chance, it’s always been Sirius who knows best how to coax him out of this cloistered and often soggy shell where he gets off on his own self-sacrifice and the general pointlessness of it all, or at least makes sure he has some company for the wallowing. “If all else fails you’ll just be my kept woman,” says Sirius, turning to him with the afternoon snow-light in the hollows of his face, “but you’ll have to learn to, y’know—” here, he makes an extremely vulgar gesture with his hand and mouth, which makes Remus and James laugh. “We can work out the specifics of the arrangement while I convince you tonight, Mrs. Black.”

“I’ll need some significant convincing. I’m a man of modern virtues, Padfoot, I’m not content to just wash your socks and oil your abdominals all day. I want to experience the world.”

“See, by ‘convince’ I actually mean ‘blow every neuron in your body with my incomparable godlike sexual prowess,’ which might be intimidating to a lesser man, but you’re not a lesser man, Moony. So. Why don’t you roll that up and smoke it.”

“Mmm. I’d rather get an early night, I think. Sleep off the remains of the day, and what-all,” says Remus, but he’s laughing.

“Pish-posh,” says Sirius. “You haven’t gotten an early night since we were twelve and we’ve got to get the lights up in the loo, besides.”

“If we want the electrocution to take care of us before the heart attacks.”

“The only electromocution you’re gonna get is the one I’m going to be giving you,” says Sirius. Remus can see the edge of an eyetooth when he grins, which in turn pulls Remus’s own smile wider and makes the bottom drop out of his stomach so swiftly it almost makes him dizzy. “Anyway,” he says, and stops strangely, like he’s trying to blink something out of his eyes, “anyway, I’m just saying, don’t worry so much. It makes you go all sad at the mouth.”

“You two are absolutely mental,” says James, fondly. Lily stays quiet, but from the corner of his eye, Remus can see she’s wearing her best I-know-what-you’re-doing-Remus-Lupin smile.

“My bloody hero,” says Remus, hoping he’s not as pink as he feels and avoiding his own reflection in the smudged glass beside him, because he knows better. He always knows better. “It’s good to know I’ve still got options.”

Sirius, aiming a kick at him under the table, remains unperturbed by the sudden color in Remus’s cheeks and ears. “Oh, Lupin,” he says, “tis Christmastide,” and shoves a chip into Remus’s mouth.

Talk turns to the Order from there, to the war burgeoning with the early darkness that laps at their heels every night like a fever-dream he sleeps through and wakes up from sweaty and achy but able to forget it well enough with the distance the morning light brings. Just last week, Lily and Marlene McKinnon had charmed some information out of an unsuspecting, freshly-plucked Pureblood supremacist that has the Order considering their options for an ambush, or at least new plans to turn the tide in their favor like Christmas come early; Remus isn’t sure it’ll be so simple—the world doesn’t stop hurting you just because tis Christmastide any more than the moon stops tugging at his bones in its monthly tidal ritual just because he asks it nicely—but hope really does stick to your ribs, if you’ll let it.

“I don’t know when they’re going to move on him,” she says, her green eyes flashing, a glint of sun off of metal. “They’re just going to watch him for a bit, see what more than can find out, but I fucking well want a front-row seat when it happens. McKinnon’s already after Dumbledore about it.”

James, who manages to look simultaneously euphoric and aghast that Lily Evans is still sitting beside him after nearly a year, wraps an arm around her shoulders and squeezes. “Brilliant woman,” he mutters, choking on emotion, or possibly the last of his ham. If they ever have children, Remus thinks, it’ll take all four of them plus an industrial-sized vacuum to pick up his pieces. “You’ll win the war singlehanded and save Christmas too.”

“If anyone can, it’s you,” Remus agrees. “I’ll be sure to cling to the Gospel of Lily for comfort while I’m Dartmoor—”

“Still don’t know what he thinks you’ll find out in Arse End, Nowhere,” Peter interrupts.

“Anyway, if I’m lucky there’ll be a few left down there by the time Lily’s eviscerated them all,” he finishes. Outside, he can see people carrying shopping bags, and someone is tying wreaths to the streetlights; he chews his thumbnail only to find that there’s nothing left to chew and tries not to think of how royally he is not ready to think about gift-giving.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” says Sirius, which makes Lily smile at him. She beat Sirius on her Charms NEWT by a single hundredth of a point in June. “Have you ever seen Lily and a living, breathing Death Eater in the same room? I didn’t think so. There comes a point when one has to start looking at the common denominator in these situations, and that’d be Evans and her beastly machinations.”

“I thought you two said you were going to mow them all down on the motorbike?” Peter, eyebrows raised.

“We were drunk,” says Sirius; then, “And he doesn’t actually have a license to drive it on the ground,” Remus finishes.

There’s something to be said for complementing each other’s thoughts as much as there is for finishing them. That he’s gotten to that point with Sirius makes something pleasant curl up behind his ribcage, like a mug of tea filling to the brim.

“Where’s my compliment, you utter bastard? You never tell me you love me anymore.”

“You look pretty today, Prongs. Very shaggable.”

“The haircut accentuates your soulful eyes, which could just as easily be indigestion or the astigmatism I guess—”

“Fuck you, Lupin,” says James, and laughs, and angles his shoulder into Remus’s on the way out the door. “Anyway—anyway, let me know about the flobberworms, will you? I could keep them in the shed,” he says, to which Sirius says “We will, mate,” just as Remus says “No, James.”

Peter says goodbye while struggling with the scarf he’s had since fifth year and never learned to tie properly, his voice lost and his face swimming in the fabric. “Keep your head up, Moony,” he says, “something’ll come along. Oh, and Sirius—you still owe me a Galleon from the Harpies game last week. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were hoping I’d forget, you tosser.”

“Took you long enough,” says Sirius, fishing in his pocket to pay up. “Feel smug while you can, we both know you’re just going to lose it again this weekend.” Peter flips him a V behind his back as he catches up with Lily, the last of the snow draining all the color from their skin as they turn into the alley past the bookshop that repels most people’s eyes, like water off a duck, to where James is already waiting to see Peter off and Apparate home.

He spends the rest of the afternoon wandering around town with Sirius, looking at the early Christmas decorations that have started to sprout up around the city overnight like daffodils and surreptitiously trying to look for gifts that won’t too obviously reveal the Molotov cocktail that is his desperate and occasionally explosive love he keeps safe in his rib-rungs and the laddered notches of his spine, like a tree grown over with moss. They wrap themselves across the city, ducking into the shops when their fingers get cold or when Sirius decides they need a new holiday tea or, once, when they both decide to take a look at the artificial Muggle Christmas trees, which they both come to a tidy consensus are not in keeping with the Spirit of the Season, and eventually find themselves at a record shop that smells so strongly of incense Remus has a fifteen-minute sneezing fit after they leave. He keeps his hands in his pockets, thumbing the Galleons still warm from his own body and watching Sirius chance the crossings with a nonchalance Remus will never quite manage, even now more used to a thick green wedge of forest and the windblown grass fields of Shropshire than he is the vast electric jangle of London, where Sirius slows his quick strides for him and hangs onto the curb for an extra breath so that Remus never has to hurry to catch up to him.

He still feels himself thrumming with the strangeness of the city and the sense of displacement that comes sometimes from catching his own reflection in the glass beneath the streetlights or stepping out of the tube station, the skittish, anxious feeling of trying to learning how to belong to it the way Sirius does hammering wildly at his ribs. It’s these days, though—the ones where he forgets to be afraid of the future or where his cracked brain and creaky joints will fit into it—that he loves the best: darting through the streets with Sirius in the afternoons or the deep velvet crush of the night, the sidewalks lined with the smell of stale alcohol and piss and fresh bread from the delis, and the sweet secret thrill of finding Sirius watching him already when he looks over at him, sideways-shy, with a smile tugging at the left side of his mouth that Remus watches him with familiar satisfaction, his laughter like a revelation, thinking: See what I can do.

The station is busy, full of midafternoon shoppers and commuters when he leans against the cold brick with Sirius, rolling a cigarette with the buttery glare of the sun in his eyes and stealing glances at Sirius while he lights one of his menthols, something compelling in the angles of his face made gold by the flame of the lighter. Then he turns his head, and Remus, feeling caught in the act, immediately begins searching for his own lighter in his coat pocket when Sirius leans over and cups his hand around the cigarette hanging idiotically out of his mouth, murmurs like fire, and watches the tip flare orange-bright.

“You never told me how you learned that,” he sputters, swallowing his cough and the swift wave heat that sweeps through his body. Sirius’s hand lingers, just for a moment, around his lips.

“I was born with a cigarette in my mouth,” says Sirius, taking a drag and watching Remus through the shred of smoke-haze, his smile like the edge of a very sharp knife. “I’m told I was smoking in the womb, probably starting around the time I went through puberty as a fetus and came out of the ex-mother needing a shave.”

“Just a variation on Incendio, is it.”

“McKinnon taught me,” says Sirius, “in sixth year. Said it was how she got Meadowes to sleep with her in the first place.”

“I do love those moments when you break your own mystique,” says Remus. The second part of what Sirius said won’t register in his mind with all its implications until hours later, when he’s eating reheated shepherd’s pie and watching the Muggle news on the telly and has to spend half an hour pacing around his bedroom afterwards, palpitating, thinking about Sirius’s hands, and the sad cast of his eyes, and sex. For now, he taps a forefinger against the money in his pocket and says, haltingly, “You don’t, er. I mean, Pads, about the money—”

“Moony—”

“No, look, it’s—it’s not that I don’t, I mean, it’s not unwelcome, I just. It’s your money, Sirius.”

“And I can’t exactly blow it all on pot and motorbike shit, can I? Consider it a gift from Alphard Black, the only reason our rent’s paid through the end of the year, not to mention all the vodka and curries. It’s not like I worked for it, either.”

“But it’s yours,” Remus protests, worrying with the fraying edge of his coat sleeve, feeling his face go faintly pink again. “And I’m fairly sure blowing it on motorbike shit might actually bring you up to code with the current Muggle vehicle laws you’re breaking, or maybe you could look into charities with an actual point to the general hopeless destitution and lack of matching socks, or any prospects at all.”

Sirius looks at him over his cigarette, held in the fingerless gloves Remus gave him last Christmas—Sirius has very nice hands, he’s often thought, both in incidental observation and gasping, florid fantasy—while the frown-lines deepen between his eyes just enough that Remus knows he’s irritated but not yet inconsolably pissed off; it’s a bit like reading a weathervane that might swivel in the opposite direction at the slightest whisper of northerly winds. “Christ, you—I know you love to get off on the continued tragedy of your whole existence, and your martyr complex and all, poor Remus, what a miserable sot—but look, Moony, I’m going to tell you something, and this might chafe a bit, but is it really so fucking inconceivable to you that people like you, and want to see you happy and well-fed, and will act accordingly?”

Remus sighs into his scarf, which smells like cigarettes and home. “Always knew you’d find a way to keep me from regular employment and financial stability.”

“Just—I know you can take care of yourself, whatever. I don’t think you’re a, a fucking charity case or anything, if I thought that I’d buy you get-well cards and vitamin supplements, except I wouldn’t do that either.” A pause, where something won’t quite fit. “I wish I could make it better.”

“I know you do.”

“And I wish—oh, look, we’ve been cursing in front of children,” says Sirius, indicating a glaring mother a few paces away, ushering her children out of earshot. “Anyway. Is this argument over? Or is this where we start insulting each other.”

“We do that all the time.”

“But lovingly,” says Sirius, frowning again. “And what’s the fun of having a friend with more money than he needs if you can’t get some illicit substances out of him? Christ!”

“I could tell you exactly what you can do with your unearned money and your noble intentions.”

“Joke’s on you, I like that sort of thing.”

“I’ll have to get more inventive, then,” says Remus, laughing quietly. He looks at Sirius for a long moment, his broad shoulders, his eyes that are so old and so young they make Remus’s heart drop, sometimes, before it leaps again inside his chest, subject always to the marvelous, inescapable vertigo that comes from loving someone. “I’m not—ungrateful, and it’s, I know you want to make it better and that means more than anything. But short of turning me loose at the Ministry on the full and doing a bit of creative rearrangement of their offices for the benefit of society, and thus becoming the martyr I’ve apparently always wanted to be, I’m not sure there’s much you can do.”

“You’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” says Sirius, but he’s smiling again, a soft, sweet thing that makes Remus feel warm just looking at him, “but anyway, glad that’s sorted before you get any more fidgety and bite your lip off—oh, don’t look at me like that, your mouth does this flappy thing when you’re worried and then I get nervous. All packed for sunny Dartmoor?”

“Everything but my underwear, I think.”

“Go without. We’ll be the Face of the Resistance. No need for honest work or conventional wisdom about keeping your bits contained: the new decade is almost upon us.”

Remus crushes his cigarette beneath his boot and smiles at him, which is when Sirius reaches over to tug on Remus’s scarf a bit, just to straighten it out, and Remus’s mouth, his traitorous, idiot mouth, disconnects from his brain entirely and starts running like a faulty lawn mower that won’t start up. “You’d be a good Face of the Resistance, I think,” he says. “You’ve got that look about you, the whole—” Jesus fuck, his forebrain screams belatedly, shut up, Remus Lupin, you’ll have to throw yourself off the roof “—uh, y’know, roguish charm, sort of, with the—the cheekbones, and the. Unshaven-ness, and the cheekbones, I guess. It’s a good face. I mean.”

“You said ‘cheekbones’ twice,” Sirius tells him, kindly. His hands are still wrapped around Remus’s scarf, almost insistent. “You could just tell me I’m pretty.”

“Shut up.” When he looks away, Sirius’s eyes follow him, watching the side of his face with a nearly tangible weight, like a magnet trying to pull Remus back to him. “It’s just, what I’m saying is, I don’t know what I’m saying, but—you just look very, ah, vigorous. You do.”

“Do I,” says Sirius, a glint of incisors over his bottom lip. For the ten thousandth time in his long and turbulent history with Sirius Black, stretching all the way back across time to the age of eleven on the train, watching the door slide open and two daft boys spill explosively into his compartment, when the first coherent thought his frantic mind could muster was that Sirius Black was the most handsome boy he’d ever seen—which, in the bright sunshine of retrospect, was the exact day his brain slid out his ears and down the shower drain—and that it might be nice to be sorted into his House, Remus feels something like crosshairs settle over his throat.

“Shouldn’t you get going? Doxies in the tunnels and all, I wouldn’t want to keep you from the pressing needs of London’s nether regions.”

“That belongs on a greeting card. You’ll write poetry yet, just wait,” says Sirius, finally stepping back. “See you tonight?”

“I’ll just be folding my underwear,” he says, weakly. What he’ll really be doing is flushing his own head down the toilet and finishing the job he started last week, with the peppermint vodka-flavored vomit and the emotional cowardice.

“Kinky lad, you are,” says Sirius. “Try not to start drinking without me too early. I’ll be back by eleven and then we can be good-for-nothing wastrels together and have all the girly fun we want.”

If he could, if it was his to reach out and take and there weren’t currently a hundred people standing around who could see, this is the part where they’d kiss, Remus thinks. Briefly, he lets himself imagine it as Sirius stubs out his cigarette and walks round to the station entrance: leaning forward, sliding his palms flat up Sirius’s chest, smiling into a kiss like he’s done it for a thousand years. Sirius would pull him tighter and kiss him again when he pulls away, lingering and warm, like a placeholder for later. I love you and Be careful and I think I’ll take a very hot bath tonight, is what Remus might say; Personally, I never like to bathe alone, what with the drowning danger and all. Might be best to wait til I get home to watch your back, is probably what Sirius would say. And my front? Remus would reply, dripping with feigned innocence; Why, Moony, that’s the most dangerous part of all, Sirius would answer, and he’d laugh in that way he has when he’s surprised that sounds like a wild dog and feels like midsummer, a loud gush of color.

And then the violins swell up, and the credits roll, and Remus pushes off the brick wall of Kentish Town station and walks the rest of the way home with his hands in his pockets and his scarf wound too tight around his neck, the ends flying out like some thrilling sideways gravity pulling him backwards to the irresistible force behind him in lyrical, out-of-tune motions.

He crosses the street and imagines Sirius imagining him, walking along the distant dark places underneath London where the walls glisten and eyes watch him out of the darkness—imagining him checking his watch every few minutes, becoming impatient at the hands that never seem to move fast enough. Maybe he thinks of Remus too in the tender clutch of the night, maybe he has to grind his teeth and shut his eyes to keep it all from gushing out of him in an ink-spill frenzy like Remus does when the thrum of his heart drowns out everything else but the hush of wanting. Back at home, Remus curls up on the couch, the one they’ve both lost change and lighters and the occasional limb to on late nights, wondering at the marvelous, vibrant tangle of years between eleven and eighteen, wondering at the shock of love echoing through his ribs, and thinking: if, if, if all of this.

The real trouble with Christmas when one is a werewolf on a budget who tends to agonize over whether or not his gift is Good Enough is that gift-giving comes as a challenge at the best of times, one that tends to twist his stomach into elaborate fisherman’s knots and plays havoc with his cardiovascular system late at night when he’s plunged himself deep into the depths of holiday procrastination, for reasons that are essentially twofold:

1. Remus is pants at gift-thinking, gift-buying, and sometimes gift-receiving, and

2. Remus is trying very hard not to let the obvious show in a catastrophic display of emotional eruption from which there can be no return.

Adding to the already potent stress volcano is the fact that Sirius is unfairly, preternaturally good at it, in a way that makes Remus feel awkward and sometimes inadequate for deeply idiotic reasons. For his birthday this year, after they’d decided to flat-share, Sirius gave him a teakettle that sings old English folk songs when the water boils and likes to talk to him about the lesser-known works of Nabokov, and also gets into the odd argument with Sirius over the amount of sugar he shovels into his Darjeeling; Remus harbors very private thoughts about unlocking the source of his inborn magic and absorbing it into himself so he never has to apologize in advance for his cheap, lackluster gifts again.

He’s in Dartmoor when he’s struck by the first Christmas miracle of his eighteen and three-quarters years. The air here is lonely in his lungs, ripe to bursting with coming December and the bare branches murmuring strangely in the night-winds when Remus ventures out at regular intervals to gauge the movements of the werewolves living in the lowlands, who react to his presence with equal parts suspicion and contemptuous malice; he takes care not to look back over his shoulder when he goes back to his draughty room at the inn afterwards, freezing and feeling out of step with the whole world, and then thinks restlessly of Sirius, who is also fighting a war that smashes him full-force into people who take him for a traitor turning his back on his own kind, the burnt-out tapestry to Remus’s patched trousers and darned jumpers, who will understand him when no one else can.

For three days they write constantly, first by the inn’s communal owl and then by Sirius’s cheerful tawny, anything from a scrap of parchment saying Morning Moony!!! to whole notebook pages of fulsome encouragement for his spying job and the finer qualities of Sirius’s breakfast, in pornographic detail; once, Sirius sends him a photo of the loo in festive disarray, having had an accident involving Muggle tinsel and the bathtub drain, and Remus, in love with Sirius’s brightness even when it burns him and wanting miserably to be back in London, asks him if Christmases at the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black were such a jolly affair. Sirius sends him a bar of Honeydukes seventy-percent dark chocolate and a lengthy letter.

Pureblood Christmases exist only to squash the joys of Wizarding children all over England, writes Sirius. Kreacher did all the decorating and cooking and we opened gifts like the fucking paper isn’t meant to be ripped to shreds and then we had to wear starchy robes and have dinner with people who are the human equivalent of drying off with a wet towel, or the feeling of seaweed wrapping around your leg. There were NO Christmas crackers or obscenely-decorated gingerbread men in my childhood (which as you know is why I work so hard to make up for it now, and don’t give me that disapprove-y look). We did always have two trees though, which is probably the only thing I’ll ever miss about it as it did make the house smell very piney and fresh even though the ex-mother never let us put our beautiful homemade chefs-d’oeuvre on either of them. I’d send you a picture but I don’t have any, actually I don’t have many photos at all of either my misspent youth or the last few years, these TENDER MOMENTS have slipped right by me, lost forever to the hunk of Swiss cheese that is my mind!! Ah well, whatever.

The flat is so QUIET without you here! I’ve been playing the wireless and listening to your Animals and Talking Heads records CONSTANTLY just to fill the Remus-sized hole where there’s normally a lot of teacups and wooly werewolf in my line of sight. You’re not even here to fall asleep on when I come home from work so I’ve been reduced to using the couch pillows that really don’t smell as nice as your lap does but they get the job done in a pinch I suppose (take that as you will). COME BACK SOON MOONY, I miss you and want to feed you curry and we need to buy a Christmas tree &etc &etc

Your Own Sirius Orion Black, Esq.

Remus reads the letter approximately eight times, feeling something flare like a match-light deep inside him, and then he does two things. First, he folds the letter up with all the others (plus photo) into the front of A Treatise on the Humble Hippogriff (an enlightening read) to keep for the rest of his dreary days. Next, he visits Flourish and Blotts as soon as he leaves Dartmoor, where he buys an expensive photo album and some good permanent ink with Sirius’s money, and from there Floos to Andromeda Black’s nowhere-house out on the foggy fenland, where the rest of the world seems to fall away in a dishwatery haze of wide cloudy sky: a wild clutch of treacherous earth where Andromeda herself seems as much a fixture of the landscape as the leggy grass-stalks and the frost clinging to the rose beds.

“This is just about the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done,” she says to him over extremely stout coffee at the kitchen table. There’s an entire row of the living room bookshelf dedicated to Andromeda’s ornate photo albums, which have been hefted in front of them both and which Remus is now leafing gingerly through, watching generations of Blacks blink up at him from the pages. “Takes a good sort to look through the annals of dysfunction and inbreeding just to make someone happy. Go ahead and take anything you like and I’ll make duplicates.”

“How did you get all these?” asks Remus, not far from breathless. There must be nearly a century of family history here, all painstakingly organized from first to last, nothing out of place. His own photo albums, the ones his mother put together and he’s kept adding to since she died last year, don’t even have this much stuffed between the covers from his birth to his last day at Hogwarts.

“Stole them,” says Andromeda, which Remus thinks makes a lot of sense. She’s always reminded him of Sirius in some ways, in her recalcitrant, cut-glass edges and the sadness running through her bones, and then in other ways not—not, certainly, in the way she doesn’t pick at old scars so much as nurture them, or how she still tries to keep the old ghosts close and breathing, never quite able to let go. In school, before she graduated at the end of Remus’s first year, he remembers her much as she is now: dagger-sharp, coldly beautiful, and often alone. “Don’t expect my mother ever noticed, or if she did, she always had others.”

“You could get lost in these,” he says softly, pulling out a photo of Sirius as a three-year-old in hideous green velvet clothes, making faces at the camera. On the next page there is indeed one of the fabled Black Christmas trees, lit with candles spaced evenly on the branches, only white and blue blown-glass bulbs hanging against the needles.

“Couldn’t you just,” she says, stopping on a big picture of herself with her sisters in front of someone’s beach house. “Anyway, I knew it was coming—the big disownment, what with all the false Pureblood shite, and not wanting to marry a Yaxley, can you imagine? They’d have done it eventually no matter who I married or didn’t or how many times I got caught using pay phones, so I started taking what I could until the axe fell, so to speak. Sold some of it, kept most.” She leans back in her chair, sweeping her eyes around the cluttered kitchen, the fenced-in backyard with its dead garden. “And here we are.”

And here’s Sirius: six years old, two and five and eight and thirteen and fifteen years old, chasing his brother around a pond, swimming with his Uncle Alphard, opening a birthday gift from someone Remus doesn’t know, dressed for his first day at Hogwarts, grinning and waving as he loses a game of Gobstones to Andromeda herself in the Great Hall during his first year. It’s like taking apart a clock and looking at the pieces that make it work, all the miraculous machinery that makes a person contained here in the visual history of all the different boys Sirius has been, staring up at him with an eleven-year-old’s wonder and a seventeen-year-old’s invincible hope, all of them muscles and bones in the joyous articulated anatomy that’s grown into the man Sirius has become, the one Remus has loved and loved and loved. What a brilliant thing it is, that we contain in our tendons and toes and creaking, moon-achy joints the memory of all the things we’ve ever known and done, every loss and every shuddering fear and every morning that came after the night, the shock of belonging and the touch of a fragile forever, all the love we’ve ever made and re-made—all of it stuck forever in our heart-meat and the hollows of our spines, growing older, growing younger, an endless topography of becoming.

“Look at this.” Andromeda, who has by now come around the other side of the table to sit beside him and point out places and names, shoves a photo at him featuring Sirius, aged twelve, filling someone’s expensive shoe with treacle at what appears to be a family visit to the Malfoys. “What a twat. He always was a brilliant lad that way.”

“He is a twat,” says Remus, and oh, he’s in love, he’s in love.

He leaves with several large envelopes full of Sirius, teeming with life in his bag beside the album and the ink. At the foot of the living room fire, Andromeda stops him and surprises him with a kiss on one cheek, and then the other. “For Sirius,” she says, and smiles at him like a woman with a secret. “I expect seasonal baked goods this year since you’re finally set up like real people, in case you’re wondering what to get me.” Remus’s ears burn all the way back to Kentish Town, where he steps out of the grate of their fireplace with soot in his hair and on his coat to find Sirius asleep on the couch, blinking blearily at him from one of the pillows; Remus remembers a photo of a seven-year-old boy dozing in front of the library fireplace, sleepy-sweet, smiling at the camera.

“Well?” asks Sirius, making room on the couch and tugging the blanket out from where the cushions are trying to devour it. “Save the world?”

“We’re getting there,” says Remus. He stretches out on the couch beside him like he’s done a hundred times before, and opens his arms, and lets Sirius come to him.

“Among the ranks of the best ideas you’ve ever had, I’d say it’s somewhere in the top three, easy.” Lily, seemingly impressed, over the top of the Prophet when Remus asks her if his Christmas gift is too soppy or creepy before the telephone rings in the kitchen and he’s left with James and Peter for gift-giving compasses.

“He’ll like it, mate,” says Peter, who is far more focused on the Harpies game and the money he’s about to lose to Sirius again. “It’s thoughtful, like. Girly, and thoughtful.”

James is giving him a knowing, myopic sort of look that makes Remus fold in on himself a bit where he’s standing by the fireplace, clutching the photos James has given him of his parents and the two summers Sirius spent with the Potters in Derby. “You don’t think it’s, y’know—too girly? You’re not all going to spend the rest of your lives making fun of me.”

“Oh, heaven for-fucking-fend,” says Lily, with one hand over the end of the telephone. James grins.

“I think it’s the sort of thing that’d make him happy,” he says, coming to stand with Remus, “or maybe get Padfoot’s tongue up your nose. Not that I think you’d mind that.”

“I’m—we’re not—”

“Yeah, maybe not yet,” says James, giving him a Boy’s Club pat on the back that jerks Remus’s shoulder forward by a few degrees. “But I’m not blind. I wasn’t blind in school, either, so: I told you so, at least in spirit. And if I may say so—”

“James—”

“Why, yes, I may say so: good on, you. It’s about time you two confirmed my completely correct suspicions because I’ve only been waiting for years to be proven right.”

“But we’re not,” says Remus, “honestly. And you’re about to owe me another Galleon, the Harpies are abysmal this year.”

“Funny how you suddenly care about Quidditch when you know you can gloat about it,” James mumbles, and Peter looks at them sideways, and Remus laughs awkwardly as he inches back into the Floo, watching Peter’s walled-out confusion and James’s lingering amusement ripple across their faces as he calls out his own address, feeling slightly charred around the ankles when he locks his bedroom door and worrying that his heart is showing through his skin while he sits down and sets himself to the ancient grandmotherly art known as “scrapbooking.” For love, or something.

In the first week of December, when the daylight stretches itself thin and the stars come out in a frozen marble clamor like an opened vein-line, they buy a tree so big it nearly scrapes the ceiling when they crown it with Remus’s Transfigured star, which doesn’t tip it over in spite of all the Muggle lights and enchanted icicles hanging leaden from every branch; Remus’s comments about overcompensation are only met with crooked-mouthed retorts about it not being compensation if you can back it up with extremely ample evidence, which immediately makes Remus’s mouth go desert-dry while certain other parts of him take a very keen interest during his nightly shower. On the tenth, just a few days before the full moon when his joints begin to ache like memory and his mouth dreams of inhuman teeth to feed the churning vortex of his stomach, he gets a job: a letter he’d never expected to receive comes to accept his application to edit a new Arithmancy textbook, with half his pay in advance and a promise to take him on for regular contract work starting in January if it all goes well. His hands shake at that last bit.

Sirius insists on taking him out for a pint, which turns into three pints, which Remus insists on paying for with the thrilling new jangle of his own Galleons in his pockets. By the standards of most working adults it’s on the low end of desirable, but it’s enough to start putting something towards rent and groceries and not overdrawing his account when he wants a bottle of Talisker or the latest le Carré novel, and the faint whiff of self-sufficiency is enough to warm him to the soles of his feet with a bellyful of burgeoning hope all the way back from the pub.

“You’re practically glowing,” Sirius informs him as they chance the crossing in front of a bus, pulling in a drag of his cigarette while Remus watches him from beneath the coppery-curly fringe of his hair. Snow has begun to fall into the muzzy lemon glow of the streetlights, sparse white flakes that glitter in the gutters. “Adulthood’s done for you what takes most people a bottle of wine and a good shag. You’re not right.”

“Not even your library of insults to my love of crushing responsibility can dampen my mood.”

“Liar,” says Sirius, “you don’t handle responsibility any better than I do. Actually, you’re worse.”

This is true, as several bottles of Ogden’s Old under his bed and a comically overstuffed internal pocket full of stifled feelings and emotional dishonesty to be dealt with later can attest—later being some nebulous and unlikely time ranging anywhere from now to his death by aneurysm when said pocket finally explodes—but conceding as much would rather too neatly prove Sirius’s point. “The point is,” he says, feeling Sirius’s hip knock into his as they round the corner and briefly losing his train of thought at the rasp of their jeans, “the point is, it’s good for my skin and it paid for your drinks tonight, so really I think you came out just fine in the end.”

“I did,” says Sirius. He’s walking so close their wrists brush whenever Sirius takes a drag of his cigarette. “And it is, you know. Good for your skin. You wear the weight of employment the way some women wear pregnancy.”

“Thanks, I—well. I guess.”

“Jesus, it’s a compliment, you tosser. I was telling you you’re pretty.”

“I know, I’m just not sure it isn’t a slightly disturbing one.” A pause, with his cigarette halfway to his lips, with the blue velvet of the night between his teeth. “And I’m not.”

“What you are is a terrible judge of your own character and your own face, so you should probably just trust me on this one, Remus. When have I ever lied to you?”

“‘I’ll fly it slow, I swear,’” Remus answers in a fairly stunning rendition of Sirius’s dulcet untruths. “‘No, I don’t know where your green jumper is that I am definitely not sleeping in when the heat goes spotty in the dormitory.’ Or, ‘It’s not compensation if you’re not compensating for anything if you know what I mean,’ and—”

“Well it’s not,” says Sirius. The record shop down the street from their flat is just closing up, the last snow-hazy notes of Desolation Row spilling out onto the curb where they stand, waiting to cross. “I always liked this song,” Sirius murmurs around the stub of his cigarette. “When I was fourteen it was the most profound bunch of nonsense I’d ever heard. It makes me think of you.”

“Really?” Remus’s feet stutter on the stairs on the way up, something thrilled and secret coiling up like a rope between his lungs. “Why?”

“Same reasons I don’t know why it means so much, probably.”

“That’s almost poetic, Pads.”

“Don’t I know it. It’s a gift, young Lupin, which—speaking of. What d’you want for Christmas? You’ve been such a good boy this year.”

“I don’t know,” says Remus, which is a flagrant lie: what he really wants for Christmas, that deep bone-want that aches like the moon, is nothing more and nothing less than all the bite and brightness of Sirius Black, every sweetness and sorrow and all the cogs and stringy bits that make up the pattern of the person he loves. Or maybe just a kiss. “Matching socks.”

Sirius shakes his head in mingled amusement and disappointment, moving one of his childhood macaroni-and-popsicle-stick ornaments higher up on the tree, next to one of the glass bulbs Remus decorated with his mother when he was very young; both of them have a disturbing sort of Dadaist quality that clashes magnificently with everything else. “That ought to be disqualified on the grounds that it’s what you say every year and I haven’t gotten you a single pair of socks yet.”

“I like being warm in this harsh, unforgiving world.”

“Did you ever think of asking for something interesting for once? It’s what Jesus would want.”

“Did you ever think of not being such an arse and listening to what people tell you?”

“No, but I know a buttoned-up little berk who’s getting a lot of coal in his stocking this year,” says Sirius, going to the wireless and turning it to the Muggle station he’s rigged it up to bring in, catching the middle of a Wire song he can’t remember until it fades into Roadrunner. He picks up his camera from the coffee table and threads some new film through it, watching Sirius’s T-shirt ride up in the narrow scope of the lens when he straightens the tree, which is drooping very slightly under its burden; the shutter clicks before Remus even realizes what his overeager forefinger has done.

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” says Sirius. He throws himself onto the opposite end of the couch from Remus, the cushions squeaking slightly, as if flexing their jaws. “The photo-taking, I mean. Every time I turn around you’ve got it out like I’m a wildebeest on one of those nature programs you like.”

“Sorry. I just—I’ve got a lot of extra film.”

“And you want these precious, delicate memories preserved forever.”

“Every single unflattering angle,” says Remus, aiming one more at the Christmas tree, for measure. “Tis Christmastide, after all. And it’s our first, so technically—” oh, that sounds suspect, doesn’t it, “—I mean, it’s the first here and what-all, and—you know what I mean.”

Sirius raises an eyebrow, his lips twitching with amusement or fondness or maybe both, eyeing him with peculiar interest down the blade-smooth length of his nose. “We had last year too, even with the furry little problem in the middle of it, and me being a tragic disowned nobody and all. Which was one of the best Christmases of my life to date, so we’ve at least got a standard to keep up with this year.”

Last year, just a few months after his mother died and the moon fell dead on Christmas Day, they’d changed in the Shack together and gone back the next morning to the empty dormitory and leftover pudding, sleeping in Remus’s bed until late afternoon when the last dregs of sunlight turned the wide brim of the world to gold even when he closed his eyes. Grief was still gnawing at his bones then so that he hardly slept and still had to force himself to eat some days; he remembers waking slowly that afternoon with Sirius, feeling the press of longing in the places where their skin touched and finding in it an echo of love or maybe wholeness that he hadn’t known since he was small, decorating sugar cookies or eating ice cream in the village with his mother, or when she used to rub dittany onto the deeper wounds and sit up watching the telly with him on nights when his skin ached with the acid-heat of the moon biting through the thin curtains, his head held to her shoulder where she always smelled like vanilla and cold cream, lulled to sleep by the distant murmur of her heart. For the first time since she died Remus found that he could think about her again without the sadness opening him up and flaying him apart by the belly: there, with Sirius, with their dusk-colored skin and his knees still throbbing with the agony of unsharpening, Remus was happy.

He remembers, too, the shape of Sirius’s hand lying beside his on the bed like it is now on the couch, curled like a nautilus; he wonders if Sirius ever thinks of reaching over and taking his, seeing where they branch off from here. He wonders if he doesn’t.

“I miss school, you know?” says Sirius, and Remus swallows the memory back down into his belly. He watches Sirius drag a hand through the short ends of his hair, making it stand on end until it falls back into place. “I can’t fucking believe I’m actually saying that, but I do. And not just because it was nice to not have to cook or do my own laundry and clean the toilet, or become a cog in the meat-grinder of adulthood, with all the unsavory chewy bits—it’s just the routine of it, I guess, or maybe it was all the food, or just not having to worry, so probably it is overcompensation, a bit—all this.” The huge tree heavy with ornaments, the Muggle lights strung around the flat, the snow falling in the streetlights below the window, the seams of the living room bursting with all the ways they’ve piled themselves into the corners. “Hogwarts at Christmas was, it was like, everything that Christmas at home—or home in general—never was, with all the stupid rigidity and decorum of it all. I loved it.”

Hogwarts, he thinks, Hogwarts with its steady yearly rhythms and its wise, comforting stone that swallowed them all into a peace like belonging, the ancient walls that would whisper to him in dead tongues once he knew where to look. It’s that feeling, he supposes, that they’ve both always been trying to capture ineffably: the grass at the lake tickling their necks in May and the heartbeat of the earth murmuring against their backs like time immemorial, the gauzy stars from the ramparts of the Astronomy Tower, the secret nighttime laughter tucked away into fire-lit corridors and kindled into life with the science of their burgeoning blood, the cartography of becoming. Remus’s hand twitches at his side.

“I miss it too,” he says, thinking distantly about the roast they cooked together in the first week of September, when they were both thinking of trunks and trains and couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d missed an important appointment. “After a while, even when I was home, I was always thinking of getting back, or at least I was writing you lot constantly, because it just—it felt like home to me as much as home ever did. And it’s not like we’re one of those numpties who’s always going on like their life ended at Hogwarts, because that’s not it, but… I guess adulthood is an acquired taste.”

“Moony, we already do our own dishes and most of the time we even keep the living room clear of dirty socks. I think we’ve done enough for now.”

“We have to pace ourselves lest we become prune-y before the age of twenty-five.”

“See, you always know how to put things into perspective for me.”

“Still, though. This’ll probably be better than last year,” says Remus, biting his thumbnail when he notices Sirius looking at him sideways, only to find that there’s nothing left to bite. “No spontaneous werewolf transformations in the middle of the most monumental day of the year.”

“It was fun, Jesus, it was probably the best Christmas I’ve ever had, and that’s even without the pudding and the excessive drinking. You’d think you would’ve come to terms with our crushing, impenetrable adoration for you by now.”

“You’d think you would’ve, too,” mutters Remus, but Sirius scoffs and waves away Remus’s poke at his own hypocrisy.

“It was nice,” says Sirius, who is still looking at him sideways with a quietness in his eyes Remus can neither place nor meet. “We ate enough turkey to drop a rhino and slept until dinner, which is the ideal way to spend the day after Christmas.”

“I seem to remember that’s mostly what we did until second term started, except with more alcohol.”

“I’ve never seen you as pissed as you were at New Year’s,” laughs Sirius, a sound like winter light or hours passing by, and something shudders through him again, fluttering like moth-wings from his belly to his brain and making his fingers flex on the couch again with yearning as tangible and as constant as a heartbeat. Something is beginning to unravel in his chest, as if his heart has come untethered again at the sound of Sirius’s laughter through his widening smile, through the clamor of his own blood. “For the record, it was incredibly attractive—not that you’ll believe me—but you’re really the happiest drunk I know. Your mouth goes all wobbly and your eyes get enormous when you laugh or when someone asks you to explain Eliot, which no one ever does but you do anyway, and I’ve always liked it when you lecture me on bad metaphors.”

“Just because you can’t appreciate the sense of creeping mortality—”

“—or all the modern, claustrophobic decay, I know, I know. I just like hearing you laugh when I ask about the flaccid sexual inadequacy of Mr. Prufrock.”

Remus chokes on the mangled sentence that leaps to his mouth, or maybe it’s his heart, and says, “I’m amazed you remember that, considering you weren’t exactly a paragon of sobriety at the time.”

“I remember,” says Sirius. “You have my favorite laugh.”

His knuckles murmur against Remus’s, softly, when he shifts on the couch.

In the end, he’s not sure what makes him do it. Senses loosened by alcohol, or the rapid bird-wing hammering of his heart against his ribs finally beating love-me love-me love-me loud enough to drown out the scared, secretive thing beneath it, everything in him yearning for Sirius like an inescapable horizontal gravity when he reaches over and traces his fingers across the lines in Sirius’s palm to his fingertips, feeling him curl his fingers and catch Remus’s in his own, pressing them together before letting him go again. Remus strokes his fingers down the blue thrum of vein-lines in Sirius’s wrist to find the electric skip of his pulse running red against his own until their hands come together again, tendons and scars and their curious symmetry sliding together with an irresistible sort of compulsion: his fingers and Sirius’s fingers and these new shapes they make in the geometry of desire.

“No one can make me laugh like you do,” says Remus, though it comes out in a whisper, half-reverent, half-shellshocked. Sirius’s thumb is tracing the grooves of his palm, his nail in the life line.

“Half the stupid shit I do is just to make you laugh.” His fingers twine through Remus’s again and squeeze; oh, he’s nervous. “Fuck, Remus—am I,” he starts, but when Remus looks up at him, the words seem to bleed out in the air between them. They laugh quietly, and Remus watches the shift of Sirius’s face, the narrow strength of his angles and curves and the hair he finger-combs every morning, the sandpaper of his stubble, the stormglass-grey of his eyes—and his stillness, the sudden quiet of his hands where Remus can feel them strung tight with potential, ready to spark. He thinks: There will never be another moment like this. He thinks: I have wanted this as much as I have ever wanted anything that matters.

So, he leans forward through the fear of himself and the fear of ruining everything and the fear of losing what he loves the most, and kisses Sirius on their cramped, crooked couch.

Over the years, Remus has entertained countless fantasies about their first kiss, some of them sweet, watercolor-innocent, and some of a nature that would make a manticore blush and turn its beastly head: in the prefects’ baths, over the kitchen sink, on the floor of the Shack, behind a pub in Shoreditch, under the pier at Brighton. He never imagined it would be this short—both of them leaning in at the same time so their noses knock together, a compelling slide of lips and teeth and laughter Remus wants to swallow down—but it’s strangely better than anything his frantic, fragmented mind could have dreamed up; when they pull apart, Sirius is still smiling at him with a wonder Remus has never seen before, a hand fisted in the flannel near his neck.

“Are we drunk,” asks Remus, “or am I dreaming this again?”

“No,” whispers Sirius. His lips are so close.

“Oh.”

“Am I—is this—”

“All right?” Remus finishes, dreamily, the odd angle of their heads making the slide of his lips on Sirius’s jaw more compelling. “Yes. I mean—more than. Definitely.”

“You know, you might’ve said,” says Sirius, not far from breathless, his thumb moving over the hollow of Remus’s throat where his pulse runs, thrilled and febrile, beneath his moon-pale skin.

“How—I couldn’t,” he mutters, unable to look away from Sirius for the way his eyes are fixed on him as if he’s stumbled into something beautiful in the dark. “I completely fucking couldn’t. Couldn’t you?”

Sirius laughs, high and wild, the sound of it catching in Remus’s throat where he can feel it reverberating in his skin as if it’s his own. “No, I just—I couldn’t have,” he says. He picks their hands up from the couch where they’re still tangled up in each other and presses Remus’s knuckles against his mouth when he speaks, the murmur of his voice spreading in a flicker-flare up his arm. A Kraftwerk song Remus hates is on the radio, infused now with intermittent snowy static; it hardly even registers through the deafening sound of all the space between himself and Sirius on the couch. “It’s like, with James or Peter, I always know what to say or how to be, right? I never have to feel off-footed or, or worry about making everything weird and stepping all over the sacred foundations of us,” he says, lifting his head when Remus brushes his knuckles along his jaw, feeling the ticklish rasp of it, “and I fucking well never spend hours of my time wanking off to them. But with you—I don’t always know how to be around you, Remus. And I like that sometimes, really, the nerves make me happy and the wanking is fantastic exercise, but I think I like this better.”

“I think I agree,” Remus answers, “given that I’ve spent the better part of four years feeling like an overcooked tomato around you sometimes, and it’s nice, but I’d really like to kiss you instead.”

Sirius grins at him like sunrise, and everything shrinks away from the world but the brightness of his face and the feeling of his body curving against Sirius’s like easy arithmetic, his heart leaping against him, as if it’s finally found its way; as if it was only ever a matter of reaching across the finger-length distance for what was always waiting for him, or discovering that beneath the loneliness and the pain and the fear there was inside him an invulnerable love like a matchlight or a second heartbeat, undimmed by anyone or anything, not even by himself. He reaches for Sirius again, arms around his shoulders, and pulls him down with his long arms, stroking up and down the notches of his spine under his shirt, never letting go, never letting go.

More than any kissing Remus has ever done before, which is admittedly very little, there’s nothing rushed or searching about it: the shock of Sirius’s tongue pressing between his lips is more like an answer, the heavy slip of his palms up Remus’s sides and the thrill of their tongues curling together all unhurried until they begin pushing into each other with a starved eagerness, pressing at each other’s borders like they still can’t get close enough. The crenellation of teeth at his neck makes him gasp, so Sirius does it again, watching him with a thin slice of pupil through his eyelashes while Remus leans back and shows his throat; when they kiss again he tastes salt and menthols and old beer and a slight iron-burn that might be blood, Sirius’s or his own, and shifts underneath him, groaning at the jagged sweep of pleasure that jackknifes up his belly at the slide of their bodies. He does it again, again, feeling Sirius’s breath stutter, his spine curved in a crescendo, meeting Remus in electric tidal rhythm until he pulls back, his eyes like the glint of sun on January ice and his lips bitten-red, brushing a thumb over Remus’s lip.

“Is this the part,” he says, his heart beating staccato beneath Remus’s hand, “where I find out whether you’re that sort of boy?”

“Do you think I’m that sort of boy?” His voice very nearly cracks in the middle, his breathing going rougher still at the image that flares in his mind.

And then, Sirius’s thigh pressing up and rubbing between his legs in answer: Yes, yes, Remus is definitely that sort of boy. “I do think,” Sirius murmurs, whisky-rich, and Remus wants to reach for him again, wants to be held down, wants Sirius to finish him off here, now, but he wants more than that to make it last, to give everything of himself that he can, because he knows too well from all three of his previous sexual encounters—all of them regrettably with Caradoc Dearborn and all of them totaling a combined fifteen underwhelming minutes—where all the gasping and limb-tangling take you, far too quickly. “Come to bed,” says Sirius, and pulls Remus up from the couch.

They’re a natural disaster of hands and mouths and hips all the way to Sirius’s bedroom, clumsy pathfinders tearing ineffectually at clothes and shoving each other into walls, Remus’s fingers drumming up Sirius’s ribs like counting the bricks in Diagon Alley, 1-2-3, 3-2-1, taking altogether a very long time about getting anywhere. “Do you take all the boys to the inner sanctum,” Remus asks him, and Sirius laughs, undoing the last of Remus’s buttons and switching the lights on with a graceful twist of his hand; instinctively, Remus brings his hands up and folds his arms over his chest, gutted from his shoulders to his toes.

It’s not like they’ve never seen each other naked before, in the jagged pallor of dawn the morning after the full moon or, once or twice, at the bad end of a revealing charm gone wrong. But Remus still closes his fist and shuts off the lights, feeling suddenly too big for his own skin and too small for Sirius, who raises an eyebrow at him very loudly in the dark.

“Hard to see the Promised Land without the light, Moony,” he says, stepping closer until Remus can feel his chest expanding against his own. He runs his hands up Remus’s arms, makes him shiver. “I know what you look like naked.”

“This is different,” he says, feeling stupider by the second. He steps into Sirius again and angles his head up to kiss him where the liquid night-light of London below gets into his mouth, and it tastes right again, salt-slick and their skin peach-warm when Sirius pushes him onto the bed, his tongue grazing the whorls of Remus’s ear. Then he reaches over to his nightstand and whispers something Remus doesn’t catch to light the stub of a candle beside the bed, turning his skin sepia-soft and their shadows monstrous; Remus smiles against his lips.

“I bet you think that makes you look romantic,” he says. The smell of the air has changed, he thinks, or the feel of it: sharp, loamy, dusty-hot. Sirius’s hands delve into his collarbone, the spaces between his ribs, underneath his thighs, his mouth pressed to the basin of his belly where he can taste Remus’s laughter, tongue flicking into his navel and across his hipbones, making him moan, his body flowing with Sirius’s in a wave when he moves up his chest again, sucking budlike imprints onto the pale skin of his neck, the wiry, permissive tendons stretched tightrope-taut against his lips. He watches Sirius hover over him for a moment, heart beating and beating, feeling like this is the time to say something important and his mouth failing entirely to make that happen.

“For one thing, it does make me look romantic,” says Sirius, leaning down into the hallow-dip of his waist where his rib-rungs melt into the skin of his belly, his mouth sliding around the ring of serrated scars curving around his side in an imperfect impression of a wolf’s mouth, warped with age, almost like splinters beneath the skin. Sirius licks at each of them, his mouth on every tooth-mark and shattered-glass scar on his belly to his chest, the new pink ones and the old time-numb ones grown over with skin like new snow, groaning when his teeth tug gently at his nipple and then again when Sirius’s thigh brushes against his cock, making him hiss like a lit fuse. “And for another thing,” he growls into Remus’s belly, “you look fucking incredible naked, and you always have.”

Sirius hand skims up his thigh and then between his legs, his fingers wrapping around Remus’s cock as his mouth falls open, almost, almost silent. Remus, watching him, is struck for a moment at how much he looks like an allegory of something beautiful, and then Sirius lowers his head and slides his tongue along the length of Remus’s cock, which effectively shatters the rest of his sad, fractured mind into a thousand broken mosaic pieces rattling around in his head. His fingers thread through Sirius’s hair, holding his eyes and gasping for breath that doesn’t quite come when Sirius wraps his lips around Remus’s cock, and groans, which somehow makes him even harder; it’s like a spool of thread coiling tighter and tighter, an electric, knifeblade pleasure sweeping through him when Sirius pulls off in one slow, wet slide, flicking his tongue over the tip again almost lazily.

“I think,” Remus gasps, “I think you’ve already fucked my brains out, proverbially speaking and all, and we haven’t even, oh, hell, I don’t even know what I’m saying.”

“That good, am I?” Sirius, laughing against his thigh, sucks a new shape into the flushed skin there, the place where Remus, at fourteen, left a large, splintered scar from a twisted piece of metal on a brittle blue October night. “Maybe we should stop. I’d hate to do anything that interferes with your chronic wordiness, you know how I love all those vocalizations from the depths of Professor Lupin’s extremely attractive mind. Who knows what words you’ll be saying if we go any further?”

“I think,” says Remus, smiling at Sirius’s red lips and their shadows woven together by the candle-flame, “maybe you should demonstrate your point.”

“It’ll be an education, you know.”

Remus reaches for him then, with his hands and his eyes. The shadows play over their skin like their fingers do, Remus’s hands flitting across every landmark of Sirius’s body: the slope of his chest, the parallel lines of his hipbones under Remus’s thumb-strokes, his mouth finding the junction of his neck and shoulder, palms seeking out the music of his body in the warm divots of his back and his belly where Remus can feel his heartbeat, his knees sliding against Sirius’s ribs in sweet erratic rhythm, tracing his fingers down Sirius’s navel in octaves and feeling the violin-vibrations quivering in his muscles at Remus’s touch—because of him, for him.

There’s a lot of kissing, and Remus tries to bite off the embarrassing noise he makes when Sirius wraps a hand around his cock again and ends up laughing instead; fortunately, Sirius laughs too, filling the whole room with their sunshine song, and it’s so easy, from there. “I might,” he gasps, feeling Sirius’s knuckles brushing roughly against his belly, “I might be, oh God—I might be bad at this,” as he moves his hand, and Sirius’s whole body seems to shudder against him like low branches in the wind, a hazy underwater movement that makes Remus press himself closer to set their skin together, rising and falling.

“That’s not fucking possible,” says Sirius, his breath hitching when Remus smooths his thumb over the head of his cock, again, again. Their arms brush together as they move, and Remus has to struggle to keep his eyes open or not turn his head into the sheets, knowing that Sirius is going to watch him come but wanting more than anything else to see Sirius with his eyes on him and his mouth open, whispering his name in the dark like it means something beautiful.

So he keeps his eyes open and watches Sirius above him, all the miraculous machinery that makes up the person he loves: a winter-sharp, off-kilter sort of man with a mouth that can make Remus burn, who is rarely in bed before one a.m. and who is sometimes just as scared and secretive as Remus is, who takes his tea with too much sugar and re-wires Muggle electronics with complicated charms to make them tell lunar time or pull in every radio station in England, as alive as anything has ever been, wanting reds and blues and greens instead of greyscale, and Remus wants him, he wants to—

“Oh, fuck,” he hisses, feeling the slick rush tightening in sharp, kinetic chords between his legs and through his belly, Sirius’s hand squeezing harder, his thumb rubbing over the head of Remus’s cock out of time with the callous-heavy pull of his hand. Then Sirius leans down and bites the knife’s-edge of his jaw, and Remus comes, a sweet silver spread running wild through his limbs and dissolving in the pit of his belly; somewhere in the middle of it as he’s gasping something irrelevantly important he feels Sirius unravel and come in his hand, hips surging forward, Remus’s hand holding his head to his shoulder, both of them cradled, inextricably, in each other.

After, once their limbs have threaded out of each other and they’ve settled under Sirius’s quilt and Remus is just starting to feel like his heart has been zipped back up safely in his chest again, it registers in his cracked, fractured brain that this really did just happen and it wasn’t an elaborate hallucination dreamed up in some indistinct corner of his mind. His heart rises so sharply when Sirius turns to him on his pillow that he worries briefly about sex-related cardiac events until Sirius reaches for him again, his hand curling into the dark spaces between Remus’s ribs like every part of Remus is new to him, saying, “Hallo, Moony.”

“Hallo, Padfoot.”

“So,” says Sirius, grinning with an almost shy sort of amazement Remus has never seen on him before, “was it everything Witch Weekly told you it’d be? Did I rev your engine? Get you hot in the prefect parts?”

“I think you hit every part of me physically possible,” Remus laughs, his head on Sirius’s shoulder and their arms and legs tangled together, like a couple of swimmers clinging to each other in still waters. He feels loose, jelly-limbed, like he’s has been shaken out and put back together again, the wires of his body still jangling, exultant; he slides a palm up Sirius’s belly and between his ribcage, tasting the warm spill of laughter at his throat where there are tiny rosebud-shapes from Remus’s mouth that will still be there in the morning. “And, though this is really only Experiment Number One in the grand scientific study of all things us, I think it’s safe to say you’re not actually compensating for anything.”

“You could’ve just asked, you know,” says Sirius. His fingers are absently twisting Remus’s hair around in small curls at his temple, keeping him close. “It’s not like I’ve wanted this for fucking ages or anything, or like I’ve thought about it every single day since—oh, hell, I don’t even remember how long. Probably before I slept with Dearborn, which wasn’t an exercise I repeated, in case you’re curious.”

“Underwhelming, isn’t he.”

“Kept his socks on the whole time, Moony, what kind of man does that?” His hand, an open palm rubbing into the divot of Remus’s back and up his spine, a slow piano-key rhythm. “Which brings me around to the real question, which is: how long have you wanted to do this, exactly?”

“How long have you?”

“Two years at least,” Sirius answers, without even a flicker of hesitation. “But I asked you first.”

There’s not a time he can remember not wanting to be with Sirius, not since he first crashed into Remus’s compartment on the Hogwarts Express when they were eleven years old; telling him so makes Remus feel like all his organs are showing through his skin, so he presses his nose into Sirius’s cheek and says, “Four years, or the better part of. You’re just, you’re so—vibrant, I guess, but even that’s not quite what I mean. It’s like, wherever you are or whatever you’re doing, I just… I always want to be with you. You’re brighter than anything and you’re smarter than just about anyone I know and you like it when I try to explain Eliot and no one can make me laugh like you do, and God this makes me sound like a, like a soggy piece of toast, but—you make me happy. You always have. So—so. There you go.”

Sirius kisses him again, long and deep, and Remus gives himself over to the truth of it, no honesty like his body; he’s struck by how much kissing Sirius, even in its novelty, is so much different and so much better than he ever imagined it might be, like stepping into the Great Hall of Hogwarts for the first time or finally mastering the complicated wand-work of a charm or a counter-spell, a warm wonder that coils in his gut and then dissolves in an arpeggio with the stutter-slam of his heart.

“And you never thought of actually doing anything about it?”

“No, I thought about that very much,” says Remus, and Sirius laughs into his hair, rich and thrilled. “I just—I couldn’t. In school there was, well, you know, and I was always afraid of ruining things,” he says, tracing his fingers along Sirius’s palm again, “and I didn’t want that, more than anything, because even if you did fancy me I didn’t want to change things. Or for you to look at me differently after you knew and have to see the distance there and know things wouldn’t be the same again. And maybe that makes me a coward, but I couldn’t.”

“You don’t think this changes anything?”

Remus looks at him. “I just came in your hand.”

“Don’t I know it,” Sirius laughs. “But—didn’t it, though? Change things.”

He considers them, the vast brilliant newness of them growing around each other like ivy on Sirius’s bed, the way they smell like each other, clean sweat and sex and cotton-soft sheets, the way they make a pair of parentheses with their arms and legs and their beating hearts; he considers them, too, at sixteen in the Shrieking Shack, the only two people alive in the whole waking world, Sirius’s pulse against his pulse like out-of-tune chords, both of them laughing, laughing. It was never about making a leap as much as it was about stepping over a threshold they’ve been at for years in a sweet sort of stalemate, a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, in-and-out, easy as breathing, and look at all the familiar ways they can fit themselves together; look at all the ways they can move in the spaces they’ve made for each other in the hollow places of their own breathing bodies, their own unmeasured hopes.

“Yes,” Remus whispers into his shoulder, “and you’re still my best friend.” Sirius squeezes him around his hip and slots their bodies together in a way Remus never could have known he loved, for all his frantic-heart longing: his body with Sirius’s body, in his bones, in his dreams, stuck between his teeth.

“And you’re still Moony,” says Sirius, “and you’ve got my favorite laugh, and you’re dead handsome, and I love it when you read runes under your breath, and you know more about Arithmancy than anyone and you can roll perfect cigarettes and I want to be around you all the time because it’s honestly an enormous waste when I’m not.” His eyes, Remus thinks, are so much brighter than anything else could ever be. “Remus. How could I not want you?”

Remus kisses him where the words come out of both of them, feeling the magnet-pull of their hands and their thoughts like a clock trembling on the cusp of the hour, like a compass needle pointing north, and north, and north, and north.

Over the next few days, as the cold sharpens its teeth and the fog hangs above the snowy palm of the city like a dream, Remus learns the proper nouns and verbs of waking up with Sirius writing Good morning on his neck or around his hips with his mouth and how to read the heat he leaves in bed to know whether he’ll be back soon or if he’s gone to get breakfast and the newspaper, their own syntax like a breadcrumb trail scattered around the flat. They kiss on the way out the door and in the loo and get distracted with it while they’re stringing up more lights around the mantel, coming at each other from every conceivable angle to make themselves spark; they bake gingerbread that turns out crumbly but somehow better for it, eat messy omelets in bed, fuck with the lights on, do crosswords in various states of undress, get drunk on cinnamon whisky and go Christmas shopping and spend whole days not doing much but learning to feel lazy and loved and full of each other.

For Remus, the thing about romance is that it’s always existed in a fuzzy middle distance until now, a lavish impossibility outlined in magazines and Muggle films and bestselling, disturbingly heterosexual Wizarding books, tinged in pastels and staring out of dew-dotted windows he will never look out of. But love—the real thing—doesn’t leave anything out. Love shows its teeth and kicks in its sleep and makes some undignified noises where paperback romance only whispers and sighs; love rubs dittany into your claw-marked thighs and holds your hair back while you vomit and waits up for the creak of the front door late at night and knows when to apologize and when to hold on tight in the dark. It has the largest vocabulary of any language either dead or undead that can ever be learned: a study in watercolor grammar and shapeshifting syllables that Remus puts his back into like an etymologist with a catalogue of sexy newly-discovered runes.

He’s thinking about all this on his bedroom floor, scissors in hand with colorful paper and photos and piles of notes and letters ranging all the way from first year to this afternoon, scattered and scarred as memory as he leafs through them all, trying to decide which ones to include in the photo album that seems more saccharine by the hour, but it’s too late to do anything about it now. Yesterday, he considered Flooing Marlene and Dorcas to ask if it might be a good idea to give the whole thing up as a syrupy loss and blow the rest of his advance pay on a motorbike jacket instead, but he figures Marlene, who has the uncanny ability to pare a man down to the skull, would’ve just told him to tie a bow around his dick instead, and Dorcas would’ve laughed and said the photos are a wonderful idea, so he spared himself the trip but not the compulsion to spend an unwise amount of his money on gifts for grey eyes. Which is part of being in love, he supposes, but he’d hoped the queasiness of the gift-giving process might have lessened a little for all his trouble.

A motorbike jacket is probably the safer option. A motorbike jacket wouldn’t reveal all the varied and occasionally bizarre ways he’s been in love with Sirius since he was probably fifteen years old, and claiming nostalgia will only get him so far when he’s got years and years of well-loved letters stowed away with the photos under his bed, sorted roughly by year and interspersed with the notes Sirius passed him on scraps of Herbology homework. It’s either a deeply touching gift, or one that says, I’ve been listening to everything you say and watching everything you do, in a creepy sort of way, ever since we were kids, and now I know what you looked like in nappies and the names of thirty family members you hate. Happy Christmas.

Still, he can’t very well stop now that he’s started, and it’s probably a ridiculous thought to be having given how very recently he was flat on his back on the living room couch. He presses another photo onto the page and writes Summer hols, 1976 underneath, watching sixteen-year-old Sirius grinning at the camera from the shoreline, long-legged and freckled across his nose as James struggles with some seaweed beside him, both of them looking squint-eyed into the afternoon sun; it makes him smile, the memory of it spreading like ink under his fingernails as he charms a series of notes passed in sixth year History of Magic to unfold like paper flowers on the opposite page, fanning out in blossoms of illicit activity detailed in Sirius’s loping scrawl and Remus’s self-contained answers, with commentary from James and Peter at regular intervals.

Looking through the pages makes him wish he could go back sometimes, or maybe just that he could wake up beside Sirius in the Shrieking Shack one more time, safe and shivering like a bare branch and so impossibly, irrevocably happy; he wants to know all these versions of Sirius again, on the train at eleven in expensive robes, fourteen years old with sad eyes at a family dinner, weaving a complicated bit of charmwork into the map with Remus’s wand lit over him in the dark, seventeen and jolly-drunk on Peter’s birthday, eighteen in the blue flush of June, smoking on the balcony of their new flat. He watches himself from one of them, seventeen years old, his eyes sliding constantly to Sirius on the common room couch, and he wants to know him all over again, himself and Sirius, all the different people they’ve been from beginning to end. He wants to live it again, go back and meet Sirius and sit with him sleeplessly by the common room fire at night, feel the solid comfort of him as a dog for the first time, wander the halls of Hogwarts after curfew with him, wake up beside him at a December sunset, feel the shock of love and the shiver of laughter and make every mistake, the forgivable and the unforgivable, all over again.

He wants Sirius to come back to him, over and over. He wants to find him on the balcony, on the roof, at the kitchen counter, on the edge of their bed; he wants to fill a hundred of these albums up to the seams with both of them, with all these loves, all these thousand threads that lead them, always, back to each other. Remus wants to fall in love with him again, and again, and again.

“Moony,” calls the light of Remus’s whole life and his beleaguered cardiovascular system from somewhere in the vicinity of the front door, voice firing along his nerves like a shrill alarm bell, “you’ll never guess how much fruitcake I’ve got—bugger fuck, these pine needles are hell on your feet—anyway, I’m home for Christmas and I’ve got dinner and I’m very ready to be out of these tight, constricting trousers.” Dead quiet; Remus, frozen over last week’s mildly obscene photo of Sirius smoking with those same trousers undone, feels the panic ricochet off his nerves like a pinball. “Where are you? That usually starts a stampede.”

“Christ Jesus.” He can hear Sirius’s footsteps coming to a stop right outside the door as he idiotically throws his old blanket over the whole mess. “Don’t! Don’t come in here. I’m naked.”

“Lupin, I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when that would’ve deterred me, least of all now, but I guess the real question is why you’re naked in here and not in the bed. Or under the tree. Isn’t all your stuff in the other room anyway?”

“Yes, but.” Remus takes a long, tremulous breath. “I was just in here, wrapping gifts, and I thought—I thought, it’s been almost two whole weeks since I last slept in my old bed, you know? So for old times’ sake and it being awfully lonely and disused and all, I had a very long nap in it.”

“A naked nap.”

“Don’t you ever do that?”

“No. I’ve never had an odd thought in my entire life.” Finally, blessedly, Remus hears him move away from the door. “Get out here and help me eat this curry. And I hope you like fruitcake because Arabella Figg does and she’s spreading the joy like lead bricks.”

Once he’s cleaned up his mess and hidden any soppy, incriminating evidence, Remus goes into the living room to find a wreath hanging around the mantel, already shedding dry needles, and Sirius sitting on the couch with a curry and a frightening accompaniment of fruitcakes. His knees seem to have developed opposing magnetic fields; Remus tries hard not to think of situating himself between them.

“That’ll be up until Valentine’s Day,” says Remus, moving a fruitcake off the couch so he can sit down.

“It’s your gift,” says Sirius, leaning over to kiss the smile quirking his lips at the corner. “The crusty personification of my affection. Roses are red / Violets are blue / This wreath is a metaphor / For how badly I want to shag you.”

“That was sublime, Sirius.”

“I contain multitudes,” Sirius says, and shovels in some curry.

Some blurry time later, after they’ve finished dinner and they’re feeding each other unidentifiable, gelatinous blobs plucked out of the fruitcake as nighttime sweeps over their edge of London, the wireless starts playing an overwrought version of O Holy Night. Remus turns his head in the crook of Sirius’s neck and shoulder and mouths the chorus into his throat tunelessly, voice cracking on the high notes and feeling Sirius’s laughter spill into his lips like wine, wondering dimly if he could stretch this entire moment out forever with some sort of unspeakable spellwork and live in it forever.

“Remember Christmas sixth year?” Sirius asks him, fingers in his hair. “I think we were writing five times a day and all I did was listen to that Stooges record you gave me, and some of your Patti Smith because I missed you. I tried not to let on but I was so happy when you came back early that I think it broke something, my spleen maybe, and I think—I’d been thinking about you before then, I know, but I think that’s when I realized it wasn’t just hormones making me want to lick those scars on your belly all the time.”

“You don’t even know where your spleen is.”

“Because you destroyed it.”

“And you thought I was just a bunch of hormones, you berk,” says Remus, angling his head so he can bite down gently on Sirius’s earlobe, tasting the metallic tang of his earring and the rainwater softness of his skin. “If that was the case, I think a few wanks probably would have taken care of it well enough. Although that’s probably part of it, I mean, at least part of why the thought of you touching me inappropriately is enough to give me convulsions at any hour of the day.”

“At first, I thought it’d be—I don’t know, actually,” says Sirius. “On one hand, I wanted to fuck you senseless and stupid on every surface available, or maybe into the space-time continuum itself, but on the other, I wanted to go down on my knees for you in front of the entire goddamn world and treat you like an ancient Transfiguration text in fancy runic script and make breakfast every morning.” He smiles at Remus, his hand splitting apart into fingers at the back of Remus’s neck. “I still want to do all of that. But I want all of this, too.”

“The fruitcakes and the electrical hazards?”

“I told you it’s not going to burn down, you arse,” Sirius says fondly. “Just—you, and a place to stay, and a bed. Lots of pine. Maybe some fruitcake.”

Remus doesn’t know why it’s so hard for him to say what comes to Sirius so easily, or easier at least than it does to him; possibly it’s because Sirius doesn’t roll it around on his tongue until it melts down into a weak whisper and often just says what he thinks, unfiltered, where Remus measures the span of every letter and the worth of every word and decides it’s no good, or it sounds bad, or it’s not worth the emotional upheaval even after he’s already put himself through enough emotional upheaval to choke a rhinoceros. Me, too sounds so inadequate; he kisses the join of Sirius’s jaw and neck and hopes he can hear it anyway.

“Sounds good to me,” he says. “Maybe by this time next year we’ll have peace in the Wizarding world for Christmas and a big slice of Victory Pie.”

“A man can hope,” says Sirius. His mouth brushes against Remus’s hair when he speaks. “If we do manage it by next year and blow Voldemort and several generations of my family to minced meat, I’ll take you somewhere. Greece, maybe. I’ll touch you in intimate places under the table and you can do that thing where you undress me with your eyes across the table like a professional slag.”

“I do that anyway.”

“Yeah but if you really cared you’d do it with your teeth.”

“I can do that, too.”

“Brilliant man,” says Sirius, and Remus shifts involuntarily when he slides his arm down his back, as if his body is learning how to accommodate Sirius in all the secret hollows and curled-in places where their burnt-out threads and moon-bitten scars fit together better than anything ever has or will. “I almost feel guilty having you all to myself for Christmas. It’s an embarrassment of riches.”

“Do you really.”

“Nah. Not even a little.”

“Good,” says Remus, pressing a palm to Sirius chest and up to the hollow of his throat, where he can feel the miraculous clockwork of his pulse, where his words are still warm. “Because I’ve wanted this for a very long time, and werewolves are very bad at sharing, historically speaking.”

“Oh?” A forefinger pressing at his lips, between his teeth. Remus growls around it and runs his tongue along the underside of it. “I’ve always found them extremely agreeable, if a little inscrutable sometimes. Remus, what the hell does it even mean to be inscrutable? How do you be scrutable to begin with?”

“I love a man who asks the tough questions,” he says. He settles his arms around Sirius, his cold feet against Sirius’s cold feet, folding himself into the familiar, heavy warmth of each other. “We should probably check on the pudding,” he says as he closes his eyes.

“Probably,” Sirius agrees, and tucks an ankle around Remus’s feet.

Soon, he thinks, sometime soon, he’ll crack open his chest the rest of the way and show Sirius his best secret, the one he’s kept close for so long, twined around all the others like bindweed, where his heart has always been able to read it even when he couldn’t read it himself. Soon, he’ll find a way to tell Sirius in a way he can understand; for now, there’s no swell of violins, no parting of the clouds, no judgment and no deliverance. Nothing but a narrow couch and the static of the radio, London light like stars glittering in the ice on the window. Nothing but his skin on Sirius’s skin, nothing but the solidity of their beating hearts, alive, alive, alive.

Christmas Eve comes like a thief, stalking through the flat on quiet feet and bringing with it a draught like a song, piling up in every crack and corner: rich notes of cinnamon and cloves and Buzzcocks undercut with Christmas music on the wireless, firelight on bare skin, wrinkled wool, the fruit of their laughter winding around the walls like the lights strung up with Spello-tape, and Remus gets so caught up in the whole cottony thing that he only has a minor pang of last-minute gut-panic as he wraps Sirius’s gift and shoves it under the tree, and then a slightly longer one when he notices how easily it slips into the shadow of whatever Sirius got for him. Still, there’s a whole night left before the inevitable cliff-side plummet into the realm of the saccharine and the irrevocable revelation of just what manner of artery-hardening sentiment Remus Lupin has been clogging his arteries with for so very many years.

But for now, all that is in the future. The near future, sure, but one that will come after a long night of mulled wine and gingerbread and preferably an extremely thorough shag to break the fall come morning. So, he sprawls out on the couch with Sirius and presses his cold hands to the back of Sirius’s neck, making him hiss and surge up into Remus until their bodies slot together in warm conjunctions, a hand sliding up the back of his shirt as he flows into Sirius, the wine of his mouth, the fluid arch of his hips; they drift like that for a while, hands in hair and under clothes and the salt-burn of their skin on Remus’s lips so that he can still feel the shape they make together when he closes his eyes, a sort of primal poetry that comes before sound or sight and exists somewhere in the blue skip of his pulse and between his lungs like an imprint on soft sheets. When he opens his eyes again, Sirius is watching him, running a thumb along his jawline, as if Remus is the only thing he can see. He shivers, and rubs his nose into the side of Sirius’s neck.

“It’s getting late,” he says, taking great care to move against Sirius’s thighs with a deliberate slideshow –slowness he’s learning to tug out of himself, the one Sirius loves. “I’d love to get out of these clothes but all my pajamas are in the laundry.”

“That’s a real tragedy,” says Sirius, laughter-heavy, skimming his hand along Remus’s hip, “especially considering I’ve got none to loan you. You’ll just have to sleep naked in this cold, harsh, unforgiving London winter, exposed to the elements and all the dark creatures of the night getting their hands all over you. Shows a serious—you can keep doing that—a serious lack of foresight on your part, Moony.”

“I know. It’s fortunate I share a bed with a man who’s willing to selflessly do whatever it takes to keep me warm on these cold nights when there’s naught but our skin for comfort.”

“Look at you,” says Sirius, tilting Remus’s chin up. He’s grinning in that way he has that’s always reminded Remus of the days just after the full moon, when the pain and the bone-white ache empty out of him, watching the moon on the wane with a fingernail scar across its broad face like peace and promise. “We’ve been fucking for two weeks and you’ve already turned into the biggest slag in England. How’d you know what I wanted for Christmas?”

“Latent Legilimency,” says Remus. He leans in again and bites gently at the hallow-dip of Sirius’s throat. “I could tell exactly what you were thinking in the Order meeting last week, perversion writ large all over your fine features—haha, that’s—that’s a very intimate place, Mr. Black,” he laughs, twisting away from Sirius’s hands ghosting around his ticklish ribs.

“And what was I thinking?”

“How badly you wanted your hand down my pants, and during Moody’s talk about Cave inimicum too, you might’ve paid some attention. I know it’s all fun and games until someone loses extremities or bollocks but I actually did learn a lot in between the shouting and the bulging eyeballs, in the event I have to use it.”

“Your lack of imagination is astounding,” says Sirius. “I was thinking of something with tongue, actually, and a hot ham with Swiss. He always talks past dinner and Dumbledore just lets him keep going while the rest of us suffer for need of a piss or a drink.” Across their scattered socks and LPs on the floorboards, the clock climbs its way to midnight over the mantel with the sea-green static of the wireless, counting out the newness of the day; Remus smiles to hear it, another new chord in the off-kilter harmony they’ve made of themselves in this place where they keep their hearts and their long nights and the strange fruit of their hopes, caught in the spaces where their arms are tangled. This is also when Sirius looks up at the snow falling in the gauzy bleed of the streetlights below, and then to the left-leaning tree, and says, “You know what we should do?”

“What?”

“Open gifts.”

Crack, goes Remus’s brain.

“Wouldn’t you rather wait until morning? It’s more, ah—traditional.”

Sirius, already bending over under the tree, levels Remus with a look that can only be described as fond disbelief and drops a package heavy enough to shatter a femur onto Remus’s lap. Maybe, he thinks, hopes, prays—maybe Sirius went for the scarf or the vodka Remus bought him at the last minute. If he went for the scarf Remus will say a goodnight prayer to every deity he doesn’t believe in, just for the sweet mercy of the universe.

He’s holding the photo album. Remus tries not to choke on his own tongue.

“Early gifts, Moony! Where’s the enthusiasm, Christ, it’s a present.” He nudges the bundle in Remus’s lap; the wrapping is a lot neater than Remus’s, which only makes his stomach churn faster. “Go on, rip into it. The paper’s made to be ruined anyway.”

Remus peels up the tape of one end of the package, conscious all the while of the lumpy thing in Sirius’s lap and his cold fingers and thinking of the way the light gets in Sirius’s eyes, how happy he looks to be sitting beside Remus, like there’s nothing he could ever want more than the tight closeness of their flat, the funny shapes they’ve spun from this gravity of theirs. Suddenly he’s thinking about futures and houses and breakfast with the crossword in front of big kitchen windows every morning til they’re old and grey. Suddenly he’s thinking about how Sirius’s eyes make his heartbeat pick up like it wants to be heard, how Sirius clearly missed his calling as a con artist.

The wrapping paper gives way to something thick and leather-bound: a whole set of Tolstoy, all of it secondhand and smelling of that age-warm, dusty-bright comfort that comes from all elderly books, some of the pages slightly yellowed but well-loved, like velour beneath his fingers. He leans down and breathes in Anna Karenina, loam-soft and ink-stained and brimming with the subtle stale florals of tragedy like an expensive perfume; he moans, very quietly.

“Like that, do you?” Sirius leers at him, entirely aware of the fact that he’s just gone for Remus’s literary jugular. “I picked the ones that smelled moldiest just for your discerning nose, so—all right, stop fondling them, I’ll get the wrong idea.”

“How,” asks Remus, thumbing the edges of the leather, “how do you always know?”

“It’s not like it’s hard. I know how you love your horrifying Russian literature and bookshops that smell like old sandwiches so I just combined them for maximum yuletide cheer—and I did get you something new too, I’m not that bad. But you’ll have to wait until morning for that one.” There’s such a sweetness in the hollows of his face and the light blading off his narrow nose—the unfettered joy that comes from making someone else happy—that Remus leans forward and kisses him, tenderly, until he can taste the laugh in Sirius’s mouth and lets his nose slot against Sirius’s as he pulls away.

“Thank you,” he says. “Sometimes I want to harvest your blood so I can find the source of your—the gift-giving intuition, I guess, but I’d probably end up with the parts that try to use Accio on the motorbike, too.”

“Only when I’m drunk,” says Sirius, tracing a thumb over the ridges of Remus’s knuckles. “Besides, am I not the gift that keeps on giving? All night, and sometimes well into the morning?”

“Are you going to tell me the real gift was us all along? Because please don’t.”

“No, Jesus fuck. We’re Russian literature, not Dickens.” Remus kisses the shadow at the corner of his mouth and watches Sirius turn away to the lumpy parcel in his lap. A moment of dread so profound sweeps through him that he feels his mouth go dry and his stomach clench up in a fist like an overdone Christmas pudding; he clutches at Tolstoy’s considerable girth, for moral support.

Sirius tears one folded end, working around the heavy Spello-tape sutures. He peels away the lopsided bow. The sound of the paper rips, rips, rips down each rung of Remus’s spine until it finally stops—always a whimper, never a bang—and Sirius holds the soppy, incriminating evidence of Remus’s chronic infatuation, as naked as Remus feels with the raw red meat of his heart in Sirius’s hands, waiting to be cracked open by exalted fingers.

“It’s not, I mean, it isn’t much and I know it’s stupid, but you said,” he rambles, looking out the window at golden, unsleeping London in the hush of a new needle-cold day so he doesn’t have to watch Sirius open the album, “you told me you didn’t have many photos, and I thought—this was before I got the job, so I didn’t have money that wasn’t yours and I was trying not to spend too much because I still needed to eat, and it seemed—it seemed like a good idea at the time. When I was in Dartmoor and I was the human equivalent of, of soggy bread or something because I missed you.”

He looks over at Sirius with his mind shattering into a million brilliant brain-shards, but Sirius is looking at a photo of himself and Regulus, labelled 1967 in Remus’s own tidy, sloping hand; he’s trying to teach Regulus to use a broomstick, showing him how to hold out his arm until it leaps into his hand. When he turns the page, he’s sitting with Andromeda at a large mossy pond, their bare feet hanging off the dock, making endless ripples in the water. “I thought it might be nice for you to have some, but I forget not everyone has my, what is it? My need to indulge the grandmotherly sensibilities once in a while. Just—you were a very sweet eight-year-old, for what it’s worth. And a criminally attractive adult, which those later pages can attest to, so I think it worked out pretty well for you in the end.”

How amazing it is, what you’ll say when your stomach is down by your knees and you’re trying hard not to bite down on the heart in your mouth. Remus can’t even keep track of the words gushing out, like blood welling up in a wound; it’s a habit born of a lifetime spent learning to hide his own monstrous shadow, he supposes, whenever he’s nervous or frightened, a sort of verbal armor he puts up between himself and the rest of the world: filling the holes the silence and suspicion make, and learning to choose each word carefully, arranging them like puzzle pieces, words like walls and windows and doors, words like maps to keep things inside or out. It’s always been so much easier to shut the door and keep the curtains drawn, but Sirius has always known how to pick locks and grow in between the cracks. And Remus has never, ever wanted to keep him out.

Besides, it’s all there on the pages: spilled in blacks and blues like a benediction in India ink, right where it’s been all along.

“Anyway, I got you a scarf and some vodka too, so it’s not all a loss, right?” Still nothing. Sirius turns another page to see a birthday at his parents’ house, dressed in green robes beside someone Remus doesn’t know. “It’s soppy and anyway I was hoping I’d have another ten hours and a shag to prepare, so—so, happy Christmas, and I’m sorry it’s, y’know, would you please say something, Sirius?”

“I’m not saying anything because I don’t know what to say,” says Sirius, softly. “And since you ruined the rest of the surprise, I got you a motorbike jacket because you look better than I do in mine and I was getting jealous, you miserable little bastard.”

“No I don’t.”

“Oh, shut up,” says Sirius. Remus takes a deep, quavering breath and curls his fingers into Tolstoy as he turns another page: a photo Remus took of him and James at Halloween in 1971, scooping out a pumpkin for carving. “Remus, I—Christ. Where did you even get these?”

“Most of them are Andromeda’s and mine. McKinnon and James gave me some, too.”

“So that’s how you knew what sort of pie she wanted this year.”

“Yeah.”

“You always were a clever lad, Moony.”

The next pages feature a collage of adolescent mishaps with various Zonko’s products and snowball fights and Black family holidays followed by a photo that someone—Peter?—took of himself and Sirius in the library during first year exams, Sirius’s head on his lap and both of them midnight-drowsy, idly leafing through their History of Magic books in the infrequent flicker of the fire; Sirius runs his thumb over Remus’s handwriting in a sort of wonder, and Remus, his heart back in his chest, feels himself warm at the memory of it and at the newness of their life together and London and midnight at Christmas, all inextricably bound up in each other. He wants more than anything else to live this forever, to know each version of themselves they’ve ever been or will ever be, these strange wanderers they can’t know yet, to come back to each other and fall in love and give themselves over, and over, and over, to find each other at the kitchen table and a hundred different doorways and be blinded by the shock of the love they’ve found.

“Remember this?” Sirius asks him, pointing to a photo from the summer after their first year, where he’s got his hand in a barrel of toad horns in Diagon Alley. “We came all the way to Shropshire to get you and the first thing we did was spend half our money on ice cream and venomous tentacula leaves and your face just—I’ve never seen someone’s face light up so fast.”

“James had that old swing behind his house,” says Remus, relaxing his death-grip on Tolstoy. “We could both fit in it, two at a time. I liked going with you because you always got it so high.”

On the next page, they’re at King’s Cross, twelve years old and hungry for everything. “God, I can’t,” Sirius starts, “I just can’t believe you remembered this.”

Remus swallows. He can feel something opening in his head, in his heart. “I listen to everything you tell me.”

“I know.”

Sirius laughs when he turns another page and finds a sequence of second year notes written on torn parchment, arranged in a cascade of Arithmancy boredom and ending with an extremely rude limerick. “Look at this. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t even, I can’t—you kept these.”

“You know I don’t like to throw anything away.”

“Yeah, but these are six years old, Remus. We were kids,” says Sirius, now reading a holiday letter from 1972 where he lovingly describes a plum pudding and how much he misses Remus three times, and where Remus, in answer, assures him that the full moon has gone well and expresses extreme jealousy at Sirius’s pudding fortune; he remembers reading it while the moon emptied out of his veins, lying in bed smiling with the ache of it until he knew every word by heart, until he could almost hear it in Sirius’s voice. “You kept these,” he says again, like a dream.

“They make me happy,” says Remus. For a moment, all he can hear is the sound of the clock, counting time between his heart and Sirius’s. “And, that’s to say, I’ve been in love with you for a very long time, really.”

There is a look on Sirius’s face Remus has never seen before when he turns to him from the photos, the surprise and the longing stark in the cut-glass lines of his face, his eyes as alive as Remus remembers them the day he stumbled into his train compartment, all wonder, all light, overflowing. He’s never put that look on anyone’s face before, like he’s just given Sirius the whole world over; he goes summer-still, curling his cold fingers on his knees and thinking wildly of rivers and mirrors and the bright clarity morning brings, how these things are meant to be said.

“I do,” he says, never looking away from Sirius, because this is what he only ever knew because he was brave enough let himself look in the first place. “I love you.”

“Even the daft bits?”

“Yes.”

“And the ones that use Accio on the motorbike?” His voice is halfway between laughter and reverence, and Remus’s heart rises, again, to know it’s for him.

“Those, too,” he says, “and the ones that bite. All of you,” and he leans in to kiss him.

“For the record,” Sirius murmurs against his lips, a warm chord of syllables, “I also love you to a degree that borders on insanity, so. Happy Christmas. I hope you plan to fill a hundred of these things with me because that sounds like a fine long-term goal to me, especially now that I can leave you all the filthy, sexually explicit notes I want around the flat.”

“With all the detail you know I find so incredibly sensual?”

“Mm.” Sirius’s tongue flicks between Remus’s lips again, making him shiver. “Every adjective in my brain, Moony. Every expert twist of my fingers.”

“A blow to the Victorian sensibilities of Wizarding England.”

“In so many ways,” Sirius says, and Remus goes to him, pressing his head into the hollow of Sirius’s neck and shoulder just as Sirius reaches for him, because they already know the flow of their own rhythm, their own gravity. “You’re just—you’re so—”

“So are you,” says Remus, because he knows this, too. “You do look so smug when you know you’ve done good.”

“All in the name of Christmas cheer, love of my life, fire of my significant regions,” says Sirius. Remus turns his head and kisses his temple, warm and rosebud-soft, and feels the shift as they press further into each other. “Will you read through this with me?” he asks, and Remus can’t be sure if the echo he hears in his chest is his heart or Sirius’s voice.

“At the risk of sounding like I do belong in a Dickens novel, and Christ knows I hate that, but. You know. The best thing I’ve ever done in my life is knock my head against yours,” says Remus, feeling Sirius’s pulse against his lips like a lyric he’s always known, a shape he understands: he is where Sirius is. They look down and find their place.

From here, where they can see London glittering moon-cold and amazed from their own front windows, where Sirius presses a stubble-prickly kiss to Remus’s mouth, where they set themselves against each other like two broken compass needles always pointing to each other, Remus reaches over and turns the page, and they sink into a fog together, into the solidity of themselves, into their knowns and unknowns, the private arithmetic of each other, and all the spaces they’ve filled together.