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Backstage [+podfic]

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Eleven-year-old Remus Lupin sighed and put his hand on the door marked with a star and the initials R.L., reluctant to give it the final push. This was always his least favourite part of a gig, and today would be worse than usual. Someone bumped into him from behind, pushing him forwards and forcing the door open.

"Watch where you're going!" he snarled at the large, hairy creature behind him.

"Get a move on, kid!" the werewolf growled back, baring its teeth.

Steeling himself, Remus stepped inside the brightly-lit, bustling room. A few of its occupants greeted him warmly -- and the wolf behind him with grudging acknowledgement -- but many of them did not look up from the curling pages of their scripts at all.

The room was large and circular, interspersed mirrors and wooden doors running its circumference. In front of each mirror was a chair with a different name written across the back. Some were occupied, but many were empty. Powder compacts, bottles of foundation, eyeliner pencils, and various bits of costuming were liberally strewn over every surface.

"Hi, everyone," the boy said without enthusiasm, perching himself awkwardly on the chair marked "First Year Remus". It was his first time sitting in this chair. He glanced across the room to the empty "Pre-Hogwarts Remus" chair, which had been his before today, wondering how he would feel about his replacement.

"Hello, lad." The kindly, middle-aged man to his left gave him a sad smile, carefully setting down the script he was reading on top of a large photo album. "Are you well?"

He was the eldest of the Remuses present, and his chair was labeled "Post-OotP Remus". First Year Remus did not know what that meant, nor why the man looked so sad. One of the first lessons he had learned, though, was not to ask questions about his older selves; the answer was invariably, "you'll find out one day," accompanied by anything from a cheeky smile to a broken-hearted sigh.

Young Remus swallowed his questions and gave his older self a shrug. "OK, I guess. Some girl is writing a fic about me." His nose wrinkled delicately at the word girl. Remus was still young enough to be unsure how he felt about them. "Today's my first school scene. The script said something about making new friends, but I don't see how anyone could want to be friends with someone like me." Unconsciously, he rubbed at his leg, where his shabby school trousers concealed the scar of a large bite mark.

The older man gave him a sympathetic look. "Congratulations on starting school, lad. The next few years should be a very exciting time for you."

"New friends?" a gangly teenager butted in. His light brown hair was long enough that he had to push it out of his eyes. "That'll be Sirius and James and Peter. They're brilliant. You'll love them."

A number of the men in the room stiffened at the mention of these names. "Shhh, spoilers!" someone hissed, but the two young Remuses barely noticed.

"I'll really make friends?" asked First Year Remus, awed.

"Oh, yeah," the teenager straddled his "Sixth Year Remus" chair, a school robe with a prefect's badge pinned to it slung carelessly over his shoulder. "They're the best. Especially Sirius." He grinned mischievously.

The young man sitting next to him -- Post-Hogwarts Remus -- punched the teenage boy in the shoulder. "Hush! Don't spoil it for him. You know we're not allowed."

"It's not so much a spoiler as a warning," said Lost Years Remus darkly from across the room. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties. "If he's about to meet Sirius Black --"

"Sirius Black!" snorted another teenage boy -- Straight Remus -- loudly. "All this lot ever seems to talk about is Sirius Black! I mean, all right, he's a good mate, but honestly! Listen to me, lad; you don't want to turn out like them. They all end up a lot of sad old poofs."

Sixth Year Remus shook his head. "Don't pay him any mind. He's just bitter because he's stuck with that MarySue Muggleborn girlfriend, or whatever her name is." He patted First Year Remus's hand. "Trust me; you don't want to turn into him. Classic closet case. Our way is much more fun."

Post-Hogwarts Remus nodded in agreement. "Just go out there and get to know those boys," he said with a wink. "And don't worry too much about the future; it will happen naturally in its own time."

First Year Remus nodded uncertainly, but he did not really understand what the older Remuses were talking about.

"Oh, yes!" another Remus, about the same age as Post-Hogwarts Remus, leered at him from across the crowded room. Glittery makeup sparkled around his eyes. "Do what feels natural. I know what comes naturally to me when I see the divine Sirius. You know what he's simply faaaaahbulous at?"

Post-Hogwarts Remus elbowed him sharply. "Shut up, Camp Remus," he said, rolling his eyes. "Honestly, the girls who write you could stand to learn a thing or two about gay men."

"It's Glam Remus, actually, and there's nothing wrong with the way they write me," said the glitter-eyed Remus in a huffy tone, taking a crumpled cigarette out of the pocket of his tight satin flares and dangling it from limp fingers. "I just choose to express my sexuality in a less yawn-worthy fashion than the rest of you boring tossers."

Post-Hogwarts Remus tilted his head in acknowledgement. "Fair enough, but you shouldn't smoke. You're a bad influence on our young counterparts."

Glam Remus stuck out his tongue and lit up. "I can't influence them," he objected, melodramatically blowing out a cloud of smoke. "None of us can. He'll either turn into me, or be all stodgy and middle-aged before his time, like you. It's predestined. It's written. There's nothing we can do about it." He waved his hand in a fluttery dismissive gesture.

Post-Hogwarts Remus glared at him before turning back to the boys. "Ignore him. Turning into that drama queen is almost as bad as turning into Closet Case over there. Though I'm not entirely convinced the one won't become the other," he added thoughtfully.

"Give that one a couple years," smirked Glam Remus. "He'll give new meaning to the term 'flaming'." He leered at Straight Remus's hunched shoulders. "I'm off to spy on the Sirius dressing room. Anyone coming with?"

Looks of longing appeared on the faces of a few older Remuses. Sixth Year Remus looked as if he might be up for the caper, but then he sighed and shook his head. "I wish I could, but I'm on in ten, and I can't be late for this." He waved a sheaf of papers. "Anyway, the Siriuses don't get on half so well as we do. They fight like cats in a sack."

"What's your gig?" asked First Year Remus, curious about what sort of fics he would be playing in, five years hence.

Sixth Year Remus blushed, but could not hide a smile. "It's -- er -- a romantic story."

"Let me see that!" Glam Remus snatched the script out of his hand. "Oooh!" he squealed. "It's a 'first time' fic! I love these!" He thumbed through the pages. "Though she does use the word 'throbbing' a bit much for my tastes. Listen to this --" He struck a dramatic pose.

"His eyes burned with passion unspoken, but the throbbing bulge in his trousers spoke volumes. He stripped, proudly displaying the first hint of chest hair. 'Oh, Baby -- '"

He raised an elegantly-plucked eyebrow critically over the top of the page. "'Oh, Baby?' Since when do we refer to anyone as 'Baby', except maybe in the context of 'don't be such a baby; it's not that big'? Do you even have any chest hair, Dahling?"

"Why d'you think I came in to makeup so early?" muttered Sixth Year Remus, blushing. "Give me back my script; it's not fit for Little Moony."

"Who?" asked First Year Remus, confused.

"It's not fit for anyone." Glam Remus sighed tragically. "I swear; the quality of fanfic today! Anyway, off I go to get a peep of Messrs Tall-Dark-and-Sexy. TTFN, ladies!" He waved gaily and exited the room.

When he had gone, A man in his mid-thirties, called Reunited Remus, gave a sigh of relief. "He makes me tired just watching him, the way he flits about the place."

"Everything makes you tired, Old Man," teased Sixth Year Remus. "When was the last time you had any fun?"

Reunited Remus gave the teenager a quelling look. "I was about to suggest we hold a karaoke night, but if you think I'm no fun, maybe you're not interested."

"What's 'carry-oaky'?" asked Post-Hogwarts Remus.

Reunited Remus set down his script. "It's something Sirius and I picked up on holiday in the Caribbean."

"It's a sort of Muggle music game," said Sixth Year Remus. "You were on a gig the last time we did it. There's a machine that plays songs, only without the words, and you sing them yourself."

"How do you win?" asked Post-Hogwarts Remus, puzzled.

"It's not that kind of game," Sixth Year Remus explained. "I suppose you could have judges, and make it a contest, but it's more fun when people do it badly."

Post-Hogwarts Remus considered this. "That actually does sound like fun. Were you thinking of doing it tonight?"

Reunited Remus nodded, putting away his makeup. "Enough of us are off tonight. It's a holiday weekend, so hardly anyone is writing fanfic. If someone's not busy, they could ask around down the corridor to see if any of the others want to join in."

"Join in what?" asked Post-OotP Remus, glancing up from the script he had become thoroughly absorbed in.

"These blokes want to play a Muggle music game called karaoke tonight," Post-Hogwarts Remus replied.

Post-OotP Remus groaned. "Not that again! You remember what happened last time. Mr Camper-Than-a-Row-of-Pink-Tents stole the mic and wouldn't let anyone else have a go. He sang almost every Queen song in existence."

"Well, he wasn't that bad," said Reunited Remus fairly. "Anyway, you'll notice that I'm suggesting this while he's not here. You'll all have your chance in the spotlight this time. So, who's in?"

"Will you lot keep it down over there?" growled Werewolf Remus. "How's a bloke supposed to memorise his lines amidst such carryings on?"

"What are you talking about?" said Sixth Year Remus. "You never have any lines. You're a sodding werewolf, for Merlin's sake!"

"Well, in this, I have," the wolf replied primly, indicating a much-rumpled script marred by muddy paw prints, "and I want to memorise them. Also, has anyone seen my snout powder? It's gone missing again. I simply loathe it when my nose goes all shiny."

"You're sitting on it," said Post-Hogwarts Remus, shaking his head in disgust. "I swear; dogs never look before they sit down. To think I have to be anything like him once a month!"

"Thank you," said the werewolf coldly, dignity somewhat impaired as it fished about under its plumed tail for the powder puff and compact.

Even after a liberal application of dark powder to its nose, First Year Remus could see no difference, but the grey beast nodded at its reflection in satisfaction, and went to one of the many doors that ringed the room. First Year Remus thought the label "Shrieking Shack" on the door sounded somewhat ominous, but refrained from commenting. If there was a door for it, he would probably end up there, sooner or later.

"Wish me luck, lads," said the wolf, placing a paw on the doorknob.

Grudging calls of "luck," from its fellow Remuses followed it through the door. The room beyond was dim, dusty, and littered with broken furniture. A chilly draught accompanied the closing of the door. First Year Remus shivered. He did not much like the look of the place.

"Cheer up, lad," said Reunited Remus. "It's not all doom and gloom. There will be good times, too."

Lost Years Remus and a Remus called Professor Lupin exchanged an incredulous look. Lost Years Remus immediately turned his bitter eyes downwards, glaring at his collection of eye shadows, but Professor Lupin looked thoughtful.

"Oh, yes! Lots of good times," agreed Post-Hogwarts Remus. "And lots of hot se -- that is, you'll fall in love," he amended hastily. He and Reunited Remus exchanged knowing smiles.

"Yes, it was wonderful," sighed Post-OotP Remus. "There was certainly enough joy to counter the sorrow. But such extremes! It was hardly to be endured."

"Hush," said Reunited Remus. "You'll spoil the ending for all of us. What are you here for today, anyway?"

"Nostalgia fic. Bonding with Harry. Heavy on the reminiscing." He patted the photo album. "You know; the usual."

"Who's Harry?" asked First Year Remus.

The eldest Remus smiled a little sadly. "One thing at a time, lad. You haven't even met James yet."

"Oh," said the youngest Remus. He was growing tired of the "wait until you're older" line. "Right. Well, I guess I'd better be off, then."

He took one last look at his script, and then set it carefully down on his chair before heading to the door labeled "Hogwarts Express". As he opened the door, the sound of a train rushing along its tracks filled the room, and the English countryside could be seen streaming past in the distance.

The other Remuses fell silent as they watched the young boy step through the door to meet his destiny.

When the door had closed behind him, cutting off the sound of the rails, Post-Hogwarts Remus turned to Sixth Year Remus and said, "How long do you think it will take him to figure it out?"

"That's sort of up to the fangirls, isn't it?" said Sixth Year Remus.

"Well, you know, it is and it isn't," said Post-Hogwarts Remus. "Sometimes I feel as if I can reach out and touch their thoughts -- pull the threads of the story to my liking. Not the overall plot, of course, but I can usually get them to give me a scene or two, or nudge them in the right direction, if I whisper to them what I want. So, how long? Five galleons says he's one of the quick ones. I'll bet he knows by third year."

"You're taking the piss! Fifth year at the outside," Sixth Year Remus scoffed. "It took you even longer than that."

"Yes, but I have a feeling about this one, and I'm looking to make some money," said Post-Hogwarts Remus.

"You still owe me for Closet Case over there. I said he'd take even longer than you did."

"Well, he hasn't made it quite that far yet, has he?"

"Wait and see," said Sixth Year Remus. "After all, it's not up to us to guess the endings."