One of Remus' deepest regrets had always been allowing his friends to visit his place of business. The pattern began in fifth year when he'd reluctantly let slip the password to the Prefect's bathroom (thank God it was changed every month; Remus hadn't been foolish enough to tell them twice) and continued even now, with Peter nearly tripping into his office as a pretty girl brushed passed him in the doorway.
He'd thought it would be harmless enough--there were plenty of oddballs on a University campus, and Sirius, James, and Peter would just blend in. And while James did a passable impression of someone possessing sanity and logic, Peter spent most of his time commenting on the many shortcuts that could be established in the field of higher education if the Muggle population embraced magic. Sirius just stared at everyone, very intently.
One day, Remus would learn, hopefully sooner rather than later.
But for the moment, he tried for peace, and said, "Peter, what're you doing here?"
Peter grinned, strangely wolfish, and flopped down in one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs before Remus' desk, hands grasping the armrests. Peter's short, portly figure hadn't ever quite grown out of itself, but Peter at least had grown into it. Though he was still soft about the middle and seemed a few years younger than he truly was, his once-platinum blond hair had darkened into a sandy color. His bright eyes glittered with excited anticipation.
"Remus--I have news," Peter crowed.
"So I see," Remus said with a grin. Peter's good humor was contagious. "Well? If you came all the way out to London to tell me."
Peter's knuckles were rapping against the desk cheerfully, and he said, "I've got a date--with Marian Henry! From the Prophet!"
Remus smirked. He'd been witness to Peter's weekly pursuit of, and subsequent rejections by, the lovely Miss Henry for at least two months already. He'd never quite grasped the concept of continually banging one's head against a wall but Peter hadn't been put off by her repeated answers of no, so who was Remus to judge? And apparently, he'd been wrong from the start; all Marian had needed was time.
"I'm thrilled for you, Peter," he said evenly, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Any plans?"
"Yes!" Peter said, thrilled. "Yes--they're wonderful plans, too--there's just," he paused, thoughtful. "Well, I need a favor."
The last time Peter had needed a favor, Remus ended up waiting in line at a theatre for four hours. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion just as he saw Peter raise his hands in a supplicant gesture. "Peter," Remus started, "if this 'favor' involves my procuring tickets for the latest show or musical or opera for which no one can find tickets, then count me out and recruit Sirius--I'm sure he's got more than one thoroughly illegal way to procure whatever it is you need that doesn't involve me freezing my arse off at six in the morning in December."
Peter waved his hands, smiling back. "No, no, nothing like that at all!"
Wary, Remus asked, "Then what? And mind you, I'm not agreeing yet."
The smaller, blond man nodded feverishly. "Of course, sure. It's--Marian has this friend."
Remus paled. "No."
"She's quite pretty--I mean, without the glasses. Or the charmed quill. But really, Remus, I think you'd like her," Peter tried.
There were dozens of reasons Remus could offer Peter for not feeling as if he could help in this particular aspect, the most prominent being that he knew better than to trust Marian Henry's choice in friends. He'd known her from Hogwarts, and also knew that among her impressive array of friends had been the stupidest, slowest, and most classless students at Hogwarts. As long as it was just Peter who liked her, Remus wasn't about to say anything unkind (and she was a pretty face, Remus would admit), but to drag him into their circle of evil ignorance was a bit much.
Remus searched for gentler words to say what he was thinking, but it came out as, "Peter, there's not a chance in hell."
The blond man looked crestfallen. "Remus! Please! It's just one night, and Marian said that she'd only give it a go if I could find a date for her friend, too."
Remus narrowed his eyes. "What about Sirius?"
Wormtail made a disapproving noise. "I want to impress her, Remus, not frighten her away!" For a moment, Peter looked abashed, as if he was suddenly aware of what he'd just said. "Not that--not that Sirius isn't nice or..."
Remus smirked and leaned back, content to let Pete try and dig himself out of his own hole. He knew perfectly well what Peter was worried about; it had always been a mystery why women put up with Sirius Black at all. He was a showoff, an attention-hog, and had the habit of quoting flowery Muggle poetry under the impression that it was romantic.
Peter leaned over Remus' impressively messy desk and blinked large, doleful eyes at him. "For a friend, Moony."
There were magic words in their little group of friends. Every time James said, "Trust me," Remus did, without question. It was James Potter and for all the arrogant, jackassed things he was capable of doing, he was worth believing, and he hadn't failed them yet. For Sirius, it was "I can change," as he'd said it so frequently; loudly and frightened or low and angry, or, as Remus remembered, during sixth and seventh year, so softly, like a funeral dirge. Remus didn't know if he believed Sirius, but he believed that Sirius believed. And Peter?
"For a friend," Remus said dully. He sighed. "Fine. When? What time?"
Peter bubbled with gratefulness and rattled off a list of dates and times and locations and Remus, I'm so glad you said yes.
Remus, for his part, managed to keep the strained smile on his face until Peter left the room. But he only had five minutes for self-pity before Miranda Jenkins from his Advanced British Literature class wandered in with a hopeful smile and a poorly written term paper on the finer points of Thomas Hardy.
The flat was unimpressive and ordinary, filled with second-hand furniture and dated reading materials that Remus should have thrown out or burned ages ago. Copies of the Times and the Daily Prophet and a stray issue or two of the Quibbler scattered themselves across the coffee table and onto the ground. Remus slipped his keys in his pocket and looked at the mess despairingly for a few minutes before he rolled his eyes, sighed, and pulled out his wand. With a flick of his wrist, he muttered "Scourgify."
It helped a little but not much--there hadn't yet been written a charm to clean up clutter, though Remus couldn't see why not. He made a note to start researching it as soon as possible as he headed toward the bedroom, tugging up the bottom hem of his sweater.
He was halfway through peeling off his sweater when he heard the thump of the front door. "Hey," he called out.
"Hey," came the answer, and heavy footsteps drew closer. "So you'll never believe what Mad Eye made me--"
Sirius' disgruntled voice cut off, and by the time Remus saw beyond the worn wool of the gray jumper and started tugging the white shirt beneath back down over his exposed stomach again, Sirius was staring, just past Remus' shoulder, face oddly pale.
"Sirius?" Remus asked carefully. His friend was always a bit touchy these days; the combined pressures of the hardest Defence Against the Dark Arts courses in the world and Mad Eye's unending tortures wore against Sirius' nerves, and Remus was often relegated to nursing Sirius back to full mental health on the weekends.
His friend forced a wan smile to his face. "Yeah--sorry, drifted off there." Sirius cleared his throat. "Yeah, Mad Eye," he said, voice lowered in annoyance and unusually hoarse, still looking away. "There were herds of Kappa. And a Grindylow. And angry, overweight Merwomen."
"Maids," Remus corrected distractedly, looking at Sirius oddly.
Sirius snorted and flopped down on his bed, staring at the ceiling. "No, trust me, Moony. Merwomen. And their angry husbands. It was worse than the lake."
Remus cocked one brown eyebrow. Worse than the lake? Sirius had once attempted an extremely involved practical joke that necessitated a Bubble Head charm and a visit to the bottom of the lake at Hogwarts to negotiate something with the squid. Remus remembered sitting with James on the edge of the water, both of them feeling worried and questioning whether or not they should have gone down there with Sirius, about whether it was a good idea, and if the squid was sentient at all. It had been five minutes into the endeavor that Sirius had bobbed up to the surface shrieking like a girl that they were going to kill him and feed his bits and pieces to their young.
"Well, at least it's over," Remus offered.
Sirius rolled over to his side to stare at him. "God, I hope so. I've never hated water more than I did today."
"It's part of the training," Remus said, a smile slowly appearing on his face.
Sirius looked no worse for wear, just a bit bruised and put out, though that was no different than any other day of training under Mad Eye Moody. The man was an incredible Auror but had a severe want of people skills; still, Remus respected him. It was nearly impossible for Remus to dislike him; after all, hadn't he been one of the Aurors that had approached him after graduation, cursing a blue streak at the Ministry and complaining that Remus had the makings to be one of the most incredible Aurors the Ministry had ever seen? No, Remus liked Moody, and Sirius--unfortunately--knew it.
Sirius snorted. "Don't put up for your boyfriend, Moony. Everyone knows Moody fancies you."
Remus decided not to rise to the bait. He searched around for his ancient copy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. "Say, did you hear about Peter's date?"
"Can't be any more cloying than Moody spending at least five minutes a day ranting at me about how if Lupin were there he wouldn't even bother with me, since I'm such a miserable excuse for an Auror," Sirius whined. He turned back to stare at the ceiling. "No, I hadn't. What's going on?"
Remus frowned, one hand underneath his pillow, fingers catching the hard corner of a book. "Moody doesn't--really say that, does he?"
Sirius sighed and rolled back into a sitting position, smiling at Remus tiredly. "No." Remus breathed a sigh of relief. "But it's implied," he added, and before his friend could open his mouth to protest, Sirius said, "Now, what's this about Peter getting laid?"
"I bet it's Jensen," Sirius said thoughtfully, leaning back against the sofa. His quill was still nib-down on parchment and Remus had given up telling him not to do that. The coffee table was stained beyond repair anyway, and Moody had given Sirius the evil eye when he'd turned in his research in ballpoint.
Remus was trying to ignore the fact that in less than three days, he was going to be sent up as an offering. He'd turned the situation over and over in his head, trying to look at it from different perspectives and failing to find even one wherein he wasn't getting the short end of an extremely unfavorable stick. Still, Pete so rarely asked for favors, and he seemed to like Marian Henry so much--just because Remus was in a dating slump was no reason to inflict it on anyone else. Besides which, Peter knew about Remus' proclivities, and the request must have been made with the understanding that it was a one time deal.
That rationalized and set aside, Remus allowed himself to become deeply immersed in Thomas Hardy's then-radical (and still surprising) portrayal of women, of the act of rape, and how society responded to it. He'd never appreciated Hardy when he was younger, something about the writing being too heavy and rococo. In fact, before he'd turned twenty, he'd been mostly interested in American literature, gobbling up volumes of Twain, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. It wasn't until he'd been forced to take the time to read Hardy and Conrad that he'd really learned to enjoy the depth, unravel the words.
"And if it is," Sirius continued, "I fear for your soul, Remus."
Of course, it was that much harder to be swallowed by good literature if one was sharing a flat with an unflappable blabbermouth.
Remus couldn't even shame him into silence; he'd tried dozens of times.
"I mean, I suppose she's got a passable face, but honestly, Remus, reporters are just bad news. Spores, all of them."
Ignoring Sirius--now that was a paramount effort. He'd started attempting the feat as early as first year and had finally managed to perfect it by fourth: one simply didn't. Sirius didn't take to silence as most people did. James' prattle usually fell away, slowly and uncertainly and then into nervous silence. Peter always shut up at request. Sirius? Sirius took quiet as a personal affront, a triple dog dare, a challenge, as if someone threw down the gauntlet and said, "Talk. Talk until whomever you're talking at wants to kill you--slowly."
Remus determinedly flipped a page. If he let Sirius get to him, all hell would break loose. He'd have to spend the entire evening arguing the ins and outs of being forced into a blind date, and he could think of nothing and no one with whom he wanted to talk about the subject less than Sirius.
That was, apparently, not an option.
"You're not that hard up for a date, are you, Remus?" Sirius asked, genuinely curious, the ink-stain on his parchment blooming ever larger. "Because if you were, you ought to have come to me. I know at least more decent people than Pete does."
It was an act of God, Remus was sure, that kept him from launching the book at Sirius' head. Instead, he just flipped another page and gritted his teeth, praying that he was showing no outward sign of unbalance. All it took was one tiny crack and Sirius would bully his way into Remus' quiet evening like some sort of unholy wrecking ball, determined to rend and tear at the fabric of Remus' sanity. What he heard University students murmuring about ‘never rooming with good friends’ was true; he only wished he'd had that option to begin with and had heeded experience. It was too late for him now.
"Jensen," Sirius repeated, thoughtful. He finally set his quill down, though his parchment was already hopeless and he'd just have to rewrite the entire scroll.
Just one of the few things that Remus had never appreciated about the Wizarding world-- its inexplicable attachment to quill and parchment. The process wasn't any more environmentally friendly; it was just messy, and archaic. Remus had spent most of his first year at Hogwarts irritated beyond belief with the sniggers and stares he'd get when he pulled out a ballpoint pen to take notes. On tests and graded assignments, he'd been told that parchment was still requisite, but for his own personal records, he had notebooks, spiral bound with heavy, black permanent ink across the colorful covers marking the names of all the classes he'd taken.
For all Sirius had teased him about his Muggle quirks, it was Sirius who pawed through Remus' old crates of school things to find DADA notebooks five, six, and seven instead of pawing through the hopeless tangle of old, unlabeled scrolls. Remus enjoyed reminding Sirius that for a boy who had aced all of his classes at school, it was rather surprising to find him struggling so hard to master what he'd brushed off then as "a breeze, Moony."
Sirius was obviously getting his revenge that evening.
"Annabelle Jensen-Lupin," Sirius said, smirking.
Remus snapped the book shut with a crack and glared up at Sirius. "Firstly, it's a favor for Peter, and right now, I like him a lot better than I like you." Sirius looked injured, though Remus would put his life savings on that expression being a fake. "Secondly, whoever she is, we're going on one date…I'm not proposing marriage! And lastly, I'll thank you to shut up about this and focus on your work--you've already destroyed one perfectly good piece of parchment and I'm sure you won't appreciate having to rewrite your work twice."
Sirius blinked, and finally looked down at his paper before his eyes widened in panic.
Remus turned back to his reading and carefully ignored him when Sirius finally looked back up, a strange, thoughtful expression in normally careless blue eyes.
"The clothes aren't helping," Sirius scolded.
Remus glanced down at his clothes and failed to see where they offended. Dark gray trousers and a black turtleneck, the gray coat he wore everywhere, and his old Gryffindor scarf. Ordinary, everyday clothing that he'd worn a million and one times before. He peered up at Sirius with a vague frown on his face.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
Sirius had been acting strangely ever since Lake Day with Moody. As promised, he'd taken to scowling at all bodies of water and telling increasingly exaggerated stories about Moody's behavior and antics. Remus very much doubted if Sirius had actually seen Moody kneeling before Lucifer and stroking his chest suggestively--besides which, he'd told Sirius that he also doubted whether or not Sirius would still be able to see after having witnessed such a scene.
And for all of Sirius' strangeness in the past, it seemed to have amplified itself somehow, to the point where Remus was almost afraid to leave Sirius alone for extended periods of time. He had the strange, offhand fear that he'd get home to the flat one day to find it burned down and Sirius sitting on the sidewalk telling the firefighters that it was an accident, you see, the strangest little green man that looked like Alastor Moody had appeared on the kitchen table and he'd had to do his damndest to protect his homestead. Fire damage was nothing in the face of sacrilege, Sirius would insist, totally sincere.
Sirius smirked. "Mr. Padfoot would like to ask if Mr. Moony is aware that he looks as if he's being sent to Azkaban tonight." Sirius leaned forward enough to tug on the edge of Remus' shirt, calloused fingers catching on the fraying hem. "And your clothing choices make it seem as if you're embracing it, Remus."
It was becoming apparent that Remus needed to review the points in the infamous Look, I Know We're Best Friends But I Need My Personal Space And Technically I'm A Dark Creature So Back The Fuck Off, Sirius conversation.
Remus sighed and took a step back, crossing his arms and frowning. "Then guru of fashion," he said dryly, regarding Sirius' brown corduroy pants and pinkish-gray shirt (a casualty to Sirius' early attempts with Muggle washers), "enlighten me as to what one wears to a throwaway date."
Sirius clucked in disapproval. "Nothing is ever a throwaway date, Remus," he lectured. "It's important to look good wherever you go."
Remus cocked an eyebrow. "I see," he said, humoring Sirius. "Meaning?"
"Meaning you lack accessories," Sirius said, a too-bright note in his voice that made Remus worry. "Accessories make the man, Remus."
"It's clothes make the man--don't toss Muggle aphorisms, Sirius, it just makes you look dull--and I don't see why I have to look good for this anyway," Remus shot back, the frown deepening across his features.
Sirius waved his hand dismissively, undeterred. "And really, it's not so much that you look bad, Remus. You just lack flash."
The last time that Sirius had decided that someone lacked flash, the Marauders spent the night locked in the Astronomy Tower praying with all their power that with the fireworks exploding from his inseams, Filch would be too preoccupied to search for them. The display had been beautiful, a triumph for seventh year magic spilling forth in glorious pinwheels and rising from Filch's pants every time he'd taken a step. They'd gotten compliments for weeks--of course, mostly granted while they were scrubbing out the Great Hall during meals with toothbrushes and "accidentally" spilling dirty water all over Sirius. (Toward the end of their month-long punishment, James had lost his taste for subtlety and taken to hexing Sirius outright, which all the teachers pretended not to see.)
Remus, for obvious reasons, had great reservations when it came to Sirius offering to provide "flash" of any kind.
"I don't need flash," Remus said, wary. "I need to get going now or I'll look rude, that's what I need."
It was stupid to hope that reason would change Sirius' mind, but it had worked once or twice in the past. Remus could cling to hope.
Sirius grabbed his jacket and grinned. "And since you have decided not to accessorize, I will do it for you."
Remus' eyes darted left and right, waiting for the inevitable wand, but found none coming. "I don't understand," he said a little fearfully.
"Oh, shove off, Remus," Sirius said, rolling his eyes. "You look like I'm about to toss you down and shag you blind."
And as soon as the words were out of Sirius' mouth, there was a strange little pause, a hiccup of time where Sirius' eyes darkened just a shade and his shoulders tightened, as if he was hearing his own words and found them...wanting. Remus did a quick survey of his head and realized what it had to be: Sirius hadn't been on a date, a real date, in a very long time. He'd been talking about that woman named Gillian at work frequently, but had never acted on it, and Sirius was a man of his passions. Remus couldn't quite characterize it as jealousy (since Sirius Black was not jealous of anyone) but he could see that it was longing, maybe, or some variation on loneliness.
Remus had to break the tension.
"Are you?" Remus asked. "Because I don't need that, either."
Sirius looked up, eyes shockingly blue and frozen for an instant before he started laughing. He clapped Remus on the shoulder twice and said, "Not that, either! I will be providing the flash tonight--in the form of me."
Remus only had time to blink and open his mouth to protest before Sirius was out the door, shouting, "Come along, Remus, don't want to be late!"
It was even worse than he expected.
Peter was glaring daggers; Sirius was occupying Marian's total attention; Rita was in love.
Remus wanted very badly to tell her hideous things about himself in order to frighten her away (and he conveniently had many hideous things to say), but the unfortunate truth was that Rita Skeeter was an up-and-coming reporter on the go--romance was a side dish and Remus had the sinking feeling that should he let anything slide, it'd end up in the Daily Prophet. He kept opening his mouth to say something boring and offensive but Rita kept getting a vague, blushing, half-pout look in her eye, like she was hungry. Though that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was the way she was looking at him; like she was about to tackle him to the floor of the Three Broomsticks and do unspeakable things to him.
Every time Sirius glanced over, Remus sent him terrified looks, visuals that all but screamed for Sirius to save what little virtue and sanity Remus still possessed. And Sirius? That heartless bastard--he went back to monopolizing Peter's date, which had the inevitable side effect of Peter narrowing his pale brown eyes at Remus with the fury of a thousand suns and Remus flashing an embarrassed look that claimed he had nothing to do with it, really.
Twenty minutes into the date, Remus was glad that Sirius was there, even if he wasn't being rescued. If Peter had the gall to say that Remus would have a good time with Rita Skeeter, then he deserved to have Marian taken away from him--violently.
He was just through describing his career in the blandest terms possible, even spending an inordinate amount of time prattling on about the real challenges in marking grammatical errors in college essays. Remus figured that if talking about the lack of proper verb agreement didn't put her off, then it was hopeless altogether.
"You're just astounding, Remy--"
Remy? Remus decided he'd have to kill her, right there and then. Azkaban was worth it.
"--to be so well-rounded--you can even survive amongst Muggles!" She leaned against his arm adoringly. "And you're still a hundred percent Wizard." She stroked one red-nailed hand down his arm, and Remus swallowed hard. He wasn't going to cry, but it was a near thing. "You're certainly a fine, upstanding man..." Rita purred.
Remus' mouth went dry. "Excuse me," he said desperately.
He stood up so quickly that the chair fell down behind him with a clatter and a shriek of wood sliding too fast against wood. Rita's eyes widened, as if she finally recognized terror when faced with it for the millionth time that evening, and a narrow-eyed frown came over her too-sharp features. Remus had always made an effort to be likeable, but it didn't bother him in the least that the narrow-eyed frown had become an uncomfortably dark frown.
Remus lit out toward the bathroom, and on the way, he caught Sirius' blue, blue gaze, locked onto him, a strange shade in the expression.
The cold water didn't help, and in some corner of Remus' mind, he plotted complicated ways to climb out of the impossibly small window and escape into the London night. Anything was better than giving in to fate and returning to the table to suffer more glaring from Peter, newly loathing stares from the already-unlikable Rita, and the occasional odd glance from Sirius.
Remus sighed, and splashed some more water on his face, determined to buy as much time as possible before going back.
There was the sound of the door opening.
"Your ability to fake it is absolutely deplorable. Frankly, I'm ashamed it took us two years to figure you out when we first started Hogwarts." Remus turned to see Sirius leaning against the wall behind him, a vague, amused smirk on his lips. "My God, Remus. You looked like she was about to mate with you and eat your head."
Remus, momentarily, regretted letting Sirius watch so many nature documentaries. But his roommate, coupled with an unflappable affection for strange Muggle objects ("Remus--look! It's a lemon zester! It zests lemons!") and a penchant for Care of Magical Creatures back at school, had an almost-irresistible puppy face. It was hard to claim that more National Geographic was a bad idea when Sirius Black was staring you down with the most pitiful expression ever made.
"Because I feel like she's going to try to mate with me and eat my head," Remus shot back, bracing himself against the sink, a deep scowl creasing his features. "And I have to thank you for being absolutely no help, by the way, Sirius," he said angrily. "You spent years perfecting your ability to fake it--you couldn't pretend to develop a sudden attack of the measles or bubonic plague now?"
Sirius shrugged, utterly unrepentant. "It's been a few years, Moony. I've lost my touch."
"Do my ears deceive me?" Remus said, incredulous. "Is Sirius Orion Black of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black admitting a fallacy?"
Sirius dismissed Remus with a wave of his hand. "Throwing big words at me won't change the fact that with a little help from Peter, Rita's decided that you just had the first date jitters." He grinned and Remus found a sudden well of homicidal rage reserved especially for Peter. "I've got to hand it to you, Remus. Despite your total inability to even pretend to have an interest in her, she's quite taken with you. You old dog --" Sirius paused, and winked, "--or wolf, rather."
"I'll kill you," Remus said calmly. "But before that, I'm going to kill Rita." He crossed his arms over his chest and leveled a stare at Sirius. "And you're going to help."
"Co-conspirators again?" Sirius asked gently.
Remus smiled hopefully. "Just like the old days. I distract her, you crush her head with a bar stool. We sell all our worldly belongings and leave the UK."
He was talking nonsense, but it was strangely comforting to do so. The last week's tension had left Remus feeling a bit raw. He'd learned over seven years how to wait out Sirius' temper tantrums, but living together as adults had amplified it to a different degree. Remus couldn't sympathize, didn't understand, and had his own stresses at work. He hadn't been totally joking about the trials of teaching grammatically challenged college students; one could only read so many regurgitations of the same analytical essay before one stray "your" instead of "you're" was enough to drive a person mad--not that first or second person was supposed to be used in literary essays anyhow.
But it was nice, even if it was just for a few moments of stolen time, to have an easy, familiar moment with Sirius.
"We could go to China," Sirius said. "I've always wanted to visit the exotic east."
Remus nodded. "The Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the terra cotta soldiers in Xi'an--"
"--Prostitutes in Shanghai," Sirius offered with positively wicked grin. And just who was the canine, then, Remus couldn't help but think.
"Yes, and I'm sure that's what the city is proud to be known for." Remus paused. "Well?"
Sirius looked thoughtful. "No dice."
Remus sighed dramatically, feeling better if not well again. He pushed away from the sink and said lightly he left, "We could have been roses, Sirius."
If Remus found the silence behind him unusual, he didn't say anything.
Remus tried polite. "Rita, I don't want to be rude --" but he was cut off.
She was a bubbling well of enthusiasm, and assured him that he hadn't been, rude that was, at all. She went on to say she found him charming, intriguing, as if he had some sort of wonderful aura of mystery around him, like the glow of the moon, half-full. Remus went extraordinarily green while Sirius and Peter were seized up with a fit of coughing; whether due to the painfully maudlin statement or because they figured Remus was about to throttle her was up for debate.
Remus tried obvious. "Rita, I think you can tell that tonight hasn't been --" but she put words in his mouth.
She told him that it was all right, that it hadn't been his best night, and ran one long-nailed hand through his hair (at which contact Remus coiled like a spring and was unable to stop himself from glaring as he pulled himself none too gently out of her grasp). Peter seemed to have forgiven Remus' trespasses for the evening, or so it seemed from the way he was trying desperately not to laugh out loud. Sirius, on the other hand, looked dark, a sudden turnaround from two minutes previous.
Remus tried rude. "Look, Rita, I'm just not --"
"He's obviously not interested."
Remus blinked. He hadn't said that--he hadn't the balls to actually say that to anyone unless they were a minion of Voldemort or Remus was unspeakably drunk. It took a few seconds but his eyes widened and he turned to see Peter looking frantic. Marian looked horrified. Remus was afraid to turn around to Rita again so he stared at Sirius instead--whose blue eyes were flashing strangely gray, his shoulders tense, tight, and angry.
"Haven't you noticed?" Sirius asked, harsh. "You've been nattering all night and he's been spending every moment trying to figure out some way to get you to figure out that he's not interested--I've never seen a duller person."
Shit, Remus thought, shit, this is all going to shit. He shouldn't have let Sirius come; he should have blockaded the door or locked him in Animagus form and shoved a biscuit down his throat. Over the years, Remus had seen this pattern all too much. Sirius was brilliant, and brilliant with words. He shaped them like a blade and cut like it was a privilege, one not to be taken lightly. Seven years at Hogwarts had let Remus see dozens of girls Sirius Black had simply reduced to inconsolable tears; seven years at Hogwarts had also taught Remus that Sirius mostly didn't feel bad about it.
He looked around for a heavy object. Peter waved his hands and Marian was just gaping. Fat lot of good they were, Remus decided, and figured it'd be just like always--Sirius went too far, and Remus had to drag him back.
"How can you even work for the, well--then again, it isn't exactly as if the Daily Prophet is stellar reporting or anything--"
"Sirius, shut up," Remus shouted. He whirled around to face Rita, who looked dangerously watery-eyed. "Rita, I'm so sorry about my flatmate. But I've got to take him home before I kill him right here." He smiled at her gently and was encouraged when she smiled shakily back. "I'll see you around then?" She nodded.
Remus wheeled around, what his friends had dubbed The Glare Of Painful And Unending Death trained on Sirius' face. Sirius, to his credit, looked a little put out and his eyes darted left to right with every indication of being nervous. But terror-speed and preternatural werewolf speed were still a bit off par, and Remus stalked around the table, grabbed Sirius by the scruff of his neck, and started hauling him out of the Three Broomsticks. Other patrons stared, and a few of their acquaintances from school laughed, saying, "There they go again."
"I always knew you were a tosser but even you went too far, Sirius!" Remus cried, one hand tight on Sirius' arm, the other fisted angrily. Remus was dragging him bodily down a busy London street and Remus didn't care who was staring; he was too angry to be embarrassed. Visions of violently mauling Sirius danced in his mind and he didn't even bother to push them away. Irrational fear of hurting his friends and loved ones as a wolf or otherwise, he felt that a proper maiming was Sirius' just due after his behavior that night.
Sirius struggled to keep up; the ground was slick and Remus moved a lot faster than people gave him credit. "You were having an awful time!"
"That doesn't mean you say something like that!" Remus roared over his shoulder.
Three women on the street turned to stare with widened eyes, and hurried away. Remus hoped they weren't going to call the Muggle police or anything. The scene had to look very bad out of context, and the terror-stricken expression on Sirius' face as Remus tugged him along didn't help. They'd Apparated into a deserted alleyway just a few hundred yards from the flat, and that last distance until the sanctuary of a safe place to yell was driving Remus mad.
"You plotted to kill her!" Sirius cried back. "You said we were going to sell all our things and leave Britain! How is what I did worse?"
Remus didn't dignify the question; it was stupid and Sirius already knew the answer. Once, sometime during fourth year, Sirius had complained that before he'd arrived at Hogwarts, he felt bad about very little; the combined result of a lifetime of privilege and an ego the size of a small British protectorate. It wasn't until, Sirius said, frowning across the dorm room when he'd met Remus and his Muggle office supplies that something sparked a strange, unfamiliar tone of guilt. Feeling bad for what he'd done would never come naturally to Sirius, at least not outside their select little group of friends, but Remus could make him feel like a total arse in under thirty seconds, and that was nearly as effective.
Harder than necessary, Remus jerked open the door to the apartment building, pushed Sirius in, and continued to bully his friend up the steps, down the hall, and into their untidy flat. He was incensed, a combination of factors that had mixed, boiled over, and was now exploding in Sirius' face.
"You always do this, Sirius! You always think you're allowed to treat people like rubbish!" Remus shouted.
They were faced off in the living room, Sirius leaning against the armrest of their tattered sofa and Remus with his feet apart, standing his ground near the doorway.
Sirius narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "And you were saying hideous things about her in the loo! The only difference is that one of us has enough balls to say it to her face!"
Remus was too old to end arguments in a brawl, but the temptation was great, and in an all-out fight between the two of them (which had only happened four times in the past), Remus always won. His fist itched to reacquaint itself with Sirius' nose but he forced himself to take three deep breaths, and reassess the situation as well as he possibly could. Sirius had a point, albeit a vague one, that had no bearing on the sheer amount of cruelty he'd displayed that evening, but a point nonetheless. Also, Remus couldn't kill Sirius; it would only upset James and rile the Ministry, and he'd done enough paperwork in his lifetime.
"Fine," Remus bit out through gritted teeth. "Fine." He fell silent for a moment before he tried again. "Why do you do that?"
Sirius scowled. "Because you won't."
Remus scoffed. "Oh, so that's an open invitation for you to tear some poor woman to shreds?" Sirius opened his mouth, presumably to say that it was exactly what it invited, but Remus cut him off at the pass. "It's not, Sirius. I don't care what your family told you. I don't care what you think."
"Course you wouldn't!" Sirius yelled back. "Self-righteousness is an art, isn't it?"
The growl that came from Remus' throat was more wolf than man, and Remus would have admitted to it, too. At that moment, something feral and dark inside of him was giving him very clear instructions: bare his teeth, wrestle the dog to the ground, and show him his place. There wasn't anything, his wolf assured him in a rumbling tone, that a bit of blood and fur couldn't do, and if that stupid, mongrel canine knew what was best, he was going to shut up and listen.
Unfortunate, he decided, that he couldn't actually do it, but Remus learned long ago that words could cut just as sharply as fangs.
"There's a difference between sparing someone's feelings and cowardice," Remus said. "You shat all over it. I hope you're happy. If she goes home and slits her wrists I hope you're okay with that."
The thing about that was that Remus was feeling quite okay with the thought of never having to chance Rita Skeeter again. Not that he was going to admit it.
Sirius snorted, as if he very much doubted any girl had contemplated suicide over Sirius Black. Remus had it from good sources that not only had girls entertained the idea, they'd also attached themselves to Sirius Black's friends begging for a second, third, or first chance to speak with the boy of their dreams, boy who broke their heart, or boy they desperately needed to kill. Not that Sirius had ever cared. Sirius closed his eyes and said, "Are you done?"
"Yes, and I'm still angry, you miserable prick," Remus declared.
"Fine," Sirius told him, a forced light tone in his voice.
"Fine," Remus said back, casually.
They went to bed and snarled as they turned out the lights.
The first owl of the morning came from James, and all it said was, "Wow."
The second was from Peter, first apologizing for setting Remus up with Rita, who even Peter admitted was a heinous misrepresentation of the female gender, and secondly to tell Remus that he could rest easy, Peter would never ask of him another thing. That and Sirius could go to hell.
The third communiqué was from Lily, which was considerably longer, and though addressed to Remus, contained plenty of vitriol for Sirius. Unfortunately, Remus read, a grudging smile on his face, most of it she felt was not fit for public consumption, so she'd only say it once for Remus and leave him to see fit what to do with her opinion. Remus had always believed that if it weren't for two large intervening factors that he and Lily would have made sense together.
The letter only reinforced that--by the time she called Sirius a "snot-nosed wanker who couldn't find his wank if it slapped him in the face" for the fourth time, Remus was completely amused out of his foul mood and nothing he tried could set him back properly.
Which was unfortunate given that Sirius stumbled into the kitchen at that exact moment, looking like death warmed over, scowling and hissing under his breath, injuring himself left and right on perfectly innocent pieces of furniture that were not deliberately moving into his path, as Sirius' morning diatribe suggested.
"Good morning," Remus said brightly, folding Lily's letter into thirds and setting it on the table.
Sirius grunted and looked for tea near the dish rack. "You're chipper," he managed after a grunt.
Remus smiled. "I slept well. And you, Sirius?"
Finding that tea had not settled near the dish rack, Sirius wheeled about to the cupboards. Remus almost felt bad for him.
"Wonderful," Sirius croaked. "Remus, where's the tea?"
Remus blinked innocently, and smoothed his hands across the tabletop, magnanimous in his surprise. "Tea? Oh--dear, Sirius, I must have drank it all and forgotten to set the kettle out again," he said, apology deep in his voice. He looked at Sirius with doleful eyes. "Can you ever forgive me?"
Sirius made a sound that wavered halfway between a sob and a moan and stared at Remus through red-rimmed eyes. "You're doing this on purpose."
"Of course," Remus said, still impossibly cheerful. "How does it feel?"
"Excruciating," Sirius moaned. He fell into a chair and stared at his friend. "Remus--please, make some tea."
"You have hands," Remus reminded him. "And legs."
"Oh for Christ's sake!" Sirius yelled, voice still hoarse. "I'm sorry I acted like an arse last night and embarrassed you! But I'm not sorry for yelling at that horrible woman!"
Remus stiffened. "It wasn't about me being embarrassed," he said.
"It was, too," Sirius shot back, pillowing his head in his arms on the table. "Oh, God. I hate morning."
Remus frowned. Granted, Sirius had never been a morning person, but this degree of discomfort and lethargy in his friend was unusual. Remus thought back to the night before, and tried to count the exact number of drinks that Sirius had ingested, but realized suddenly that he hadn't been paying attention; he'd been too busy trying to keep Rita from offering to bear his young, and it had occupied a great deal of effort. He bit his lip and looked down at Sirius' tousled head in concern.
Sirius moaned once more. "Remus, please--"
"Are you hung over?" Remus asked, pushing out of his chair and walking around to Sirius' side of the table. It was harder to be angry or vindictive when the cause and victim was looking uncomfortably like a beaten puppy. He coaxed Sirius to turn and face him, and Remus saw the puffy eyes and dark circles more clearly. He frowned and pressed his palm to Sirius' forehead, more out of habit than any real worry for fever, but was distressed to find his friend a bit too warm. "I think you're sick."
"You've been saying that for years," Sirius muttered, eyes opened to mere slits, staring at Remus intently. "Tea?"
"Bed," Remus instructed. He grabbed Sirius by the arm and hauled him into a standing position, pushing him (far more gently than the night before) back toward the bedroom. "Come on. You look terrible."
"That's a dirty, blasphemous thing you're saying, Remus Lupin," Sirius told him. "I take everything I said earlier back. And I want tea."
Subtle was a concept that Sirius understood in word only, apparently. His eyes and body language gave him away every time, Remus thought, considerably placated. He knew how much that apology had cost Padfoot, and he also knew how much Sirius fretted over him now. The brash, bullheaded Sirius Black would never be completely gone, but he'd been traded in for a tamer version sometime after sixth year, and Remus saw him in that moment: chagrined and shamed but too proud to admit it in more than joking terms. Remus would take what he could get.
"Rosehip tea," Remus told him. "You need sleep."
"Lord, there's nothing to live for any longer," Sirius muttered. "I’m fine, Remus. Stop treating me like a girl." He said this even as he leaned hard on Remus, letting him do most of the walking.
He was helping Sirius back into his tangle of sheets and drawing them up high around his shoulders when Remus heard it:
"You always want me to change."
Remus pursed his lips and looked down at Sirius, close-eyed and ill. "You should change for yourself, Sirius," he said gently.
There was a long pause, and just as Remus was certain Sirius was already asleep, he said, "Yeah. I can change."
Remus smiled. Magic words.
He headed toward the kitchen to boil some water.