Title: The Night Is a Bridge Between Yesterday and Tomorrow
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters & Pairings: Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Lily Evans, James Potter, Peter Pettigrew, Severus Snape, Lucius Malfoy, Remus/Sirius, background James/Lily
Ratings & Warnings: PG-13, implied sex, swearing, drinking, smoking
Word Count: ~ 18,600 (this part ~ 9,700)
Summary: Our boys attend Four Parties and a Music Festival, in which we find romance, secrets, dodgy relatives and lots of music.
Prompt: "Here Comes the Sun" by The Beatles
Author's Notes: Written for Team Post-Hogwarts at the 2013 rs_games.
Thank you so much to the uncommonly wonderful gilpin25 and brighty18 for the beta, comments, britpicking and handholding ♥
Inspired by stereolightning, I've made a playlist with the music mentioned in the story, which can be found here.
Party number one:
Boys don’t cry. December 1978
Heart rate well above normal frequency?
Dry throat in spite of the two beers already consumed?
Shallow breathing never even close to reaching the stomach?
The facts all point to one conclusion: This is a very, very bad idea.
Remus walks the few steps across the small space serving as a combined living room and bedroom, ending up in front of a narrow, full-figure mirror hanging beside the door. His eyes glide over his own reflection, he frowns warily at what he sees, at the still too thin frame covered by his best jeans and a green button-up shirt. An ordinary-looking, worried young man.
He meets his own eyes in the mirror and makes a small clicking sound with his tongue. So this is what it looks like – someone getting all worked up because he’s been invited to an event which most people would happily attend. Or more to the point, because he’s accepted the invite.
Hesitatingly he tries out a few poses in front of the mirror, he lifts his chin and pushes his shoulders back in an attempt to give off a more confident vibe. Before long he abandons the idea. This is ridiculous. Remus sighs, annoyed with himself. Four months, one week and six days as an urban citizen, and this is what he has to show for it.
For heaven’s sake, Lupin, get a grip! You’ve not exactly been asked to endanger yourself performing heroic life-or-death stunts.
Oddly enough this thought does nothing to ease his mind. These reactions would have been more understandable if that were the case.
Since when has he been such an idiot? Since when has the thought of going out to meet people his own age turned him into this self-conscious, fiddling dork? One who is pacing the rooms, having weird thoughts about the wonders of secluded record shops and silent study halls and long evenings reading a good book on his (not particularly comfortable) sofa?
An eager little devil immediately starts jumping up and down on his shoulder, whispering insistently in his ear: “You know the answer to that!”
Remus’ Voice of Reason starts talking then. The voice that refuses to define itself by some unfortunate experiences during that time when most people figure out who they are. It’s joining the choir in his head.
As he walks over to his vast record collection filling up an entire corner of the cramped room, the door bell gives a garbled sound. “I really need to get that thing fixed,” he says to himself as he lifts off the phone handle by the door.
“It’s Lily!” a bright voice says, and Remus pushes the button with a cheery “come on up!”
He hurries into the kitchenette and swiftly grabs a couple of beers from the fridge. Rummaging through his records, looking for the one by Kate Bush he knows Lily loves, the words from their last conversation echo through his mind.
“Come on, Remus, it’ll be good for you. When’s the last time you went out just to have some fun?”
“Uhm – I used to go roaming the forests with you and Benjy back home when we were in… uh, primary school.”
“Mhm. I rest my case. Remus, you’re not in hospital anymore. It’s time to step into the real world. Explore your possibilities. You’ll turn into a hermit if you keep this up. Come to the party with me, okay?”
And Lily had been right, Remus has to admit that to himself – Lily usually is. Kind of annoying, really.
“Wuthering Heights” starts playing in the corner, the door opens, and a friendly face peeks inside, all sparkling, green eyes and a big smile. “Ready, Remus?”
They sit upstairs, talking animatedly as the double-decker bus winds its way through crowded London streets. That is, Lily is talking animatedly. Remus is still new enough in London to get a secret thrill from looking down at the cars and people below them, inhaling sharply when the bus narrowly misses hitting someone.
Lily hasn’t lived here any longer than Remus, but unlike her childhood friend, she’s been around, discovering what a seething city has to offer. She seems to notice that Remus is even more quiet than usual. Distractedly she adjusts her green woolen scarf that makes her hair look fierier than ever, before laying a hand on Remus’ corduroy-covered arm.
“You have me as your bodyguard, you know.” Her voice is soft, her vivid eyes full of humour as well as concern. “Nothing to worry about. Your charming, wonderful self will win everyone over, and before you know it you’ll have to fight off attention-craving girls throwing themselves at you. Easy peasy!”
Remus laughs, a wave of affection running through him. Suddenly he feels a bit stupid for making such a big deal about this, for having immersed himself in solitary studying during his first semester at Uni.
Live a little, Lupin!
“Certainly,” he answers Lily. “I have been known to turn quite a few heads in my time. I’ve got it from reliable sources that more than one of the nurses used to carry a secret torch for me. Especially the ones over fifty.”
Lily pats him on his head and smiles fondly. “Very droll, Remus. You should be grateful that someone besides yours truly has discovered your indisputable wit. It’s not very nice to dismiss them simply based on something as shallow as their age.”
He nudges her gently with his elbow, before looking out of the window. Leaning his forehead against the cool surface, he watches through the dew made by his breath.
Christmas decorations are liberally spread across the huge display windows of the numerous stores. Red and green colours, masses of tinsel, small trees with golden baubles and sparkling Christmas lights.
They pass the Marble Arch and continue along Hyde Park. The pavements are filled with busy looking people, huddled against the December evening in thick coats and long scarves. Most of them give off an air of purpose and determination, and Remus feels a rush of excitement. He’s one of them.
He turns his head towards Lily and clears his throat. “So, do I know anyone who’ll be there? Except you, that is?”
Lily lets go of the loose thread on her fluffy mittens and starts ticking off her fingers. “You know the Prewett brothers from Uni, don’t you? And I think you’ve met James?”
Remus isn’t sure if he’s imagining the light blush across Lily’s face. “The stalker guy?”
“Yeah, well, turns out he isn’t all that bad.” Lily looks him straight in the eyes as if preparing for snarky comments, but Remus lets her off the hook with a simple “right”.
They have reached their bus stop. Swiftly they hurry downstairs without having to elbow too many fellow passengers in the ribs as they leave.
The evening feels heavy and blue. A breath of snow is in the air, waiting for an opportunity to cover the city. Lily leads them off the main street, and Remus remembers that Fabian and Gideon live in the Bayswater area, in a flat apparently big enough to host a friends-of-friends type of party.
Okay, let’s do this.
“Lilyyy! The brightest diamond in all womanhood! Come in and let your light dazzle us all!”
Lily snorts, but laughs despite herself, raising her voice to be heard over Led Zeppelin booming from somewhere inside. “Diamonds are cold and hard, James. I’d rather you find another comparison.”
The dark-haired young man smiles even wider after this gentle admonishment before pulling her into a tight hug. Over her shoulder James notices Remus and turns towards the guest, arm still hung over Lily. “Lupin, right?” James grins. “Good to see you again! Any friend of the lovely Miss Evans is a friend of mine.”
He extends a hand and shakes Remus’ before guiding them both to a small bedroom next to the entrance, currently serving as a wardrobe for the guests. “Our hosts for the evening were busying themselves by mixing the most spectacular, absolutely disgusting-looking punch that has ever been drunk by man the last time I saw them, leaving the welcoming part to me. And using the record player. Thankfully they have quite a few Led Zeppelin records, so I’m good. Just find a place to stash your stuff, then come and join us, yeah?”
He flashes them a happy smile before bouncing off towards the living room, all messy curls and fashionable clothes. His big-collar shirt looks very expensive.
Remus finds an empty peg for his thick, brown corduroy jacket and tries to stop the fluttering in his stomach from rapidly spreading. “Soo,” he says, dragging the word out. “You and James?”
Lily adjusts her narrow skirt and combs through long, red hair with her hands.
“I suppose so, yeah,” she smiles. “He’s actually quite... quite amazing. He just used to spend an awful lot of time doing his best to hide it.”
She throws an arm around Remus, and together they head back through the now empty entrance and into a slightly run-down, crowded room full of laughter and bright colours and the nonchalant guitars of “Stairway to Heaven”. It feels unreal to Remus, that he’s now inside where the music is, and other people will still be walking outside in the streets, listening to them, listening to what’s happening on the inside.
Sweaty people. Dancing people. Laughing people.
One short hour and three long drinks later, and Remus is getting into the swing of things.
James had been right, the punch really looks vile, but it tastes sweet and strong, so what’s not to like? A nice blonde girl in a turquoise tunic casually thrown over purple trousers has obviously taken a liking to Remus. She hasn’t left his side except when walking over to the punch bowl and pouring them another drink. He willingly takes what she hands him, he can always get some beers later on.
So far he’s resisted the urge to check out the record collection for anything decent. A bunch of giggling girls have put on the soundtrack from Grease, and the blonde girl, Marlene her name is, joins Remus in some bemused eye rolling. She’s easy to talk to and seems to know an awful lot of the other guests, eagerly pointing them out to him. They’re sitting on a small brown sofa placed in a corner of the sparsely decorated living room, next to the table where the hosts have put both the punch and the crisps. It provides a very comfy view over what’s going on around them.
Lily and James are spending a lot of time dancing together, even managing a passable swing when the annoying rhythms of “You’re the One That I Want” echo through the room. Afterwards James sinks down next to Remus, long enough for Giggling Girl Number One to hurry over. She leans into James, her dark hair falling over his shoulder, speaking softly.
“So, when’s your friend coming, James?”
She wiggles her eyebrows and doesn’t seem to notice James’ mild snorting.
“He said he’d probably make it, but you never know if something else entered his radar. We’re not talking about the biggest of attention spans here.” The crestfallen look on Giggling Girl Number One’s face seems to soften James, making him add a quick “But I’m sure he’ll come.”
Apparently now happy, the girl bounces back to her Giggling Gang, completely missing James mumbling “Not that he’s going to look twice at you anyway” to no one in particular.
James pats Remus rather absently on the shoulder. “Cheers, mate!” he says before swiftly getting up to join a blond guy who’s been fidgeting with his beer, scanning the room with big eyes set in his friendly face. At the sound of James’ cheery “Hi Peter!” he eagerly turns around, talking and gesticulating wildly.
Marlene scurries off to get them more drinks. The vacant seat next to Remus becomes occupied by the two red heads who live here, apologizing profusely for being so absent, hoping Remus has a good time (“Glad you came, don’t think I’ve ever seen you without your lecture notes!” “All work and no play makes for a grumpy and horny man, you know – no use studying with a sour frown and perpetual hard-on!”).
As they move on to speak with someone else, a tall, brown-haired man sits down heavily. Remus remembers Marlene calling him Frank. He stretches out his long legs and leans towards Remus, head swaying and glazed eyes slightly unfocused.
“You know,” Frank begins in a low, conspiratorial voice. He seems to realise that his speech is lost amongst the sound of Billy Joel singing that this is his life, and Frank is obviously determined to get his message across. Practically yelling into Remus’ ear, he continues.
“This is a dream, my friend. There is no reality. But it’s not we who do the dreaming, we are the dream! Got it? Someone else is dreaming us, dreaming this flat and the people and the flirting and every fucking thing that we see here! Isn’t it wonderful?! Think of all the possibilities that knowledge can give us!”
Before Remus has time to ponder this revelation, Frank is off again, walking serenely towards Marlene as she balances two wide glasses of mysterious looking content. Remus is actually a bit relieved when Frank leads a slightly hesitating Marlene towards a door on the opposite wall and into what Remus assumes is the kitchen. He’s honestly had enough oddly coloured sweet drinks for one evening.
Remus straightens his back and sits up, suddenly feeling strange sitting here all by himself, even though no one spares a second glance in his direction.
Because no one spares a second glance in his direction.
Either way, it’s a blunt reminder that he’s the odd one out. There’s an uncomfortable stirring in his gut as he watches the young men and women flying around with an apparently bottomless well of confidence, and the ones who are standing in tight, laughing groups. He knows in some deeply hidden part of his brain that the feeling is dangerously close to jealousy, but he refuses to acknowledge it. Jealousy is almost self-pity, a feeling Remus has always fought hard to avoid, telling himself to blame any lack of social skills on minimal practice. There is, after all, only so much witty banter most hospital staff will see fit to engage in.
He finds a packet of cigarettes in his pocket, flips one out and lights it before hauling himself to his feet. Inhaling deeply, he starts walking around the room, moving with the music (it is after all The Cars playing “Just What I Needed” which isn’t all that bad), trying not to bump into anyone, looking for Lily. Instead he finds himself cornered by one of the Giggling Girls who seems to have given up on James’ mystery friend. It’s not that Remus isn’t happy for some female attention, Lord knows there haven’t been too many opportunities to bask in it, but somehow her coy smile does nothing but make him feel awkward and uncomfortable.
“Hello,” he says eloquently, taking another long puff of his cigarette, keeping it hanging from the corner of his mouth, trying not to blow smoke onto Giggling Girl Number Two, or was it Three, and her heavily painted face. She opens her mouth to say something, or so Remus assumes. Before any sound leaves her mouth, another few members of the Giggling Gang make their way towards them, barely able to contain whatever news they have from spilling out.
“He’s here!” they exclaim with one voice. Their arms entwine, and Remus gets a fleeting image of girls back in school, sauntering around the schoolyard with a look on their faces as if they’ve been let in on all the secrets in the world. Remus snorts silently. Apparently not everything has changed as much as he’s feared.
Then he doesn’t do much thinking. His cigarette forgotten, he almost loses it as he silently mouths a soft “Oh”.
A young man has entered the room. Remus blinks and wonders if the newcomer has brought the sun with him; no, more like it’s the sun itself who’s chosen to take on human form and spread its blessings and warm rays.
Apparently the sun in human form has the ability to turn Remus’ thoughts into romantic nonsense.
The Giggling Girls have appointed themselves both welcoming committee and party guide to Sunshine Boy, but he doesn’t seem to take much notice of them. Full of friendly hellos, he makes his way through the crowd toward James. The latter is still talking to the Peter guy not far away from where Remus is trying to look as if he’s got somewhere to go. James waves merrily and opens a beer, clasps Sunshine Boy on the back. Remus can hear James’ loud “Good to see you, mate!” which Sunshine Boy answers with a brilliant smile.
Remus has seen winter nights less black than Sunshine Boy’s hair, he’s seen stormy clouds that are less vivid and grey than his eyes. Even from a distance he can make out sinfully long lashes and skin so pale it looks like it’s never received a ray of sun. Ironic, really, for a Sunshine Boy.
Sunshine Boy puts a cigarette in his mouth (his perfectly shaped mouth, for those who might notice such things), it hangs unlit as he simultaneously listens to James and greets people around him with hand waves and head nods. His eyes find Remus’ and hold still.
Remus feels sunburned by that look. Way too much time passes before he remembers to look away.
He doesn’t hear the music anymore, there’s nothing in this room to hold his interest except those eyes and the young man they belong to. The room feels too hot and his skin too tight.
His racing heart slows down on his way to the kitchen, wondering what just happened. It’s not the first time he’s felt attraction towards another man, but he hasn’t given it all that much thought. There’ve been other issues weighing heavier. Like staying alive.
Alcohol? Yes, let’s pretend it’s because of the alcohol.
The kitchen is less crowded than the living room, but still quite noisy. He spots a few bottles of beer on the work surface, as well as Lily seated by the rickety kitchen table, chatting with Marlene. Equipped with a beer in one hand and the almost burnt out cigarette in the other, he finds a vacant chair next to them, grateful for any distraction from whatever it was that just shook him. The music isn’t so loud in here, they can carry out a conversation without having to shout.
“Check out Frank,” Marlene says with a smile, nodding towards a corner where Frank is making a young woman laugh – they make each other laugh. “He’s been in love with Alice forever, poor sod,” she tells Remus. “Looks like tonight he’s decided he’s got nothing to lose.”
“Good for him,” Lily declares.
Remus takes a healthy swig from his beer and tosses the remains of the cigarette into a monster of an ashtray. “Apparently having stamina in your love life does pay off,” he says, giving Lily a wink.
“Says who?” Her eyebrows are impossibly high, eyes dancing.
“They,” Remus replies sheepishly. “They talk a lot, you see.”
Lily lets lose her lilting laugh, coming to an abrupt halt when a very elegant-looking man Remus hasn’t noticed before sits down across from them, talking loudly to his sallow-faced friend.
“I’ve been here for at least two hours now, and I have yet to be offered anything truly edible. My suspicions about the Prewett brothers’ hosting abilities have surely been proved correct.” He tosses his long, whitish blonde hair over his blazer clad shoulders, raising his pointy chin at his friend, who in turn moves his black eyes in Lily’s direction, holding her gaze as she sends him a brilliant smile.
“What?” the blond man glares, following the other’s look. “Ah,” he says curtly, as if that explains everything. “Lily. Marlene. Good evening, ladies. Who’s your friend here?”
Remus has never appreciated blatant scrutiny, and this man immediately manages to make him uncomfortable. Not abandoning his manners though, he says his name, and is rewarded with a questioning look and a subtle frown.
“That’s not a very common name?”
“Oh, that’s rich coming from you, Lucius,” Lily snaps.
“No, that’s not what I meant, I mean if you...”
Remus never gets to hear what the man, Lucius, is about to say. Another voice breaks in.
“Is this where the club meeting for People With Unusual Names is held?”
It’s Sunshine Boy. He’s surreptitiously entered the kitchen, and what-do-you-know, his voice is all soft and smooth. Once again the air seems to thicken, an odd tickling sensation making its way through Remus’ body. He wants to do something, anything, when the door opens again. James and Peter come stumbling in, obviously in the middle of a truly engaging conversation.
“Honestly,” Peter exclaims with undisguised glee, “if you could switch your body with whoever you wanted, why wouldn’t you pick Sean Connery? Just think about it, I wouldn’t mind getting all the girls’ attention.”
“As well as all the boys’ envy,” James snorts, stumbling slightly on his way to join Sunshine Boy by the work surface. “What about you, Sirius? Whose body would you want?”
Sunshine Boy – Sirius (of course that’s his name, he owns both the night and the day) – stretches out to reach for a beer. His white cotton shirt slides up to reveal a thin strip of silky skin above his jeans. Remus has always found those tight jeans with no flares just a little bit ridiculous. Now he realises they’re nothing short of spectacular. Not that he’s looking.
Sirius lights a cigarette, opens his beer and heaves himself off the wall, taking his time before answering James.
“I’m quite happy keeping my own body, actually. But I wouldn’t mind exchanging some bodily fluids with Mick Jagger.”
Remus chokes on his beer. Lily pats him gently on the back. James shakes his head amusedly, Peter looks embarrassed and Lucius looks vaguely disgusted. Only Marlene leans eagerly forward, eyes shining with interest.
“You’re a... a homosexual?”
Sirius seems completely undisturbed by the reactions his statement has caused, he simply shrugs. “I’ve never felt the need to label myself.”
And at that he obviously decides the topic has been fully discussed. He flashes Remus a smile (hopefully oblivious to what that smile does) and sits down next to him. “So,” he says, leaning on his elbow, exhaling smoke, “Remus, right? A friend of Gideon and Fabian?”
This is surprising.
Remus isn’t one to talk about himself much, especially not to someone he’s known for less than an hour. But before long, he’s told Sirius about how he’s studying architecture at Westminster University with the Prewetts, about his long friendship with Lily. He even mentions some of his health issues, some of his insecurities. Without really knowing why, he talks about how it’s been difficult to maintain friendships when being sick so much. He finds himself saying how it’s hard to trust after having been let down by doctors promising him the moon.
Remus doesn’t know if Sirius politely pretends to be interested, but if he does, he’s doing it so wonderfully that Remus finds it hard to care. Sirius possesses some strange power, the power of the sun and the stars and of magic.
This is dangerous, Lupin. Don’t let him in. Being alone is what you’re good at.
Someone – Lucius and his dark-haired friend it seems – scurries from the kitchen, opening the door to the living room, letting in the sound of Freddy Mercury singing “Somebody to Love”. Sirius straightens up, a truly happy expression flickering over his face.
“I love Queen!” he says. “Their music covers every aspect of life. And Pink Floyd! Don’t you just love Pink Floyd?”
Remus does no such thing. Whenever people (and by people he mostly means Lily) have ranted on and on about how powerful their music is, how intricate and wonderful their harmonies are, Remus has silently snorted and gone to put on The Clash. But right now he can’t think of anything he’d rather do than discuss Pink Floyd.
Sirius smiles widely. “I could talk about music all night!”
And that’s all it takes for the warning signs Remus has flashed at himself to be rapidly forgotten.
Three and a half hours, quite a few beers and even more cigarettes later, Remus knows a whole lot more than he did when he first came here.
He knows that Sirius and James have known each other forever, that they’re studying business and management with Peter, and that James has been a fanatical lover of Led Zeppelin and Lily Evans for a very long time.
He knows that Sirius is an unstoppable force of nature that without a doubt is harder to contain than a thunderstorm.
He knows that this man can make thirty people simultaneously gasp and squeal by balancing on the balcony railings, shouting at the top of his lungs into the dark December night, simply because he had too much energy not to do it.
He certainly knows that alcohol blurs his own mind. Well, that part he knew before tonight. The wonderful buzz that accompanies the blur, now that is new.
Remus also knows that it would be only too easy to fall for Sirius.
Now Remus finds himself in the living room, neatly seated in a shabby armchair next to the sofa. He’s trying to tune out an increasingly drunk girl – one of the Giggling Girls, Dorcas something – who’s curled up next to him on the armrest. The room is less crowded now. Some have left to go disco clubbing, some have gone home, and some have passed out in a drooling stupor.
Remus’ attention is solely focused on the beautiful man dancing alone in the middle of the room. One quality Remus has always admired is having the guts to do what you feel like. Sirius seems to be the embodiment of this.
The voice of David Bowie fills the room. Sirius tilts his head backwards, closes his eyes and moves relentlessly around. Dorcas’ voice goes on and on as if from far away, and Sirius keeps dancing.
“I wish more blokes were like you, Remus, you’re such a good listener.”
I wonder if those jeans could sit any tighter if they were painted on him.
“Most men I meet are more interested in their own voice and their own opinions.”
Is it normal to feel envious of a shirt for being allowed to snuggle across his chest?
“Except getting into my pants, that is. It’s so refreshing meeting someone who doesn’t hit on me.”
He’s not a particularly good dancer, really. Arms swinging aimlessly, long legs going in all directions.
“It’s like you’re too pure for this world, Remus.”
But it doesn’t matter. It’s the most wonderful dance I’ve ever seen.
“You know that can be a huge turn-on. That subtle sexiness.”
Would his hair feel as soft to touch as it looks?
“Maybe we could go somewhere, discover what lies hidden under your surface?”
I’d like to find out how my hands would fit around his neck, his shoulders, his back, his – you have to stop now, Lupin.
“What do you think? Good idea?”
Of course he starts singing too.
“I’ll be your king volcano right for you again and again.”
It would be like a parody if it wasn’t so tremendously sexy and completely beautiful.
“Remuuuus! Are you listening to me?”
What’s that whiny voice in my ear?
“Sorry, Dorcas. I’m just tired, I guess. Looks like Caradoc over there is gathering a crowd to go out, I think they want you to join them.”
Later. Remus shifts and turns, trying to find a comfortable position on the thin mattress Gideon’s lain on the floor for him. Lily and James are crashing in the small bedroom, and more than a little drunk and tired himself, Remus doesn’t need much convincing to prefer the Prewetts’ floor to endless taxi queues.
He’s just dozed off when someone stirs behind him. That someone seems to lie down close to Remus. Really close. A light and spicy smell reaches Remus’ nose, a heavy arm falls lazily around Remus’ chest.
Remus tries to control his breathing, to pretend this is nothing he hasn’t expected. He doesn’t succeed.
There’s no way he’ll fall asleep with Sirius lying behind him, sharing the thin mattress and the flimsy blanket. He doesn’t want to fall asleep, he wants to remember every second of this. Another man’s chest rising and falling against him. A hand clutching at the front of his shirt. A mouth nuzzling the nape of his neck. Contented humming sounds.
He must have fallen asleep anyway.
Early morning finds Remus yawning lightly. Sirius is getting up, and Remus covers the blanket over himself. Wait. Sirius is getting up.
Remus pretends to sleep, doesn’t dare open his stinging eyes.
Sirius leans over, pushes his lips against Remus’ forehead before silently walking out of the room. Carefully Remus lifts his head, throwing a quick glance at the door, catching a glimpse of Sirius’ back as he slips out.
He doesn’t look back.
Party number two:
Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t’ve? March 1980
“For the love of everything that’s pure and holy, aren’t you done yet?”
James peeks through the bathroom door, shaking his head so his messy hair falls into his eyes, sighing impatiently.
“I’m not at all taking your hair problems lightly, but this is getting ridiculous. And you don’t look any different now than when you started. Probably an hour ago.”
Sirius calmly continues to tug his hair this way and that way, meeting his best friend’s eyes in the mirror.
“I haven’t been out in ages,” he says firmly, fixing James with his best Black look. “I’m slowly withering away, losing all my social skills and seductive powers from lack of use. It’s important to emphasize any advantages I may possess when I finally make my grand comeback to London’s party scene.”
James picks up a comb lying by the sink, half-heartedly dragging it once through his messy, dark hair before giving up. He grins at his friend.
“If you’re fishing for compliments, you’d better try a different pond. Besides, you’ve not exactly been on an expedition to the North Pole – you were gone like two months? I very much doubt anyone’s had time to miss your ugly face.”
Sirius snorts, finally deciding his hair ends up looking the same way (which really isn’t at all bad) whatever he does.
“I knew there was a reason I keep you as a friend. I can always rely on you to boost my confidence. Haven’t you been crying yourself to sleep at night, snivelling all over Evans’ – uh, Mrs Potter’s best bed linens?”
A soft smile spreads over James’ face. Sirius gets a sneaking suspicion his friend’s mind is filled with rather different images by the mention of Lily’s bed linens.
“Of course I missed you,” James says though, walking out of the bathroom towards the leather sofa in a corner of the cosy living room. His records are now mixed with Lily’s. According to Sirius, this is a sign of love and devotion more lasting than any promise the two lovebirds gave each other at their wedding.
When Sirius joins him a few minutes later, James has not surprisingly put on Led Zeppelin, flashing Sirius a happy smile.
“I play “Black Dog” in your honour.”
The volume isn’t very high, though, and James’ expression is remarkably serene for someone who’s getting ready for a party with his best friend. They both lift their tumblers and take a sip of the smoky whiskey Sirius has brought with him.
“Not bad! Frank will love this for the Whiskey Club.”
James drinks some more, takes a deep breath, obviously deciding that beating around the bush is a waste of time. “Why don’t you just pull out, Sirius? I worry about you, you know.”
“And you say I’m the girly one, mate. There’s no need for you to worry.”
Sirius shrugs, going for blasé. James is having none of it, he leans forwards, gazing imploringly. Sirius looks away, fidgeting with his tumbler and pulls a cigarette out of his packet.
“You know why,” he says quietly when the silence has stretched on too long.
James screws up his nose, exhaling deeply. “Reg is a grown man now, making his own decisions. You can’t keep looking out for him or letting him dictate your life like this.”
“He’s never done that!”
“Maybe not out loud or even consciously, but the longer you stay, the harder it’ll be to dissociate yourself from what’s happening there. Even if you stay for noble reasons.”
Sirius looks away, looking anywhere that doesn’t involve meeting James’ earnest, caring eyes. The poster from “The Godfather” hanging crookedly over the table is suddenly very interesting.
“It’s not as if I don’t think that way myself. But he’s my brother, James, my baby brother who used to crawl into my bed at night when our parents had been particularly harsh. He was terrified that the Nanny would find out he was with me and tell on us. Blacks aren’t supposed to show weakness like that. It was always him and me against the world when we were little, at least the world as we knew it. A big part of him is still that scared little boy who’ll do anything for approval. Without me as at least some influence, I’m afraid he’ll do something...”
Sirius touches James’ arm lightly, grey eyes meet hazel, tension etched in every feature of his face.
“I really think they’ve gotten to him this time,” he says, voice barely a whisper.
They both sit still for a while, drinking more whiskey; one of them finding comfort in the other’s company, one of them desperately wanting to say the right thing, not really sure what the right thing is.
“What happened when you were away?” James breaks the silence, his expression soft, yet persistent.
Sirius inhales deeply from his cigarette as if it contains the elixir of life, laughing humourlessly.
“It was utter rubbish. Complete and utter rubbish. They don’t let me in on the most secret ceremonies, they’re only for the inner circle, but it’s obvious that their precious Order has more influence than ever. And with that, more ambition than ever. I wouldn’t be surprised if their next goal is to appoint the new King.”
Images of charismatic speakers and fanatical faces flash by as Sirius briefly closes his eyes. A grimace flickers across his face.
“There’s this one guy.”
He opens his eyes again, swirling his amber drink around in the tumbler, swallowing hard.
“The almighty Order is about to lose a battle, and the devoted Blacks have been given the task of fixing it. Reg doesn’t say much to me these days, but there’s been talk about him being up for promotion. I think he’s been asked – or commanded more like – to make sure this liberal guy they despise isn’t getting a minister post. To make really sure.”
James’ eyes widen, sheer horror evident in them. “Come on. He’s not going to murder the guy?”
“I don’t know, James. But I think there’s a chance he might, or at least make sure he isn’t up for working in politics anymore. Acknowledgement from our precious parents and their corrupted little club means the world to him. If there’s anything I can do to stop my brother from doing this, I have to try. Going to the police isn’t an option, really, there’s no way of tracking this to the people in charge.”
James nods slowly. “I get where you’re coming from,” he says softly. “Trust you to do what it takes to protect the ones you love. But I’m not sure exactly what you can do if Reg doesn’t even speak to you. You can hardly kidnap him.”
Sirius shoots him a pointed look that clearly says “Can’t I?” Instead of elaborating, he shifts in the sofa, pulling up his legs underneath him.
“I need some more info, I’m not even sure who this bloke is. Supposedly it’s a candidate pushed by this Lupin organization. If there is one person my family hates, it’s Mr. Lupin.”
“Remus Lupin’s father?”
“Dunno, I’ve never met Mr. Lupin, don’t know anything about his personal life.”
“I think you’ve met Remus, at some party ages ago. It’s not exactly a common name, sure you don’t remember?”
Sirius quickly sorts through some of his party memories, coming up with vague images of quiet charm, shy smiles and smitten eyes.
“Right, yeah,” he exhales.
James gives him an expectant look, but doesn’t push the matter. Instead he says: “He’s an old friend of Lily’s. I’ve gotten to know him a bit, he’s a nice bloke. He was invited to the wedding, but his mother died around then. There was a lot to take care of for him back home.”
The sudden flash in Sirius’ eyes doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Whatever it is you’re thinking. Use him to spy on his father or something.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t do that!”
“I know honesty is important to you, but I also know how you get when you’ve set your mind to something.”
“My conscience is clear, I’ll have you know.”
“That’s usually a sign of bad memory.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my memory, thank you, James. You on the other hand seem very familiar with what a bad memory can lead to.”
“You’re such an idiot.”
“You’re such a tosser.”
“And you’re such a queen. I think we have a winner?”
A hesitant smile spreads slowly across Sirius’ face; he casually swings both arms along the back of the sofa. This change to a lighter atmosphere is most welcome. Maybe the night can still be the island of joy he was looking forward to after having waded in muddy waters.
“So,” he says lightly, and not so subtly changing the subject, “imagine Frank and Alice got married too. This is all going in the wrong direction, soon I’m the only single person left in London. Can’t wait to see their new place, with a whipped Frank running around playing host.”
James grins, hauling himself to his feet. “Speaking of which, we’d better get a move on. Lily’s probably already there.”
They finish their drinks with an “aah!” said in unison before they head for the pegs by the entrance, taking down their embarrassingly similar leather coats.
“We’ve got something to ask you,” James says casually while buttoning up. “When the baby comes, would you consider being the godfather?”
He doesn’t get an answer before they’re out in the foggy March evening. The air is moist and grey, the streets are wet and black, yet there’s a promise of spring hidden somewhere.
“I’d be honoured. If that’s what you really want.”
“It’s what we really want.”
They take a few steps towards the tube entrance at Camden Road before James suddenly stops.
“Don’t do anything stupid with Remus. He’s been through a lot. Lily’s told me he spent much of his youth in hospital, and a few operations went wrong. Heart surgery. Apparently they used him as some sort of guinea pig for a new procedure. Poor sod. Be nice.”
It‘s not surprising that Frank and Alice’s new place is in the Chelsea area. Like James’ and Sirius’ own family names, Longbottom is an old, respectable name with old money. What is surprising is the level of sedate maturity that fills the spacious flat.
“It’s like an advertisement for responsible adulthood,” Sirius says bemusedly as they enter the living room filled with antiques and heavy paintings decorating the walls. “They’re serving canapés, for heaven’s sake.”
James nods his agreement, peering through the crowd. Soft music flows through the room, Sirius can vaguely recognize Barry Manilow. The guests are gathered in small groups, chatting politely, holding tall glasses of bubbly liquid. James spots Lily and heads over to her. Sirius walks towards a corner, about to grab one of the drinks placed on a narrow sideboard, when Frank pops up out of nowhere, excitedly throwing an arm over Sirius’ shoulder.
“Black! Welcome to Casa Longbottom!”
He leans closer and continues in a lower voice.
“This party really needs some life. Badly. My lovely Alice has gone overboard with this whole Mister and Missus thing. I swear it won’t be long before she’s having us all to play Bridge here. My hopes for a fun evening have risen considerably now that you and Potter have arrived.”
He walks them over to the sideboard, pressing a glass into Sirius’ hand.
“Maybe this can still be a night worthy of urban twenty-somethings.”
Sirius silently agrees, something needs to be done.
“We can start by changing that awful music,” he grins, already on his way. Two minutes later John Lennon sings “Imagine” from the huge loudspeakers.
“We’ll gently ease Alice into tonight’s subtle changes. She won’t be able to resist this one.”
If asked to describe him, quite a few of the people who have crossed Sirius Black’s path will say that in addition to his indisputable charm, ridiculous good looks and generally cheerful behaviour, it’s impossible not to mention his explosive temper.
Sirius can’t really blame them.
Hiding his emotions simply isn’t an option for him. None of his friends are therefore surprised if they notice Sirius’ eyes getting a hard and steely expression and his mouth muttering something (they don’t have to hear what he says to know it isn’t nice), when two young men glide in through the door in a manner that would have been comical if it doesn’t seem so ominous.
“What are those snakes doing here?” he says to James, who is no more the voice of reason than his friend when it comes to these men.
“I think Peter’s been hanging out with them. He must’ve invited them. Looks like they’ve got nothing better to do a Saturday night than showing up where they’re not wanted. Soon they’re going to start complaining about things, just watch.”
“Why would Peter want to hang out with Snape and Malfoy?” Sirius makes no effort to keep his voice free from malice.
James frowns and shakes his head. “I’m as clueless as you. He’s probably grateful to be noticed by them or something. Lily is annoyingly persistent there’s more to them than greasy hair and stuck up noses, but hell if I know what it is.”
Four pairs of icy looks meet across the room. They can literally feel the temperature drop.
“Still the same slimy gits as ever.” James’ vocabulary returns to the maturity level of a time when the hostility began, when the reckless joy of pulling pranks and causing embarrassment to their school nemesis weighed heavier than the real reasons behind the mutual animosity.
Now the air is laden with something harder. Sirius knows more than James, has seen more. Something dark starts stirring in his chest, the feelings of hopelessness he wanted to avoid tonight are spreading. He has no wish to cause a scene, he just wants to enjoy himself, and he really doesn’t want to piss off Alice, last seen dancing somewhat tipsily with Frank. She’s actually a lot of fun once she loosens up a bit.
Gathering whatever power of self control he may possess – and contrary to popular belief there is some – Sirius bites back the snarky comments that push their way towards his mouth at the sight of Snape and Malfoy.
It’s like Pavlov’s dogs. Like the laws of nature. Unavoidable.
Strategy chosen to keep equilibrium: Remove oneself from the epicentre of destructive presence.
Nice going, Black! I’m proud of you.
Sirius mutters an excuse to James, nods hello to Marlene, before wandering off to an adjacent room. It’s dimly lit and seems to be a mixture of a study and a small library. The decoration is tasteful with dark oak and heavy leather furniture. His mind immediately turns to his parents’ taste and to cigar clubs his father’s been trying to make him join. This room seems friendlier, lighter, despite the dark colours.
There’s a big armchair a few steps away. He sinks down into it, absentmindedly humming the chorus of “Imagine”, silently cursing the long shadows created by small people. His elegant fingers follow the edge of the chair, caressing the intricate patterns carved in the tall bookshelf standing next to him.
He lets loose a short laugh.
“Being stuck in the darkness,” he mutters to himself. “This isn’t where you wanted to end up.”
“Well,” a raspy voice says from somewhere in the shadows, “why don’t you get yourself out of the darkness? Life’s too short to stay a prisoner somewhere you don’t want to be.”
Whoever the voice belongs to takes a few steps away from the dark corner.
Sirius starts, almost falling off the chair. He ignores it in favour of leaning forward, his interest peeked by the sound of this voice.
The shadows soon lose out to the light being thrown by a small ceiling lamp, as the mysterious person steps closer, revealing a rather tall figure, honey brown curls and a questioning expression on his face.
Something clicks in Sirius’ memory. A comfortable buzz starts somewhere below his chest, finding its way through the rest of his body when the man lightly crosses his arms, lazily saying “We’ve met before.”
It isn’t a question. Sirius finds himself strangely flattered by the other’s recognition (and appreciation? He thinks it is, surprises himself by hoping it is).
Remus Lupin. All grown up, and most nicely so.
“We’ve met before,” Sirius concurs, finding a smile, giving it to Remus.
This buzzing feeling, Sirius knows, can lead to any number of things. Initially there’s no way of knowing if its origin lies in genuine interest or if it’s simply the thrill of something exciting happening. But Sirius knows himself well enough to be certain that he’s not going anywhere until he’s found out, one way or the other.
Remus. Looking good. Possibly knowing quite a bit about very interesting stuff. Seemingly quite interesting himself.
“It’s Remus, right?” Sirius is certain of the answer, not certain of what the enquiring look meeting his means, if he can still hold some power over Remus. It’s been a while, things change. They have, after all, for him.
Remus nods slowly. When it doesn’t seem like he’s going to say anything, Sirius ploughs on.
“I’m Sirius,” he informs, feeling weirdly foolish doing so.
“I know,” Remus replies. Nope, definitely not imagining it, he really does have a delicious voice.
Quietly Remus walks over to an armchair similar to the one Sirius occupies. He doesn’t seem at all flustered by the silence (or by Sirius’ presence). If anything, the expression on his face as he sits down is one of amusement.
Okay. Sirius isn’t in the habit of getting easily flustered himself. He turns to face Remus, grey eyes dancing. “Any particular reason you were here alone instead of out there, getting drunk and ogling the ladies?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
“I don’t have to, Sirius. You already told me. I believe “Stuck in the darkness” were your words. They say a lot.”
“That – uhm – I was talking to myself.”
“Which is why I trust what you said.”
“You usually don’t believe what people tell you?”
“I think you learn more about people by observing them unguarded than by listening to what they choose to present to the world.”
“What if I’m lying to myself then, Remus?”
“I don’t think so. I’m a fairly honest person. Some would say painfully so.”
“That I can believe.”
“How come you’ve got an opinion?”
Sirius finds himself vastly amused by the conversation, but Remus doesn’t answer the question. Instead he leans back in his chair, crossing his legs with one foot loosely placed over the other knee, both arms slung over the armrests. He tilts his chin down a bit, gazes playfully up at Sirius, smiling slightly. Sirius swallows.
“So...” He’s aiming for casual, somehow finding it harder than usual. “Has life been nice to you since I saw you last?”
“Pretty nice, yeah.” Remus’ smile widens. “City life has really grown on me. I finally discovered that most people aren’t dangerous. Quite a few of them are actually well worth getting to know.”
His smile turns lopsided, eyes narrow, voice raspier than ever.
“Though there are some I imagine can be really, really dangerous.”
Sirius feels that a witty answer is required, yet he’s in no hurry to say something. This new, flirtatious (yes, definitely flirtatious) Remus gives Sirius a desire to simply sit back and enjoy. It’s unfamiliar, it’s unsettling, and Sirius likes it.
“Anyway – “ Remus lets his foot glide from his knee to the floor with a soft thump, looking more serene now – “much as I enjoy a party, I wasn’t able to resist having a look at Alice’s great book collection.”
He pulls a book from the shelf, his hands turn a page fondly.
“The smell of books makes me think of long afternoons with pouring rain against the library windows. Books have a very special smell, like some kind of mystery and wisdom you don’t find anywhere else.”
Their eyes meet, and Sirius is about to open his mouth to respond when the door slams open, letting in bright light, loud music, chatting voices and a cheery James. His wide smile is quickly replaced by a more cautious one when he notices just who Sirius is with.
Oh, come on, Potter, what do you think I’m going to do? Use magic to get him to spill all his secrets?
“Hey guys,” James says a little too loudly. “I’d like to inform you that the party is actually happening out here. Whatever you two were up to can’t surely be as interesting as what’s going on at Longbottoms’ headquarters!”
He turns to walk back into the living room, throwing a smile over his shoulder, waving an arm. “We’ve got booze! We’ve got music! We’ve got women! Uhm – and men if you so prefer.”
James stops, turns again to look at Remus, clearly unsure of how he’ll react as a few guests are now looking at them.
Sirius has been open about his mixed preferences for years, he can honestly say he doesn’t care what people think. Much.
But this is interesting. James may not quite know how Remus will react, but he obviously knows enough to include him in the first place. Sirius has thought so. Now he feels pretty sure. And the fluttering sensation keeps growing.
Remus offers James a friendly smile, he’s the picture of calm. “We weren’t up to anything, James. Just taking a time-out. You’re right, it’s time for some action.”
He starts rolling up the sleeves of his (very becoming) shirt, as if suddenly energetic enough for anything.
Sirius is a bit disappointed by the abrupt ending to their talk in the near-dark. But he follows the other two past the coffee table to a group in a corner. Most of them are sitting on the floor, laughing loudly over soft Elvis Costello rhythms at the story being told by a very vivacious Lily. Sirius almost walks away when he spots a familiar big-nosed face. Instead, he breaths deeply, looks away and finds a vacant space in the crowd to focus on.
Lily’s voice drifts into Sirius’ awareness. “...so they had to translate the joke bit by bit, so the poor blokes doing it wouldn’t laugh themselves to death. People who didn’t understand the language read it out loud, it was a very efficient weapon!”
Amused laughter fills the air. Even Snape, who is notorious for his extreme lack of joy in anything, is unable to stop his mouth turning into a smile. It’s a weirdly unsettling sight.
When Snape shortly afterwards disappears into another room with a sour-looking Malfoy (and is that Peter with them?) Sirius finally starts relaxing.
This isn’t a night for holding grudges or plotting strategies. It’s a night for friendship, fun and getting pleasurably drunk. And maybe it’s also a night for meeting someone special.
That’s probably more accurate.
Probably time to go home. But that is completely out of the question. No need to move for quite some time. Or ever.
Sirius lies on the floor, both hands resting under his head, legs stretched out, eyes closed. Frank and Alice half sit, half lie on the sofa, probably wishing that everyone went home, hiding it very well if they do. James and Lily lie curled up not far away. Sirius thinks they’ve fallen asleep.
On the other side of him is Remus. He’s moving around a bit, trying to find a comfortable position after having been up to put on a record. “Wow, they’ve got this one,” he’d said before coming back. Definitely closer now than before he got up. Sirius can feel warm breath against his arm.
Melancholy, deep tones of a cello find their way into Sirius’ ears, heat from another man quietly caresses his skin. Something soft is lurking around, on its way towards his heart.
For a long time they lie there, listening to the music, feeling each other without touching at all.
They’ve talked about music earlier in the evening, what they like and what they listen to. This is Remus’ music – hard punkish and soft classical. Sirius feels certain there’s some sort of metaphor hidden there, but he’s much too sleepy and happy to try and figure it out.
Afterwards the sound of the stylus scraping against the innermost grooves is the only sound that can be heard in the room, making the sleepy breathing from the other four disappear.
Sirius opens his eyes slowly, blinks and looks around, noticing that Alice has fallen asleep close to a candle. It flickers every time she exhales. Then his eyes meet Remus’.
“That was great,” he says in an almost-whisper. “What was it?”
“Gabriel Fauré. “Sicilienne.” My mother used to play it to me when I was sick. I wasn’t sure you’d like it, it’s kind of soppy, I guess, but sometimes that’s just what I need.” Remus sounds just as moved as Sirius feels.
“Music is so powerful,” Sirius says. “A song can be like a bullet, or it can be so comforting.”
He moves his hand to push away the hair that keeps falling into his eyes.
“You know, it’s like when you sit on a balcony; it’s summer, you watch the sun, you hear that special song and you know that if you die now, you die happy.”
Remus’ eyes are soft under heavy lids, he nods slowly.
“And,” Sirius continues, “if you try to explain that feeling to someone, anyone, you realise it’s impossible. It’s kind of a lonely feeling. But a good feeling too. The idea of owning something that’s just for you, something others don’t understand.”
They lie even closer. Sirius isn’t sure who’s moved towards the other, all he knows is that it’s still not close enough.
“Is that how you feel now?” Remus’ voice is hoarse.
“Actually, no. I get the feeling you understand.”
For several seconds they lie completely still, hardly daring to breathe. The stylus is scraping relentlessly, it’s really the most unnerving sound. Sirius is starting to feel how hard the floor is, despite it being carpeted. Everything is perfect.
Remus lets out a low laugh, making Sirius smile back. “What?”
“The floor. It seems to be our thing.”
Sirius vaguely remembers sleeping close to Remus on another floor. It seems like another lifetime. The thought of being allowed to do it again is dizzying. And the look in Remus’ eyes tells him it’s a distinct possibility.
His hand moves towards brown hair, stroking slowly, feeling Remus’ breath becoming faster. Silky curls glide through a big and slightly damp hand. The hand lets the curls go and finds its way over a cheek, the nose, around an eye before following the shape of an eyebrow with the tips of its fingers.
Sirius searches for his voice, opening his mouth a few times before any sound escapes.
“I want...” he says, trying not to sound as awed as he feels. “I want to kiss you.”
A hand covers Sirius’, guiding it gently towards Remus’ mouth, lips brush over the inside of the wrist.
The small gesture makes Sirius feel more alive than more daring touches ever have. He can never get close enough. But he sure as hell is going to try.
Two mouths meet, four hands glide over the other’s shoulders, backs, hips. It’s a mind-blowing mix of giddy excitement and gentle peacefulness. How this can happen with someone he’s known for one night – two nights – Sirius doesn’t know, but there it is.
He feels certain this is a moment that years from now will remain vivid and cherished in the white fog of hazy memories.
After an eternity, and all too soon, the kiss ends. Sirius hastily swallows something that would have been a lump in his throat if he were the crying type. Which luckily he isn’t.
He opens his eyes, not remembering having closed them.
Remus gently puts his hand around the nape of Sirius’ neck, ruffling his black hair, making Sirius laugh breathily. “Mmm,” he says as Remus starts humming. “Is there any way you could be more perfect? And did I just say that out loud?”
A wide, carefree smile explodes in Remus’ face.
“I’m not in the habit of thinking that about anyone. You may turn out to be an exception.”
Sirius grins stupidly, he knows he does, and he makes no effort to stop himself.
He knows this may not be the wisest of actions. He also knows that he’s rubbish at taking sensible advice, his own included.
“I’d like to see you again, Remus.”
“I’d like that too.”
The fluttering sensation makes a big jump. This time it turned out to be a wonderful thing. He knows it is.