Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1980 : Fall
Remus bent to dig at a root with his garden spade. It was stubborn; he reversed his hold on the handle and hacked down. The sharp edge of the spade met with resistance, but soon he was through. He shook dirt from the short, damp wood and added it to his basket. It was beginning to get dark; the forest was growing chill and he hadn’t remembered to bring a jacket. He cleaned and wrapped the spade and laid it atop the day’s collection, then tucked the basket under his arm and began the trek back to the cottage.
The owl was waiting for him at the gate. He offered it his arm, and it perched heavily, digging its claws through the thin fabric of his shirt and into the flesh of his arm. ‘Easy,’ he told it, and walked past the gate to the shed. He opened the cricket trap and left the owl to its meal; he untied the small parchment roll from the bird’s leg and thanked it solemnly. It cast him an aloof look before spearing an insect in its beak.
Asper was in the kitchen when Remus let himself in, standing before the pantry and looking inside helplessly. ‘You’re late,’ he called. ‘I’m starving.’
‘I had a great deal of luck in the woods.’ Remus set his basket on the table. ‘I left you bread and jam. Didn’t you see it?’
‘I ate that. I’m still hungry.’ He took the parchment Remus passed him, and sat at the table to read while Remus took a frying pan down from the cabinets and potatoes from a bin on the counter. ‘Did you read it?’ the professor asked.
‘Not yet.’ Remus lit the gas stove top and set the pan to heating, and joined his teacher at the table to peel their potatoes. ‘It’s Lievier’s owl. What does he say?’
‘The usual. School year started well. Preponderance of Ravenclaw this year.’ Asper used the jam jar to hold down the top edge of the parchment, and unrolled it completely. ‘He asked to tell you that applications are being released for Aurors.’
‘Mm.’ He rose and fetched an onion, and sliced it efficiently.
‘Potter’s rising through the ranks. You’d have a friend.’ Asper paused. ‘If you wished to try.’
‘I don’t.’ He tipped a drop of water into the frying pan, and watched it jump. ‘Any other news?’
‘News of Voldemort, you mean.’ Remus turned, and watched the Transfiguration Master read the letter. ‘Very little. Ada Henderson and his partner were killed. Lievier says– hmm.’
‘There was an illusion by the site,’ Asper told him. ‘A skull. Lievier says it’s something new that’s just starting to be reported across the country. They’re calling it the Dark Mark.’
The name conjured a vivid and unpleasant image in Remus’s mind. He concentrated on buttering the pan and laying the onion and potato slices in to brown. ‘Do you think they’ll ever declare it an official emergency?’
‘The Ministry haven’t declared war since 1657,’ Asper muttered. ‘They’re pacifists, all of them. They’re doubtlessly hoping Voldemort will simply rid them of the nastier Slytherins and fade into the wallpaper.’
Marcus Malfoy had been murdered, and some seven of his closest associates. It had left an eighteen-year-old Lucius Malfoy in charge of the governorship of the school. Lucius had written him a letter about it. Remus knew that Malfoy was grieving, but all the letters after that had spoken of the politics among the governors and the decisions to be made about the running of the school or fundraisers or hiring new teachers. Sometimes Lucius mentioned Voldemort, but he was reluctant to commit anything to parchment, and Remus had long ago made the decision not to ask. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know, and more importantly, he didn’t want to have to make a decision between his loyalty to Asper and his loyalty to his friend.
He warmed the leftover roast from the night before and set the table. ‘Your birthday is tomorrow,’ Asper said, pouring wine for them both. ‘How does a trip to Diagon Alley sound? You could do with new robes. Your old ones are more patch than whole cloth.’
‘I can’t afford them.’ Remus set plates at both their places, and dished out the fried potatoes.
‘It would be a gift.’
‘I’d rather just stay here. Mundugus Fletcher is sending me his boggart. I ought to be here when it arrives.’
Asper let the letter roll itself up with a snap. ‘I can’t force you to leave this house. But I wish you would. You can’t hide from the world.’
He looked up, stung. ‘I’m not hiding! I’m just– I’m right at a breakthrough in my research.’
‘And will you stay here the rest of your life? Cooking and cleaning and keeping house and writing spells you can’t even bloody show anyone.’ His professor scowled at him. ‘You’re eighteen. It’s no life for a boy your age. It’s not a career.’
Remus reached for his wine and drank deeply. It burnt his tongue and throat, and he refilled his glass from the pitcher. ‘Your meat will get cold,’ he said, and left the table.
The boggart was exhausted. Its moon form was weak, giving off only the palest of lights. Remus only barely noticed; his head had drooped to the table, and he hovered just beyond the reach of sleep, resting his head on the unravelling yarn of favourite black jumper and staring down at the table.
He had the spell now. It wasn’t so very different from creating a Patronus, and it would be far more useful. More accessible. Once the realisation had come, like a door opening that had been stubbornly locked for months, it had been so obvious he had nearly kicked himself. Laughing at fear robbed it of its power to harm, and boggarts were little more than a nuisance once properly confronted. He’d have Asper check his Latin, but he was sure now. It was a good spell, and he was proud of it. Housewives everywhere would thank him. No more half-baked charms for household invaders... Could get it published. Could sell it to the Ministry, that was a better plan, buy the china doll he’d seen last month at the shop in Basingstoke whose white linen dress reminded him of Mam. Maybe even send it to her. Or just keep it in the corner with the other gifts he had never mailed, afraid to get them back in the post with a cold ‘Return to Sender.’
Asper had left a pile of applications in the study for him to find. Not just for the Aurors, but to wizarding research institutes as far away as Germany, and even a service that matched potential apprentices to masters. Without lifting his head, Remus reached for the closest parchment scroll, and unrolled it with a practised one-handed move.
He had a record with the Ministry. It would hurt his application. But he’d earned his graduation after all; and Asper had helped him publish a paper about his experiences with the faerie ring from his second year at Hogwarts, and the Gate experiment after. It wasn’t a career-making paper, but Remus had been proud of it. And he’d have the boggart spell, Loony Lupin’s Riddikulus, and at least two of the wands he’d tried making worked, if he could stop the elm from kinking on Alohamora...
He let the scroll roll itself and drop to the floor. He brought his other arm up and blocked the light from the window with it, burying his nose in the musty smelling wool of his jumper.
A trip away from the cottage wouldn’t be so bad. He just wasn’t sure he was ready to face the world. He hadn’t been to Diagon Alley in three years; and he hadn’t been lying. His vault in Gringotts had sat all but empty even before he’d left the school. And he wouldn’t ask for money. He had dignity, yet.
He squeezed his eyes shut. He was safe here, and the rest of the world was safe from him. No-one could make trouble if they couldn’t find him; not even Sirius could do that. That was the end of it. He’d go into the town soon, though. They were low on flour, and perhaps he would buy something special for his birthday after all, to pacify Asper. He’d make Mam-gu’s oyster pie. He’d have to find the recipe, in the store room he supposed, and they’d need eggs.
He fell asleep trying to remember where he’d left the cookbooks.
It was a toothache that finally drove him out of the house.
He suffered silently for two weeks, trying to ignore the deep nagging ache in his jaw. Asper caught him in front of a mirror, rubbing his gums and trying to determine the source of the pain. He took hold of Remus’s head and peered into his mouth, while Remus flushed with embarrassment.
‘Back teeth growing in,’ Asper finally said. ‘You’re early.’
Remus sighed. ‘So this is normal.’
‘You’ll have to get them removed.’ Asper took him to the garden, and plucked a handful of leaves from the cloves. ‘Chew these,’ he instructed. ‘Pack one against the gum and try not to swallow too much. It will numb the area for a while. But don’t put off seeing someone. It will only get worse until they come out.’
But something always seemed to come up that needed his attention. The yard needed tending, there were accounts to keep, meals to cook. He had to ship the boggart back, and the request he sent to the Owl Post for extra owls got delayed. A weather system blew by that made regular travel impossible, and they weren’t connected to the floo network. He put it out of his mind; the herbs had succeeded in diluting the pain so that he barely noticed it.
Within two months, however, it grew unbearable. He was used enough to headaches that at first he did not think they might be related to his teeth. By nightfall, even with the herbs, his jaw was unbearably sore, and it was impossible to work past the distraction. At last, he gave into necessity, and told Asper he was going to Diagon Alley.
His mentor supplied him with a shopping list and the name of a good dental wizard. ‘I ought to show you how to apparate some day soon,’ the old man muttered. ‘Better get going. Is there any food in this house?’
‘You ought to request a house elf, is what you ought to do,’ Remus replied, checking his wallet. The only robes he had to wear were his old school uniform, but he had put on several inches of height since he was fifteen and wasn’t so keen on embarrassing himself that he’d wear robes too short. His best jumper, best because it was orange and he didn’t like to wear it, and his Slytherin scarf, and he was presentable enough to leave the house, according to their hallway mirror. He absently rubbed his jaw, and said, ‘There’s last night’s leftovers in the ice box.’
‘See if you can find any pumpkin juice,’ Asper reminded him. ‘I only miss Hogwarts at meal times.’
Remus smiled, and set out walking for the town and the floo network.
Diagon Alley was overwhelming in the best of circumstances. Remus disliked floo travel– it made him nauseated– and his stomach couldn’t settle while his nerves were jumping in the crowded Alley. In three years he had only seen a handful of people, and he had forgotten the colour and noise of a packed wizarding community. He managed to make it to the address Asper had given him without too much jostling, staying near doorways and walking quickly. It was a great relief to step into the pleasantly dim interior of the dentistry and shut the ruckus out behind him.
A young witch with octangular purple glasses took his name, and led him into a small room in the back. In a picture on the back wall, an abstract bird he thought might be a flamingo picked at its wing with irritated huffs and squawks. ‘Won’t be but a moment,’ the witch said brightly, and returned with an older wizard who indicated Remus should take one of the chairs.
‘Let’s have a look-see,’ he said, and Remus obediently opened his mouth. The wizard lifted a small eyeglass and peered in, then sat back with a satisfied smile.
‘Obsolete teeth,’ he explained sagely. ‘We humans used to have longer jaws. Evolution is a frightful concept, but then, it keeps me in business. You’re lucky you’re not a Muggle, young man. Looks like you’ve got four lovely molars growing in back there; we’ll just pop them right out.’ He took a wand down from a shelf, and a small bag. ‘Open wide,’ he instructed, and aimed his wand at Remus’s head.
A little nervous, Remus closed his eyes. There was a wrenching feeling in his jaw, and then a vacancy. In quick succession it happened three more times. Cautiously he opened his eyes, and poked gently at the spots with his tongue. ‘That’s it?’ he asked.
The wizard was tying the little bag shut around Remus’s obsolete teeth, and he placed it cheerfully in Remus’s hand. ‘That’s it. You might be sore for a few more hours, I should say, so avoid anything hard to chew until supper time. Mary will handle the fee at the door.’ He clapped Remus on the knee and stood. ‘Please come back if you experience any discomfort.’
Bemused, Remus followed him out, and paid his bill. The young witch waved him out, and Remus stood in the doorway for a moment, rubbing his jaw and collecting his thoughts.
There was still Asper’s list to get. Remus released a big breath, and threw himself out into the crowd headed for Flourish and Blotts Booksellers.
The bookstore was empty of all but a few usual customers. The manager on shift, Moravin, was a friend of Asper’s, and Remus exchanged subdued greetings with him. Moravin had him in the off-duty lounge for tea, and they talked about recent publications of interest. Remus mentioned his boggart spell somewhat shyly, and the manager promised to pass the word to their publishers. At last Remus excused himself, and climbed the stairs to the loft where the rare titles were kept. It was a relief to find himself alone in the loft, surrounded with the comforting smell of old parchment. He took his time with his selections, pausing to skim a Stewart treatise on werewolves.
Coming down the stairwell, an idle glance at the customers stopped him in his tracks. That thick head of hair just that shade of brown stunned him. A familiar shade of brown. He descended the last steps slowly, wondering if he could escape out the back and berating himself even as he thought it. He crossed the floor to the row of Astrology texts, and stopped at its head.
‘Sirius Black,’ he said.
The man turned. It was Sirius, taller, browner than ever. Robed in handsome sable black, with his burnished hair falling shining and thick to his broad, straight shoulders. He looks like a prince, Remus thought, suddenly bewildered.
‘Hullo,’ Sirius said. ‘It’s... been a long time.’
He licked his lips, keenly aware of how he must appear to Sirius. He wished he’d gotten the new robes as Asper suggested. He hated how he looked in orange and his hair was shorter on the left since that accident with the gas stove. He was probably covered in ink. He hugged his books and scrolls to his chest, grateful for their weight. ‘Yes. You look well. Better than well.’
‘I’ve been promoted. Me and Jamie, actually.’ Sirius cleared his throat. ‘How’re things?’
‘Oh. Things are fine.’ I’m an idiot, he thought. ‘I, er, came to get some things. For the house, I mean. I... promoted to what?’
‘To the Voldemort case.’ Sirius took a journal from the shelf, and put it back in the wrong spot. ‘It comes with a bonus now. Harder to get people.’
The pause was long and awkward. Remus was close to hating himself when Sirius spoke abruptly. ‘This is stupid. I’m sorry, Moony. I’ve been sorry for years. I wanted to write to you, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say. But I’ve been coming to Diagon Alley every chance I got, hoping to see you. It’s not the same without you.’
A knot he hadn’t even realised existed suddenly came loose in his stomach. ‘I missed you too,’ he whispered. His eyes stung briefly, but he laughed and willed them away. ‘I don’t know why that was so hard. I forgive you. I forgave you years ago.’
And then Sirius pulled him close in an embrace so tight all the air was squeezed out of him, and he laughed breathlessly. ‘I’m staying at the Creaking Wagon,’ Sirius said, barely letting him go. ‘Come eat with me and we’ll talk. There’s so much to say. And you should really come back to Shropshire with me. James and Lily are getting hitched and they want you there.’
‘Married?’ He was reluctant to step back, but he did. ‘That’s wonderful. I don’t know if I can come right away, but I’ll come.’
‘And you’ll let me buy you a meal?’ Sirius reached into a pocket and jingled it. ‘Nothing’s too expensive these days. I’ll treat you to a feast.’
They talked for hours as if no time at all had passed since Hogwarts, but Remus was all too aware of the changes. Sirius seemed older and more comfortable in his skin; he felt younger than he would have believed. It was like the first day on the train– Sirius, the enigma, aloof and smart and sure, and himself unsure about all the world and desperate for a friend. Sirius spoke of training and travelling, fruitless leads and spies. All Remus had to offer was his boggart spell, which sounded unbearably insignificant beside Sirius’s stories. He was beginning to realise how the world had grown beyond him while he lived isolated in Asper’s cottage. It was not a comfortable feeling.
A hand touching his brought him out of his thoughts. ‘How have you been feeling?’ Sirius asked. ‘You don’t look so sick as you used to.’
He nodded, and reached for his tea. ‘The cottage is far from any people. There isn’t much point in taking the wolfsbane anymore. I gave it up. It’s been better without it. And without having to hide from half the barmy school.’ He swirled the sediment at the bottom of the ceramic cup. ‘Was I so ill, then?’
‘You know you were.’ Sirius was still covering his fingers. ‘I guess none of us ever wanted to say it aloud. You frightened us. Me.’
‘Sometimes I thought you didn’t notice,’ he confessed.
Sirius pulled a face. ‘I was involved in myself,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry for that. Can you ever forgive me, old chap?’
‘It’s in the past.’ It felt so good to say that, and Remus thought he might even believe it. ‘I like this new you. I never thought we’d talk like this.’
‘I had plenty of time to think about my actions my eighth year at school.’ Sirius leaned back in his chair. ‘Peter was no substitute for you and James. I couldn’t talk to him, really.’
Silence fell. It was neither comfortable nor uneasy. Remus set his cup on the table, and said, ‘Perhaps I ought to think about getting back. I left Professor Asper alone.’
‘Should I be jealous?’ Sirius retorted. ‘You’re not on a schedule. We’ve only just made up. Don’t run off; I don’t want to wait til the wedding to see you again.’
He hesitated. ‘I don’t know, Sirius.’
The older man took his hand again. ‘Just the evening. Please.’ He grinned. ‘Remember our names? You were Moony.’
‘You were Padfoot,’ he started, and stopped. ‘Well– all right. The evening.’
He had more than a moment’s doubt, however, when Sirius unlocked his room at the Wagon and waved Remus inside. Remus moved to the window, looking down into the alley below them before taking in the rich cherry panelling and the opulent, velvet-draped bed made up with a profusion of satin-faced pillows of shiny black. There was a lush portrait of a nude woman, plump and pink and smirking knowingly. It was a very male room, and when the door shut behind him, his heart skipped a beat. Fiercely he told himself to stop being ridiculous. It was just a bedroom, no different from his, even if his didn’t have that obscenely large bed.
‘I’ll just change,’ Sirius said, and took off his splendid robes. He draped them across the back of a leather chair, and stripped off his shirt. Remus looked automatically. Sirius was most definitely no longer a boy. Remus made himself glance away, embarrassed by the direction his thoughts were heading. Then he realised he was looking at the bed, and he didn’t know which was worse. No-one decent had a bed like that, it was practically lewd--
A finger touched his chin. When had Sirius moved that close? ‘You can watch,’ the tanned man joked softly. ‘I don’t mind.’
‘You can’t have planned this,’ Remus whispered. He hadn’t been touched in a very long time; he and Asper avoided contact. His body was betraying him; it felt good to be near another man.
There’s no Malfoy this time, a rebellious voice in his mind said.
‘I didn’t,’ Sirius admitted. ‘Not until just now, anyway. Do you know you’re lovely?’
‘I’m nothing of the sort.’
‘Do you remember when Arawn revealed you?’
Inadvertently Remus met Sirius’s eyes. ‘It’s not the sort of thing you forget.’
‘I was fifteen,’ Sirius said. ‘I couldn’t even imagine being hurt the way you had been. You were the bravest person I’d ever met. I think I fell in love with you then.’
‘Don’t say love,’ Remus interrupted.
‘I love you,’ Sirius repeated.
‘No. You don’t.’ He stepped away, breaking the contact of the hand on his cheek. ‘We went through this already, Sirius. Please don’t do it again, I don’t know if I can bear it.’
But Sirius followed him, and took hold of the scarf he wore, unwinding it. He put a hand to his throat, but Sirius moved it aside, and touched his scars so gently they ached. ‘Why don’t you want this?’ Sirius asked him. ‘Do you even know?’
The thumb tracing the line of his throat dipped to his collarbone. His mouth was dry. The painted woman drew a filmy veil over her bosoms, her mouth moving in a sensuous pout. ‘Because you’d leave in the morning and I’d never see you again,’ Remus said.
The hand stopped moving for a moment; for a moment, Sirius’s dark eyes went still. Then, in studied quiet, Sirius slid an arm around his waist and tugged him closer. ‘You’re cruel when you want to be.’
The facade had cracked, torn the curtain of romance down. ‘I have to be,’ Remus whispered, and pulled the scarf up to hide his neck. ‘Because whether I want it or not, you will go away in the morning. I don’t want to be in love with you.’
The first kiss tasted like salt. He was stiff, uneasy at the feeling of being watched-- it had been so long. Sirius was slipping hands that were very warm up under his jumper, leaving a trail of gooseflesh that made him suck in his stomach reflexively. The first brush of a tongue against his lips surprised him, and Sirius cradled his head as he slowly invaded Remus’s mouth. His shivering became shaking. He braced himself against Sirius’s chest, startled by Sirius’s taught muscles and thick, bristly chest hair.
Sirius reached down to unbuckle his belt, and reality crashed in on him with a jolt. He pulled back with a gasp, breaking apart their lips. ‘Don’t,’ he croaked.
‘This is going to happen,’ Sirius told him. ‘Don’t be afraid of it. This was always supposed to happen.’
He shook his head soundlessly. Sirius returned to working on his belt, unbuckling it and sliding the leather through the loops. There was the tiniest feeling of constriction as it caught in the fabric, and then it was slipping through smoothly, making him inhale sharply. Sirius dropped the belt, and unbuttoned his fly, and ever so boldly put his hand inside Remus’s trousers.
He pulled away again. ‘Stop.’
Sirius looked up. His face was already flushed from the kissing. ‘What?’
‘You don’t– just– ‘ Remus ran a hand through his hair, stifled. He cleared his throat, and laid his hands against Sirius’s powerful chest. ‘The bed,’ he begged. ‘Let’s at least go to the bed.’
Sirius nodded, understanding. He led Remus by the hand to the bed, pulling aside the sheets and spilling pillows in all directions. He pushed Remus down onto his back, and lay atop him, and the sheets whispered around them, cool and smooth. ‘This is good,’ Sirius whispered. ‘It’s good, Moony.’ His hand moved inside Remus’s trousers again, and Remus let his head fall back. ‘Touch me too,’ Sirius added, and applied his mouth to the column of Remus’s neck.
He obeyed, but he barely knew what to do. He’d never been this clumsy and stupid. What was wrong with him? He did want this. He wanted it so horribly that he throbbed. Sirius squirmed out of his trousers and underpants, and Remus clenched Sirius’s shoulders hard, digging his fingers into the bunched muscles of Sirius’s back. Damn it all anyway, he thought feverishly. ‘Hurry up,’ he said.
‘I thought you wanted me to slow down.’
‘I changed my mind.’ Sirius laughed into his chest, biting gently through the jumper. ‘Don’t you dare run away tomorrow.’
‘I’ve never done it before,’ Sirius whispered, his breath hot on Remus’s bare stomach. ‘Tell me if it hurts.’
He was alone in the bed when he woke, and Sirius’s things were gone.
For a long time he lay with his eyes closed, refusing to feel. But at last the sunshine from the crack in the shutters began to bother his eyes, and he rolled onto his stomach to bury his face in his pillow. When he shook out a hand that had gone all pins and needles, he found the note.
I got a call this morning, love. I had to go– don’t be angry. I’ll find you again soon, as soon as possible. Promise not to hate me, okay? I’m not running away. I swear. I paid for the room through tonight, in case you want to stay. Take your time and have breakfast on me– I left some money on the table.
Remus balled it in his fist and flung it away from him.
It was midday when he finally made it back to Asper’s cottage, and his attempt to let himself in the back noiselessly was doomed from the start. The old man was awaiting him in his study.
‘You might have owled,’ was the mild greeting.
Remus flushed and let his bag of purchases fall to the floor. ‘I’m sorry.’
Asper stood, and took a pot beside the fire, and poured tea for both of them. He added a generous dollop of whiskey to each cup, and held one out to Remus. ‘Sit, sit,’ he murmured. ‘I presume you had your reasons.’
Remus dropped into the desk chair and drained his cup. ‘I met someone,’ he confessed, then blushed when he realised how that sounded. ‘I mean, I saw someone. From school.’
Asper refilled his cup with whiskey alone. ‘Who?’
He fiddled with a loose thread on his trousers. ‘Sirius.’
He found that he could not meet his teacher’s eyes. ‘And we talked. For a long time. We had a lot to talk about.’
Asper replaced the whiskey bottle on its high shelf, and stood gazing down at Remus. At last he said, ‘I’m glad.’
After that, the owls came frequently. Remus threw away the letters, but he always read them. As hard as he tried not to, he always read them, and they always left him feeling furious and confused. And lonely.
Tell me where you are, Moony. I’ll come. I want to see you again. Don’t be so angry.
He sent out for a new set of medical scalpels and borrowed one of the owls to catch mice. He spent his time dissecting the small creatures and making notes for a transfiguration paper Asper was writing.
Remus, come on. Write back. I miss you. James and I will be in London. Will you come?
On Asper’s suggestion he applied what he learned from the mice to bippers, rat-like creatures with six feet. He arranged their skeletons on pin boards and drew them, and added the drawings to Asper’s pile of parchment.
It’s been a month. I just want to hear if you’re all right. I accept that I should have stayed that morning. I didn’t mean to run on you and I couldn’t control that I had to leave, but I accept that I was wrong. All right? You’ve forgiven me for worse. Can’t we get past this?
He stayed up all hours of the night, candles burning mere inches from his face as he bent over feet of parchment, copying out Asper’s notes in his best handwriting. His eyes watered and his fingers cramped, and when he finally allowed himself to rest it was at the desk, his head pillowed on his arms.
Remus. I meant it when I said I loved you. I’ll be in Diagon Alley on the fifteenth. If you come, I’ll make you happy. I swear. And if you don’t come, I’ll leave you be. I can take a hint. Eventually.
Asper thanked him for his assistance in the foreword, which made him feel absurdly pleased. He even managed to get a topic for his own research out of Asper’s paper, and the same publisher expressed interest. The man even offered to pay a modest fee for Remus’s final product. Between that and the profits from selling the boggart spell, Remus would, for nearly the first time in his life, have enough money to satisfy his own needs.
He threw Sirius’s letters into the trash bin. And he made sure he was busy on the fifteenth.
Asper appeared in the doorway of Remus’s small study. ‘I was beginning to wonder if you yet lived, student,’ he said.
Remus straightened from his bent posture and took off the magnifying lenses he wore to rub his eyes. ‘I yet survive, teacher,’ he replied, smiling up. He focussed on the package Asper held, and darted from his chair to grab it. ‘This is it? Can I open it? Can I see?’
Asper grinned at him. ‘Yes, it is, and yes, you may.’ He leant against the doorframe, watching with indulgent amusement as Remus tore open the waterproof wrapping and turned into the window light to gaze down at the blue-bound journal. For a moment, the boy only held it; then he released a deep breath and flipped to the contents page.
‘Bipper cannibals,’ Remus read. ‘The Difference in Skeletal and Ornamental Traits in Bipper Bystanders and Victims, and Application in Transfiguration According to Friek Olov’s Eighteenth Century Methods. Contributed by Remus Lupin.’
‘Second entry,’ Asper noted. ‘That’s quite a mark on your side. I would suggest, just in the long term sense, that you work on writing shorter titles.’
Remus flashed him a quick glance. ‘Don’t ruin my moment, old man.’ He closed the journal slowly. ‘Thank you.’
‘You did that one on your own.’ Asper bent to retrieve the wrapped Remus had shucked in his haste. ‘There’s reviews in the back, if you think you can stand it. Oh– and something else came for you. It’s in the kitchen, whenever you’re ready.’
He looked up. ‘Something else?’ He laid the journal– not without a moment of hesitation– on his desk and followed Asper up the hall. ‘From the publisher?’ He stopped with just a foot in the kitchen, and his hands clenched to fists.
Sirius stood from the table. ‘Nothing so good, I’m afraid.’ The tall young man brushed his hair back from his eyes, the only show of nervousness in his otherwise deliberately relaxed posture. ‘Professor Asper finally answered one of my owls, since you wouldn’t. Told me the address.’
Remus turned to face Asper incredulously. A small smile on his grey bearded face, Asper murmured, ‘I believe that’s my cue to leave.’ He nodded to Sirius, and disappeared down the hall.
‘Don’t fly off the handle at me,’ Sirius said. ‘I had to see you. It was killing me not to be able to talk to you.’
‘Then you should have died.’ He turned his back and fully intended to stalk out of the kitchen, but Sirius caught him up before he’d even made it three feet up the hallway. He slapped at the hand that gripped his arm, and turned and shoved. Sirius caught his wrist and squeezed so hard that Remus gasped.
Immediately Sirius gentled his hold. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘But why are you being like this? I don’t understand, Moony.’
‘Because you *left,*’ he hissed. ‘And keep your voice down. You can hear everything in this house.’
Sirius pressed him back, and Remus found himself trapped against the wall as the other man moved in on him. Sirius put his mouth right beside Remus’s ear, and whispered, ‘I explained why I had to go. I’m not always in control of my schedule. I have a job. I have a life, Remus!’
‘So do I,’ he muttered rebelliously, but his neck was hot and tingly from the feeling of lips so close to his skin. ‘For Christ’s sake, the least you could have done was wake me when you left.’ The wall wouldn’t let him step any farther back, and stepping forward into Sirius’s body didn’t seem like much of an alternative. He gazed stubbornly at his shoes, fighting the flush that was rising to his cheeks and ears.
Sirius sighed, and laid a hand flat on the wall beside Remus’s head. ‘So, maybe I was a little afraid.’
‘You should have thought of that before you invited me into bed, then.’
‘You don’t get how hard this is for me.’ Sirius scowled at him from inches away. ‘I’m not like you, Remus. I don’t know how to be cautious, and I don’t know how to deal with being scared. I swear to you that I never intended to run away. Why would I run? I’d just gotten everything I wanted.’
‘And did it live up to your expectations?’ Stiffly he lifted his head. ‘Maybe that was the problem. You got what you wanted. You won. Why bother to stick around for a second serving?’
Sirius’s full mouth turned down in a deep frown. At length, he replied, ‘You can be a jealous bastard, you know that? You wanted a seduction. I gave it to you. You want to be special to me. Damn it all, Remus, you *are.*’ His hand moved from the wall to Remus’s hair, and the fingers threaded through it, cupping his skull lightly. ‘I didn’t mean for us to make love so soon. I thought there would be more time. You’ve never been with a girl, so you don’t know how strange and different it was. I guess it got a little overwhelming, when I thought on it afterwards. And I *was* scared. Scared that you would think all I wanted from you was sex. Which is apparently exactly what you thought.’ His thumb brushed over Remus’s cheekbone. ‘But I don’t. I mean, I do want sex, and possibly quite a lot of it. But that’s not all that I want; the important thing is to be with you.’
Despite himself, he felt warm at the long admission. But the protests formed on his lips anyway, and he looked away from Sirius’s dark eyes to say them with all the strength he could muster. ‘If this is just sex, fine,’ he said flatly. ‘If it’s going to be more, fine. But don’t lie to me. Don’t do that to me. I won’t forgive it again.’
‘Duly warned.’ Sirius kissed him gently, coaxing his face up. Remus gave in for just a moment; then he pushed Sirius away, embarrassed. ‘Professor Asper,’ he whispered.
Sirius blew air through his front teeth in an annoyed whistle. ‘Tell me you have a shed or something.’
‘No.’ He tugged at the hem of his shirt to straighten it, and ran a hand through his hair to tame it. ‘Fancy a stroll by the woods? It’s as good as the Forest was, at school.’
There was a strange expression in Sirius’s eyes and mouth. ‘Suppose you went there a lot with Snape.’
He hesitated. ‘Ground rule,’ he finally answered. ‘Blank slate. I don’t want to defend myself to you. We do it without that or we don’t do it at all.’
Sirius held up his hands. ‘Didn’t mean anything by it,’ he said, and the strange look disappeared into a twinkle and a quirk. ‘I can’t claim to be good at obeying rules, but I don’t have a problem with that.’
‘And you can’t come here whenever you like.’ He brushed away the hand that tried to touch his chin. ‘Listen to me, I’m serious.’
‘Puns have never made a body look smart,’ he said tartly. ‘Asper was a teacher, and he’ll notice. He already may have. So don’t come just because you feel like it. And don’t invent stupid elaborate lies like you used to, you know that everyone can see right through it.’ Sirius wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him close. ‘You’re no good at lying.’
‘Noted.’ Sirius kissed him again. ‘Are there many more of these?’
‘If you run away again I’ll kill you.’ His throat felt tight, and he swallowed reflexively. ‘I mean it. I’ll hunt you down and kill you.’
Sirius didn’t let him get any farther. And part of Remus was very glad to surrender.
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