"Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you."
--T. S. Eliot, from "The Wasteland"
Lionel Luthor held the vial to his lips, not entirely tasting, not entirely kissing. "Few things are more beautiful than blood."
Taking the silver box from the bed, he carefully placed the tube inside. "Dark times are coming, and to survive we must build an army. This," he added, touching the box, "is the tool I need to build one."
No one spoke, but Lionel didn't seem to notice--or simply assumed that the perfect logic of genocide required no response. He stroked the box once, returned it to his pocket, and headed for the door. His shoes were made of a skin shinier in death than in life, noiseless against the stone; not even Death would move so quietly.
About to leave, he looked back over his shoulder. "Naturally, this must be kept quiet. Not everyone is sympathetic to our cause, and if the wrong people should hear about this, Dumbledore, for instance...Well, it's always a tragedy when one dies young. This school has so many staircases, and it would be so easy to fall." He said this conversationally, as though a murder-threat was a normal goodbye.
His final smile was like an eclipse.
Two Months Earlier
James' voice floated down, tickling like the grass under Sirius' hands. "There's a new boy."
Sirius refused to open his eyes. Not just to be perverse: with the September sun warm as a winter fire and James' balled robes cushioning his head, he felt reborn after a deathly summer. No more quiet flat with only the television for noise, false sounds of Muggle comfort that grated within the first week. Everything was better now, no responsibilities except to be smart, handsome and popular--
"Sirius, are you listening?"
When James waved his hand over Sirius' face, Sirius snapped at it. The black dog wasn't far below the surface, and he caught the tip of James' index finger in his teeth, tasted salt, dirt and grass. While the new boy was tradition, it was tempting to forgo him in favor of James, tried and true. He licked his lips.
"Sirius, don't make me get my Nimbus. Might scare the first-years to see a public flogging. Listen to me, you lazy git: there's a new boy."
Sirius nipped James' fluttering hand, then licked his palm. "The new boy can wait."
As always, Remus stepped in before Sirius actually drew blood. "I passed him in the hall this morning. The new boy. He came in after the others with his father. Nasty sort, the father, ordering everyone around, even Dumbledore."
"Parents are a curse," Sirius said. "Not like friends. Even friends who threaten people with Quidditch brooms." His mother thought of him as a cigarette burn on the family tree; she'd put one there to erase him. Once when he was a boy she'd put one on his right hand, still visible in the wrong light, a pale white patch, so he'd never be able to erase her. Remus knew. Remus understood because he'd spent two years locked in an attic after the werewolf bit him.
"Sorry, Padfoot." There was a tiny ruffle of air as Remus shifted in the grass beside him, careful not to cast him in shadow. The soft flannel of his trousers brushed like a cat against Sirius' hand, and he quickly pulled away.
"He's Slytherin," Peter said from the shelter of the beech tree.
Peter favoured cool dark places away from the sun that spread his freckles like measles over his skin. Once without noticing he'd sat in a pile of arbour worms curled up under a tree for shade, and when Peter stood, one particularly long worm hung from his trousers.
"Worse," Peter went on, "the new boy's American. I heard he was expelled from Excelsior, then Durmstrang, although no one knows why. And he's rich. Disgustingly so. And bald, although apparently half the girls are already mad for him, so sounds like competition for you, Sirius. And--"
"And he's coming over here. Not even rich, bald, strangely-attractive American boys can resist Sirius Black." James sounded half-annoyed, half-amused. "This will be the fastest conquest yet."
"Looks like you'll be sleeping alone for the next few weeks, James," Peter said, "unless Remus finally breaks his vow of celibacy."
"Nothing will make Remus change his mind." Without opening his eyes, Sirius locked his hands above his head. "He's determined to die a virgin."
The pages of Remus' book stopped whispering again. "Would you idiots shut up? I'm trying to read."
Sometimes Sirius wanted to be a book, one that Remus would hold on his lap, fingers brushing over his pages, eyes locked on his every word. An old memory came to him, Remus in a Care of Magical Creatures class, kneeling before a bowtruckle with a broken finger. The thing had been squeaking like mad, waving its other three clawed fingers, and even Professor Belua had back off, fearful of losing an eye. But Remus had spoken in a low, reasonable voice to the creature, offering it tree lice, and the little bowtruckle had stopped its dangerous flailing, hopping into Remus' palm, even allowing him to set the broken finger under Belua's supervision.
Stupid, really, to think of that now. "Don't suppose that's Sex and the Single Wizard you've got there, Moony?"
James laughed. "He's just made a rather rude hand gesture at you, Sirius. Apparently Remus isn't quite as proud of his virginity as you'd think."
"You'd best be worried about your own hand gestures, James," Remus told him. "With Sirius ditching you yet again, you'll need them."
"Spoken like a true champion of the solo wank. You must have some technique, Moony, to prefer your hand to anyone else's. Or is it just that you think you're better than us?"
"You're the Quidditch star. Sirius is lord of the manor. I'm just trying to get out of here alive."
"Would you two shut it? It's our first day back, and you're ruining it." For once, Peter's voice seemed to hold authority since quiet followed, a crisp clear layer of it over the distant shouts of an impromptu Quidditch match.
Except the quiet went on too long, and Sirius almost raised his head to look, but the sun was too soothing--
"Hi." Low voice, definitely American with its flat syllables and flashy confidence. "I'm Lex, and I'd like you to show me around. Help me understand how this place works."
Sirius' lids were too heavy to raise. Didn't hurt to affirm the order of things at Hogwarts, letting the new boy understand that a rich father and an interesting reputation would only take you so far. Another helping of silence, presumably filled with Lex's admiring gaze, although his friends were oddly quiet, like Lex had grown a second head. With a yawn, Sirius opened his eyes and sat up.
Lex was narrow and paler even than Remus, and stood with a slight upward tilt of his chin that exposed the line of his throat. His eyes were his most outstanding feature, even more than his skin or scarred red mouth, and not for their colour, although a nice-enough blue. No, they were notable for the way Lex focused them not on Sirius in the normal order of things, but on Remus, quiet, bookish, sane-when-not-running-around-on-all-fours-howling-at-the-moon Remus. Lex's look caught him, pinned him, stripped him. It was like watching a dirty etymologist at work.
Remus stared back, a bruised look on his face, too many hollows even in the sunlight. He seemed ready to claw up the earth and dive into it.
"It's Remus, right?" Lex continued, smooth as his skin, no awkward pauses, no awareness that he delivered a monologue to a confused audience. "Dumbledore told me this morning after breakfast."
"Are you sure he's the one you want?" Peter peered at Lex, his features corkscrewed, clearly wondering if something were lost in the translation. Americans could do such funny things with language. "Remus, and not...?"
"I know who I want." Lex spoke with a song's clear pitch, maintaining that unblinking stare, so intense that the air had to be heating around him.
Sirius wished for a bucked of water because it was disgusting. Wrong and disgusting and--
And James to the rescue. Good old James. "Remus is busy right now. Besides, we're Gryffindor. You're Slytherin." James' left fist was clenched, his right hand in his wand pocket, ready for battle.
Lex looked very calm by comparison, and stood very still, not even glancing at James, while Remus had taken to rubbing his mouth, which left his lips pink as a girl's. "When I told Dumbledore I thought you should show me around, he agreed it was a good idea." Lex said it gently, less threat than reassurance. Only the never-ending look gave him away.
Remus hesitated, then got to his feet, brushing off stray bits of grass, the book forgotten in a shameful upending of normal. He addressed a spot over Sirius' shoulder, perhaps the Quidditch field because it was green and blank, while Sirius was red and raging, if hiding it moderately well. After all, no blood had spilled. "If no one needs me here..."
Like need could fit into a simple word, a simple sentence. Like it had to be said. "Do what you want," Sirius told him, proudly casual. What did American flesh taste like roasted over an open fire?
"I'm glad to help then, Lex. I won't be long," Remus added.
With Lex beside him, he headed across the lawn toward the castle. All they needed was a sunset. Sirius fumed under his yawn.
"That was a surprise," Peter said. Always the master of the obvious, although sometimes he kicked up earthier truths. "I was sure you'd step in and stop it, Sirius. A Slytherin, and did you see the way he looked at Remus? It was positively indecent."
James was satisfyingly riled, still clutching his wand. "This Lex is like Mordred, breaking up the Knights of the Round Table. You should've stopped Remus from going, Sirius. He would've listened to you."
"He's not breaking anything up, Prongs. It's just a tour. Moony will be back soon enough, full of tales of American excess." Sirius settled back, his eyes closing once again. He'd had enough reality for one afternoon. "Life will go on as usual. You'll see."
"It's been ages," Peter said, between bites of steak and kidney pie. A line of gravy wriggled down his chin until a serviette tossed by James caught it. "Thanks." Peter mopped his face. "It's not like Remus to miss a meal. For a skinny bloke he eats like a horse. Must be the werewolf part," he added quietly. "So what do you suppose they're doing? You don't think they're actually--?" He jabbed his knife suggestively in the air.
James rolled his eyes, then heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Don't be ridiculous. Lex can't manage in a few hours what some people, infinitely better-looking and generally superior people, haven't managed in years." He grabbed a roll from a basket, tearing it into chunks, and tossed one at Peter's head.
"Idiot!" Peter said, then plucked the piece from the table where it had fallen, chewing contentedly.
"It's not a matter of managing or not managing," Sirius said. "It's a matter of interest. My interest, or lack thereof."
"Right, right. Your interest." Peter nodded as vigorously as he chewed. "But, well, didn't Remus turn you down, Sirius, in fourth year--" A glass of milk suddenly overturned, a white wave that overcompensated for the unspilled gravy, splattering Peter's face and robes. "Bugger!" he shouted, leaping from his seat.
As Peter sputtered in surprise, drops charging down his pointed nose, James shook his head and aimed his wand. "Abluere!"
Sirius looked innocent, glad that magic could work through tables.
With James' help, Peter stood clean and dry, his face red now instead of white as snickers erupted from the Slytherin table, loudest from the other seventh-years.
"Next time, swallow, Pettigrew!" Lawrence Macnair called. "Didn't Black teach you anything?"
"Maybe it's Black's aim," Rodolphus Lestrange added. "He's so used to buggering Potter that he's forgotten how to--"
"I think that you could stand some buggering, Lestrange," Lily Evans said from a few seats down at the Gryffindor table. "It might improve your disposition. Now would you all shut up so we can eat in peace? There are first-years about, remember."
"God thing she doesn't have the right equipment," James muttered to Sirius, "or she'd be the one buggering us all. That girl likes to take charge."
"Potter, I can hear you." Lily flipped her long red hair over her shoulder. "And unless you want to meet me and this stalk of celery at midnight, I suggest you button it in all possible senses."
"Promises, promises. And that's quite the mouth you've grown there, Evans. Must've been an exciting summer."
"If that's your way of asking what I did, Potter, let's just say I confirmed that the boys at Hogwarts are just that. Boys." She snapped the celery with her sharp white teeth, smiling when James flinched. "So, where's Lupin? He usually keeps you idiots at least partially in check."
"Speaking of buggering ... " Peter said. Then, "Ow!" as James kicked him under the table.
"He's showing the new boy around the castle," James told her.
"So he's broken rank, has he? Didn't think he had it in him. Maybe you could learn from his example, Potter," Lily said, and with another red flip returned to her meal.
"Ever think that summer's just like a disease?" This from Peter, foraging in the bread basket for another roll. "It changes people, eats away at who you are. No one's ever quite the same after summer. I think I hate them. Summers."
"Everything feels funny at the start of term," James said. "By next week, it will feel like we never left. The Marauders will ride again. Right, Sirius?"
"Mayhem and mischief in every corner."
To prove this, after the meal the three of them performed their new-term rituals. First, the obligatory changing of the password into Slytherin Tower; to enter, as the note they left instructed, a Slytherin now had to say, "Rodolphus Lestrange is a thick git."
"Unoriginal, but effective," James said. "Can't be too clever or the meaning's lost."
"Rodolphus will hate it, and that's the main thing." Casually as he could, Sirius glanced around for signs of Remus. Nothing but stone walls, a tapestry that showed a giant serpent battling a frail-looking lion; over their hissing and spitting he could hear Nearly Headless Nick, enlisted by James to keep a lookout for The Bloody Baron or any stray Slytherins, chortling to himself ‘round the corner.
Next, they headed to Gryffindor Tower, and having lost Nick to a slanging match with Peeves, set Peter up as lookout while they rendered the statue of Lachlan the Lucky first naked, then anatomically-correct.
"He's Lachlan the Lucky now," James said.
"You mean, Lachlan the Equipped to Frighten First-Years." Sirius deepened the shade of pink for an added touch of authenticity, then stood with the others to admire his handiwork.
Peter applauded, but without his usual enthusiasm. "Not quite the same without Remus here, threatening to report you to Dumbledore, is it, while he tries hard not to laugh?"
"Nonsense," James said. "We don't need Remus to have fun. Right, Sirius?"
To prove it, leaving Peter on guard yet again, Sirius and James broke into Binns' office, a dusty little room with cobwebs connecting the desk to the bookshelves, the window to the waste basket. They found his lecture notes and, cackling madly, replaced the word "wizard" with "pecker" and "rebellion" with "orgy." Since the lecture dealt with The Great Wizard Rebellion of 1381, the results promised to be amusing.
"When Wat Topas, a pecker of great power, joined the orgy, he guaranteed its success... Brilliant." Sirius returned the scroll to the desk, artfully re-stringing the cobwebs. "Remus would've been horrified. Or at least pretended to be. Remus is very good at pretending. Maybe he's in the common room, waiting for us, poring over some deadly tome on the history of wizard architecture."
"Don't you want to feed foetor newts to Filch's cat, then lock him in the girls' dormitory?"
"Maybe tomorrow," Sirius said.
"But it's our last year, Padfoot, our last chance to have fun."
"Prongs, we've gotten up to enough no-good in the last six years to last us a lifetime."
"Now you sound like Remus."
"That's not always a bad thing. Besides, Remus has clearly been off having a great deal of fun on his own with his new best mate."
"You know, sometimes when you talk about Remus I think that you're in....Forget it. Let's just go to the common room. We can do our homework and be very good boys." He stared at Sirius, his eyebrows drawn and his mouth in a thin line. Then he broke into a grin. "At least until it's time for bed," he added with a wink.
Peter ducked his head into the room. "Binns! He's coming! Or maybe it's Filch. Or maybe Peeves up to his old tricks. But someone or something is coming. Let's go!"
They raced to the common room, scattering a group of sleepy first-years heading up to bed. Sirius arrived first, but the room was empty, so he sat in an armchair near the fireplace while James threw himself in one nearby where he watched Sirius too intently.
Yawning, Peter plunked into a third armchair, kicking off his shoes and extending his toes toward the low-burning flames. "Nice," he said, then glanced toward the common room window. "Still a few weeks before the full moon, right? It's not like Remus ate Lex and is too ashamed to face us ... Is it?" He turned back, his face like a bruised apple, and chewed a fingernail, tiny quick bites like Lily and her celery. "Should we talk to Dumbledore?"
"Dumbledore would just go on about Death Eaters and dark times coming," Sirius said. "You know how he is these days."
"If only Filch hadn't confiscated the Marauder's Map." Even James looked concerned, leaving the fire to pace before the other two. "Maybe we should go looking for him ourselves. Lex could've persuaded him to take a walk in the Forbidden Forest, and now they're both in the belly of some great scary beast."
"I wish you hadn't mentioned the Death Eaters, Sirius," Peter said. "The very thought of them gives me the willies. They say You-Know-Who isn't even human anymore, and that anyone who opposes him just disappears. I shouldn't like to disappear."
Sirius warmed his hands in the fire. "You two sound like old women. Remus can take care of himself. He's not stupid or weak, or he'd have spent much more time in detention with James and I rather than earning his prefect's badge. Besides, this is Hogwarts. Nothing bad can happen here."
"Right, Sirius," James said. "You're not worried at all. That's why you look toward the door with the regularity of a Muggle clock. That's why we're still up and not in bed like everyone else."
"Shut up, Potter."
"Make me." Stopping before Sirius, James took off his glasses, holding them against his thigh. Then his mouth softened. "Three long months, Padfoot. Let's just go to bed."
For the first time since they'd entered the common room, the door swung open, and Remus walked through. He moved carefully, his tie loosened, his hair mussed, and he smelled sweetly of mulled ale.
"Hi." Remus smiled with too-red lips, so relaxed he seemed like a stranger.
"So much for the Death-Eater theory." Peter leaned closer, sniffing the air. "You've been drinking. Remus has been drinking."
"Forget drinking," James said. "He's drunk."
"I'm not drunk," Remus protested. "I'm just ... happy. And so what if I've had a drink or two? You and Sirius spent the last week of term utterly pissed, snogging all over the place. If I hadn't distracted Filch that one time you'd have been expelled for sure."
"We were all going to be apart." James wiped his glasses on the hem of his robes before putting them back on. "Sirius in his new place, the rest of us with our families. Of course we were pissed: months ahead with only letters to keep us going, and this the last year we'll be together. That matters to some of us. We--"
"Did you have a good time tonight?" Sirius asked, casually reclining.
"Amazing. You'd like Lex, Sirius. He's smart and dead funny, and nothing scares him at all, not even the Shrieking Shack. When we were in Hogsmeade, this big bloke came up to us, wanting to know why Lex is bald, being stupid and rude, and Lex just--"
"How did you get to Hogsmeade?"
"Come on, Sirius. You know it's the fastest way."
"You took him through the tunnel?" James, who'd moved to Sirius' side, took a step toward Remus. "How could you? That's our secret. The four of us."
"Actually, it's my secret," Remus said. "That tunnel was built for me, remember, so I'd have somewhere to run during the full moon."
"How could we forget when we spent three years learning to change into animals ourselves so we could run with you? One summer, and you're ready to toss aside your oldest mates." James shook his head in disgust. "I'm going to bed. Coming, Sirius?"
"I'm not tossing anyone aside. The idea's laughable. I'm surprised you and Sirius even noticed I was gone."
"You're the one who cuts himself off from us, not the other way around," James said, heading for the door.
"That's not fair."
Sirius got up, pausing beside Remus. "Would you even have told us you were a werewolf if I hadn't found out?" About to move on, he noticed a fresh telling bruise on Remus' throat. While Remus froze, Sirius passed his thumb over the oval blue as Lex's eyes. Warm, sticky skin, blood brought close to the surface by a sucking mouth. "You let him kiss you, Moony? You've known him for a few hours, and you let him kiss you?"
At first Remus said nothing, just stared down at the floor, then looked straight at Sirius. "So what if I did? You were ready to do a lot more with him. You've been to bed with half the school. You're in no position to judge me."
"That's different, and you know it."
"I'm going to bed." Peter, forgotten in his corner, rose so abruptly from his chair that the wooden feet scraped against the tile, a high sound like a girl's shriek. "Things will be better in the morning. Like old times. You'll see." He didn't look at either of them as he hurried past.
Sirius' thumb was still on the warm bruise and Remus shook him off. "You're just jealous, that's all."
"You're not the same anymore. The summer changed you." With his hand now in his pocket Sirius rubbed his index finger over the tip of his thumb.
"Because I'm finally having some fun? Because for a few hours my life wasn't about you? Some people might call that growing up, Sirius."
"Getting pissed and snogging a stranger don't qualify you for adulthood, Remus."
"Oh, you realise that?"
"Lex also taught you sarcasm, I see. Quite the educational day. I wonder what he has in store for the rest of term. Today, love bites and sarcasm. Tomorrow, blow jobs and irony. Next week, sodomy and satire."
"So you're setting the curriculum? I'll be sure to tell Lex as it all sounds good to me." And Remus walked from the room.
Bits of grass clung to his trousers while his shoes left a muddy trail. Sirius followed it up the stairs, wishing for a full moon so they could change and fight properly, the canine way with teeth, Remus howling beneath him, caught by the throat. This fantasy sustained him while they prepared for bed, each brushing his teeth furiously, spitting water like blood, glaring balefully into mirrors.
By the time they finished, a tied race, Peter was snoring behind the drawn curtains of his bed, James still awake, watching quietly from his. As Remus dropped face-up onto his mattress, Sirius mimicked his position, then reached for his wand on the bedside table.
"Luna Lumos," he said, and a moonlit sky bloomed above him on the canopy, lighting the space beneath, perfect as a lie could be. He located the dog star, his namesake, which took him back to the previous summer, an evening picnic with the Potters, the four of them on a blanket staring up at the night. James' mother had a ghostly wisp of a voice, and she told them the story of the boy who invented the stars:
Before the stars were invented, a wizard gave his godchild his very own sun, small enough to fit in his palm, bright enough to light a room, and warm enough that the boy was never cold. He carried it with him everywhere, loving it the casual way boys do, but soon grew bored, thinning it like wool even when the warmth began to fade. One night the boy tied an end to a tree, wandering through the wood until the forest glowed orange and the sun was stretched taut. A sudden hiss, then the sun snapped, broke into a million pieces that catapulted into the sky. The stars were beautiful, but so far away that for the rest of his life the boy was never warm again.
The day after she told this story, Mrs. Potter had asked Sirius to leave.
Tonight Sirius counted a dozen stars before James was there, pulling aside the covers to join him. Like Sirius he wore only the bottoms of his pyjamas, and he'd left his glasses behind. When he went to draw the bed curtains, Sirius grabbed his hand.
"What about him?" James jerked his head toward Remus, very still in the next bed.
"Remus doesn't care now that he has Lex for things like this. Maybe he can learn something so he won't embarrass himself."
"Whatever you want." James buried his face in Sirius' neck, his arms going around him, pressed tight. "I missed you. You should never have moved out. I don't care what my parents thought."
Then James was kissing him, and after years of practice could make Sirius hard with only the slide of his toothpaste-cool tongue so that it almost didn't matter that Remus had kissed Lex. Were there differences? Did American boys kiss like English ones? Had Remus stood there quietly letting it happen, or had he pushed Lex down into the grass and gone wolfish, taking charge?
"Yes," James said in a clear voice, "get hard for me."
James straddled him, knocking the covers to the floor, territorial in a new way. Absence, audience, or both? Sirius wasn't sure he cared and decided not to fight him, not even when James tugged off their bottoms, returning to the same position, because he liked equally the hard lines of James' body, Quidditch muscles in his arms and thighs, the nice-sized cock. With James' hair grown over the summer, long as Sirius' but wavy, and an unconscious habit of licking his full lower lip, it was no surprise that Lily Evans stared at him whenever she thought no one would notice. Sirius hoped that Remus was watching.
"I heard the new girls talking about you." James still had Sirius trapped between those strong thighs, a hand on Sirius' hip. "One said you were the most handsome boy she'd ever seen. I wanted to tell her you're even better like this, nothing on, rumpled..." He turned his head a fraction toward Remus, his voice a notch louder. "The way you look before you fuck me."
Obscene and un-Jameslike, the words wrung a sound from Remus' corner, maybe just the groan of the springs as he moved, although he stayed on his back, white as the fake moon over James' shoulder. James' teeth flashed, then he bent again to Sirius' mouth, rougher this time, pushing his tongue deeper.
It was too good, that kiss, too exciting, reminding him what kisses could be, like sex except closer, nowhere to hide. This made Sirius a little mad, like Remus must feel when the moon was riding high, and he flipped James onto his back then crouched over him. So right to sink his teeth into James' neck, to bite as James wrapped his legs around his waist.
He bit and sucked until the bruise was a certainty, then went after every corner and curve of James' body, shoulders and forearms, thighs and hips, even behind his knees, a ticklish spot that had James squirming. James wasn't performing anymore, all moans and whimpers now, his neck permanently arched.
Sirius had a longer memory and targeted James' nipples just for the sounds it earned him; without Remus in the next bed, Sirius would be inside James already, his cock too hard and James too ready. But Remus had to hear it all, how much James liked it, all of it, every brush of Sirius' tongue and fingers, and he reached down, stroking James, so big and hard in his hand.
"My name," he whispered in James' ear, biting the lobe for emphasis. His chest slipped against James' gleaming wet one, his hand working faster. "Say it, and I'll give you what I want." One last flick of the wand, and they were ready, James slick and open, legs hooked around Sirius' waist. "Say it." With his cock pressed against him, Sirius felt like a god, one of the old Greek ones waiting for his tribute.
"Do it, you arrogant bastard."
Another whisper. "Say it." As he licked a stripe along James' taut bruised neck, Sirius pushed forward enough to increase the pressure, not enough to penetrate.
"Sirius. You bastard. Sirius, you...Oh. Oh."
A smooth deep glide, so easy even after months apart, and in a few breaths they were seamless. It made up for the summer, the stupid quiet lonely summer, to be this close to someone, living inside them, and he kissed James, who sucked his tongue, hungry as always, greedy about sex the way Peter was with food, the way Remus was with....No, he thought. You're a god. Don't think about Remus, stupid Remus who always knew surprising things, the smile he'd give when he knew he'd surprised you, those slightly long canines that marked his true nature--
"Sirius," James said, and pulled his hand from Sirius' back, reaching between them to stroke himself.
"You love it."
For a second Sirius wondered what James really thought, or if this was it, the simple truth. Could anyone feel a single thing at once? Hard to concentrate now with his own world narrowing to his cock, and when he tried to study James' face, see if anything else broke the surface, the rocking of his own hips distracted him, the heat, so tight, God, trapped inside James, who had his eyes squeezed shut, his head back like he was offering his throat for sacrifice.
His bruised throat.
Back where he started, and Sirius gave up, no more fighting, riding the rush, which was like running on all fours along the river at midnight and finding Remus. Only when he looked over, finally broke and turned his head toward Remus, he found him gone.
Sirius came anyway, a flood inside James' clutching body, until he was empty as Remus' bed.
Sirius held his mother's ring to the light of a candle.
Hate was her favourite emotion, and like a pet, a fire-breathing dragon, it followed his mother everywhere. She hated impurity more than anything, dirt inside and out, and white was her favourite colour. As a boy Sirius asked her how blood could be dirty when it always ran red, and she struck him across the face. When he asked if she'd thought of changing her name, cleaning it up, she'd struck him again, her long white fingers flying toward him, the red stone in her ring winking like a dragon's eye.
"You don't want to ruin something that valuable," Professor Farrago said, looming suddenly and disapprovingly when Sirius went to drop the ring in his cauldron. As usual, he smelled of rum and peppermint creams. "Not for a simple memory spell. You're a good student, Mr. Black, but accidents happen, and lately you've been careless."
"It's fake," Siris lied, and the ring disappeared with a hiss into the cauldron.
Professor Farrago shook his head, freeing the grey puffs he'd brushed down so it looked like a storm gathered above him. "Follow the spell carefully at least." More cloudy shakes, then he moved to the next table, negotiating the cushy armchairs he'd conjured for the class. "Careful, Miss Litvack, or you'll set the whole school ablaze..."
"I can't believe eye of newt is an actual ingredient." Peter held one to the light to the torch light, clutching in his other hand a dusty Butterscotch Burst that had survived his first trip to Honeydukes only by rolling into the trunk at the foot of his bed. "Looks less like an eye and more like a dried pea." He sniffed it, then snorted violently when it nearly went up his nose. "Smells like stewed lizard." The eye disappeared into the orange potion bubbling in his cauldron.
James added a pinch of ground narwhal tusk to his pot before tossing in the toy telescope. "Be great if this spell works. That was the best Christmas ever. Remember, Sirius?"
"How could I forget?" The truth was Sirius could barely remember beyond a vague image of Christmas crackers in red and gold paper, an enormous tree heavy with ornaments, a dark crowded cloakroom.
"Blast." A series of sparks and hisses rose from Peter's cauldron, and he yelped, stepping back. "That wasn't supposed to happen. I think I've left something out. Prongs, help."
"Honestly, you're hopeless, Wormtail. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?" James picked up the spell book. "Ingredients for the Parvus Memento Spell. Crushed myosotis alpestris. One eye of newt. Pinch of ground narwhal tusk. One object with positive associations--"
"I've got it!" But this came from Remus a few tables away.
Beside him, Lex leaned close, brushing aside Remus' hair to whisper in his ear, and was rewarded with a laugh.
Professor Farrago halted his circuit, standing beneath a gold-framed portrait of Merlin and Arthur. "Look to your own work, Mr. Luthor."
"I am," Lex said, in his stupid low American voice that made every word sound like he'd just woken after a night of debauchery.
"It's my fault, Professor Farrago." Remus spoke slowly, reeling a bit from the spell until Lex grasped his arm. "I asked him for help."
"I hope that's nobility and not fact, Mr. Lupin, since at this level you ought to be able to perform such a spell on your own. It simply requires greater focus."
"I'm very focussed," Remus said. "Focussed, and a little..." His eyes closed, the lines of his face softening until he looked almost handsome.
"I meant on the spell, Mr. Lupin."
Lex put his hands on Remus' shoulder and helped him down with another indistinct whisper.
"Yes," Remus said, sprawling and so relaxed it seemed as though the knot holding him together had undone. "Yes, I'd like that."
Then it was Lex's turn, the spell clearing his expression, smoothing away the arrogance, leaving him boyish and vulnerable. Sirius was glad that Remus couldn't see him.
"Got it," James suddenly exclaimed, and reeled a bit on his feet, his face the colour of rice pudding. "Whoa. Packs a kick."
Professor Farrago faced him. "Good work! Now sit down, Mr. Potter. As I told you all before, initially you might feel ill or drunk as the memory surges up, so you must take your seat at once and relax. You'll be euphoric after as well."
James had dropped into his armchair, still pale, but now dreamy and smiling, his eyes half-closed behind his glasses. "Padfoot, you have to try this. It's brilliant."
"Yes, it's your turn, Mr. Black," Professor Farrago said. "Nothing to be afraid of. It's the past, after all, not the future."
Sirius repeated the final words of the spell, and as the last one hung in the air, the world tilted, Sirius' stomach following it, although the effect was more pleasure than pain, like riding a broomstick for the first time or drinking a pint of mead. Sinking into the chair, he closed his eyes and held onto the armrests for balance. Behind his lids colours swirled, shapes forming and unforming like he was looking through a kaleidoscope, until they began to steady, coalescing into a clear picture, an animated painting--
A pressure warm as a hug, then the past swallowed him whole.
Smoke tinged the air blue-grey, gave it a faint acrid smell under the rich spicy one of his mother's perfume. Flowers right before they die. People stared as they walk along the platform: his mother had long black hair and a face borrowed from some dead queen. "Medea," she always said, because nothing about her, about any of the Blacks, existed outside of the family history, not even her beauty, which sometimes caused strangers to bump into posts or drop their parcels as she passed.
Sirius, who looked like her, would sometimes study his reflection in the mirror, wondering if anything about him was original or if he was simply recycled bones, skin and memory.
"Sickening stench of Mudbloods," she said loudly, pressing a handkerchief to her nose as they headed to the front of the train. "I feel positively ill. Why your father is allowing you to attend this school with these repulsive half- breeds, I'll never know. Durmstrang places much greater emphasis on purity of blood..."
While she ranted on, an old speech he'd heard all summer, Sirius looked around at the other students. A pale boy stood beside two equally pale adults, the most exhausted-looking boy Sirius had ever seen, with black smudges around his pale eyes and skin so white the morning light appeared to shine through him. The woman clung to the man's arm, her face crumpled like old newspaper as he lectured the boy.
"You must be careful, Remus..."
When he saw Sirius, Remus gave a wan smile that seemed to say, "Parents. What a burden."
"Mudblood trash," Sirius' mother said with another sniff. "Filth. Don't you dare have anything to do with that miserable little boy, Sirius. Or that one," she added, jerking her beautiful chin toward a second boy with wild dark hair and glasses, who walked between his parents, a thin red-haired woman and a man dressed in red and green, sometimes bursting ahead of them, then turning to wait as they caught up.
"James, slow down! You're going to fall on the tracks, and your dad's never been able to repeat that levitating spell..."
Sirius' mother sighed like she'd been stabbed in the heart. "Are there no pure-bloods here? Look at him, that vile creature. Should've been drowned at birth...No better than litter runts." Her voice carried, the words clicking like train wheels, like the heels of her shiny black shoes, and everyone looked over again, no admiration this time, while Sirius felt his face go hot.
"Mum, give it up, can't you?"
"How dare you speak to me like that? Really, Sirius, you're the most impossible boy. I'm simply helping you distinguish the wheat from the chaff, a skill you'll thank me for later. For now, you clearly need direction, and that's why I'm giving you this." She stopped and pulled off her ring. "My father gave me this; it's one of a dozen, and all the Pureblood families know what it means. The stone in the centre? It's the crystallised blood of Medea herself, terribly valuable in its own right, of course, but it has a special property: it dims whenever a mongrel is nearby, a warning to our kind to keep our distance. Take it, Sirius." She plucked up his hand, dropping the ring into his palm. "Take it, and remember who you are."
The train whistle blew.
"I'm late," Sirius said, and dropped the ring in his pocket. "I'd better board now, Mum."
Bending, she kissed the air beside his cheek with her perfect red lips. "Don't do anything to shame the family," she said, and walked away.
A hole in the platform's roof had let in last night's rain, which formed a muddy puddle, and before heading onto the train Sirius deliberately toed it until a crust formed on his shiny black shoe.
The train was half-full, boys and girls milling about, others lounging on seats, peering into compartments. His cousin Bellatrix, a miniature of his mother, had taken over the first one, but trying to hurry past Sirius nearly tripped over a white rabbit, then over the whiter Persian that chased it. His cousin Narcissa raced behind them, snapping, "You're a help," as she darted past.
"There you are, Sirius," Bellatrix called from the seat where she sat upright, her hands folded neatly in her lap. "Come in before you catch something from the half-breeds."
Beside her, his hair leeched of colour just like the cat's, sat another cousin, Rodolphus Lestrange, who had a broom for a spine and a nose large enough to announce his presence. "My father blames the headmaster for the glut of them. If this weren't the best school, I'd be gone."
"Sit beside me, Sirius. There's a good boy."
Bellatrix always spoke to him as though her words were a leash, and he eyed the corridor. In the end, it was easier to give in, but rather than sitting upright and neat beside her, he loosened his strangling tie and sprawled, displaying his muddy shoe.
"Really, Sirius," Rodolphus said, "you look a mess. Anyone would think you were Muggle-born."
"No such luck."
Rodolphus ' mouth went tight, and he reached for his wand. Sirius' future destiny as a toad was averted only by a hysterical hiss then a spectacular crash from the corridor. Remus, the pale boy, was lying face down just outside their compartment. Behind him Narcissa clutched her still-hissing cat, its tail tangling in her blonde hair, and next to her stood James, the wild-haired boy.
"That cat's a menace," he said, kneeling to help Remus.
"Only because your stupid Mudblood friend stepped on her tail."
Remus sat up, looking dazed. There was a scrape across his left cheek and a rip in the knee of his trousers. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't see the cat."
"It's not your fault," James told him. "That cat was on a tear. Could've happened to anyone."
"Anyone who's clumsy and blind."
"Perhaps you should lend him your glasses, Four-Eyes." Bellatrix sprang to her feet, putting her arm around Narcissa's shoulder. "Then maybe your friend wouldn't be such a danger to everyone."
"Maybe if your friend had kept her stupid cat in a carrying box, none of this would've happened."
Rodolphus took his place beside his cousins, his hand on his wand. "You're the one who needs a carrying box, you and your Mudblood friend. Or a leash, at the very least." He turned to the girls. "How about it? Fancy seeing the two of them as rabbits?"
"Morgan would like that." Narcissa stroked the cat's spiked fur. "Though she'd have indigestion from Mudbloods. Why not turn them into flies? Then she can swat them to death."
"What do you say, Sirius?" Bellatrix turned to him. "Rabbits or flies?"
They were all staring at him now, and Sirius knew what he must do. A quick laugh and a third funny suggestion; after all, they'd played this game before, every summer whenever a Muggle boy or girl strayed too close to the Black Circle, and the rules were written in their blood.
"Let's just go." Remus tugged Peter's sleeve. "They were here first, so it only seems fair."
"That's a good idea," Sirius said. "Go. Get out of here."
Rodolphus gave a death's head smile. "Listen to him, you useless--"
"I was talking to you," Sirius told him. "You, Bella and Narcissa. Get out of here." He pulled out his own wand. "Unless you want to spend the new term as a three-legged rat. Rabbits and flies are all very good, but think what Morgan would do with something she could actually catch."
"You wouldn't dare!" Bellatrix narrowed her eyes, but took a step back into the corridor. "You don't even know how."
"Maybe he doesn't, but I do." James moved beside Sirius, his wand jutting. "Sorex transfor--"
Remus joined them, his wand out and his eyes bright. "You'd better go. That cat has very sharp claws. Trust me."
Just then a small boy bounded onto the train, his freckles blazing under hair soft and cropped as rat's skin. "Just in time," he said. Then, "What's going on?" His pink nose quivered.
"Are you for us or against us?" This from James, who never took his eyes from Sirius' cousins.
"Um..." He eyed Narcissa, clearly admiring her china-doll prettiness, then jerked back when he saw Rodolphus ' glower. "For you," he said quickly. "Do I need my wand? I'm not carrying it with me. Too much stuff in my pockets. Gran gave me chocolate for the trip, and tissues as I'm getting over a cold, and--"
"This is ridiculous." Bellatrix stamped the perfectly-polished toe of one dragon-skin boot. "You're all ridiculous and I'm not going to stand around fighting with Mudbloods and my idiot cousin over a compartment. We'll simply find a better one and leave you stupid marauders here."
She flounced off, and after sticking out her tongue at him, Narcissa followed. Only Rodolphus remained, glaring at them.
"Four to one," Remus said calmly, a sky-coloured bruise forming on his cheek. "Not very good odds."
Rodolphus had gone very white and his lips looked sewn shut. When he finally opened them, Sirius half-expected to see a billow of smoke. But Rodolphus only snarled "Blood traitor" in Sirius' direction before stalking off.
"Useless git." James tucked away his wand, and stuck out his hand. "I'm James Potter, and you'll have to teach me that spell."
"I'm Sirius Black, and I was going to ask you the same thing." He grinned, shook his hand vigorously, then dropped onto the seat beside him.
"My mum uses Sorex mousetraps in the attic. I caught my finger in one when I was five." James held up his index finger, revealing a thin white scar across the first joint. "Never been grateful for that before. Hurt like anything. So, who are you two, besides survivors of the Great Mouse War?"
"I'm Remus Lupin, and you're both mad." He took the opposite seat, then gingerly touched his cheek. "Mad in a good way. I was sure for a moment that I'd spend my first term at Hogwarts as a fly."
The fourth boy plunked down at Remus' side. "I'm Peter Pettigrew, and I don't know what's going on, but that blond bloke looked pretty angry, like my gran when she doesn't have her tea on time."
"Decent of you to stick up for us," Remus said to Sirius. "Though it means you've lost some friends for it. They don't strike me as the forgiving kind."
"He doesn't need them." James imitated Sirius' gesture, slouching in the seat with his legs extended. "He's got us now."
"They're not friends, just cousins, so I'm stuck with them. But you'd better watch out: they're not the forgiving kind."
James shrugged. "Bugger them. We'll stick together. Knights of the Round Table."
"Marauding knights," Remus said.
"The Marauders!" James clapped his hands. "That's who we are."
A whistle sounded, then the train began to move.
"The Marauders," Peter repeated. "I like the sound of that. Like the three musketeers, only four, and without muskets."
"All for one, and one for all!"
When James pulled out his wand and leaned forward, the others did the same, except Peter, who used a bar of chocolate, and they touched the tips together, repeating the chant.
"All for one, and one for all!"
"Hogwarts won't know what hit it," James said, settling back. "Now how about a piece of that chocolate?"
Sirius came to, still smiling, the taste of chocolate lingering on his tongue. As the fog cleared, he saw that the classroom was empty except for Professor Farrago, who sat at his desk, a quill between his teeth as he pored over scrolls, and James, sprawled in the armchair at Sirius' side. Sirius blinked a few times to make the room seem real.
"Welcome back," James said softly. His cheeks were flushed, his hair wilder than usual.
"Where is everyone?" Sirius yawned then gave a bone-cracking stretch.
"The Three Broomsticks. Dumbledore dropped by and told us we could; apparently it's a tradition to go after the Parvus Memento class. Said everyone was so ravenous after the spell that we'd overwork the elves. He even gave us each some Floo powder to get home. We're fine to walk in daylight, but he hinted yet again that things aren't safe out there." He gave a stretch of his own. "So, how do you feel? I'm bloody marvelous, but hungry as Gandalf's dragon."
"Gandalf had a dragon?"
"Well, no, but if he had, it would've been hungry. Facing the end of the world does that, I hear. Now tell me how you feel."
"Fantastic. You, though, James, you look like you've just been shagged."
"I was," James said, grinning. "Best Christmas gift ever. I can still feel you inside me. Thought I'd need an Abluere spell when I came out of it--it was that real." He jumped to his feet. "Thanks for the great class, Professor Farrago."
"It's always a good class when no one sets me on fire," Professor Farrago replied, giving James a pointed look.
"How was I to know you weren't supposed to mix lizard tails with fervidus root?"
"By doing your homework, Mr. Potter." But the old wizard's eyes twinkled. "Go join your classmates, and try not to burn down the inn. Madam Caupa might be getting on but she still serves the best mulled mead in England."
As they walked from the dungeon, James said, "Farrago has to be the only one alive who made it through One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, and look what happened to him."
"He's not so bad. ‘Course, right now I love everyone. They ought to bottle that spell and sell--" He broke off as James reeled suddenly, backing him into the wall.
The stone was cold behind him, James warm in front, and Sirius leaned into him until their hips met, then the tips of their noses. James angled his head first, going for the kiss with the same determination he went for the snitch on the Quidditch field. Since James kissed like he played, passion first, technique second, high levels of both, Sirius held on and enjoyed the ride, the hot dart and swirl of James' tongue, the press and stroke of his hands, the tease and bump of his cock. When footsteps sounded around the corner, forcing them apart, the game was nearly over.
"Probably for the best," James said breathlessly. "I really am famished, and the others will be waiting. Unless you want to stop upstairs for a quick shag...No, I need food. Food, then shagging."
"You always need shagging," Sirius told him as they hurried toward the library.
"I'd happily shag you if you'd ever let me."
"In your dreams, Potter."
"Every other night," James said over his shoulder. "Wow. I'm really in the best mood. Race you!" He took off down the corridor, Sirius tearing after him, his whole body humming with every pounding step.
With his head start, James reached the library first, tapping his wand against the lock. "Alohomora." Nothing happened. "Bugger. The librarian must've caught some third-years with Sex and the Single Wizard again. Remember her face when she caught us?"
"I think it was less the book than your attempt to demonstrate The Two-Handed Snake Charmer on me."
James snickered. "You'd think she'd never seen a snake before. Maybe I'll try that one on you later; it's been awhile. Now, let's see. No imagination, that woman, so I'll bet it's ‘Aromohola.'" He repeated the reverse spell, again touching the lock. When the door swung open, James added, "‘Snake' would've been my next guess. Lumos."
They moved in the light of James' now-glowing wand through the forest of stacks, stopping in the Potions section to kiss in the shadows until James' stomach growled, then they dashed toward the Restricted Section.
"Easier when I could fit behind the statue in Gryffindor Tower. Took a layer of skin off my right shoulder the last time I tried. Still, this is quicker, at least if I can find the book." With his free hand, James ran his finger over the dusty spines. "I know it's here since Moony and Lex went with the others. Say, do you know what Moony used in his memory potion? He was pretty closed-mouthed with me, has been all week."
"No," Sirius said shortly. "I'm not bald or American enough to interest him these days."
"His loss. You're much better than that hairless git. Although that reminds me: did you hear what he said to Rodolphus in Herbology? Told him he had a Samson complex, that if he bothered Remus again, he'd go Delilah on his arse. Said he didn't think bald would be a good look on him. Rodolphus went eight shades of purple, and started sputtering. I've never seen anyone sputter before. Wasn't pretty."
"Sounds like you admire him."
"I called him a hairless git, didn't I? But, okay, maybe he's not all that bad. Not many people stand up to Rodolphus. The bloke's scary. And Remus seems to like Lex all right, and Moony's too smart to throw himself after just any old--"
"There's the book." Sirius yanked the worn copy of Illusions and Other Stumpers from the shelf. He opened it to the first page, revealing the painted image of a blackened doorway framed with white columns, and placed it upright against the back wall. Next, he knelt, tapped the picture once with his wand, a little harder than necessary, muttered "Expandere," then backed away.
The book seemed to hiccup, to cough, and finally to heave. The image began to waver, trying to separate from the page, and succeeded with another cough. Then it was as if someone were blowing up a balloon, the picture expanding until it became three-dimensional. In a minute the doorway reached its full size, smaller than a regular one, but easily entered by ducking.
"Success! Onward to food and eventual shagging!"
Crouching, James went through, but Sirius hesitated. The doorway looked like it led to black endless night, and though he'd never admit it to James, he always hated to step inside, fearful of being stuck forever in a dark void. But the door was already fading so he leapt, his eyes shut, and landed with a thud on the tunnel's earth floor. The door disappeared behind him where it would remain, invisible, until they returned the book to the shelf.
Ahead the tunnels spread before them like veins, narrow and scattered, and James turned right, using his wand as a torch, his shoes noiseless in the earth.
"What did Remus do?"
James glanced over at him. "You mean after what Lex said in Herbology? Not much. You know Moony. But they were both late for Transfigurations, and Remus had grass in his hair."
"Apparently Lex likes it outdoors. Gives ‘woodsman' a whole new meaning."
Difficult to breathe down here, with the air thick and old, like being buried in the belly of a worm, and his head still swum from the Parvus spell.
James continued to speak of Remus and Lex as they walked, his waving hands casting writhing shadows across the low ceiling. "--don't see the whole Lex thing, but I hear he's a wicked Quidditch player. Maybe if I can pry him from Moony for a minute, I--"
This time it was Sirius who pushed James against the wall, bringing down a powdery rain of dried earth. The wand fell, lighting them from below, and he kissed James roughly. When James reached up between them to pull off his glasses, Sirius busied himself with James' throat. Too dark to see old bruises, but he pressed with his tongue until James gasped, and Sirius put his mouth right there to suck as he unfastened James' trousers, digging until he held James' cock.
No calls for food now, and Sirius ensured no more by pushing his tongue back into James' mouth, stroking him roughly with his hand, smiling against the kiss when James began to thrust and swell, the smooth skin filling until it was solid and wet-tipped. He rubbed his thumb over the head while James sucked his tongue, untucking Sirius' shirt under his robes to run his cool hands over Sirius' back.
In the earthy quiet, Sirius swore that he could hear James' heart, a rapid throbbing that he felt under his fingers. Too quiet, and he dropped to his knees, James' cock still in his hand, now a bare centimeter from his mouth. "Do you want this? Or are you still hungry?"
"Bugger food," James said, staring down.
When he tried to thrust, Sirius placed his free hand over James' hipbone. "What do you want?"
The pleading note did the trick: Sirius gave it to him, taking James into his mouth, a slow wet penetration that stretched his jaw and pushed his fingers down the length until they rested against James' stomach.
James' hands came down, cupping the back of Sirius' head. "That's it. That's...perfect."
The light from the wand spotlighted James, with his half-open shirt and half-shut eyes, his red kissed mouth and mussed dark hair. There was a smudge on his left cheek, dirt from the wall, and his throat looked tender. He'd be perfect once the tension left him, the vision of debauchery.
Sirius set to work, sucking noisily the way James liked, meeting his gaze because he liked that, too. No wonder he always came back to James, who was not only loyal, a brilliant Quidditch player and a master of spells and mayhem, but gave perfectly-pitched responses. Delicious little pleasure sounds, not like that git Lawrence Macnair, who'd squealed like a girl and had to be buggered with a hand over his mouth, or Stuart McKnight, who'd been so honored by a mutual wank that he'd spent the whole time saying, "Thanks, Sirius. Thanks ever so," or, worst of all, Jack Mahler, who, in a rather disturbing impression of a corpse, had made no sounds at all.
James also had a beautiful body under his Hogwarts uniform, a long, thick cock that begged for sucking, and was really the best friend a bloke could want, honest, uncomplicated and a hell of a lot of fun. Much more fun than Remus, who liked a book as much as a Quidditch match, who thought before he acted, mysterious thoughts he sometimes refused to share, and an annoying respect for authority. He wasn't half as good-looking as James, either, too pale and thin, with bones too close to the surface, his nose a shade too long, shadowy eyes of an unremarkable blue.
He'd had a lucky escape, really, when Remus turned him down. He was probably Jack Mahler all over again, a dead-boring lay, and Sirius redoubled his efforts with James, adjusting his rhythm which had turned sloppy, taking him deep before pulling back until just the very end of James' cock rested on his tongue. A pause to admire the gloss, then he began again.
"Sirius," James said. "That's so good."
He started to shake, fingers tightening in Sirius' hair, and when he wasn't speaking rumbled like a brewing storm. The cave rumbled back, then Sirius did, an approving sound as his own cock grew harder, as James left bittersweet traces on his tongue. When the air, cool before, started to cook around them, Sirius shook his hair from his eyes.
To take James deeper, Sirius reached around to cup the strong curve of his arse, squeezing his fingers into the flesh since he couldn't use his teeth. He liked to bite James there, leaving red marks that faded too quickly, before filling him with his tongue; James never objected, just ground his cock into the mattress or Sirius' hand with this blind faith that Sirius knew best how to make him come.
Proof of this lay now in James' rigid thighs, the sudden rush of air as James moaned, the hot flurry on Sirius' tongue that he drank in quick gulps. It invigorated him, a flow of energy, and when James finally stopped, sagging a little against the earth wall, Sirius rose and spun him around. Easy with James so loose-limbed, although he raised his arms easily enough above his bowed head, and Sirius, trousers at mid-thigh, uttered a quick spell as he took himself in hand; with the other he gripped James below the hip, pushing inside him with hot aching precision.
A smooth glide with James so relaxed, so smooth that the pleasure didn't strike until he pressed against James' back, resting his chin on one serge-covered shoulder.
"Good?" Sirius whispered.
"Always." No edges at all in James' voice, pliant as the rest of him.
The willingness excited Sirius as always, the sleepy need, and he drew back, both hands on James' hips, then began to move, fast from the start, a series of slamming thrusts that sent reality rolling down the cave's dark corridor. Clutching James, he came in a single swell, gasping in lungfuls of hot earthy air.
Sirius stayed with his cheek against the rough cloth of James' robes until he became soft enough to slip out, his semen dripping down James' thighs.
"And I thought I was hungry before," James said with a grin as he turned around.
When he bent to pick up the wand, about to utter the usual cleansing spell, Sirius stopped him, handing James some tissues from his pocket. "Use these. I want some to linger so you won't forget."
"As if I could. You played a harder game than a Slytherin Bludger." But he accepted them, patting himself down while Sirius adjusted his own clothes. Afterward, he chucked the damp tissues, a white ball in the dirt, and fixed his uniform. "So, do I look at least faintly respectable?"
"You look like you've been buggered by the entire Slytherin team."
James grinned again. "Feels it, you self-satisfied git."
"After that masterful shag? My only complaint's that my face isn't buried in a basket of fish and chips. Now let's go before my legs give out or I drop dead from hunger."
When James took an exaggerated wobbly step forward, Sirius laughed. "Idiot. At that pace, we'll never get there. Let's transform."
"Good idea. Four legs are faster than two."
Magically slipping into his dog's skin was like slipping into James: the same sudden tight heat, the same mindless freedom. Howling once for sheer joy, he began to run, loping through the cave's twisting passages, the thud of stag's hooves behind him.
It took no time to reach the stone staircase that wound up to the tiny Museum of Local Wizardry just down the road from the inn. Human again, they mounted the stairs, greeted by a dwarf-sized door that swung outwards, hidden inside by a massive stone rumored to be part of the Giants' Ring that Uther Pendragon had taken from Mount Killaraus in Ireland.
Legend had it that if you rubbed three of the carved runes in quick succession, you'd bear a son, and Sirius had once caught James doing that. ‘Come on,' James had said sheepishly. ‘Who doesn't want a son? A mini-Potter to carry on the Marauders' tradition of magical mischief-making?' Sirius, though, hadn't bothered, with the future a long blurry stretch ahead.
Squeezing past the stone led them into a dusty corner of the museum, and James sneezed twice. "Lucky for us this place is popular as Salazar Slytherin at an all-Gryffindor picnic."
On their way to the back door, they passed rows of cabinets all glowing with the blue light of a security spell.
"As though anyone would want to nick Morgan Le Fay's toenail clippings or Oberon's chest hair," Sirius said.
"I'd swipe a pair of Titania's knickers if they had them. To keep me entertained on the nights you're otherwise occupied."
"Lily Evans might give you a pair of hers if you asked her nicely."
"Evans? She's probably got spikes on hers. At the very least a deflator spell." James cringed, cupping himself protectively. "Definitely a patch that reads: Potter-Free Zone."
"Not likely. She fancies you. I can tell."
"You're mad. Not like she'd stand a chance, anyway, with you around." James gave him a lopsided smile. "You know, you almost sound jealous, Padfoot. Be kind of nice if you were."
It was like James' smile had misaligned the space. James had stopped moving, too, vigour gone as he stood in the blue light still as the stone from the Giants' Ring. He looked wrong, years too young and old at the same time, and Sirius' stomach gave a queer lurch that he couldn't explain.
if only, he thought. But if only what? It was just that there were some things you could control, and some you couldn't, but he didn't know how to say this, or even exactly what it meant, knew only that he wanted the old James back, because James was his best friend. He felt a surge of anger against Remus. It was Remus' fault, really, that he was in this mess. If only Remus hadn't turned him down; everything would be different, and James would be racing through the doors to see Lily Evans.
When the silence began to bloat, Sirius finally said, "Don't be an idiot." Not a bark, just a soft mash of affection and frustration, but the remaining half of James' smile faded.
"Yeah," James said. "I'm an idiot. I've always been an idiot around you, Padfoot. Don't think that will ever change, no matter what."
Sirius' stomach lurched again, and he looked around, anywhere but at James. "Look. Did you see this?" He pointed to the large glossy handbill mounted on the back door. "Look. It's ridiculous."
A tiny wizard in shimmering red robes jogged across the paper, squeaking, "In honor of All Hallow's, The Museum of Local Wizardly is proud to Present Blood History: Past, Present and Future. Learn about our wizarding forefathers! Hear a learned American professor discuss the latest in Muggle cloning technology! Come one, come--"
Sirius laughed loudly, hoping James would do the same. "Forget the Halloween dance at Hogwarts. Let's come to this instead. We could catch up on our sleep. About Halloween--did you hear that it's costumes this time?"
There was another stretch of quiet, a desert of it, then James spoke, his voice prickly as a cactus. "Costumes, yeah. Lex's idea, I heard. He suggested it to Dumbledore. Brilliant idea."
"Right." Sirius quickly unlocked the door and scrambled down the steps into the night, tripping on the last one so that he flew into the alley.
The cool autumn air had washed the look from James' face, and as they walked down the street James launched into a noisy and enthusiastic impersonation of Binns delivering a lecture on the sex lives of wizards past: "While the great sorcerer Merlin was best know as the chief magician at King Arthur's court, most people are unaware that Merlin was rogering Arthur silly..."
They arrived laughing at The Three Broomsticks, opening the oak doors to a flood of noise and colour. Wizards and witches in rainbow-hued robes squeezed into every smoke-blackened corner of the ancient inn, while the air was rich with the smell of burning logs, melting candles and sweet Butterbeer.
"At last!" Peter cried from a cluster of tables beneath a latticed window where the seventh-years gathered. "We thought maybe you'd met up with another Viscid or been caught with that Sex and the Single Wizard book again--"
"By McGonagall this time," Remus said.
"And she wanted to join in," Lily added.
James dragged over a couple of chairs, groaning, "Does everyone know about that?"
"Better McGonagall than Flitwick," Sirius said, settling in between James and Remus, ignoring Lex on Remus' other side.
Lily took a sip of her Butterbeer. "I think Flitwick's adorable."
James, who'd been flagging the waitress, winked at her. "For shagging purposes, Evans? I picture him with a tiny wand topped with a star in place of the usual equipment."
"You've been picturing Flitwick, James?" Remus winked. "Watch out, Sirius. Sounds like you've got competition." He looked almost unbearably relaxed, his tie hanging unknotted around his neck, his face flushed and softened by a natural smile, although he never quite met Sirius' eyes.
"So what have you two been doing? Because, James, you look positively indecent." Peter studied him. "What's that on your face?"
Lily dug in her pocket for a tissue and swiped it across James' muddy cheek. "Honestly, Potter, you look like you've been wrestling a Norwegian Ridgeback. Or been shagged by one."
"It was perfectly innocent," James said, passing Sirius a steaming flagon of Butterbeer before taking a long draught of his own. "We were playing Arthur and Merlin."
"So that's what you're calling it these days," Lawrence Macnair called from the Slytherin table. "Whatever happened to ‘Stuff the Sausage'?"
"Jealous, Macnair? From what I hear, you're so happy with sausage that you cry like a girl. Oh, here's my food. Brilliant." James' fish and chips had arrived, and he dug into them, ignoring the Slytherins, including Rodolphus Lestrange, who was helping Macnair compile a list of sexual synonyms.
"I'd like to think it's maturity that's stopping you, rather than a plate of chips, but I know better," Lily said, stealing one of his chips.
"Plenty of time to cover Beckwith with sobbing sausages later," James told her, his mouth full. "I've been starved since the Parvus spell."
"Wasn't that fun?" She snagged another chip. "Farrago told me there's a section at the Ministry of Magic that deals with memory, and I'm thinking now of taking a position there when I'm done. What about you, Potter? What'll you do if they ever let you out of Hogwarts?"
"Work for Magical Law Enforcement. Maybe be an Auror, and take care of Death Eaters. Something exciting where I battle evil. You could be an Auror with me, Sirius. We'd be unstoppable."
"I'd have to throw half my relatives in Azkaban. My mother would disown me," Sirius said. "Well, if she hadn't already."
"What about the rest of you? Remus?"
"Don't know. Something quiet, where I don't have to deal with people all the time. Writing, maybe."
A shadow passed over Remus' face, and Sirius knew that he was thinking of his secret. "Peter, tell everyone what you want to do. We could use a laugh."
Peter blushed. "It's just that everyone else has their thing. James has his sports, and Remus his books, and Sirius, well, he's Sirius, if you know what I mean. They're all dead clever, too. The only thing I'm really good at is, well, smelling. It's my nose, you see. All the Pettigrews have a strong sense of smell, so we're all great eaters, and--"
"He wants to be an elf," Sirius said.
"Sirius is just being funny. It's just that there's this school, The Elfin School of Culinary Magic, where they teach the elves how to do cooking spells, and I'd like to go. So I can open my own inn some day, but with extra-good food."
"But don't you need to be an elf to enrol?" Lily asked.
James, licking tartar sauce from his lips, said, "Peter already looks vaguely like an elf, so we figure that he could simply crouch a lot. And we'd find a spell to give him the proper ears. Sirius could manage it. Look what he did to Rodolphus when he ratted him out to Filch about sneaking into his office. The real elves would never know the difference."
"I know it's daft. But it would make me happy," Peter said wistfully. "The way the rest of you are."
"We still haven't heard from Lex." Lily turned to him. "What will you do when you're finished at Hogwarts?"
"Work with my father. Work against my father. It depends who wins the battle of wills."
"You'll win," Remus told him. "You're one of the strongest people I've ever met."
"That's because he's a Pureblood," Rodolphus called out. "All the Purebloods are strong."
"Except that I'm not a Pureblood. My father tells everyone that we are, but it's a lie. He paid a genealogist to trace our history back to a bastard son of Merlin and Vivien, but the truth is much less interesting: the oldest known Luthor was a Muggle thief who was hanged in a Scottish prison."
Rodolphus gaped like a confused fish. "But there was an article in The Daily Prophet--"
"My father recently acquired shares in The Daily Prophet. His only magical talent is to spin gold from a pile of shit."
"Should've figured that a hairless freak like you couldn't be a Pureblood--"
Before anyone could react, Remus was on his feet, his wand out. "Applicare Tuberosum!"
Rodolphus' plate of chips began to quiver, then the chips flew up like yellow birds and attached themselves to his face. Squawking like a large blond bird, he swatted at them, but only succeeded in breaking them in two, leaving exposed white centres like particularly large, nasty pimples.
"You blasted Mudblood! You'll pay for that, Lupin! My friends and I will blast your pasty arse to the moon!"
But the group of Slytherins was too slow: the others at Remus' table were already standing with him, a row of wands ready for action.
"I suggest you leave," Remus told Rodolphus. "Before I add some fish to your chips."
"Wait till Dumbledore hears about this! He'll have your sorry arses in a sling," Macnair snarled.
"Yes," Remus said, "I'm sure Dumbledore will be very happy with you for picking on the new boy, who, incidentally, is worth a thousand of each of you. Dumbledore will love it so much he might add some tartar sauce while you rot in detention."
When the truth of this sunk in, Rodolphus and his friends slunk off, muttering, "Stupid poof," and "Mudblood filth."
"Remus to the rescue," James said approvingly, as they returned to their seats. "Nicely-done."
"Thanks." He turned to Lex. "I know that you didn't need anyone saving you, but--"
"I didn't need it, but I appreciate it all the same. It's not often that someone tries to save me."
The look that Lex gave Remus had Lily staring at the ceiling, whistling under her breath, while Peter blinked a few times, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, then took several swigs of Butterbeer. Sirius, however, contemplated what Lex's head might look like adorning the wall.
"Most of the Purebloods are gits," Remus said. "That's what Sirius is always telling us, and he should know. I mean, because he's a Pureblood, not a git, at least not most of the time. And you might not be able to tell, but he has a good sense of humour. Oh, that reminds me. Peter, you mentioned the Viscid episode. Sirius, you have to tell Lex about that."
"I think we can skip that story." James had gone the colour of Lily's hair.
Lex looked interested. "What's a Viscid?"
"A Viscid," Sirius said, "since Remus asked for the story, is a type of gremlin that looks like a slug. It's about the size of your thumb, pink in colour (see James' face for reference), with tiny invisible legs, sticky ones like spiders--"
"Who thinks that Gryffindor will sweep the next Quidditch match?" This from James, who kicked Sirius under the table.
"Ow! Kick me again, Potter, and you'll be playing Merlin without a wand."
"I thought I was Arthur."
"Arthur, then, with a missing sceptre."
"You'll pay for this, Black." James gnashed his teeth theatrically.
"Looking forward to it, Potter." This was more like it, everyone having fun, getting along, being young and stupid, and he launched back into the story. "So, this type of gremlin hates the cold, absolutely detests it. They're not native to England, naturally; an exchange student accidentally brought this one in on his cat. No one noticed because of the fur."
"Either that, or they thought this was one special cat," Remus said.
When Remus smiled at him, warmer than he'd been in days, Sirius felt like he'd just drank a pint of ale. Two, even. "Right. So for whatever reason this Viscid decides that a cat's simply not good enough, and goes looking for a new host."
"I've never liked cats," James said. "Evil hairy creatures."
"So there was a big Quidditch match, with Gryffindor trouncing Ravenclaw, who were brilliant that year, and James was carried off the field by his adoring fans. When they finally let him go, our star player heads to our room for a shower, intending to meet up with us here afterward."
While Sirius took a breath, Remus continued the story. "We're all gathered here, scarfing chips and Butterbeer, and no James. We wait for ages, and still no James. It's late by this time, and we've all had our fill of celebrating, so we head back to school--"
"And Remus, Peter and I find James in our room, sitting on his bed, a towel around his waist and his head in his hands."
"At first we think that something terrible's happened, but we'd passed Dumbledore on the way in and he'd have known--"
"So we start asking him what's wrong," Sirius said.
"All James can do is moan, ‘I've got two of them. I've got two of them.'" Remus, who'd been grinning all the way through, began to laugh outright.
"It wasn't funny," James insisted. "Imagine if it had been you. What would you have thought? I'd never heard of a Viscid until then."
This only made Remus laugh harder. "Homework," he gasped. "Book. On magical creatures."
"That book was deadly dull. Besides, it's not like I expected to find a gremlin...where I did."
"Finish the story," Lily said. "I'm enjoying the rainbow of reds James is turning. He's like a human sunset."
"You've heard this story a million times, Evans," James told her. "Are you some sort of sadist? Are you all?"
"I enjoy watching you squirm," she replied, calmly sipping her Butterbeer.
"We all do," Sirius said. "So there we are, gathered around James, trying to figure out what's wrong. Peter is sure that someone has given James a Cleansweep 3, and he can't decide between that or his trusty Nimbus, while Remus thinks that James' lax academic ways have caught up with him and Binns has assigned him extra homework."
"It's bound to happen sooner or later. He's been ridiculously lucky for someone who never studies." Remus wiped his eyes, then repeated, "I've got two of them,'" and started laughing all over again.
"My guess is that James, who was completely ineffectual around girls--"
"Some things never change," Lily said, rolling her eyes.
"--now has two dates to the Halloween party, and is panicking."
"As if I'd have missed a celebration at The Three Broomsticks for any of those reasons," James scoffed, clearly trying to regain some dignity. "Or skipped putting my clothes on."
Sirius ignored him. "So we're all speaking at once, demanding to know what's going on, and James just keeps repeating, ‘I've got two of them.' ‘Two of what?' Remus asks, and James says he can't tell. Too embarrassing. Remus reminds him that we're all friends, that we've stuck it out through thick and thin, and that whatever it is, he can tell us."
"And like an idiot, I believed him." James shook his head sadly. "Now, if he'd told me the truth, that my idiot friends would tell this story to all and sundry, I would've kept the towel on, and no one would be the wiser, since I would've left school to live in a cave."
"You could've joined the circus," Lily said. "The Muggles would've loved you."
"So James, somehow believing that his friends are actually sympathetic blokes, gets off the bed and lets his towel fall. Peter shrieks, ‘He really does have two of them!' while Remus, who seems to be sensitive but is just as bad as the rest of us, starts laughing, not unlike he is now, except that time he was on the floor."
"Should've kicked him when I had the chance," James muttered into his Butterbeer.
"In all fairness," Remus said, "unlike the rest of you, I knew what the problem was, and that James wouldn't have to live life as a freak. I was just laughing too hard to be of much help. Seeing Sirius' horrified expression only made it worse."
"Well, it looked rather odd, to say the least. I could hardly tell the real one from the gremlin--"
James pretended to throw his drink in Sirius' face. "When you wake up tomorrow covered in warts the size of cabbages, remember tonight and that comment."
"Fine. So there was a slight discrepancy in size and--"
James leapt to his feet, fumbling with his belt, then looked around, grinning. "Think I'll get thrown out if I drop my trousers in my defence?"
"Given the massive difference in size," Sirius went on, giving him credit for pure showmanship and a little for truth, "it was clear that something wasn't right."
"Not my finest hour," James said, seated again. "Not only did I have two things, but Sirius had gone pale as Nearly Headless Nick, and kept saying, ‘By Merlin, James! What have you done to yourself?' while Peter squawked and Remus wet himself with hysterics on the floor. Is it any wonder I fled to the toilet and locked myself in? It was either that or beat the three of them senseless, but being naked at the time, I chose flight."
"A wise move, with two things to protect," Lex added with mock-seriousness. "So how long did it take for Remus to help you? Because I'm assuming he did. Or did you just learn to adapt?"
"Very funny, Luthor." James grinned at him. "Remus eventually managed to recover and convinced me to let him in. He took a towel, warmed it by the fire, and persuaded the Viscid to change hosts. Don't think it liked all the shouting, poking and squirming, so he wasn't that hard to coax off. I wanted to toss the little bastard into the fire, but tender-hearted Mr. Lupin -- tender-hearted when it comes to horrible, pecker-imitating gremlins -- took it to Dumbledore, and they found a new home for it with Professor Belua. He keeps it in his office under the heater. As a pet. I always cross my legs whenever I'm stuck in there for detention."
"Wise move," Lex told him. "And now I know why Remus sometimes calls you ‘Prongs'. He also told me about Peter and the arbour worm, so I know why he's ‘Wormtail'. But he never explained why Sirius is called ‘Padfoot'. He also refuses to tell me what his nickname is."
"Sirius' nickname is easy to explain," James said. "You might've heard that he has a reputation for being..."
"A trollop," Peter said helpfully. "That's what my gran used to call the barmaid at The Happy Sailor. Of course, she was a girl, but Sirius is pretty as one...There's always ‘slut,' too--"
"‘Not entirely discriminating in his affections,'" Lily suggested.
James tapped his finger against his chin. "How about ‘eager to share his bounty'? So one night--"
"Enjoying your revenge, James?"
"Quite a lot, actually, Sirius. Thanks for asking. Anyway, Sirius often returned to the dormitory late at night, thinking he was being extremely stealthy when he was clomping around and generally making a nuisance of himself for those of us trying to sleep. Remus, Peter and I are fed up by this point, so we hide Sirius' wand before he heads out one night for a bounty-sharing session with some nasty sixth-year--"
"He was very attractive. Bit of a screamer, but very attractive."
"He was a wretched little toad. Now let me tell the story. While he was gone, we extinguished the torches in the tower so it was pitch black, then put a spell on the hallway leading into the dorm. When he finally staggers back, completely knackered--"
"You weren't even there, Potter. You're making half of this up, as usual."
"I saw you afterward, Black, and, trust me, you looked completely knackered."
"Have to go with James on this one, Sirius," Remus said.
"It was fear you saw. If you'd ended up in--"
James clamped his hand over Sirius' mouth. "You've had your turn. It's mine now. So Sirius says the password and thinks he's heading into our room. Except that the spell has redirected him and he's actually heading into McGonagall's bedroom. You know what she's like, right?" James looked at Lex, who nodded, grinning.
Sirius feigned a bite at James' palm, who yanked his hand away. "I'll tell the rest," Sirius said. "Just to keep the facts straight. There I was, innocently imagining that I was getting into my own bed, when there's this shriek fit to wake the dead, and terrible claws coming at me. I leap to my feet, figuring that James has put Filch's cat under the sheets again, when a thousand torches begin blazing in the room, and I see McGonagall glaring at me, her hair standing on end, her wand out. My mouth is hanging open, and I'm clutching myself, sure she's going to hit me with a permanent deflator spell before I'm out on my ear."
Remus was laughing again, and, really, there wasn't a better sound in the world, even if Lex still had his arm possessively draped across the back of Remus' chair. "Tell us what she said. That's the best part."
"She must've known from the look on my face that I wasn't there to ravish her--"
"The only reason you're still alive to tell the tale," Lily said. It was common knowledge that McGonagall had made Lily cry last year, tore into her in that biting way for not applying herself, for "wasting your potential and behaving like a giggling schoolgirl." McGonagall had shot a pointed look at James, and the whole Transfigurations class had suddenly become fascinated with the cross-beamed ceiling, the desks covered in runes left by students past, the spider with seven legs and a life preserved by the threat of bad luck that wandered over the flagged stone floor.
"I was ready to cry." Sirius spoke from an unbidden sympathy for Lily. "At first McGonagall just stares, steely-eyed and not unlike a Gorgon with her hair all snaky. Then she gives her wand a flick and mutters a spell which makes my feet go funny, but I'm scared to look down. Another long stare before she says in that cool way of hers, ‘Mr. Black, I can only assume that you're here for help with your Transfigurations homework. While I applaud your enthusiasm, accept this reminder for the next week that midnight visits are not encouraged here at Hogwarts. Explain your punishment any way you wish, but if my name is mentioned in your story, this reminder will be permanent.' "I look down," Sirius continued, "and the old girl has given me lion-sized paws in place of feet."
"You could hear him coming a mile off," James said. "I thought it was a troll at first. But in comes Sirius with these big paws instead of feet, cursing like mad. He takes one look at me, shouts, ‘You miserable bastard!' and throws himself across the room. Nearly strangled me on the spot."
"I tried to rescue you," Remus said. "Honestly, I tried. But--"
"Remus was laughing himself sick. When he finally calmed down, he told me I had it coming -- did I mention that Remus' reputation for kindness is greatly exaggerated? -- then demanded to hear what McGonagall had said. It put him on the floor every time."
"So did the thumping we heard every time you came near that entire week. The sulking and cursing were also rather amusing," Remus added. "Anyway, that's why we Sirius ‘Padfoot.'"
Lex was watching him in that quiet, intense way. "Did you ever take your revenge, Sirius?"
"Who do you think put the Viscid in James' towel?" Sirius's grin widened when James bit him on the shoulder, shaking his head like a dog, growling as Sirius pushed him off.
"What about Remus? Did you ever get him back?"
"Sirius' entire life is revenge against me." Remus' words didn't sound like a joke, and the table went quiet.
Pete gave a loud, jaw-cracking yawn, exposing pink gums and tiny teeth. "Time to head back, I think. It's late, and we've got Transfigurations first thing tomorrow."
"Good idea." When Lily stood, all the seventh-years followed, swigging the last drops of Butterbeer.
There was a fireplace in an anteroom off the kitchen reserved for travel, and they lined up in single file, pulling out Dumbledore's silver packets of Floo powder. Because it took James some time to find the second packet, which he'd stored in his sock, he and Sirius were the last two to go through.
James went first, saying, "See you on the other side," and Sirius followed, arriving with a series of quick sneezes in the entrance hall at Hogwarts. The torches threw flashes of light over the suit of armour, bouncing it off the marble staircase and James' glasses.
"The others have already gone up. You go up, too, while I pop over to the library and return the book to the shelf. Try not to end up in McGonagall's bedroom this time, all right? And wait up for me."
Something in James' tone brought back the spin in his stomach, and Sirius said, "I'm a bit tired," but James was already bounding off. James should've been the dog, no the stag; he had all the qualities of one. Besides, what did stags do? They were ripped to pieces by dogs, just like in that old story about the witch Diana and the chewed- to-pieces-man-turned stag Acteon. The world wasn't kind to stags.
Nothing stirred in the castle as he climbed the stairs; even the ghosts seemed to be sleeping. After the McGonagall incident, at least once the spell wore off, Sirius had practised walking as quietly as possible, not even letting the air shift around him, and it was this quiet that allowed him to see the two locked figures at the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. Remus and Lex. Kissing. Suddenly he missed the lion paws.
Remus' passionate response, his arms tight around Lex's neck, killed Sirius' lurking hope that Remus was with Lex only to make him jealous.
He was on his knees, half-way to transforming, before he realized it, so struck with the desire to sink his teeth into Lex's neck and tear out his throat. The sound of bone against the hard stone floor broke the two apart, and they turned toward him.
"Sirius...What are you doing? Are you all right?"
"Just lost a button," he told Remus, rising to his feet. "Sorry to interrupt."
"That's okay. We were just saying goodnight. Sort of. I mean...Maybe not goodnight exactly..."
Lex, who'd been watching impassively, said, "Remus wants to invite me in. You don't mind, do you?"
"Invite you in? You mean for...?"
"Not for tea, if that's what you're thinking." Lex had a thousand expressions reserved for him, all shades of sarcastic. "Or is that what you and James have been doing? Drinking a lot of tea?"
"Do what you like," Sirius said.
Lex flashed him look number seventy-five. "I was planning to. I only wanted want to make sure that you won't try to stop us."
"Why would I do that?" He shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets to hide his balled fists. "Remus can do what he likes. He's put up with me and James often enough."
"I've put up with a lot," Remus said. "But as long as you don't mind..."
"Not at all. It's not like you and I...You know." Remus' hesitation was catching, and Sirius' limbs felt stiff and awkward as his words. "Whatever. It's just shagging."
"For you." Remus turned to the Painted Lady, who looked rather interested, and gave her the password. "Let's go in then, Lex."
Sirius trailed after them, feeling like one of the castle ghosts, Nearly Headless Nick, who had nothing better to do than follow people and try to be part of their lives. Inside the dormitory, Peter was already asleep, buried under a pile of blankets behind the bed curtains, though he'd left a torch burning.
Unsure what to do or where to look, hating every second of his indecision, Sirius sat on the edge of his bed to pull off his shoes. Left, then right. A bit sooty from the Floo travel; he'd have to clean them tomorrow--
He stole a look toward Remus' bed, saw Lex clutching a bed post as he slipped out of his own shoes, Remus already lying back against the pillows, his tie and robes lying on the chest at the foot of the bed, his shirt unbuttoned.
"Good night, Sirius," Lex said, and drew the curtains shut.
The last thing that Sirius heard was Remus reciting the silencing spell.
Sirius undressed, or must have, since he was now naked under the sheets. His mouth even tingled, teeth brushed, but perhaps he used a spell. The mattress had developed lumps, fists that pummelled his back and right calf, and he shifted, then shifted again, limbs straight, limbs splayed, on his back, his side, his stomach. Nothing helped. The castle, always too cool, now felt too hot, almost electric, like a storm cloud had snuck in through a window.
What were they doing behind the curtain? Friendly boy-stuff, the kind Sirius learned from a sixth-year Slytherin in an empty classroom? Or more? The possibilities were endless, each one more vivid and repulsive than the last. Remus on his back, Lex with his face between Remus' thighs, his dull American tongue on Remus' cock. Remus on his hands and knees, his eyes squeezed shut, growling like a wolf as Lex plunged into him. The two of them naked, face to face, kissing and rubbing, Remus' eyes shining and open, all of him open for Lex.
It was like an illustrated book, pages turning in his head, faster and faster, and he shut it, punching his pillow for closure. Just a crushed ego, that was all. He touched his face, outlining his mouth, his cheekbones, his eyes, to see if they'd shifted over the summer, to see if being alone had somehow ruined him.
His fingers weren't enough, so he conjured light and a mirror above him. The only difference lay in his expression, wild-eyed and desperate, a vision so horrifying that he erased the mirror at once. Whatever was wrong with him wasn't new; Remus had sensed it before, had snuffled it out with his werewolf's nose for blood.
They'd been in the tunnel, just the two of them that full moon, with James laid up with a Quidditch injury and Peter playing nursemaid.
...Running, running hard on all fours, free and howling, blind black gloom. Silver flash ahead, smell of hunger, red burn as the wolf turns to snap and growl. Snarl back, then a race, a chase through mazing tunnels. Caught once, twice, bites without blood, wolftaste. Run, howl, bite, heart exploding. Ebb, finally, air thinning, canter, walk, then fall, both of them, fur mixing in a corner, then mortal skin with the hidden dawn, tangled and yawning. Kiss a little, blood-earth mouth, tongues, hands...
Then it ended. Remus on his feet, Sirius' shoulder punch-bruised, the two of them staring at each other.
"Are you mad, Sirius?" Disgust pinched every feature, and he walked away, back rigid, the werewolf tucked away.
The shameful worst part came when Remus turned it into a joke later before the four of them in the common room. "You'll never believe what..." And Sirius laughed it off, said, "You were the only one there." Laughs all around, hardest from Remus, weakest from James, who complained that his bandaged foot ached and could they please shut the sodding hell up so he could heal in peace.
Now Remus was giving it away beside him, giving everything he'd hoarded to some arrogant, selfish twat, was probably shooting his precious werewolf spunk into the pretty, scarred mouth of that superior American bastard--
"Back at last," James said, slipping in beside him. "Filch nearly nabbed me. Had to hide behind a tapestry until he stopped nosing about." He closed his fingers around Sirius' traitorous cock. "Feels like you've started without me."
"Get on your hands and knees." Pure Black voice, but the quiet from Remus' bed clanged like a bell.
"So that's how it's going to be." But James stripped and did as Sirius commanded.
A quick spell, then he moved behind James and pushed inside him. James gasped into the pillow, a satisfying sound, and Sirius went at him. No finesse, no care, no control, just rutting, slamming into heat, his eyes screwed shut, his heartbeat erratic. But the position was a mistake: the body could be anyone's, a stranger's smooth back and buttocks. Remus'. After all, wasn't Remus crouched like this in the next bed, Lex pounding into him, sweat gathering along his spine, clenching the big hot cock inside him?
Sirius grit his teeth and ground his hips, said, "Take that, take that, you want it so much."
He came furiously, and felt furious after, spent and unspent as he rolled onto his side. "Get out," he told James. "Leave. I'm done."
"I'm not," James said, twisting onto his back. "Give me a hand first, your Highness."
"What's going on?" He crawled closer, throwing his arm around Sirius' waist. "I come back, you shag me without mercy, and now you're--"
"I told you to--"
The curtains opened around Remus' bed. The wrong side, so nothing to see, just hear as Lex said goodnight, Remus' voice low and warm in return. Then Lex rounded the bed, perfectly dressed, his shoes on and his tie straight. He looked straight ahead, didn't even glance back as he walked out the door.
"Well," James said. "Now I understand." He sat up, struggled into his pyjama bottoms, and went without another word to his own bed.
When he fell asleep, Sirius dreamed in black, silver and red, of wolves and dogs and a stag torn to pieces.
Sirius was the Grim, the ghostly omen-dog that carried the smell of graves and old bones. That's how he felt, how he looked, and how no one treated him.
James went on about Quidditch, sporting a wash of new bruises, including one above his heart, courtesy of Lestrange's elbow, and a smaller one the width of a broom handle along his jaw, all of which he proudly displayed to anyone who asked. Between complaints about his homework, he worked on his costume for the Halloween dance, insisting that Sirius go as Arthur to his Merlin. True, he avoided any nocturnal visits for the first week, but came back the second one without comment, letting Sirius take him again, then again, from behind.
Peter twittered about the house-elves, who were teaching him basic recipes, or trying to, since his first batch of steak and kidney pies had caused such a flaming, smoky mess that the smell found its way into the Great Hall, putting everyone off their dinner. "Tricky business, this cooking," was his only defence, and he didn't flinch much when Lily, kindly as possible, told him that the Halloween Dance Refreshment Committee was too full for another member, or when James composed a limerick in his honour:
There once was a boy name of Peter,
Whose cooking tasted like socks on a heater.
‘It's better when flamed,'
Mr. Pettigrew explained.
‘Scorching makes all food taste sweeter.
When he wasn't studying, Remus sang snatches of ridiculous Muggle songs from his youth and laughed when James suggested a vocal-improvement spell. He shared his stash of chocolate frogs from a trip to Honeydukes, read boring books that everyone else avoided, Lex glued to his side; the two went everywhere together like mismatched Siamese twins, including to bed, although there were rumours about closets and toilets. Even the approach of his monthly stint as a blood-hungry monster didn't upset Remus; while his skin lightened and his brown hair grew an inch, Remus still hummed, pausing only when Sirius told him that his piles of homework meant he couldn't join him in the tunnels.
Lex was the only one who might've sensed the Grim, Lex and Lily Evans, since between the two of them they piled on sudden long looks that prickled the back of Sirius' neck. (And presumably prickled theirs, as the Grim was wont to do.) "You look like you're not sleeping," he told Sirius one morning at breakfast, his smirk hidden.
Beyond his inability to sleep, eat, laugh or concentrate, Sirius' life was the picture of normality. Grim normality. He had a sneaking suspicion that he was dying or at least desperately ill, and visited the nurse, who mocked him, thinking he was trying to avoid class, a feat he'd managed successfully before.
The pain accelerated during the Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin, with James too busy on the field to temper first the humiliation of sitting forgotten beside Lex and Remus, then the greater pain of their half-hearted attempt to include him in ther conversation.
"Sirius used to play Quidditch," Remus said. "Best Keeper Gryffindor's ever seen. Even named a move after him, The Black Block. Between him and James, no other team stood a chance. They were brilliant together. I'd be hoarse after the games from cheering."
"Why did you quit playing, Sirius?" Lex leaned over, doubtless using the question as an excuse to place his hand on Remus' thigh, the same thigh that Sirius could feel against his own, a warm press for every breath.
"Had an accident with my motorbike and buggered my knee." He hoped that McGonagall would glance over and be so scandalized by Lex's public display of sodomitic affection that she'd knock him back across the ocean with one sweep of her broom, or at least give him paws in place of hands, maybe a tail and whiskers, too, the smug bastard.
"Sirius was a speed-demon," Remus said. "Drove that bike like a madman. He'd take me up and I'd keep my eyes closed half the time, sure we'd crash into one of the towers or a tree."
Shouts and whoops interrupted them as Jenkins scored a goal for Gryffindor. Sirius saw James outlined against the sun, raising his fist, his head thrown back, then noticed Lily Evans, seated a few rows down with Mandy Litvack, staring up, too, hypnotized by James' pleasure in the game.
"What happened to the bike?" Lex again, now balancing with his arm behind Remus.
"Confiscated by Dumbledore. Probably for the best. I'd never have gotten all the sheep parts from the engine." Great bike. He called it 'Alphard' after his favourite uncle, the same one who'd given him enough gold to live on his own, and used to sneak into the room where it was stored to clean her blood-specked chrome flanks. Rodolphus caught him once, though, and told Filch, and now she was hidden in some recess of the school that not even the Marauders could discover.
"Do you miss it?"
Lex had the soul of an inquisitor, and Sirius refused to hand over more information that necessary. Who knew what Lex would do with it? "All the time."
Remus was humming beside him. "Lex used to play Quidditch. Same position as you."
The rhythm turned Sirius mean. "Why'd you quit? Not enough glory?"
"To spite his father," Remus said, elbowing him. "You should be able to understand that, Sirius."
"Remus is subtly alluding to the fact that my mother disowned me."
"You're lucky," Lex said. "I keep trying to guide my father in that direction, but he never takes the final step. How did it happen?"
Was Lex keeping a score card of his humiliations? "She objected to my friends, and I told her to drop dead. When she didn't, she burned my name off the family tree and showed me the door." More truth than he'd intended to give, but maybe that would scare Lex away. Or not.
"You can live with that? No regrets?"
Lex probably enjoyed picking at scabs and pulling wings off flies. "Obviously you've never met my mother," Sirius said. "In addition to her Pureblood obsession, she asked a lot of nosy questions, then sat in judgment."
Lex ignored the barb. "She doesn't try to lure you back into the family fold?"
"It's like I was never born. The perfect start to a perfect new life."
"So why aren't you happy about it?"
This time the Slytherin team scored the goal.
Gryffindor won, two-hundred to sixty, but for the first time ever Sirius skipped the party in the common room. While the crowd went wild, Remus whooping beside him, then throwing his arms around Lex, Sirius slipped from the stands and walked back to the castle.
Turning a corner in one of the deserted hallways, he collided with a flurry of purple stars, snowy beard and sherbet raspberry, landing hard on his arse. When a hand stained green from lizard guts grasped his, drawing him from the floor, Sirius found himself staring into Dumbledore's blue eyes.
"Sirius Black." Dumbledore looked delighted, although his tall pointed hat was askew, the sherbet raspberry a sticky pink stain on his robes.
"Sorry about your sweet."
"A happy accident. You see, I'd chosen raspberry when I much prefer lemon. Raspberry causes me to hiccup pink bubbles, but I thought I'd give it another try."
Sirius wasn't sure how to respond to this further proof that Dumbledore was quite mad. "So why'd you choose it?"
"Humans beings do prefer what's more easily attained. In this case, the lemon sweets were a little further away, tucked behind a jar of bat wings." He sighed, then his smile brightened. "I did enjoy watching your friend Mr. Potter on the Quidditch field. What skill! What control! If only he'd learn to direct his energy so positively in all aspects of his life. Too many distractions, I'm afraid."
Dumbledore's gaze wandered to the tapestry beside them, where a woven Merlin chased through fields and forests after Nimue with her gold-thread hair, who blew him kisses over her shoulder. When he finally caught her on a cliff by the green sea, she gave him a real kiss, then thwacked his nose with her tiny wand. A cave like a mouth opened in the brown earth, swallowing Merlin whole, and he remained there shedding miniature silver tears until the story began again.
"Love. Unfortunately rather like a game of Exploding Snaps. You never know what card will singe your eyebrows off." As Dumbledore shook his head, his hat tilted even further. "So, what do you think of our newest addition to Hogwarts? Misters Luthor and Lupin seem to have formed a very strong friendship; I suspected they might when I sent Lex to Remus at the start of term."
Hard to keep his nose from wrinkling, and Dumbledore caught the twitch.
"Complicated your life, has he, Sirius? Well, you must remember that complications are like textbooks: difficult to finish, but they leave us smarter by the end, if we allow ourselves to arrive there."
"Ah! Spoken like a very clever but somewhat negligent student." He winked at Sirius, then turned grave, staring again at the tapestry. "I do wish Merlin had stayed at Camelot and settled down to a comfortable life with Morgan Le Fay. Not the stuff of romantic legend, but think: they might've had a son to defeat Mordred." With a sweep of his arm, Dumbledore adjusted his hat. "Now I must be off. Good luck with your studies, Mr. Black. You can achieve much with a little application."
He whisked off in a raspberry cloud.
"Crazy as a badger," Sirius muttered.
The talk with Dumbledore hadn't improved his mood, and he avoided the common room where the Gryffindors would be gathering for the post-match celebration, instead heading to the dormitory to curl up in bed with his heavy Defence Against the Dark Arts text. Sadly, it appeared to be written in Swahili, and he squinted with one eye, then the other, trying to make sense of it.
He had levitated the book above his head, smashing it into the canopy roof, when Remus appeared. The book fell with a papery thud beside him.
"Studying? When there's a party? Where's the real Sirius Black, and what have you done with him?"
"Can't a bloke do his homework without causing a scandal? Besides, you're the one who's always after me to work harder. Well, here I am, working hard."
"I may be boring, Sirius, but even I know when it's time to relax. Come to the common room. Lex has arranged for food to be brought from The Three Broomsticks, and Evans has worked a music spell."
"I'm just tired. Go join your...The celebration."
"What about James? He was looking for you since you disappeared after the match."
"So now you're Potter's errand-boy?"
"No," Remus said, sitting on the edge of the bed, plucking the end of his tie. "I'm your friend, and his, and I'm worried about you. You've been a bit odd lately, and I miss the old Sirius, the one who put spider legs in my tea and told me with a wickedly-straight face that it would make me smarter. The one who encouraged me to walk along the parapet because ‘Werewolves must have good balance,' and who brought me chocolate every day in the infirmary after that. The one who gave Snape the embarrassing rash after--"
"Don't waste your energy, Moony. Save it for Lex, because I'm fine. James and I will celebrate later." To avoid Remus' eyes, Sirius stared at his wide mouth. The mouth that Lex kissed, the mouth that sucked Lex.
"Sirius, if I can tell you that I'm a werewolf, you can tell me anything. I'd never have told anyone if you hadn't made me. Told Lex that this morning when I got back from the tunnels. Even without you there, it was bearable." He tried to touch Sirius' hand, but he pulled it away. "Is it James? Did you two have a fight?"
"No fight. There's nothing to tell."
"Fine. I'll start, or restart, the confessions." Remus took a deep breath, then let it go in a little spurt of air. "I'm thinking of taking a job in America."
If he starts singing one of those songs, Sirius thought, I'll kill him. I really will, bare hands around his neck. That would show Lex, with his job offers and his rich father and his theft of people's best mates. "America," he said. "Well, good luck with it. Except..."
"Well, Lex might object to your monthly transformation into a hairy killer."
"He knows," Remus said. "He's going to build me a place where I can go during the full moon."
"Generous of him. Must be nice to be rich as Croesus."
"I know that you and Lex haven't exactly warmed to each other--"
The understatement of the century.
"--but he's great, Sirius. I understand better now about you and James, what it feels like to have someone."
"I'm very happy for you." He flipped onto his side, presenting his back to Remus. And his arse, which Remus could kiss, thank you very much. All they'd done for him, the months it took to weasel out the secret, the years to learn the Animagus spell so Remus wouldn't be alone, and this was how he thanked them. Going off and leaving him alone, like this time at Hogwarts was just a phase, just a stage in a much larger process, and not life as it was supposed to be. "Seriously, Moony, go to the party. Eat pumpkin patties and drink a pitcher of Butterbeer. I have to study or I won't be fit for anything after Hogwarts."
"America's waiting for you. I think it's your destiny." And he picked up his book, pretending to read.
"Maybe I'll see you later."
His day could be worse, Sirius thought, as Remus walked slowly from the room. After all, James' Nimbus hadn't been thrust through his eye--just felt like it.
He stood on a cliff above the sea, listening to the wind, the surf and a crying voice. Above him, the sky was a benevolent blue expanse, just a single black dot in the centre of the sun. But the black dot began to grow, spreading like a can of paint dropped from invisible clouds, covering the horizon, the sea, then the cliff itself, until darkness engulfed him as well. No light, no sound anymore, just thick black everywhere; even his hand when waved before his own face couldn't penetrate it. Cold, too, with the sun gone, so cold his teeth chattered, a clicking sound like footsteps on flagstones.
It began to press down on him, the cold, black quiet, a heavy weight on his chest...
When the weight vanished, a edge of reality broke though Sirius' dream. No cave, just him in his bed, on his back, and someone had taken the book from his chest, was covering him with the quilt. Remus, he thought, still barely awake. Just like him. The party must be over, and he'd fallen asleep with his clothes on. Remus, not James, who'd already be beside him, mostly naked, his hand on Sirius' cock, his tongue in his mouth.
Too sleepy to open his eyes, he reached out, fumbling until he found Remus' hand. "Still cold, Moony," he managed to say, cold inside and out from the dream. His hand was squeezed once, solid enough that Sirius knew he wasn't still dreaming, before Remus pulled away. Always pulling away.
Then the mattress shifted as Remus slipped under the quilt to lie against him. Only a friendly gesture, not a prelude to anything else; best to enjoy it since this was all he'd ever have, so he didn't move, just relaxed into the warmth. But it hurt, more than it had a right to, more than when his mother cut him off, more than when he saw nothing behind a closed bed curtain. As though sensing this Remus gave him a reassuring kiss on the cheek, then another one along his jaw.
Kisses should come with a license; they were more dangerous than motorbikes, than the teeth of a werewolf. Sirius endured these brotherly signs of affection with their sharp edges, lay quietly counting them when they didn't stop. He wanted one full on the mouth, but couldn't turn to face Remus, who'd run, not stay and use his tongue.
Don't move, he told himself. Don't move no matter what happens.
His heart was pounding -- he couldn't control that -- but again Remus seemed to know, or perhaps the sound made him curious, because he slowly unbuttoned Sirius' shirt and slid his hand inside right over it. Under Remus' palm, Sirius' nipple hardened, and he willed it down, flat and innocent.
This failed but it was Remus' fault for moving his palm in circles, then his fingers, the circles shrinking until they concentrated on the nipple. A small gesture, but Sirius had to bit his bottom lip to keep from moaning, and bit harder at the gentle tug. He also buried the temptation to demand why Remus was doing this, if he'd had a fight with Lex, or thought Sirius so pathetic that he pitied him enough to touch him, or if the coming full moon had trip-started an irrational desire.
The slight drag at his neck confused him until he realized that Remus was pulling off his tie in the same slow, methodical way he'd done everything, so different from James, who liked hard, quick, immediate pleasure. When the tie was free, Remus placed it over Sirius' eyes and nudged his head up to knot it. This was almost unbearably exciting, a declaration that Remus wasn't going to stop his teasing gestures, that the gestures might grow. This way they could pretend that it wasn't real, and--
Remus' warm wet mouth closed over his nipple, and he sucked. No teeth, just the barest pressure of lips, a hint of tongue. Without thinking, Sirius raised his hands, but Remus caught then lifted them behind Sirius' back to bind Sirius' wrists with his own tie. Just like Remus to take all responsibility, and strangely satisfying to give it up, relax into those trustworthy hands, the sure mouth already back at his nipple.
As the sucking continued, sweat gathered under his blind eyes, under the hair at the back of his neck, the flat of his stomach where Remus now rested one hand, the tips of his fingers under the waistband of Sirius' trousers. He could come like this, without even moving, his cock stiff as the nipple in Remus' mouth, the lack of contact where he needed it most a charge of its own. Still, his hips kept rising, fucking air, begging silently.
When a wet thumb dusted over his other nipple so that it felt like two mouths on him, he moaned, a lewd, desperate sound. This brought another gentle kiss to his cheek, a reminder that this wasn't supposed to hurt, then a kiss on his mouth, like Remus couldn't resist, before he returned to Sirius' nipples.
No one had ever stayed on his nipples this long, had lavished this much attention there. He'd never given anyone the chance, and even if he had, even if he didn't...Even if he didn't care about the person, this sucking and teasing would've made him weak, with stars already dancing behind the blindfold.
Fingers at his throat now, exploring rather than holding, fingertips in the hollow, then up over his jaw, under his shirt to glide over his shoulder. He squirmed when they skimmed his ribs, when a single finger started under his chin and slid in a straight leisurely line down his body, stopping at the top of his trousers to start back up again. Remus did this countless times, until the rhythm felt natural as breathing....
If breathing alone led to orgasm.
He'd never been so aware of his skin, even after the transformation from his canine body to his human one, perversely glad for his clothes even when he hated the barrier, the sleeves covering his arms, the trousers over his legs. If Remus stroked him everywhere like that, he'd break out of it.
The finger changed route, horizontal rather than vertical, passing back and forth along his waistband. His hips arched for a second time, and he moaned again. Remus must've liked the noise because he began to kiss Sirius' nipple, kiss around it, along his side, over his ribs, while that maddening finger kept tracing its straight line.
Kiss and stroke. Kiss and stroke. Kiss and stroke. Hard not to imagine that same pattern on his cock, to crave it. His wrists strained at the tie while more unrecognizable sounds slipped from his throat, the whimpers of a bitch in heat. Remus reached up and stroked his cheek, then his hair, and this became a new pattern, a curving line this time over his temple, brushing the hair past his ear, then a caress down his cheekbone to the side of his mouth.
Sirius tried to catch the fingers with his tongue, and for the first dozen passes Remus wouldn't let him. Then Remus extended the last one to include Sirius' lips, outlining his mouth before easing three fingers inside. Sirius sucked them without shame, grunting like an animal, like a hungry dog at his mother's teat, and went even wilder when Remus began to fuck his mouth, licking the fingers, lapping at them, sucking madly, trying to keep them deep in him.
When Remus finally pulled them free, he spread the wetness over Sirius' nipples, and only as his fingers dried did he push them back into Sirius' greedy mouth. More sucking, then more damp strokes over his chest, again and again until no exposed skin was dry. Remus ended the game with a kiss on Sirius' lips, then trailed his fingers down his chest. When he arrived at Sirius' waist, he unbuckled the belt, pulled it from the loops, and dropped it somewhere on the bed.
This didn't lead to freedom, but another torturous game. Instead of opening Sirius' trousers, Remus rubbed along the side of his trapped cock, a slight, infuriating, eye-watering tease. Lying still was impossible, except that with every arch or shift Remus would stop, forcing him to remain passive, without question the most difficult task of his life.
His cock by now was painfully engorged, aching for the full weight of Remus' hand. His whole world became about Remus' hand; at each stroke he prayed for more, prayed that it would move over him, and each time it never did. There came a point where he couldn't stand it anymore, and Remus moved his hand, only to begin stroking him on the other side, his fingers barely skimming, the most frustrating almost-contact ever.
When Sirius groaned, Remus took pity on him, still rubbing but allowing him to suck the fingers of his other hand. Ready to dissolve, he took them gratefully, needing something solid to keep him anchored. The fingers also distracted him from the questions gathered at the back of his brain, fragments of the past and the future that he wasn't ready to assemble. Later, or never, definitely not now, with Remus placing his hand over Sirius' cock, just long enough to feel the heat and weight. He arched, desperate for more, but Remus only brushed back Sirius' damp hair above the make-shift blindfold, then nuzzled his shoulder like a puppy. The fingers stayed in Sirius' mouth, still fucking it, and he wondered if the lewdness of it, the dirty suggestiveness, excited Remus as well. He knew that Remus was hard, had felt the stiff length of him when Remus leaned too close, but beyond that, the level of it--
A long light stroke from the base of Sirius' cock to the head. He tensed, gasping, and the fingers were removed from his mouth, playing again with his nipples.
His trousers clung to him, his shirt did, his back sticky against the mattress, all fabric too heavy, like he was bound everywhere, not just at the wrists and over his eyes. His nipples were starting to sting, and his cock was so swollen with hot blood that it had to be burning Remus' hand through the wool. Sirius was close to begging, but retained the fear that his voice might ruin everything, might remind Remus of things he'd rather forget. He pressed his lips in a tight line, forgetting that Remus could see, and whimpered when a finger broke through, penetrating him there.
This initiated a new chain of need. He'd tried it once with that sixth-year, real penetration, but didn't like being on the bottom while someone rammed into him, like a loser in a wrestling match with the power on the top. Remus wouldn't see it like that, wouldn't turn it into a struggle, into a war; it would be giving with him, not taking, and if he wanted it, Sirius would let him--
Remus drew back his attention by unfastening Sirius' trousers, tugging them down over his hips, then carefully reaching inside to...
This time the only thing between Remus' stroking hand and Sirius' burning skin was a thin layer of damp cotton. A thin, hateful, wretched layer, and he groaned even as his body jerked. Remus burrowed his face into Sirius' neck as he fondled him, the tip of one finger sliding over the head of Sirius' cock, circling it, then trailing down his shaft. He could feel the pulse in Remus' finger through the fabric, or maybe it was just the thrumming of his own blood.
Strange to think that he'd ever been cold with Remus hot as a furnace beside him. That tongue on his neck, licking, the fingers exploring. Any more, and he'd liquify. Really, it was almost enough, even when he'd kill for more, just to have Remus beside him, touching him into this hot, floating space, like riding his motorbike at night aimed at the moon, speeding higher into a forever-black, but without the cold rushing wind. This was more like being underwater in a hot sea, swimming on a dolphin's back.
When Remus finally slipped his hand under the cotton and touched him, bare skin on bare skin, he actually stopped breathing, even with Remus caressing his cheek again. He was past soothing, could only lie there shaking as Remus coaxed him harder.
A gentle squeeze, then a slow, close-fisted stroke from top to bottom, then nothing. The same fingers found their way back into Sirius' mouth, and when they were wet, returned to his cock. Just the thumb after that, which he sucked frantically before Remus rubbed it over the head of Sirius' cock. Faintly, he heard his own harsh breathing, the sounds of licked Remus' fingers.
Impossible to calm him, but Remus tried, leaving his cock to wet Sirius' balls, a pleasure not quite as intense but still made his eyes roll back behind the tie. A pause followed each touch, as though Remus was gauging his reaction, determining what pleased him most, like the careful separation and rolling of each testicle or the firm squeeze just above both, leaving them taut and vulnerable to the pad of Remus' thumb.
Easy enough to picture Remus' face while he did it, his pale cheeks flushed, grey eyes narrowed in concentration, teeth catching his bottom lip, like Sirius was a particularly fascinating book. Remus had the sort of focus that blocked out all distractions, which might explain why he'd let this go so far, simply forgetting the outside world. Sirius hoped he'd never remember it, not with Remus moving his hand up again, closing it around the base of Sirius' shaft.
The stroke took an age, as did the slide back down. Sirius tried to force it, shoving up for speed and contact, but Remus petted his flank like he was gentling a horse, and Sirius settled back again, his thighs trembling, bracing himself for more.
Only more didn't come. Abruptly, Remus let go, the mattress shifting as he pulled away, and it couldn't end. Not now. Sirius would've broken his vow of silence but couldn't decide what to say, to beg, curse or scream. Then his legs were eased apart, Remus climbing between them. Remus was going to....was going to....
Nothing in the world prepared him for the first touch of Remus' tongue on his cock. Just the tip of it on the crown, this tiny wet connection, caused him arch so high he was nearly levitating, and fell back on the bed, winded. As always, Remus maintained a slow, steady pace, more tiny licks across the head, down the sides. Sometimes he chose a single spot and devoted his attention to it, licking away until Sirius thought he'd scream, then moving to another one.
At last Remus returned to the head, lapping at it, with one hand around the base. Sirius, who'd occasionally relaxed his muscles when Remus explored a new part of his cock, found himself unable to, his whole body tight with need. He didn't even know he'd begun to plead, whispering, "Please, please, please, please," until Remus started to suck him there, and the words froze, the world did, everything gone except for Remus' hot sucking mouth.
His back locked into a permanent arch, every muscle straining so hard it should hurt, need like a fire under his skin, burning down his spine, over his nipples and balls, his mouth and his cock. Especially his cock, so tender and full that only one more touch of Remus' tongue would--
He saw red behind the blindfold, blood-red, red as Remus' werewolf mouth, then a wash of brilliant white. Cries around him, wild painful cries, the line of fire bursting from him, blazing rush, beyond good. Remus. Remus. Remus. The name every time his body -- Remus -- shot out another -- Remus -- bolt of come. Remus.
Eventually he floated down, sinking back into himself, the tension fading like a sunset, while Remus licked up the last traces. Something hungry in the way he did it, and Sirius remembered through the haze that Remus still hadn't come.
"My mouth," Sirius said quietly, doling out the barest words. "Like your fingers."
The right balance, because Remus gave Sirius' cock a last long suck, then kissed Sirius' hips, his stomach, his nipples, and for a brief salty moment his mouth before straddling his chest. With his wrists still bound above his head and Remus' knees flanking him, he was trapped. The flutter of discomfort switched to euphoria when Remus unknotted the tie joining his hands; to show his trust, Sirius kept his fingers clasped, repeating, "My mouth."
Remus ran his finger across Sirius' lips as though testing him, and he eagerly opened for it. Satisfied, Remus withdrew it, and Sirius heard him unfastening his trousers, then the warm head of Remus' cock pressed against his mouth. Instead of pushing it in, Remus rubbed it over Sirius' lips, leaving a slick trail that Sirius followed with his tongue.
His first taste of Remus, and he wanted more, but Remus still wouldn't hurry, guiding his cock over Sirius' lips again, then up and down each cheek, less marking territory than a cautious approach, an opportunity for escape. Sirius licked his lips, keeping them parted to show his readiness.
Remus' cock glided inside, hard and heavy, and Sirius closed his mouth around it, using his tongue to encourage Remus to leave it there. Remus made a low sound under the wet sloppy noises of Sirius' sucking, an echo of the growls from his werewolf hours. That was part of Remus' appeal, he thought: the calm, controlled exterior, the wolfish centre. Peace and war, patience and violence, all of that now under Sirius' tongue.
Sirius' spent cock twitched, and he lifted his neck to take as much as he could of Remus down his throat. He couldn't hold the position, but when he lay back, Remus fed him even more, reaching down to cup the back of Sirius' head, always gentle, never forcing. Never would, but the possibility of it, this hidden wolfish side, was always there, and that wild need started to build, urging Sirius to suck harder.
It began to happen: while he held his cock at the middle to ensure that Sirius never choked, Remus' light, measured thrusts turned rougher and faster. Sirius gave up licking, just let Remus fuck his mouth, hoping that Remus was watching this, that he wasn't denying whose mouth held his cock.
His breathing erratic as his thrusts, Remus started to use his hand, pulling back until just the head of his cock remained inside, jerking the shaft with a tightly-closed fist. Sirius licked it, teased it, sucked it, tasted the wet bitter saltiness, fster, slap of Remus' hand against his cock, more salt, the head juicy and swollen on Sirius' tongue, so ready, so close...
Remus went still, let out a hiss of breath, then the first burst of come landed in Sirius' mouth. Triumph, and he swallowed, then swallowed again, and again, Remus' hand so hot on the back of his head, his come so hot on Sirius' tongue. Even when it stopped Sirius kept licking until Remus finally pulled away, his damp cock sliding from Sirius' mouth. He remained in place above Sirius, breathing hard, and tugged at the tie covering Sirius' eyes.
At first Sirius could see nothing, just blinked against the lighter darkness, waiting for the moment when his vision cleared and Remus' face, his whole purpose, would be revealed.
Then fragments began to filter through: broad shoulders, dark hair, a full bottom lip...
"Not who you expected?" It sounded like pieces had been cut from James' voice, and his smile was over-wide, a few shades too bright. "It was strange, like watching you with someone else." He put his hand to his mouth, then let it fall to his side. "But it's not like you didn't know it was me. It's not like any of it was real. Because we were just playing. Pretending. You did know it was me, didn't you?"
"Oh," Sirius said, "of course I knew. It was a game. You didn't think that--?" He laughed without meeting James' eyes. "Honestly, James, it was just a game."
Sirius didn't mean to avoid James after that, or even Remus. It just happened naturally, like the staircases at Hogwarts that changed direction without warning, taking you without malice on a different path. Like the future, slippery and unpredictable.
Not his fault that he fell asleep at odd times and woke at even odder ones to walk along the forest edge in the dark, leaf carcasses crunching under his feet, sneaking into the kitchen for dinner at sunrise. He watched the Quidditch matches from the cliffs, James a tiny bird blown by the wind in the grey October sky, and imagined that he saw Remus and Lex in the stands, pale twins too close together, whispering about Halloween costumes. Sometimes he left class early to crawl into bed or huddle over a book in the library, sometimes studying, sometimes cradling his cheek on the pages.
McGonagall had her lecturing eye out for him, but he was quick around corners, and Hogwarts had a great many corners, some so dank and dusty that even the ghosts avoided them. He'd stand in one, staring at the lichen-covered stone, the stained portraits of long-dead wizards who couldn't even be bothered to stare back, so used to being alone.
Because he felt like the Grim, Sirius began to take that form as he wandered the halls. With his quiet feet and black fur, he blended into the shadows where he heard things, secret crumbs of information that he followed like a trail in the woods.
"...was awful," Lily whispered to Mandy Litvack. "Hurt like you wouldn't believe, and afterward he couldn't get away fast enough. Some summer romance. If only James wasn't..."
Sirius had never rounded a corner so quickly, and caught a pack of house-elves decorating the foyer for Halloween, fixing black and orange streamers to the walls, releasing squeaking clouds of black bats. More twists and turns, then he hit a Slytherin patch:
"...whey-faced poof won't know what hit him. Toads in his cereal, locusts in his spunk..."
A quick reversal spell took care of Lestrange and Macnair's Decem Pestis spell against Remus. If anyone was going to resent Moony, it was Sirius, and he ran, stairs this time, up until mouse bones crunched under his paws, feathers tickling his dog's nose.
"...survival of the fittest..." Lex read a letter as he stood alone in the Owlery, his face the colour of the snowy owl nosing a bowl of mouse parts behind him. "...Love, Father. Sick bastard." An Ignitus spell burned the letter to pieces, sending ash like grey rain to the floor.
Lucky that Lex had Remus to comfort him, Sirius thought as he followed the winding stairs back down, slinking past the entrance to the Astronomy Tower.
"...will soon be legion. A new breed of sorcerer..." In a huddled conversation with McGonagall outside his office, between raspberry hiccups, Dumbledore worried in his casual heart-of-darkness way. "... too many small wars in the way..."
Sirius was very cold, cave-cold, with his hands shaking and goose bumps rising on his skin, like winter had come early, settling inside him.
James didn't sleep alone that night.
It looked like the sun had exploded.
Thousands of pumpkins, candles burning in their hollow core, leered overhead in the Great Hall, burping black smoke. Below, tables groaned under mounds of cocoa cobweb cupcakes, black cat cookies, caramel cauldron toffees, and pitchers of iced pumpkin juice and hot apple cider. Lily had enchanted a dozen suits of armour to act as the band, and from a corner they played Muggle tunes she'd learned over the summer.
The professors all gathered in another corner, drinking cider from skull-shaped cups as they chatted and watched a colourful assortment of flora and fauna, wizards and warriors, wriggle and jerk on the dance floor at the hall's centre. Dumbledore was swathed in pink, a cellophane hat on his head--
"I think he's a sherbert raspberry," Sirius whispered to James as they stood in the doorway.
--while McGonagall wore tiger-skin robes, her nose a pink triangle, a long orange tail snapping so violently behind her that she nearly toppled tiny Professor Flitwick, dressed as a newt.
"Something's got McGonagall twitchy. Wait till the old girl sees me, her ancient shag-buddy come to life." He grinned, then continued to scan the room. "Do you see Remus and the others? Can't wait to see what they're wearing. Moony's been so secretive about....Holy Merlin's bollocks! That can't be them."
"There. Follow the trail of gawks."
Remus and Lex stood side by side beneath a high window wearing costumes identical except in colour. While Lex's costume was startling, not least because he'd given himself long black hair to match the black of his outfit, the shadowy light in the room kept it mostly respectable. The same could not be said for Remus.
His hair was long as Lex's, hanging to his arse, blond and wavy, not straight light brown, and in place of his usual rumpled school uniform he wore a costume made of white glimmering material that clung obscenely to every line of his spare body. With his exposed skin covered in glittery powder it was impossible to tell the difference between flesh and fabric.
"He looks like...Like some rent-boy for rich and famous tossers," James said, while Sirius gasped and cursed. "Someone the Malfoys keep on call. Wow. Who knew Remus had it in him? No wonder McGonagall's tense." He tugged Sirius' arm. "Let's go see what they're supposed to be. Oh, and you might want to close your mouth, Sirius. Flies, and all that."
"I hate him, you know. Lex." Sirius said. "I wish he'd never come to Hogwarts. He's spoiled everything." The music drowned him out, and he followed James through the crowd until they joined Remus and Sirius beneath the window.
"Hi," Remus said. "Isn't this the best party?"
"Remus is enjoying the attention." Lex ran his hand down Remus' back, keeping it there at the base of his spine. He didn't look at the others, only Remus, glancing occasionally at the Muggle time-piece on his wrist. He seemed unable to stand still, though the shifting didn't match the music's beat. "Not that I blame anyone for staring."
James gave them both a once-over, obviously stunned. "Moony, you look positively pornographic. You both do. Just look at McGonagall: she's ready to expel you for public indecency."
"Can't really blame her," Sirius said. "You two are quite the spectacle."
"Feeling upstaged, Sirius?" The black hair made Lex look ghostly, his mouth a vampiric red slash. "It's not enough to be king?"
"Good thing I'm not king or you'd be joining Nearly Headless Nick--"
James cut him off. "So what are you two supposed to be?"
"Day and Night."
"Good and Evil."
Remus and Lex spoke at once, and Remus laughed. "We've been arguing about this for days. But he insists that he's Evil."
"That's the advantage of evil," Lex said. "No one believes in it until it's too late."
"Don't worry. You've made a few converts."
"I need a drink." Without looking back, Sirius made his way toward the food table, bumping into a red-haired Morgan Le Fay. "Sorry." He was about to hurry on, his throat painfully dry, when she stopped him.
"Hold on, Your Highness. Not going to say hello?"
"Lily. Didn't recognize you."
"You mean you didn't see me. Funny how often that happens around this place." She took a sip from the cup in her hand, then grimaced. "Getting drunk should be much more pleasant than this."
"You're getting drunk?"
"Don't sound so surprised. After all, why not? Some people find bad behaviour madly attractive. Take your friend James, for instance. The worse someone is, the better he likes him. Them." She hiccuped, covering her mouth with her hand. "I don't think I have what it takes to be properly bad. Perhaps you could give me lessons."
"I think you should go and lie down for a bit."
"I'd love to believe that you wanted me out of the way, that I was a threat to you and James. But I could stand starkers in front of him, and he'd still be looking at you over my shoulder." Lily took another sip, but her hand, pale with a few scattered freckles on the knuckles, shook, and she spilled a few drops down the front of her green robes. "Bugger."
"Let me help."
Lily stopped him before he could perform the Abluere spell. "Honestly, Sirius, if you try to be kind I'll be sick all over your shoes. I don't want anything to interfere with my intense dislike of you." She gave a quick, harsh laugh. "There's that surprise again. Just because you're dead gorgeous and terribly clever doesn't mean that everyone adores you. You're also an arrogant, selfish git. You think you're so superior to your Pureblood cousins, but in your own way you're just like them, puffed up with your own glory."
"Flattering as this conversation is, I'm off to have a drink."
"Try leaving, and I'll neuter you. Don't think I can't. Remember McGonagall's speech, when I made an arse of myself and sobbed in front of the class? She was right. I was a giggling schoolgirl, and I made up for it over the summer. You think you're a great wizard? I'll have you begging for mercy."
"Fine. Get it out of your system. It's not like this is a party, and I don't have better things to do."
"Like what? Sulk like a two-year-old because some pretty American boy has stolen your favourite toy?"
"I don't know what you mean."
She laughed again. "You should see your face whenever Remus walks into a room. It's pathetic. You can barely breathe when he's around. And when he's not. You stupid, stupid boy. Did you think we couldn't tell? Did you think that James doesn't know? That he doesn't care, that he's not ripped up inside with this sick, mad, ugly, beautiful thing that will never ever go away, just because he's this Quidditch star, because he tells jokes and acts like he's perfectly happy?"
"You don't know what you're talking about." Even as he said it, Sirius flashed on James in the museum, his off-kilter smile. "James is my best mate. He'd tell me if he wasn't perfectly happy."
"I really could hurt you, you know. It's...I think you're just used to it, used to people loving you because you're beautiful and clever and strong, when you're really this horrible deathly thing." Her chest was heaving under her robes and her voice had gone painfully high. "You hurt James every bloody day with your sad, desperate pathetic need for Remus, and he takes it, laps it up like a great big stupid puppy, and you have to stop because he can't. You have to give him up. You have to give him up, and give him to me. He'll never love me properly, but I don't care. At least with me he won't hurt so much....Oh, bloody hell. Here he comes to your rescue. I think I really am going to be sick."
"What's going on here?" James peered at them through his glasses. "You look green as your robes, Evans, and you don't look much better, Sirius."
"Lily's not well."
"He means drunk. I'm drunk, right under Dumbledore's crooked nose. Aren't you impressed with my wickedness? Do try to restrain your desire to throw me to the floor and ravish me because of it."
"What's she on about?"
"Look, she needs taking care of. Can you take her outside before she's sick?"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, James, don't start disagreeing with him now. Just take me outside, all right? Sirius will be here when you return."
"I'd do it myself, James, but I'd only end up throwing her from the tower."
"Sirius isn't a big fan of the truth." Lily handed him her cup, then took James' arm.
They walked away, Lily's steps unsteady as she clung to James, who looked at Sirius over her shoulder, mouthing, "You owe me."
Sirius finished the mead in Lily's cup, then began to weave his way again toward the food table. With Lily's words sinking from his mind to his stomach, he avoided the sweets, only filling her empty cup with pumpkin juice, gulping it quickly before filling it again. The smoke from the candles was too thick, burning his eyes and lungs; he felt coated in greasy black soot and longed for some fresh air, too. But the last thing he needed was more of Lily and her so-called truths, which stung even worse. James could take care of himself, and if he was so unhappy he'd speak up or find someone else--
...this sick, mad, ugly, beautiful thing that will never ever go away...
Evans was a drunken idiot. None of this was serious; they weren't all locked in something big and forever, none of them. This was Hogwarts, for Merlin's sake. Those sorts of feelings didn't happen here; nothing happened here except homework, sex and Quidditch. Sure, he loved Remus, but it's not like he would die without him. It only felt that way, but feeling that way didn't mean this huge, permanent, terrifying thing that people would weave tapestries about years from now. It was just--
"Sirius, I have something of yours."
For a stomach-churning moment, Sirius thought that Lex meant Remus. "Don't know what you mean."
"I'd left my coin in the cauldron that day we did the Parvus spell, and when I went to collect it, I saw your ring. Thought you might like it back." Lex held out the blood-ring.
"That thing? Keep it. Makes me sick to look at it."
"Are you sure?"
"Keep it. Toss it. I don't care."
Something flickered in Lex's eyes, then he put the ring on his finger. "Thanks."
Sirius engaged in a brief mental battle, losing to himself. "Look, you might not want to wear that. The stone dims when a non-Pureblood's around, so if Lestrange and the others see it dull on your finger, they'll give you a hard time."
"We need to talk. There's a problem."
"Just because I gave you a ring doesn't mean we're engaged. In case you missed it, I don't like you, and--"
"I don't have time for a sparring match. This is important."
"I'm sure it's earth-shattering, but I couldn't care less if a pack of trolls came in here and used you for a toothpick."
"It's about Remus."
"Did he finally come to his senses and throw you over?"
"Remus is in trouble."
Sirius quickly looked around the room and saw Remus talking to Peter, who'd come to the party dressed as an elf. They both looked relaxed and happy, Peter munching on a cupcake while Remus ate a handful of toffees. "Some trouble. I only wish I was half as--"
"My father is a Death Eater," Lex said. While Sirius gaped, he added, "I thought that might get your attention. Look, we need to talk now, and in private. My room. I've already told Remus that I had something important to do, and James is busy, so no one will interrupt us. There's not a lot of time." Without waiting, Lex spun around and left the hall.
If Lex's father really was a Death Eater, it could be a trap. But if Remus was in danger....
Handing a passing first-year his half-empty cup, Sirius hurried after Lex.
Lex's room was at the very top of Slytherin Tower, a small round chamber with a single bed, the canopy in Slytherin gold and green. A framed picture of a red-haired woman sat on the cabinet, smiling at Sirius, the room's only adornment.
"Dumbledore let me move after Rodolphus and Macnair found out I wasn't a Pureblood. I was spending too much time on counter-spells, and those two are too well-connected to care about threats." He shrugged. "This was easier, and I like the privacy."
"That's what I don't understand. If the Luthors aren't Purebloods, then why's your father following Voldemort, since his goal is to wipe out anyone who isn't?"
"My father has other reasons for supporting Voldemort. Money. Power. Survival. He believes that Voldemort will win the war, and my father's a practical, if greedy, man. He helps Voldemort come to power, and he gets everything he wants."
"But if Voldemort ever finds out..."
"Voldemort already knows. Lestrange and Macnair are in league with him. But you don't know my father: no one can spin lies better, and he'll convince everyone that I'm the liar."
"How does Remus fit into this? He'd never help Voldemort, not in a million years."
"Remus has something my father wants. A war needs soldiers, strong ones, and my father has the technology to make them. Or he will, once he has his hands on Remus' blood. Imagine an army of wizards with werewolf's blood."
"You're not listening. Remus would never allow that to happen. Besides, no one knows about Remus except us and Dumbledore, and none of us would ever...You. You told your father. Voldemort knows." Sirius had his wand out. "You bastard. You're some kind of spy."
"If you use that thing, you seal Remus' fate. I'm in the unusual position of being your only hope, so shut up and listen to me. There's only one way to save Remus."
Sirius kept his wand trained on Lex. "If you even breathe too hard, I'll splatter you all over this room."
"You're right about two things. I am a spy. And both my father and Voldemort believe that there's a werewolf at Hogwarts. They suspected it for months before I ever got here, thanks to Lestrange and Macnair. It's why my father sent me to the school: to find the werewolf."
"But you went after Remus from the start. How did you know it was him?"
"I didn't. I knew what to look for: the werewolf had to be someone smart and secretive since he'd never been caught. Since he'd disappear every month, he'd probably have a few friends, close ones who'd help him. When I saw the four of you on the lawn that first day, I knew it was one of you. To be honest, you were the one I first suspected. I could picture you, more than the others, enjoying the taste of blood."
"So why did you choose Remus?"
"Because he was vulnerable, part of the circle but outside at the same time. I could get close to him and he'd help me. You wouldn't. You'd see me as a threat, and you'd never let me close enough. James would only do what you wanted him to, and Peter....Well, he would've been easy enough, but there was something about Remus..."
"You're in love with him."
"I don't know. Maybe. Look, we're wasting too much time. My father is coming soon. He wants Remus' blood, and you're going to help me give it to him."
"If you think for one minute that I'd help--"
"I know you will. I wasn't sure at first. I wasn't even sure you could, even if you wanted to. But a few things convinced me. I saw you yesterday at the Owlery, and--"
"I wasn't at the Owlery..."
"--and found out the second reason your friends call you ‘Padfoot.' That's when the plan started to form. But even tonight I wasn't sure that you'd help, not until I saw your face when you looked at Remus from the doorway. There was something genuine there, beyond the selfish need to possess. It was bored arrogance as usual when you reached us, but it was too late. And when you gave me the ring, I knew you weren't secretly sympathetic to Voldemort's cause. You're smart and you can act, and you're handsome enough that my father will accept my interest in you."
Lex nodded. "You and I are going to put on a show for him. You've always liked an audience, Sirius; I'm giving you the chance tonight to prove that you deserve one." And Lex told him the plan.
His wrists were bound above his head, strong silk rope hooked into a ring that Lex had conjured for the headboard, but there was no desire, only fear and a thick cloud of rising panic. Whenever Lex tried to penetrate him, Sirius tensed, his cock soft and vulnerable between his spread thighs. Stage one of the plan was not a resounding success.
"Pretend I'm Remus," Lex whispered in Sirius' ear, the black mane gone, leaving too much skin. "Pretend that this is his cock. Just don't forget who you are, who I am, and what this is supposed to be. My father will look for signs that this is a trick; trust isn't in his nature. That's why he's coming here in person."
"Might be easier if you shut the hell up."
Sirius closed his eyes and pictured Remus entering him for the first time. It would be slow and tender, Remus' hair hanging in his face as he stared down before kissing him.
Fingers closed around his cock, Remus' fingers, Remus wanting him to feel good, and he began to get hard. ‘We should've done this years ago,' Remus would say. ‘I wanted to, I wanted to so much, but I was scared.' Another kiss, that warm hand moving faster, and a sweet stretching pressure as Remus pushed inside.
"That's it," Lex--
-- Remus said. "Take me in. All the way."
It hurt at first, too big for such a tight space, but Remus distracted him with his busy hand, long powerful strokes up and down Sirius' swollen cock, and when he started to thrust, the pain blurred, then faded.
"That's good," Sirius said. "Do it like that."
"Wrap your legs around me."
When he did what Remus asked, the changed new angle brought a new pressure, a hot blinding one, good enough that he could safely open his eyes.
"You have such a sweet ass," Lex said. "I could fuck you all night."
It was easy now to play along, Lex too practised with his cock and fingers. "Do it. Fuck me all night."
"You love it. You fucking slut." Lex bent down and sank his teeth into Sirius' neck--
And over Lex's shoulder, Sirius saw James in the doorway. His face... "Fuck. No."
Lex raised his head, twisting around. "Get lost, James. You can have him back when I'm done."
James didn't move, just stood there, looking painfully young in his Merlin costume, the hat perched precariously on his head, his cheeks flushed, breathing had like he'd run up the stairs. "Lily was sick. Then she wasn't, but she told me to go, and someone said you'd gone off with Lex. But I didn't think..."
No time to explain, not with a Death-Eater on his way, and, feeling sick, Sirius followed Lex's lead. "James, bugger off. Now. Go find Lily again and cry on her shoulder."
"Come on, James," Lex said. "Face it: you were a substitute. So am I. Why do you think he's with me? Any idiot can see that Sirius is in love with Remus. Any idiot except you."
"He's right, James, about all of it. Now stop being a pathetic git for a change and fuck off."
"He needs my cock, James. He needs it, and you're killing the mood, standing there like some lost little puppy. Go fuck yourself, because no one else wants you."
James slowly turned, and they could hear his pounding footsteps down the stairs.
Then Lex moved so that he was over Sirius, blocking the doorway, his hand jerking faster, his strokes deep and smooth. "Remus said your name when I fucked him," he whispered. "When he came. I don't think he even knew. I was inside him, my cock was inside him, and he said your name."
Didn't matter if this was a lie; it wrenched him from the sick punch of guilt, threw him back into the rhythm, while a hot flush spread across his skin, under it. This was what Lex had done to Remus, fucked him so hard and well that Remus forgot everything, went to that dark animal place in his brain where it was only pleasure and blood.
"I want you to come for me," Lex said. Then quietly, "That's what I said to him."
"Harder. Do it harder. So hard it hurts."
Lex did, fucking him roughly, and Sirius needed this, the brutality, to forget James, his white sick face, to forget that someone was again standing in the doorway, someone new, a tall dark shadow, and people were going to die if he didn't let go. He stared up at Lex, saw Remus, saw James, two people that he loved too much and not enough, and told them, over and over again, as his body curved into Lex's, pure liquid.
The shadow moved, and Sirius thought, ‘That's the future, a black shadow that will swallow us all,' so he hooked his tongue onto Lex's name, called it as he came in Lex's hand.
"That's it," Lex said. "That's it."
Sirius, who'd never stopped hating Lex, raised his head to kiss him, kept his mouth on Lex's while Lex sighed and shuddered, coming inside him.
The shadow stepped closer, and the candlelight struck it, giving it form. Lionel Luthor was elegant death, his face a handsome skull covered in skin stretched over bone, his body little more than a skeleton's in a pinstriped suit. His hair fell to his shoulders, sprouted on his mouth and chin, more like a werewolf than Remus could ever be, and when he smiled, his teeth were large and too white. This was the Grim.
"Is this the one?" He had a slippery low voice, and sounded curious on the surface, hungry underneath.
Lex rolled off Sirius, and a quick spell left him standing clean and composed. "This is the one."
"Lex, what's going on?"
Sitting on the bed beside Sirius, Lionel dipped his finger into the come splattered on Sirius' stomach, then raised it to his lips. His tongue snaked out to catch the drop, and there was a quiet moment while he contemplated the taste. "Nothing unusual," he finally said, clearly disappointed. "But I suppose if it tasted of blood and the moon, you'd be less willing to let him go, Lex."
"Lex, I don't understand. Why won't you untie me? And who is this? What's he doing here?" It wasn't hard to sound scared with Lionel's flat black eyes fixed on him.
"Young man, do you ever think of the future?"
He struggled against the cords. "Lex...Please..."
"No, I don't suppose you do," Lionel said dreamily. "Your appetite gets in the way. I'm here to show you your destiny. To give you your fate. Are you in love with my son?"
Sirius thought of Remus. "I...Yes. But--"
"Would you do anything for him? Give him anything he asks?"
"I gave him that ring. The one he's wearing."
Lex took a step closer and silently offered his hand to his father.
"Very pretty." Lionel plucked the ring from Lex's finger, sliding it on to his smallest one.
"You can't do that! It's his. Lex, tell him. And let me go. Please."
"The problem with love," Lionel continued, "is that it makes you weak. Here you are, naked, bound and helpless." His eyes on Lex, he pinched Sirius' nipple, twisting it until he cried out.
"Lex, stop him. Help me."
"You need to be strong to survive. From what I hear, you're very strong, at least when the moon is full."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Lionel slapped him once, hard across the face, then pulled a silver box from his breast pocket, placing it on one pinstriped thigh. "It's time to share your strength." He opened the box and withdrew a syringe. "In the thigh," Lionel said to Lex. "I like the symbolism."
As the light hit the silver needle, long as a finger, Sirius began to struggle again, kicking and pulling hard as he could against the cords, but succeeded only in bruising his wrists. "Lex! Stop him! I'm begging you. I'll do anything."
"It will hurt less if you don't fight it." Lex climbed onto the bed, placing a knee on either side of Sirius' legs. "But in case you don't..."
"Why are you doing this, Lex? Just tell me that."
The needle plunged into Sirius' thigh. It shocked him despite the warning, the sight of it breaking into his skin, the rush of stolen blood welling into the cylinder. He wanted to kill them both, rip their flesh from their bones, then burn the bones themselves, dancing on the ashes before leaping into the flames, because if this was the future he'd rather be dead.
"I hate you," he said. "I hate you."
"That's the spirit. That hate will take you far." Withdrawing the needle, Lionel detached the red vial, then held it to his lips, not entirely tasting, not entirely kissing. "Few things are more beautiful than blood."
Taking the silver box from the bed, he carefully placed the tube inside. "Dark times are coming, and to survive we must build an army. This," he added, touching the box, "is the tool I need to build one."
No one spoke, but Lionel didn't seem to notice--or simply assumed that the perfect logic of genocide required no response. While Lex left the bed, walking to the window, his father stroked the box once, returned it to his pocket, and headed for the door. His shoes were made of a skin shinier in death than in life, noiseless against the stone; not even Death would move so quietly.
Framed by the doorway, he looked back over his shoulder. "Naturally, this must be kept quiet. Not everyone is sympathetic to our cause, and if the wrong people should hear about this, Dumbledore, for instance...Well, it's always a tragedy when one dies young. This school has so many staircases, and it would be so easy to fall." He said this conversationally, as though a murder-threat was a normal goodbye.
His final smile was like an eclipse.
"Just a second, Dad," Lex said. "There's something I forgot to tell you."
"I don't have time for this, Lex. Whatever it is, it can wait. I need to get the blood to the lab."
"I don't think you want to do that."
"And why not?" There were razors in Lionel's voice.
"I know how you hate to be embarrassed."
"I hope," Lionel said quietly, "that you're not about to tell me that this boy is a substitute, that you've got the real one hidden away. Because I'll find him and take from him a lot more than a single vial of blood. I came here precisely to do just that, should the need arise."
"No, there's only him. It's just that there's been a mistake. Whoever told you that there was a werewolf at Hogwarts was wrong."
Lionel shook his head. "Nice try, Lex. Seems you're not as immune to his pretty face as you acted. Good night."
"Hold on, Dad. I have something to show you." Lex untied the cords at Sirius' wrists. "Have you ever heard of the Animagus spell? It's difficult to perform, not to mention against the rules, but not impossible for a smart seventh-year student. You do understand the lure of the forbidden, Dad, don't you?" He nodded at Sirius. "Show him. Show him how wrong he's been about everything."
Sirius leapt from the bed, changing in mid-air, so that he landed on all fours as the Grim, barring his teeth at Lionel. He smelled fear, death and hatred, saw Lionel's red rage through his Grim eyes, and howled.
"See, Dad? It's just magic. He's not a werewolf, just a big dog." Lex reached down, stroking Sirius' fur. "There's nothing in his blood that you wouldn't find in mine." This time it was Lex who smiled.
"Lex..." Lionel's eyes had gone deadly, inhuman as a lizard's. "Lex, you've wasted my time with your petty act of revenge, this childish charade, stringing me along for months. I'd lie if I said I wasn't disappointed in you."
"Really, Dad? I thought you'd be proud that I can lie as well as you. Besides, you'll get over it. Until the next time."
"If there's a next time, I won't be quite so forgiving." The razors were now behind Lionel's eyes. "Despite what some people believe, children are replaceable."
"If only fathers were," Lex said, as Lionel stormed from the room.
It was over, leaving the small cold room, with its stone walls and near-emptiness, quiet as a tomb.
Then Lex slammed the door, a crack that jolted Sirius alive, and he returned to his human form, cleaning and clothing himself with a few quick spells before throwing open a window, sucking in the night air. When the urge to vomit passed, he turned back to Lex. "You're still alive only because nothing I could do to you could be worse than having to live with a father like that."
"Dear old Dad. He's a charmer, isn't he?"
"He's a monster." Sirius watched as Lex dragged a suitcase from beneath the bed and began to pack. "You're leaving?"
"Consider it payback for tonight."
"What about Remus? He thinks he's going to America with you. He's in love with you."
"The further I am from Remus, the safer he is."
"He doesn't know that."
"Sirius, you do realize that James will have told him about us? Remus will be glad to see me gone. Besides, he....No, screw that. I'm giving up enough."
"You can explain to him, Lex. Tell him what happened. You can...Fuck."
"You're beginning to see the problem. What's going to hurt him more: knowing that I deliberately used him, put him and everyone in danger, or that I cheated on him with you?"
"But you ended up saving him. You can tell him that, that you chose him over your father."
"You really think he'd believe me if I told him the truth about what happened tonight? It will sound like a pathetic attempt to explain why I slept with you, especially after James' account of what he saw. It's Occam's razor: Remus, with his logical brain, will believe the conclusion based on the fewest assumptions, which is that I fucked you because I wanted you. For various reasons, Remus won't find that hard to accept."
"But you don't even like me."
"Since when does like have anything to do with sex? You of all people should know that."
"So you're just going to leave me here with this mess?"
Lex turned from the wardrobe, his arms laden with shirts. "Things were a mess before I ever arrived, Sirius. I didn't make Remus lonely, and I didn't sleep with James because he was easier to bed than the person I really wanted. You did that."
"I spent my life before Hogwarts listening to my mother talk about hate. She hated a lot of people and a lot of things, and I never understood why. ‘Hate' was always an abstract word to me. Until now."
"Blame me if it makes you feel better. Look, I'm sorry for what you went through tonight. It took balls to do what you did, knowing how ugly it would be. You could've turned me down when I warned you, but you stuck it out, did exactly as we'd arranged. Giving him the ring was a nice touch."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"It's supposed to make you realize that you'll get through this."
"Easy for you to say when you're running away."
"I'm cutting my losses. Trust me: this is best for everyone."
"What will you do when you're home?"
Lex shrugged. "Keep up my side in the war with my father. See if there's more of my mother inside me." He looked toward the framed picture. "Sometimes I forget that she's part of me, that I'm not the result of some lab experiment in parthenogenesis."
"You'd have hair if you were," Sirius said, not unkindly. "Every time you look in a mirror you can see that you're not just like him."
"Interesting point." Lex ran his hand over his smooth head. "Could be why he hates to see me like this."
"I need to go. The last thing I need is to like you. If we're lucky, we'll never meet again and can happily hate each other for all eternity."
Lex raised a pair of socks in mock-tribute. "Here's to a future without each other. May people find happiness despite us." As Sirius turned to go, Lex added, "Wait. Don't forget this." And he handed Sirius his crown.
It surprised him that the Halloween Dance hadn't ended, that the world hadn't stopped to acknowledge the events in Lex's room. But as Sirius emerged from the base of Slytherin Tower, music still spilled from the Great Hall, a vibrating thump that he felt in the souls of his feet.
His thigh ached as he walked up Gryffindor Tower, and a spot of blood had leaked through his robes, leaving a round stain that wouldn't come off even when he rubbed it with a trembling finger. Sore and used inside and out, skinned and gutted, Sirius went into the Prefect's bathroom on the fifth floor, where he was violently sick, his stomach heaving even when emptied.
Finally, he staggered to the sink, splashing water on his face over and over until he stood in a pool of it, his hair dripping in his eyes, his clothes sopping. Bending under the tap, he drank, rinsing his mouth, spitting out the cold water, a ritual he performed a dozen times, followed by three Abluere spells. Still unclean, he filled the huge marble pool, turning on all the jets, then stripped and sank in despite the scalding heat.
The water burned his most used places, his arse, his wrists, his thigh, his nipple where Lionel had twisted it. He relished the pain, diving under to lie on the tiled floor until his lungs screamed. When he burst to the surface, the blonde mermaid in the gold-framed picture stared at him in dismay, as though he was some monstrous creature from the bottom of the sea, then hid behind a rock, only the tip of her green tail still visible.
Sirius swam after that, did laps the length of the pool, touching one end before kicking off back to the other. He swam until his body refused to go on, his muscles past their limit, his heart ready to explode, then dressed without bothering to towel dry, his costume itchy against his skin. He left his crown on the bathroom floor.
Half-crawling, he mounted the remaining steps to the dormitory. The door stood partly open, and he waited there, praying that Remus and James were asleep or still at the party, so he could escape under the covers. But when he stepped inside, Remus and James sat together on the edge of Remus' bed, their shoulders touching. Waiting for him. They looked unfamiliar, their features somehow changed, like other people now lived inside their skin.
"The king returns," James said. "Very considerate of you not to bring Lex back here. Or is he planning to stop by later for a midnight shag?"
"Can this wait until tomorrow? I'm not up for it."
James rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Your Majesty. Are our lives interfering with your royal pleasure? Please don't let us stop you. Not that you give a bloody fuck what we think. You know, I'm used to being treated like shit by you, second-class all the way. Sure, it hurt like hell when you let Lex..." He swallowed, drumming his fingers on his thighs. "...when you let Lex fuck you, when you're supposed to hate him, and not me. But that it was him, when you know how Remus feels....You've always been a goddamn selfish prick, but that, that was low even for you."
"It wasn't what it looked like."
"He had his bloody cock up your arse! What else could it be?"
"Look, I'm sorry. I'm sorry about everything."
"Well, that just makes everything better," James snapped.
Sirius took a step closer. "Remus, are you going to say anything?"
"What do you want me to say? Explain to you how I feel? If you cared at all, you wouldn't have...done what you did. I may as well rail at the moon." Remus spoke very calmly, not raising his voice, just stared at Sirius with shuttered eyes. "I've always looked up to you, Sirius, even when you've done things I didn't like or approve of, because you're the strongest person I know. But you're also the most selfish, and tonight you showed me that no one really matters in your kingdom except you."
"Things will seem better in the morning," Sirius said desperately. "You'll see. We'll just go on as usual. Lex is leaving and everything will be back to normal."
"Lex is leaving?"
"I...His father came and...Look, I'll go, too. It's obvious that I'm only buggering things up there."
"Good," James said. "You should go. No one wants you here, Sirius. To quote you: ‘Just bugger the hell off.'"
Remus nodded, just a small jerk of his head. "I agree with James. It's a good idea: leave Hogwarts before you cause any more damage. It's the least you can do."
Sirius stood frozen, like he'd become one of the statues in the hall, his limbs too heavy to move, although deep inside there were fissures.
"What are you waiting for?" James got to his feet, his hands out like he intended to shove Sirius through the doorway. "Get out of here. Go fuck yourself, because no one else wants you."
Without being aware of it, Sirius backed from the room. He didn't know what else to say or do, not when the truth was just as messy and ugly as the lies. Remus and James were wrong, and they were right, and he didn't know what to think anymore.
He fell once on the stairs, opening the puncture wound in his thigh, which oozed more drops of blood. Students passed him, staring curiously, probably thinking he was drunk or pulling some stunt, and gave him a wide berth. In the Great Hall, he slipped between them, bumping shoulders and elbows in his haste to reach the cluster of professors in the corner.
"Professor Dumbledore. Where's Professor Dumbledore?" he asked McGonagall.
"In his office, but--"
With his thoughts too loud, Sirius ran, not stopping until he saw the ugly gargoyle that marked the entrance to Dumbledore's office. "Sherbet raspberry," he said, and the gargoyle jumped from his path. With a groan, the walls parted, revealing a spiral staircase. He ran up that too, although the magical stairs already moved him forward, and he reached the door with his head spinning, barely able to see the knocker.
When he went to tap it, the door opened, and Dumbledore stood there, dressed in his usual robes and long purple cloak.
"Mr. Black. Come in."
The chaos of the circular room, with its beeping and gyrating devices, its riotous stacks of scrolls and books, its shelves sagging with brimming jars and overflowing boxes, its squawking phoenix and its chittering...whatever those furry blue things were, only made his head hurt worse, and Sirius closed his eyes. He felt Dumbledore's hand close over his bruised wrist, then gently lead him through the wilderness to a chair.
Sinking into it, Sirius counted to ten before opening his eyes. "I have to leave Hogwarts. Tonight. I know that Filch has hidden my motorbike somewhere, and I want it back. Please."
"That might be for the best," Dumbledore said gently, as he sat nearby in a claw-footed armchair.
Did no one want him here? "Okay, then."
"Sometimes, students are here for so long that they go a little school-blind. They can't anything beyond the walls of Hogwarts. Sometimes they need this safety to grow; other times it leads to a more permanent blindness." Dumbledore sighed, staring up at the star-covered ceiling. "You may return in the spring to write your NEWTs; you're already ahead in most of your classes, and I can send along the books you'll need."
"I don't think that I can ever come back. My friends hate me. It makes them sick to look at me."
Dumbledore smiled and shook his head. "If you'll permit me, I hear so much through these walls, hollow spots everywhere, not always enough, but...Your friends don't hate you. You've hurt them terribly, partly for a good cause, partly not, and it always hurts worse when love is involved, but it's the love in the end that will allow them to forgive you."
It sounded like the lyrics from one of Lily's Muggle songs. Besides, what did Dumbledore know about being seventeen? Sirius peered at the folds and crevices of Dumbledore's face, the withered skin of his hands. Maybe when the world was young, but who could remember anything from an age ago? "They don't love me," Sirius said, "and they won't ever forgive me. They want to hang me by my toes and beat me with Quidditch brooms."
"For now. But now isn't forever."
"Feels like it."
"Go to your flat in London, Sirius. Stay there, lick your wounds. See the world beyond the school." Dumbledore rose to his feet, and Sirius slowly joined him.
"Did you know that Lex's father was a Death Eater? And so are Lestrange and Macnair?"
"Lestrange and Macnair work for their fathers first, and here I can keep an eye on them. As for the elder Mr. Luthor, he's out of my reach right now. But I assure you, Sirius," he said, leaning forward, something black and very ancient appearing behind his eyes, "that he'll live to regret his actions." Then it vanished, leaving Dumbledore kind and benign once more. "Your motorbike will be waiting for you on the lawn. Good luck, Mr. Black. Look to your future. And when you're ready, please contact me."
"Ready for what?"
"Ah," Dumbledore said with a smile, "part of being ready is knowing what you're ready for." With that obscure advice, he clapped Sirius on the back, shook his hand vigorously, and ushered him from his office.
Alphard was indeed waiting for him on the lawn, chrome shining under the stars, all traces of sheep magically removed, his helmet resting on the seat. Sirius patted the bike's side, donned the helmet, then climbed on, but when the engine roared to life he stayed in place, staring up at the castle, at Gryffindor Tower, the very top, where the candles lit the windows.
No one looked out, though he waited for awhile.
"Well, goodbye, then," Sirius said, and soared into the night.
Sirius slept through the first half of November.
Piled under mildewed blankets, the television chattering in the front room, the wind barking outside, he woke only to conjure toast and cheese or to use the toilet. There were crumbs everywhere, under the sheets and on the wooden floor beside the bed; at night mice came scurrying from unseen holes in the wall to nibble at them. He supposed he should do something about them, crumbs and mice, but fell back asleep too quickly each time.
While his dreams were mostly hollow, like living inside a black egg, sometimes he shouted himself into consciousness, the sheets shrouding him, clammy with sweat. He hung a towel over the bathroom mirror because he couldn't stand to see himself, his sickly white skin under the growth of beard, his hair lank and too long. His pyjama bottoms didn't fit anymore, so he found a piece of string, tying it around his waist to keep them up.
One morning, or maybe night, since the shades were drawn against the sun, a rhythmic tapping jarred him awake. At first he thought it was claws on the floor, and thought, ‘Remus,' but no one was there. The tapping continued, an insistent click-click-click, so wrapped in a blanket he went into the bathroom to check the faucet. Dry.
It came from the front room, he decided, and went in there, the floor icy under his feet. He shut off the television, then listened carefully. Above the desk he never used was a window that when the curtains weren't drawn looked out over a park, a small one with a couple of mangy trees and a weather-worn bench. The sound emanated from this window.
When Sirius wrenched aside the red curtains, dust billowed up, thick and grey as fur, and he choked, squeezing his eyes shut against the grit and the thin sharp blast of late-autumn sun. Before this, he had an impression of a round white face with enormous yellow eyes, and when he looked properly, unsure if this wasn't a dream, an owl staring reproachfully at him from the ledge, a letter in her claws while she thunked the glass with her beak.
It was Mouse, Peter's owl, his first visitor since elves had delivered his trunk, and Sirius unlatched the window, throwing it up. As the air blew right through him, Mouse dropped the letter, accepted a conjured mouse, then flew off, landing in the branch of the tallest of the park trees for her pre-departure snack.
"Thanks," he called, then shut the window.
The sofa was lumpy but close, and he dropped onto it, holding the letter on his knees. Definitely from Peter: he recognized the loopy scrawl, and definitely for him, since the outside of the scroll read, "For Mr. Sirius Black, Esq." A rush of affection for his old friend struck him, made his eyes sting, and he gave the scroll a squeeze.
I still can't believe you're gone. I mean, I can, because the place feels wrong and empty without you, but I keep expecting you to pop around the corner. Only you don't.
I'm not the only one. James and Remus -- is it all right if I talk about them? James mostly filled me in on the details although I think he kept one or two to himself -- didn't realize you'd actually gone for good. They thought you'd just gone for a sulk, then James was all, ‘I'm glad he's gone,' but went and locked himself in the toilet for an hour.
Remus doesn't say much of anything. Several of the first-years keep mistaking him for a ghost, and I don't blame them; he looks like someone drained all his blood. It's doubly hard for him, with Lex gone too, but while I know that he and Lex were special friends, I think he misses you more. Only don't tell him I said that because he'd turn me into something squishy.
I don't mean to upset you, but everyone's desperately unhappy and I wish you'd come back.
P.S. The house-elves have banned me from the kitchen after a rather disastrous attempt to make creme brulee. Seems I took the ‘brulee' part too literally.
The ink was bleeding, and his hands shook so much that the letter fell to the floor. He wiped his cheeks furiously with the edge of the blanket, then curled up. With Mouse still outside, he could send a letter back, but what would it say? ‘Dear Peter, I miss you all so much it hurts to be awake'? If only it wasn't so complicated, this giant knot of missteps and mistakes.
The dust had settled too deeply in his lungs, so he conjured a cup of tea, hot enough that it burned his fingers and his tongue, but the warmth down his throat, in his belly, made his chest ache a little less. Suddenly famished, he conjured a plate a sandwich, slabs of ham and cheese, wolfing it down. The effort exhausted him, and he scooped up the scroll, hugging it to his chest as he dropped back to sleep.
The restaurant had blue walls, tiny round tables painted black, a vase with a fake flower in each. A blackboard loomed behind the bar, listing food and prices in pink and blue chalk, bordered in a tangle of well-drawn roses. A couple of Muggles sat at tables around him, packages upright at their feet like plastic pets, eating crusty sandwiches filled with Brie, grilled tuna steaks with carrots, paying him no mind as usual, except one girl who smiled with shiny pink lips while her boyfriend studied the menu. Sirius smiled back, then looked out the window.
Swirls of snow this Christmas eve, and the Muggles walked with their heads tucked down like sleepy swans, clutching packages and kicking up brown slush. A trio of them stood huddled on the corner, their noses red, mufflers wrapped around their necks, mouths open in song; people passing by chucked silver coins in the pot before them, the same silver coins that Sirius had in his own pocket after an exchange of a few pieces of gold at Gringotts.
When he first headed into the Muggle world, he'd thought them mental, the upkeep of their lives requiring so much time and effort. Wizards would simply enchant the pot and have it do the singing in the cold, while they apparated back to their warm dens, conjuring a meal and a fire with the flick of a wand. None of this standing and waiting, this endless waiting, yet they didn't seem to mind, not the singers waiting for coins, not the people in the restaurant, not the pedestrians hurrying along the snowy streets; they couldn't even fly without a good deal of trouble and noise.
Yet, the more they did, the happier they became; the least content Muggles were always those who couldn't do anything, like the gnomish old man in the threadbare coat who sometimes slept on the park bench, drinking from a bottle in a paper sac. Even Rita, the waitress who always served him, who worked on her feet all day and said that she longed for her days off, admitted that those days never lived up to their promise, dull without the bustle and contact of her job.
The more Muggles moved, the more they saw, their universe expanding forever. The world of wizard folk, on the other hand, kept shrinking: you wanted to learn as many spell as possible so you'd have to do that much less, and the less you did, the less you saw; how could you care very deeply about anything if you could gain it, gain anything, without any effort?
It was all very curious, and Sirius had found himself avoiding magic, always so ridiculously easy for him, in place of Muggle hard work. He'd taken to walking everywhere, poking around green-walled hospitals and dim, dirty police stations, solemn grey churches and loud neon cabarets. He saw people dying and being born, getting married and getting off, blood, sweat, tears and come, the world not just unfolding but exploding before him. Sleep lost its appeal, an obstacle now to experience, and he practised it as little as he practised magic, barely at all.
He kept his eyes open all the time, with years lost sleeping at Hogwarts, which now seemed in memory like a great dark cave that had swallowed him whole. The best part of school had been his friends, and he missed them always, a permanent dull throb like a headache that never quite broke, never quite vanished. He wanted to show Peter the gleaming white ovens of the cooking school, James the grassy expanse of football fields, and Remus...
He wanted to show it all to Remus. It occurred to him yesterday as he stood in Smithfield Market watching a man with thin brown lips blow glasses into colourful shapes, that he was in love with Remus, would always be in love with Remus, because, in addition to the expected reasons of brains and a sense of humour, those fine grey eyes and the soft brown hair, Remus required effort and offered the greatest reward.
Remus lived between madness and rationality, between the moon and the sun; he could help a broken-fingered Bowtruckle one day, and rip your throat out the next. Until yesterday, Sirius had always thought, when he thought of it consciously at all, that he loved simply because Remus was good, because Remus was kind; now he knew that he loved as much the parts of Remus that were neither. Remus was like the Muggle world itself: a carnival behind the walls of a monastery.
The world around him became one worth saving, and when the Wizarding Wireless Network brought news of Voldemort's growing power, Sirius knew he was ready. He wrote Dumbledore and offered his services, and Dumbledore, delighted in his mad wizard way, accepted them, sending Sirius messages that extolled the virtues of various obscure parts of London where a bored seeming-Muggle might overhear all sorts of things and share them with his old headmaster.
A bowl of calamari salad interrupted him, and he turned from the restaurant window.
"Won't be much of a Christmas for you, will it, love?" Rita asked. She had yellow hair, a face like an Alsatian, and a lot of patience for ex-school boys with many questions about the Muggle world.
"I'll be all right. I'm off to Hyde Park in the morning for the race in the Serpentine, then to Westminster Abbey for carols at noon, then back home. I've bought one of those cook books, and I'm going to try my hand at it. After that, I thought I'd write some letters that I've been putting off."
"Including one to that special friend of yours?"
Rita's nephew also had special male friends; she never used the word ‘queer,' which is what he gathered the Muggles called boys like him, but she always gave him a friendly wink when asking about Remus.
"His will be the hardest."
He planned out those letters on the walk back to his flat, enjoying the fat snowflakes that the wind blew straight onto his eyes. Peter first, because he was the easiest. No, last, for that very reason. Remus first. An apology, then an explanation why Remus was the last person he ever wanted to hurt. He rehearsed words, muttering them aloud, rejecting most, and hadn't advanced much beyond ‘Dear Remus' by the time he'd arrived home. Mouse was waiting impatiently on the window ledge, tapping madly, and the letter she carried from Peter simplified the words he needed for both Remus and James:
Don't know how to put the latest news, so I'll just plunge in with it. First: James and Lily are keeping company, as my gran would say. The snogging kind of company. She's even gone with him to his parents' house for the holidays. I'm sorry. If it helps, and it probably won't, James has stopped locking himself in the toilet and is smiling again, though not as much as Lily. Also, more good/bad tidings. Lex came back. He didn't stay long, but he spent the entire time with Remus. Don't know what they said, but when they finally came downstairs Remus looked...Well, happy. Sorry again.
Seems rather pointless to wish you a happy Christmas, but I do.
Sirius sat on the lumpy sofa, water puddling at his feet as the snow died, the muffler still wrapped around his mouth, until the candle sputtered and went out. They deserved happiness and it was grotesque, grotesque as Lionel Luthor, to wish them anything but that, so he tried as hard as he could.
He was still trying in Hyde Park the next morning, watching a group of men hack a path through the ice on the river before a dozen swimmers jumped in for the race, their shouts blending with the crowd's roar. The cold bit through his coat, numbed his toes and fingers, yet these mad Muggles were throwing themselves into the frozen Serpentine, teeth chattering and their skin turning blue as the Christmas sky.
Something undeniably pure about their actions, the sheer mental Kamikaze bravery of it. To honour this, Sirius decided that tomorrow he'd go to see James.
The Potters lived in a small village not far from York, the kind with one of everything, and not much else: a pub, a church, a circle of grey houses, and a ruined castle in the backyard. Battles had been fought and won, fought and lost, and now sheep grazed where bodies had lain, at least when the world wasn't blanketed in snow.
Muggles and wizards lived side by side, and nobody cared much about the differences, though Anne Potter sometimes had dreams that came true, so people listened twice when she spoke. Henry Potter was a Muggle from a long line of Muggles, though a Scottish ancestor had been burnt at the stake during the Persecutions for her skill with herbs, while he swore he'd once levitated a ditched cow as a child. He deferred to his wife in everything, and claimed that the third happiest day in his life was the one where he'd walked that cow and its owner, a skinny red-haired girl, back to her farm, with the second the day he married her, and the third the day she gave him a son.
Their stone cottage squatted within view of the Nidd, with fat little chaffinches muttering "pink, pink" in the hedgerows. Mr. Potter looked not unlike a chaffinch, with his grey head, round belly, and fondness for brightly-coloured clothes. Mrs. Potter was still skinny, but her hair was mostly white with only a few splashes of faded red at the temples. They'd been very kind to Sirius when he stayed with them last summer, even when Mrs. Potter had asked him to leave.
Today, though, when Anne Potter opened her front door, her smile tiptoed away. "Sirius. I'm sorry, but James isn't here right now." As though he always came to call. "He's skating with Lily. Lovely girl. He's very fond of her, and she adores him." Fear gave her skin a papery look, white with blue lines under the skin. "Perhaps you could come back another time."
"Can I wait, please? I need to speak to him. It's not what you...Lily's a great girl. Perfect for James. I wouldn't let anything...I only want him to know that."
"I'll tell him for you. Nice of you to call."
When she began to edge the door shut, he stopped it with his foot. "I'd prefer to tell him myself."
"I think it would be best if you left. James' future is with Lily, and he's only starting to accept this. I wouldn't want anything to upset that. Do you understand?"
"I do. That's why I need to speak with him. Please."
She hesitated, then stepped aside, allowing him to pass, a maternal sentry. "Perhaps you're right. Perhaps this is what he needs. But if you hurt him..."
"I'll turn myself into a toad, and you can throw me in the river."
He pulled off his boots while she hung his coat, then followed her into the sitting room where a fire blazed in the hearth, casting an orange light on the witch-balls that hung from the tree while a ginger cat snored nearby. Stockings still hung from the mantle, empty now, but apart from the Christmas additions, the room looked the same: battered with age, but immaculate, no dust even under the late-afternoon sun that filtered through the window. Generations of Potters smiled at him from silver frames cluttering the small round table, including a new one that showed James and Lily, their hands clasped as they stood before the cottage.
While Sirius took a seat in a weary blue armchair beside the table, Mrs. Potter offered to make tea while he waited. When she'd gone, he picked up the photograph, and was still studying it when the front door burst open.
"Mum! Tea! We're famished and freezing!"
"Isn't he the rudest boy, Mrs. Potter? So well brought-up, but when he's hungry..."
Then dead silence.
A low rumble of voices soon followed, a high-pitched, "He's got some nerve," from Lily, footsteps after, a door shutting. Sirius replaced the photograph just as James entered the room and got to his feet.
"I've told my mum for ages to get rid of that damn cat. It drags in the most frightful things. Gutted mice, wing-gnawed birds, former friends..." He didn't sit, just stood in the doorway, his nose still rosy from the cold. "Lily has this ridiculous idea that you're here to take me away from her. Mum had a hard time convincing her otherwise."
"Your mum's right."
"It's not as if I'd go," James said.
"Of course not. I know you and Lily are together now. I'm glad you are. I wanted to tell you that."
"Really? Sure you don't want to shag Lily while I'm looking the other way? Not that she'd let you near her. She's safe anyway, though, isn't she? It's not like she and Remus were ever close."
"You weren't my best mate through default, James. Mayhem and mischief in every corner. No one can make me laugh like you do. No one's more fun."
"It's just not enough."
"It's not a matter of enough or not enough. It's not like I love you less than Remus. It's just .... different. And that difference makes me do stupid things. I'm sorry for that."
"I don't know," James said, throwing himself on the sofa. "Maybe I'm the stupid one. For thinking things would change when I knew better. It's just that we did have so much fun, whatever we were doing. Doesn't seem fair. Day's night and night's day."
"But you have Lily now." He dropped back into the armchair. "Great girl."
"Right. I have Lily now." James didn't look at him, staring into the fire. "She loves me."
"And you love her."
"Who wouldn't? She's good for me. We have a great time together. She's pretty and smart and a good sport about everything. Well, everything but you."
When James glanced up, his face was written with a truth that Sirius had hoped would be gone. ... this sick, mad, ugly, beautiful thing that will never ever go away... "I'm sorry," he said. "I wish--"
"We're going to be married," James said defiantly. "Lily and I. Mom's not well and has been having crazy dreams, and it's not like I haven't known Lily for ages. So we're doing it in the spring when we're both eighteen. Unless anyone objects."
"Congratulations. I mean that. You'll be happy with her, with Lily and her celery stalk. She'll--"
"Can't you pretend to be the slightest bit jealous?"
"I am jealous." And he was, of both of them for what they'd have, a normal, sane, unbrutal life. "Lily's lucky to have you, James. Anyone would be."
"Anyone except you."
"Even me. Especially me." Sirius didn't want to meet James' eyes, but he owed him. "You know it's better this way."
"Less like a permanent Quidditch match against the world's roughest team, at least. Poor Moony. He doesn't know what he's in for with you. You'll burst his logical brain."
"Remus and I aren't...Lex is back. Or was back. He and Remus are back together. "
"Won't last. Don't know how you missed it, Sirius, how he feels about you. Always thought I'd be the last one to point this out, but he's completely mad for you. Always has been. Certifiably mad. You and the moon." When Sirius opened his mouth to protest, James cut him off. "Don't bring up his refusal to shag you. He'll have some perfectly logical-to-him, insane-to-everyone-else reason for not doing it, but it won't be because he's not desperate for it. Might even be because he's desperate for it. Moony's always liked his control. Really, Sirius, don't look so happy or I may have to punch you, and you know I could kick your sorry Pureblood arse."
"In your dreams, Potter." He smiled, and James smiled back, and maybe everything would be all right. "I'm working for Dumbledore now. Spying, you could say. Because You-Know-Who's becoming stronger."
"Lucky bastard. You won't believe this, but Mum has this mental idea that Lily and I will have a son who'll defeat Voldemort. I think she just says it so I won't run off and get myself killed. Or worse." He winked at him. "Can you imagine me with a son?"
"You could teach him Quidditch. And the fastest way to reach Honeydukes."
"You could show him how to ride a motorbike. And that spell where it looks like you're sitting in detention but you're really off feeding foetor newts to Filch's cat--"
"And you could show him how to sneak into the girls' dormitory--"
"I've made tea," Lily said, her voice brittle as the cups on the tray in her hands. She placed it on the table before James, then sat next to him. "Am not interrupting anything, am I?"
"We were just talking about your son," Sirius told her. "The son you'll have with James."
"Really." James took her hand.
"You mean I won't have to turn Sirius into a worm and feed him to the chaffinches?" The wobble was leaving her voice. "Your mum gave me the recipe for a potion, just in case."
Sirius, who'd helped himself to tea, eyed the cup suspiciously, then put it back down. "No need for drastic measures. James is all yours, Evans--his choice."
"Well, that's a relief," she said. "I'm not even sure chaffinches eat worms, and then what would I have done with you?"
James pulled her closer so that they looked already married, a proper couple with a guest for tea. "Remus would've looked after him. He's always been good with defenceless creatures."
"He'd have to be with you two for mates." She helped herself to a biscuit from the tray, and fed one to James. "Will you be coming to the wedding, Sirius?"
"Of course." He noticed that she left the tea alone. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Good, because James is in need of a best man. There's always Remus or Peter, but..."
"Are you sure?" Sirius looked between them both.
"Anything to keep James happy. It's not like you two aren't best mates, right? You can bring Remus, Sirius; he'll make sure to keep you out of trouble."
"Don't know about that, Lily. Remus and I..."
"The really good-looking ones are always a bit thick, aren't they?" Lily shook her head.
James nudged her with his shoulder. "Hey! Where does that leave me?"
"You're the exception, of course," she said. "Think I'd lavish my affection on just anyone? And, Sirius, while part of me thinks you deserve to crawl in the mud hiding from chaffinches, you should know that Remus is annoyingly mad for you."
"Not sure about that. There's Lex, and I've been such an idiot, and--"
Lily threw a biscuit at him, startling the cat. "Trust me. I recognize the symptoms in others."
No one spoke, then James kissed her pale cheek. "Even if there weren't already a dozen reasons to love you, your immunity to the Black charm would convince me."
"How could it work with you around, you silly beautiful daft boy?" She turned her face up to him, her eyes shining like the witch-balls on the tree.
Sirius left them there, kissing on the sofa.
The sky had turned thick with snow when Sirius reached London, muting sound and dimming the Christmas lights that still hung in shop windows. Landing on the roof to park his bike in a secret shed, he surveyed the city, with its tall spires and glass towers, its arched bridges and marble monuments, and felt more alone than he ever had in his life.
The Chinese State Circus was at Queen Elizabeth Hall, acrobats, jugglers and pole-vaulters performing amazing feats without the benefit of magic, a jazz band playing at Bird's, while a new American film had opened on Christmas Day at the local cinema. So much to do, but with cold seeped under his skin Sirius chose instead to head into his flat.
To break the dark, he lit candles and started a fire, then fixed a cup of tea, reclining on the sofa with a book on London Muggle history. It might've been an interesting text (the shopkeeper at Flourish and Blotts had been quite keen on it), but he couldn't tell: the Normans kept invading the country since he never turned the page. Food might help. He could pop round to The Caprice, see how Rita had spent her Christmas, dig into some fishcakes and rocket--
Three quick taps.
Not the window, but the door. The door with a spell on it, discernible only to a wizard. Had to be a polite wizard, too, since if he could spot the door he could also open it. Holy Merlin's balls. Sirius got up, bit his nail, then unlocked the door.
"You bloody idiot," Remus said, and punched him on the jaw.
The blow sent him flying back, landing with a bone-cracking thud on the floor. He lay there dazed, then Remus was at his side, cradling his head. "Ow." Which was a slight exaggeration, but the position was too good not to milk the pain.
"I'm sorry, Sirius. I am. But you're the most maddening person in the whole world. If a person spent his entire life from birth to death dedicated to being maddening, if he went to an institute of Higher Maddening, then taught there for forty years, he wouldn't be as maddening as you are." He stroked Sirius' hair, snowflakes melting in his own, then pushed him off his lap, and Sirius cracked his skull again. "I could kill you."
"I'm glad you're here."
"You stupid, bloody idiot. Lex told me everything. You..." Another shove, and Remus stalked to the window, leaving a wet trail. "Stay where you are. I don't want you within murdering distance." He tore off his coat, throwing it across a chair, then kicked off his boots. "I'm so bloody mad and hot and I hate you right now."
"You look good, Moony. A bit mental, but good."
"Of course I look mental. You've made me that way. Holy Merlin, Sirius, don't you realize that Lionel Luthor could've killed you?"
"I thought you wanted me dead."
"I've avoided coming here for a couple of days, hoping I'd be calm enough to talk rationally to you, but that's clearly impossible. You let us all think the worst of you, which we all did, because so often that's the only part you let us see--"
"I missed you, Moony. You can't imagine how much."
"Shut up. I'm not done being angry with you. Why didn't you tell me the real reason you slept with Lex? To protect me? I'm not a little girl, for Merlin's sake."
"Definitely not a little girl." He eyed Remus' wide mouth, his chest, his thighs, and his hand moved.
"Would you not look at me like that? I'm trying to yell at you."
"I don't want to yell. You drive me to it."
"James and Lily are getting married."
"So that's why you're sitting here alone and reading a book? You're having a breakdown?"
"Lex didn't tell you everything, then. Not about my being in love with you, I mean."
"He mentioned it, but I didn't believe him, which made him quite angry, actually. Said that I was buggering up his whole penance plan, and it was the last time he intended to do any good--"
"Why are you here, Moony?"
"Because we never talk. Not about anything proper."
"We can make it improper, if that will help."
"Everything is improper about you, Sirius. You're the most improper person I've ever met."
"I thought I was the most maddening."
"That, too. I'd love few things more than to put you out of my mind for good."
"Why don't you?"
"Because I can't! I've tried and tried, and you're like this sickness, like my stupid werewolf madness that won't ever go away. You're like the moon."
"You're not going to hit me again, are you?" Sirius touched his tender jaw.
"No. I'm sorry. That was unforgivable. It's precisely why you and I should never...Why we never..."
"Why you turned me down?"
Remus nodded. "You think I'm this kind, gentle person, but when you're close, I want...I want to throw you down and take you. Hard. I'm scared I'll hurt you if I give in to it. What are you doing?"
"Just moving closer. Floor's too cold." He planted himself beside Remus, placing one arm behind him on the sofa.
"Did you not hear what I said? I'm not joking, Sirius. I might hurt you."
"I'm willing to risk it. It's not like I've never seen you out of control, Moony. Just not this way. And I want to see it this way."
"You don't understand. Once or twice won't be enough. If we start something, I'll want you all the time."
"All of this talk that's supposed to put me off? Is having the opposite effect. And you know what? I think you're hoping for that."
"I give up," Remus said.
Sirius found himself on his back as Remus kissed him, wild as he'd threatened, grinding and growling, already hard as he pushed his tongue deep. It was so intense, zero to near-orgasm in an instant, that Sirius didn't know what to do, couldn't think ahead to the next move. Nothing to do but hold on and let it happen. He was aware only of fragments, like the shaggy tangle of Remus' hair, the smooth wetness of his tongue, the press of his stiff cock. Then it was just waves and thrusts and the scrape of the sofa's legs as Remus rubbed against him, as he rubbed against Remus.
He'd never been this hard, this desperate, because it was Remus, truly Remus this time, and Remus was trying to bore into him, fuck him into the couch with his tongue, his cock rigid against Sirius'. It was too intense to last, too good, and Sirius came right before Remus did, record time, gasping and clawing at Remus' back, trying to drag himself back to reality for the look on Remus' face, and caught the flash of grey as Remus opened his eyes -- startled, wolfish -- before shutting them tightly.
"Hope you weren't expecting finesse," Remus said, panting, his cheek against Sirius'. "Maybe in a few years. Told you that you make me crazy."
"Idiot." Sirius kissed the tip of his nose. "It's the who, not the how. Not like I come at breakneck speed for just anyone."
"I liked that. I liked how you said my name at the end, too. I liked that a lot."
"I said your name?"
"That's even better, that you didn't know. What're you doing?"
Another need, beyond words, to get closer to Remus, learn things about him that no one else would ever know again. When Remus reclined against the back of the sofa, his hair branched, his lips pink and a little swollen, Sirius knelt between his legs and unfastened Remus' trousers, his mouth already dry as he licked his lips.
"I appreciate the effort, Sirius," Remus told him gently, "but I can't get hard again this quickly, not even for you."
"I know." He tugged down Remus' trousers, then his pants, exposing his soft, damp cock. "I want to taste you while you're too relaxed to rush me, and I'm relaxed enough to pay attention."
Spent, Remus' cock fit easily into his mouth, and Sirius licked and sucked it clean, his mind empty from the taste of Remus, then explored it with his tongue, tracing every curve. Remus watched without blinking, sometimes brushing Sirius' hair from his eyes or stroking his cheek.
"I hurt," Remus said suddenly. "Not because of what you're doing. That's brilliant, seeing you with my cock in your mouth. It's like a dream, but better. Much better. I just thought that being with you would stop the hurting, but it's still there. Just looking at you hurts."
Sirius kissed the head of Remus' cock, his balls, the insides of his thighs, then tucked him away before moving up to kiss Remus' mouth. "I think it's supposed to hurt. So we'll take it seriously. Moony?"
"Can't think when you're kissing me."
"You're the one who said we didn't talk. Remember when we did that Parvus Memento spell in Farrago's class? What memory did you use? If it was about Lex, feel free to ignore the question."
"It was the day you came to me and told me you'd figured out the Animagus spell. You were so excited, and I knew it wasn't just because you'd proved yet again how clever you were, although that was part of it." Remus grinned and Sirius bit the lobe of his ear. "It was this amazing gift that you'd made just for me, you and James, because we were mates and you knew how much I hated to be alone and deadly every month." He cleared his throat. "What about you? If it was some fabulous time in bed with James, skip it."
"It was the first day we all met. The four of us, and we became friends."
"That was a good day," Remus said. "You on the platform, the best-looking boy I'd ever seen, the sort I'd always wanted to be. Looks equal happiness. Why do we think that? Except you weren't happy: you were staring up at your mum like she was a dragon. I knew how you felt, with my dad giving me a lecture on what would happen if anyone discovered my secret, and when you saw me it was like we both shared a new secret, about how stupid parents could be."
"I remember. You were this pale, quiet, strange boy. You still are." Sirius laughed, this loud, joyous bark, and laughed harder when Remus tackled him, covering his face in licks and kisses.
"Wish I had something to remember tonight," Remus said, resting his chin on Sirius' chest. "Just in case."
"There's no just in case. You're stuck with me. I command it, and you know how we Blacks are about having our way. You hungry?"
"Now that you mentioned it, I'm starving. Want me to conjure something?"
"I've got a better idea."
Bundled in coats and mufflers, they went outside into a night lit by snow, stars and a crescent-shape moon. When Remus slid on a patch of ice and nearly fell, Sirius took his hand and didn't let go. Gloves over skin, but still warm, still anchoring, still bloody brilliant. The wind howled and slapped his cheeks, but nothing could stop his smile.
"So where are we going, Sirius? The Leaky Cauldron?"
"Is it new? I've never heard of it."
"Not new. Just Muggle."
"You eat in Muggle restaurants?" Remus was clearly impressed. "I've never been. My parents...Well, you know what they're like. Think I'll change if someone even mentions the word ‘moon.'"
"It was confusing the first time. Scary, too. My mother always said they served rats and puppies, but it's just regular food. Then there's the money. Took me ages to figure that out."
"I want to kiss you," Remus said. "Is that all right?"
"Moony, you could bugger me right here if you wanted." Reaching beneath his coat, Sirius began to unfasten his trousers.
Grinning, Remus pulled him into the doorway of a bookshop. "As if you'd let me."
Sirius spun around, placing his palms flat against the doorway. "Try me."
"But I thought..."
"Moony, you're still not quite grasping things. Okay, now you are," he added, his breath steaming the glass of the door as Remus squeezed his arse, "but I meant it the other way. About you and I. All the usual rules? Those are for other people, not us."
"You shouldn't say things like that." Remus turned him around, placing his arms at Sirius' waist. "Because if it wasn't cold enough to freeze my prick off, I'd take you right here. Still going to kiss you, though."
Sirius threw his arms about Remus' neck, catching his cold kiss. He ran his tongue over the tips of Remus' canine teeth and wondered how they'd feel biting his thighs, sinking into his arse, scraping over the head of his cock.
"Love how you kiss me," Remus said. "Playful and messy. Not...elegant. Don't know if I can stop."
But Remus was starting to shiver, so Sirius licked Remus' tongue once more, then pulled him back onto the pavement.
"Elegant?" Sirius repeated, when his brain caught up with his body. "That's what you expected?"
"Well, when I watched you kiss James--"
"You weren't exactly discreet. Besides, sometimes it seemed like you wanted me to see."
"I was hoping for jealous rage."
"You had it."
"Invisible jealous rage doesn't count."
"There were times when we were in the tunnels, all changed, and I had to keep far from James. I wanted to rip his throat out. And yours. My two best mates."
"You could've dined on Lex instead. I wouldn't have told."
"It's funny that you and Lex hate each other, when you're so much--"
"Say it, Lupin, and that snow drift will be all you snog again tonight. Best thing I can say about Lex is that he had the good sense to find you immensely shaggable. It's also the worst thing."
"Sirius Black, jealous. Hard to believe."
"‘Course I am. What did you think? That I just didn't like the look of him? I might've liked his mouth if he'd kept it off you."
"That's just what I thought. That you looked and judged and disliked."
"You do remember that I tried to shag you years ago?"
"You tried to shag everyone. And succeeded, most of the time."
"You were always there with me, Moony. It was always a threesome."
The crunching of Remus' boots stopped. "I shouldn't be glad when it hurt other people."
"Mostly, they didn't know. Except James."
"And I should feel guiltier about him. I would, if I hadn't caught so many shows of the Sirius-James shagfest. And if he didn't have Lily."
"Here we are," Sirius said.
"Do they do take-out? Because my second wind's coming on. You look good covered in snow. I'd like to lick it off you."
"I'll walk home starkers, then."
"You wouldn't get far."
A warm blast of air hit them as Sirius opened the restaurant's door, garlic-scented heat, and he saw Remus' nose quiver. "Smells good, doesn't it?"
"Loads better than Hogwarts. The Great Hall's got this burnt singed odour thanks to Peter and his elfish food obsession. You missed his last disaster; the elves banned him from the kitchen. Poor bloke."
Sirius led him to a corner table with a view of the street, and they hung their coats on the rack, then sat down. "Menu's on the wall," he said. "The tuna steaks are brilliant. Hey, Rita. This is my friend Remus. Remus, Rita."
She studied Remus, gnawing on the tip of her pencil. "So this is the one. Knew it the second you stepped in the door, and not because you're usually alone. He's got ‘the one' written all over him. In red ink."
"The one what?" Remus looked over at Sirius.
"There's been pining." She winked at him. "But it's gone now."
Remus went pink as the fake carnation on the table. "Well, he wasn't the only one."
"He's sweet," she said to Sirius. "Take good care of him."
"We need to eat first."
"Oh, to be young again. Or at least to have my husband young as he once was." Rita heaved a sigh, then took their orders. "I'll tell Cook to be quick about it."
"You were pining?" Remus asked when she'd walked away.
"More a restrained longing. No one pines any more."
"There were witnesses."
"You just like the image of me wasting away for you."
Remus placed his hand on Sirius' thigh under the table. "If we weren't in a public place, I'd show you how much."
"You sure it's the wolf that comes out only during the full moon, and not tame, logical Remus?"
"Do you mind?"
"Move your hand to the right and see how much I don't mind."
When Rita brought their food, they ate quickly, almost obscenely, Remus stealing bits from Sirius' plate, licking his fingers then feeding Sirius from his own, sharing sips from the same glass of lager, which led to bumped noses and tongues.
"We're lucky it's a slow night," Sirius said. He'd forgotten about the rest of the world, the big window that framed them: an old woman peered inside, clutching a tiny dog to her chest like a canine heart attack.
"Wouldn't matter." Remus kissed him full on the mouth. "It's the price you pay for showing off your success in the Muggle world."
"If that's the price, then--"
Beside them, Rita cleared her throat. "I'm assuming no dessert?"
"We're done, thanks."
"It was delicious." Remus said it to Rita, but looked at Sirius. "Don't know the last time I was this hungry."
When they were bundled up against the cold, Sirius paid the bill, leaving a few extra pounds, then plucked the carnation from the vase on the table and fixed it in Remus' buttonhole. "For the Parvus spell. In case of fatal explosions from happiness."
"Won't do me any good if I'm a blot on the ceiling."
"I meant me. Because looks like that? Very explosive."
He'd meant to show Remus his London, but instead grabbed his hand and ran. They tore off down the road, sliding and hollering as they crashed into a post box, a street lamp, the base of a column where a pigeon-hatted marble Muggle stood guard. The few pedestrians avoided them, stepping aside as they dashed past in a spray of snow, sharing misdirected kisses.
The kisses stayed sloppy and quick on the lemon-polished stairs leading up to Sirius' flat, and they fumbled with buttons and belt buckles, cold fingers on hot skin. Inside the door, clothes fell, pulled or kicked off, Remus' hair under his hands, Remus' back, arse, chest and cock. Sirius kissed, licked and sucked whatever he find, fingers, nipples, shoulders, and learned how Remus' sharp teeth felt everywhere he'd hoped, and more.
He wasn't sure where they were, the hallway, maybe, soft scratch of a carpet under his back or palms and knees, couldn't even tell where Remus' tongue or fingers were half the time, moving all over his body, inside it, recognition only when Remus' cock was in his mouth, hard and seeping, when his cock was in Remus', sucked so hungrily that Sirius' flailing fist dented the wall.
Remus kissed the bruise on Sirius' knuckles before making a series of his own on Sirius' neck, his hips, the fleshiest part of his arse. Possession, pure and simple, and he welcomed every sucking bite, the fierce concentration on Remus' face as he did it, even when Sirius was face-down in the carpet, tongued and bitten, and had only his memory of that determined look.
When Sirius was marked to Remus' satisfaction, Remus encouraged him onto his back, uttered a spell, and his fingers glided inside him, though Sirius was wet enough already from Remus' tongue. Sirius pushed down into the sweet stretch, spread his legs wider, moaned instead of demanded because he couldn't remember how, not when Remus returned to Sirius' cock, which was so thick full he worried Remus would choke on it. Not that Remus noticed or cared, Sirius halfway down his growling throat, his eyes sleepy-wild. More animal noises as Remus gorged himself, his hands locked on Sirius' hips, trying to swallow him whole.
Lost by then, lost in the sights and sounds of Remus on his cock, Sirius didn't come only because Remus pulled back, chin and mouth gleaming, and lifted Sirius' legs to his shoulders, saying, "Can't wait. Can't wait or I'll die," as he penetrated him.
Then, "You're so...Oh. Yes."
It hurt enough to be real, not enough to do more than spread wider and take it, take Remus' cock, making depraved little whimpers each time Remus forced them closer, forced his big hard cock deeper inside. Almost there now, and it wasn't enough so Sirius rocked up, took it all, and saw Remus' mouth open, his eyes widen, shocked lust and something hotter behind the grey.
Too much at once when Remus closed his fingers around Sirius' cock, a flash of black as he fell somewhere dark, back into the tunnel as the past realigned. He returned, gasping, only to find that Remus blind above him, teeth gritted, sweat and liquid snow leaving silvery tracks on his face.
"Open your eyes, Moony."
"Can't. If I look at you, I'll come. You have to come first."
"If you open your eyes, I will." He was going to anyway, but better this way, with Remus not hiding anymore, wolf out, dangerous and aware. "That's it."
Wide pupils, grey-ringed, and Sirius swore just before he came that Remus' teeth began to grow, his hair to thicken. Shouts, cries, a heat to melt skin and bone, conscious only because Remus' cock and eyes pinned him there, bloodrush like his heart really had exploded. Then, not thinking, just needing, he grabbed Remus' hips, thrust up for the full wet storm of Remus' orgasm. More sounds from Remus, Sirius' choked name, pulse far inside him.
"You were...That was..." Remus collapsed, showered him with a dozen kisses, then rolled on his side, taking Sirius with him. "Fast. Sorry. Warned you."
"Idiot," Sirius said, his eyes drifting shut as he lay pressed against Remus' slick body. "When will you learn? It's you. How's not important." He yawned, licked Remus' cheek and curled closer, sleep hovering, with Remus already breathing slowly and steadily beside him, one hand splayed possessively on Sirius' hip.
Nearly there, relaxed and warm, when Remus moved. "James and Lily are going to have a baby," he said sleepily. "And he's going to save the world. Too late. You'll leave me." His arms went tight around him, his cheek against Sirius' chest. "Don't leave me, Sirius."
"It's just a dream, you foolish wolf," Sirius told him, and half-dragged, half-carried Remus into the bedroom where Remus huddled against him beneath the covers. "Just a dream. How can I leave? I'm the moon, remember. The moon in your blood, always there even when you can't see it."
"Always there," Remus repeated, his eyes shutting again, tension fading. "The moon in my blood."
The chaffinches were very excited. They flew among the hedgerows, sometimes higher into the blue June sky, eyeing the small wedding party with bright curious eyes.
Lily wore a crown of flowers and a white dress with gold-threaded red ribbons that hung to her ankles, part May-Queen, part bride, all Gryffindor. Her left hand fluttered like one of the birds, James holding her right one, her new husband beaming like it was a Quidditch victory party. His smile had faltered only once all day, when Sirius and Remus had arrived at the stone church, but he'd quickly found it again, bounding over to give them each a hug. On Lily's other side at the table, Anne Potter watched the couple, her smile warmer than the sun.
Henry Potter, whose chest threatened to burst through his red and gold vest, chatted enthusiastically with Dumbledore, explaining the best way to grow cabbage-sized roses like the ones lining the white path to the house, though he coughed once or twice, as though a cold were coming on. McGonagall in her emerald robes looked distinctly unruffled as she passed Mandy Litvack a slab of wedding cake, about as likely to give anyone paws as a purring tabby.
Sirius, who found sitting a little awkward after last night at the inn, shifted on the bench, and Remus turned from his conversation with Peter to wink promises at him. Under the table, Sirius squeezed Remus' hand and basked in the afternoon sun. No need for words, not today, then he changed his mind and whispered in Remus' ear, "I'm on top tonight, and I'm going to make you forget your name." Because sometimes his werewolf lover was a little too cocky.
Peter prattled on, oblivious. "Sirius, I was just telling Remus that it looks like elf school is out. They laughed quite hard, though, so at least I was amusing. Seems a waste of this nose." He grabbed a stalk of celery from one of the vases decorating the table, chewing thoughtfully, then attacked a slab of cake. "Grub's been brilliant here--maybe Mrs. Potter will give me a lesson or two."
"I'll tell my mum to take out extra fire insurance," James called to him. "Maybe some for Sirius and Remus as well. Peter reported that the inn was in danger around midnight yesterday."
"Funny, Potter," Sirius said. "If I wasn't scared of Lily, I'd thwack you, wedding day or not."
"Should've mentioned you had some strength left," Remus whispered. "Maybe we can sneak off later down by the lake."
Lily leaned forward, grinning at Sirius. "If anyone's going to thwack James, it's me, Black. Wife's privilege. Feel free to thwack Lupin all you want. Hear he likes it."
"Honestly, you children." McGonagall clucked her tongue. "This sort of talk at a wedding party is quite...appropriate." And she smiled into her wine glass.
"Oh! This cake reminds me," Peter said, getting to his feet. "I know the toasts have been made, but I've always been a little slow."
"Slow, maybe, but steady," Remus told him encouragingly, then everyone fell silent because Peter really was a good bloke in his own scattered fashion.
Peter raised his glass, smiling at the company as the sun added more freckles to his round cheeks. "My gran told me that in her day, girls at weddings would always take home a piece of cake, sleeping with it under their pillow so they could dream of the man they'd marry."
The women all nodded, and Anne Potter said, "I dreamed about my Henry when I was at my aunt's wedding. Levitating cow and all. Don't know what I'd do without you, Henry." She smiled tenderly at him, then added, "But please continue, Peter, dear. It's a lovely toast so far."
"I think," Peter went on, " that we should each take home a piece of cake, but save it for the future and a Parvus Memento spell. Because everyone's so happy today, and, really, it's hard to imagine that we'll ever be this happy again."
A chaffinch flew above them high into the benevolent blue sky, a single black dot in the centre of the sun.
The Third. (c) Thamiris, January 2004
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