Title: Every Farthing of the Cost
Author: Abi Z.
Fandom: Harry Potter (with a little BtVS mixed in for fun)
Summary: "...From this night not a whisper, nor a thought, nor a kiss nor look be lost."
Archive: You want it, it's yours.
Warning: Whoop whoop! Er... better make that "schmoop schmoop." Guys smooch. Sirius thinks naughty thoughts. Nothing offensive unless you're a member of the Christian Right. And if you're a member of the Christian Right, what are you doing reading about wizards, anyway? Disclaimer: Dear Ms. Rowling, Please release Book Five, and I promise I will stop conjoining your characters in various unholy ways. At least, for a while.
Author's notes: If any of you have read my BtVS/Angel fic "Eastward" (archived here: http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=548219), you may remember that we encounter Oz, post "New Moon Rising," on his way to Vermont to join a community of people who are "like him." Well, Oz is not the only werewolf wandering around in search of a home, so the premise for this story is that Remus has found his way to this place as well. (N.B.: In this story, Oz and Remus *do not* hook up. Sorry, folks, but in my world, Sirius Black is the only man for Remus Lupin.) Finally, thanks to my fabulous betas, Helena and especially Louise, who knocked down all my obstreperous Americanisms and put in all the U's where they belonged.
Contact: Praise and constructive criticism to firstname.lastname@example.org. Flames to email@example.com.
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.
- W.H. Auden
He Apparates early on a Saturday morning, when the world is still too slow and sleepy to notice a haggard man appearing out of nowhere in the Vermont woods. It's high summer, but the mornings are chilly this far north, and in his Muggle T-shirt (which is grey and advertises nothing, the way he prefers them) he is cold.
It's a short walk to the gates. He's thankful for his magic here: the blocking spells are good, and any Muggle (and indeed most wizards) would have been fooled. But he knows the one who placed them, and long ago he learned his way around those barriers.
The gates mark the beginning (or end, depending on your perspective) of a dirt road, and they're guarded by two sentinels. Despite the good blocking spells, these people are still careful. The sentinels are a man and a woman--a boy and a girl, really--both dressed in thick wool sweaters. The girl is tall and slender, with dark hair tied back in a messy ponytail. The boy is about her height, and his hair is a shocking shade of red--not Weasley red, this colour is not found on any human chromosome. His nails are painted dark purple. Sirius knows he has startled both of them: scents generally don't just appear out of nowhere, and if he'd walked here instead of Apparating five hundred meters away, they would have been able to smell him ages ago. He approaches slowly and comes to a stop about three meters from the entrance. He isn't going to tread immediately on their territory.
"What do you want?" the girl asks. She's not glaring yet, but she's wary.
"I'm looking for Remus Lupin."
The hackles go up then, both the girl's and the boy's. With his own Animagus senses, Sirius can tell that they're protective not only of their territory, but also of Remus himself. He's glad Remus has found a place like this.
"Who are you?" the boy asks.
"He'll know me as Padfoot."
The boy's guard starts to fall, but the girl doesn't move yet. Sirius recognises that instinct from Harry's friend Hermione, and from what he remembers of the girl who became Molly Weasley. "Prove it,"
the girl says.
"I'm Padfoot," he tells her, "here to see Moony. I would have brought my godson with me, but he's in Little Whinging with those bloody Muggles. Remus will have had letters from me, probably delivered by some sort of flashy tropical bird."
The girl relaxes a bit. "Who is Albus Dumbledore?" she asks.
"A bloke with a non-linear nose who happens to be the greatest wizard that ever lived."
"And Severus Snape?"
Both boy and girl grin. "Sirius Black," the girl says. "It's about time. About bloody time," she corrects herself. She puts her hand out and Sirius shakes it. "Alejandra Villar," she says.
"Sirius Black," he says, though of course she already knows it. It feels good to give his real name, finally.
"I'll stay here," Alejandra says to the boy. "You take him up. You know where Remus might be?"
"Probably the kitchens."
Alejandra rolls her eyes. "No doubt reading some mile-long book in a language no one knows and acting like he's not stealing food."
"Don't forget the tea," the boy adds.
"Right. And drinking weird tea. Which is delivered by owl."
"Milkgrass tea," Sirius says. "He's the only person I know who can stomach the stuff."
"You've heard of it?" the boy asks.
"He's drunk it for as long as I've known him. When we were in school he used to stay up all hours reading mile-long books in languages no one else knows and drinking mug after mug of milkgrass tea."
The boy shakes his head, smiling. "Guess he hasn't changed much. Oh, I'm Oz. I live by Remus." He kisses Alejandra quickly and there's a brief flood of warmth between them. Oz starts up the gravel road, and Sirius, the bag on his back growing heavy, follows him. The road winds for at least a mile, mostly uphill. Sirius wonders if the land was chosen deliberately, with the incline as one more deterrent for outsiders. Oz is friendly but not overly chatty, which is fine with Sirius, as he's winded after the first five minutes. At the end of the road lies a small village. Sirius sees what looks like a barn and silo, some equipment sheds, and a large, one-story rectangular building with windows on every side.
"Farm buildings are, obviously, farm buildings," Oz says. "Big blocky thing is where we eat, have meetings, that kind of thing." A stream runs behind the buildings, and Oz points to the footbridge that spans it. "Houses that way. But I bet Remus is already in the kitchen."
Sirius shrugs his rucksack off and sets it on the veranda, and Oz pokes his head inside. "Someone here to see you, Remus. Can you can tear yourself away from _Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Dark Arts But Were Afraid to Ask_?"
The voice is how Sirius remembers it, even and with a hint of quiet humour. "If it's Quinn, his berries can wait until after I've finished my breakfast."
Oz walks in and so does Sirius. Remus glances around for something to mark his book. "Quinn, your berries are not going to die--" he opts to mark his place with a fork, and glances up to keep talking. "---if I eat breakfast first-- Sirius!"
He's out of his chair instantly. Oz wanders into the kitchen, no doubt intent on stealing some food himself. There's a long pause, silent but for the clinking of dishes in the back, and then Remus's arms encircle Sirius.
Remus feels more solid than Sirius remembers, more muscular certainly, but also plain old better-fed. He's still thin, but his weeks with these people have done him some good. He holds Sirius with arms stronger than the ones he had that terrible night at Hogwarts. When they finally pull back from each other, Sirius can see that Remus's face looks fuller, younger, less drawn. Someone has cut his hair. It falls across his forehead but not, probably for the first time ever, into Remus's eyes. Sirius remembers finding Remus's first grey hair when they were in their seventh year at Hogwarts. There's a lot more grey now, mostly around his temples and across his fringe. But his eyes are the same, the colour of the sea under cloudy skies.
"You look good," Sirius says.
"You look... better," Remus replies. Delicate fingers brush Sirius's hair back from his face and trace his hairline and jaw. Sirius tries not to shiver at those careful hands, much too fragile to be rent into claws each month. "But you still look like a man in need of some good food and good company."
"That about sums it up." He wants to touch Remus, but Remus's gentle hands have him frozen into place.
"You''re in luck, then. Breakfast is in ten minutes and you can have both. Gabby's scones are superb. Better even than Hogwarts, I'd wager." Remus smiles at him, and his hands stop their exploration, but Remus doesn't remove them. "It's good to see you," he says simply.
"It's good to see you, too."
There is a pause.
"After breakfast," Remus says, "I'll get off work, and you can tell me where you've been for the past month."
"I'd like that," says Sirius.
Two young children, a blond boy (who looks oddly like Draco Malfoy might, if Draco would stop sneering for five seconds) and a dark-skinned black girl, both about seven, careen through the front door and into the dining room. They see Remus and Sirius and giggle, but Sirius gets the impression that it's more because Remus is being soppy than because Remus is being soppy with a man. The girl marches forward and the boy hangs back. She announces to Sirius, "Hi! I'm Claire!" then reaches back and yanks the boy forward. "This is my kind-of brother Jake. Who are you?"
Sirius doesn't even try to puzzle out how these two could possibly be related, and instead he introduces himself. The girl shakes his hand; the boy waves from behind her.
"Claire, is your mother coming to breakfast?" Remus asks. "I need to convince her to let me off work today."
Claire rolls her eyes. "Good luck."
Oz meanders out of the kitchen carrying a stack of plastic containers packed with food. "Violet let someone off work? That'll be the day."
"Y'all talkin' about me?" says what must be a deceptively sweet voice in an accent Sirius can't quite place. It's not British, but it's not American, either. It takes him several minutes to place it as belonging to the Southern United States, which is somehow an amalgam of the two. The woman, obviously Claire's mother, is tall and pretty, hair spiralling from her head in innumerable tiny plaits. Jake bolts to her, but Claire is more interested in causing trouble. She nods at Remus. "He wants to skip work!"
"I heard, baby." The woman's eyes, Sirius realises with a start, match her name: they are not blue but something like indigo, and under her dark skin and hair they are as startling as a hidden moon suddenly emerged from behind a cloud. It's rude to stare, particularly at a woman he doesn't know, but it's equally difficult not to. Violet strokes the shy Jake's hair and looks at Remus. She's not outwardly smiling, but her eyes are gentle. "I reckon we can work out a deal," she says, then turns to Sirius. "You must be Remus's friend from school. I'm Violet Albertson."
If she's noting the fact that he looks like a tramp, she isn't saying anything. "Welcome to Cashay Farm, Sirius." She looks up at Remus, although she is tall enough not to have far to look. "I was going to bake bread this afternoon, but I'd rather be outside with the carrots and tomatoes since it's such a nice day."
"You'd give up bread duty for garden work?" Remus says.
This time Violet smiles focusing back on Sirius. "I hear you're also a wizard, Mr. Black. You know anything about blocking spells?"
"He designed most of the ones we've got," Remus tells her.
"So bread duty today and Monday, and two wizards on spell duty," Violet says. "Deal?"
She and Remus shake on it.
Oz disappears back to the gate with breakfast for himself and Alejandra, and Sirius finds himself at a table with Remus, Violet, Violet's husband Ty, Claire, Jake, and two women both about fifty years of age. There are jugs of water on the table, as well as orange juice and milk and two pots of tea. Saturday breakfast is muffins (which are, true to Remus's word, possibly better than at Hogwarts), bacon, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and porridge. After being in the tropics, fresh fruit no longer seems the miracle it once did--but after being in Azkaban, any food tastes miraculously good. And he hasn't had blackberries in years. They've made the porridge with raisins and brown sugar, and Sirius eats three bowls of the stuff, as well as berries and tea and bacon.
He's been alone for so long that the lightning pace of conversation is too much for him to participate in. He's been free for some months, of course, but he's been on the run, and often in dog form to avoid being recognised. Sirius settles for listening, laughing when Violet teases Remus (which she does often, and with affection), and watching when Jake gathers his breath and leans forward to venture a sentence. He watches the preternaturally quick Claire; he listens as Violet and the two women discuss the clothing and food budgets, and the school curriculum. He wonders if Remus will teach. Sirius gets the idea that he might be sitting in the nerve centre--and possibly the heart--of this place, and he feels a burst of gladness that these people are here to care about Remus as much as they do.
The washing up has already been delegated to other people, and the kitchen clears out quickly after the meal. Only Sirius and Remus are left, along with three teenage girls who are apparently in charge of lunch. They giggle and say hello and then depart to the other side of the kitchen where they giggle some more. "As unbelievable as it may seem," Remus says in an undertone, "they're three of the best cooks here."
Remus is wearing some sort of bizarre Muggle trousers with numerous pockets up and down the legs, and he produces his wand from one of them. His Muggle clothes, Sirius notes, are as frayed as his wizarding robes always were. He starts to Summon ingredients from the various pantries and cabinets while Sirius stands and stares as if under a stupefaction spell. Milk, shortening, butter, sugar, salt, yeast, flour, and maple syrup (maple syrup?) all appear on the counter.
"Cool, he's making things fly!" one of the girls exclaims. But apparently it's a sight they've seen often enough, because the discussion turns back to the local teenage boys. It's all so strange and unexpected and wholesome--that's it, wholesome--that Sirius starts to laugh uncontrollably and can't stop. It's all too much, the openness and the strange community and the sheer number of people in one small place.
"Padfoot," Remus says softly. Sirius thinks that he would sell his soul to hear his nickname again in that mild voice. He feels Remus's hands again, gentle on his face and hair. "Padfoot." There it is. "It's alright."
Sirius breathes. The girls are clanking dishes and gossiping and arguing over ingredients. One insists on tarragon in the pasta sauce; another thinks this is disgusting. Another likes her sauce with lots of cheese. "But what about the vegans?" "Fuck the vegans!"
"This is such a strange place," Sirius says, wondering what a vegan is.
Remus smiles. "All the places you've been, and this is the strangest?"
"Everyone is so- wholesome! And friendly! And they're all werewolves!"
Remus shakes his head. "No, actually." He pauses. "Cashay is a friendly place. I suppose it's because everyone knows what happens to shapeshifters in the outside world, and it's important to everyone to create a haven."
"Are these people Animagi?"
"No. You're the only true Animagus on the property right now. Everyone here is some kind of were-beast, shifting at the full moon, although not everyone is a wolf."
"So these people are wizards?"
"No. I am, obviously. So is Violet. Claire too. Most are Muggles who were born into the wrong family, or who were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Did Violet go to wizarding school?"
"No. She was thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church." At Sirius's look of mild puzzlement, Remus's mouth quirks. "Since I happen to know that you only got through Muggle Studies with my better efforts, I'll tell you that the Catholics, among others, used to like to burn witches, or try to. Anyway, Violet was trained by Wiccans. They're a group that tends to be about half-Muggle and half-wizard. They use earth-based magic from the Celtic traditions. Violet's the reason Cashay has more fertile fields than any other farm in Vermont, but I'm just starting to teach her the wards and Transfiguration."
"What's going to happen to Claire?"
"I'm going to try to talk Violet into sending her to one of the American wizarding schools, once she's old enough." Remus pauses.
"This place is a lot to take in. I understand."
Sirius glances down at the bread ingredients. "And you're just going to make that the Muggle way?"
"Well, not entirely. Watch."
Sirius has never made bread, so he looks on with fascination as Remus commands the ingredients to pour, the utensils to stir, and the oven to heat. When it has all been conglomerated into one large bowl, Remus says, "And now we knead it."
"We need what?"
"We knead. The bread. With our hands. We do this part the Muggle way."
Remus shrugs. "Because the magical way isn't any faster, and because there's something meditative about kneading bread. Oz taught me how to do this."
Despite the obvious affection between Oz and the black-haired girl, Sirius wonders if Remus and the red-haired, brazen-nailed boy are lovers as well. "He did?"
"The second day I was here." Remus smiles one of his small smiles. "I showed up in their fireplace looking like hell. Didn't want to talk to anyone. Oz adopted me. He said I reminded him of someone he knew from home. He was on bread duty, and we kneaded half the day. In the end there was enough bread to feed everyone for two weeks." A pause. "Don't be an idiot, Sirius. He's a good decade and a half younger than I am, and mad about Alejandra." Remus turns around and puts a bit of white greasy stuff--shortening--on his fingers, then coats his hands with flour. His next sentence is spoken at the level of breath, and Sirius almost doesn't hear it.
"And he doesn't smell like you."
Tarragon Girl wins the battle of the sauce, and it's surprisingly good: the tarragon is fresh, grown in the garden behind the kitchens. There's plenty of bread for today and tomorrow, which means that Remus can knock off the rest of the afternoon. During the course of the bread-baking, they've managed to get flour all over themselves, so after lunch they jointly retire to Remus's rooms to change their shirts. Sirius shoulders his bag again and dumps it on Remus's floor when they arrive.
Remus lives in a small one-room cabin that sits in a row of several. Housing, he explains, is allotted by family size, so naturally single people have the smallest. He doesn't have much in his cabin yet: the hardwood floors are bare, as are the walls. But there are books on the shelves, and Sirius takes this to mean that Remus intends to stay for a while. The biggest shock of all, though, sits on the desk, in the form of two framed pictures. There are three frames in all; the first shows Remus's parents, both as slight as their son, waving happily as the sea crashes behind them onto a shore somewhere. The other two pictures Sirius recognises from Hogwarts. The first is himself, James, Remus, and Lily, laughing on the last day of their seventh year. He wonders why Peter isn't in the picture; perhaps Peter had taken it. And then there is one of just Remus and himself in the Gryffindor common room, sleepy and content on one of the sofas, propped up on pillows, Sirius's arms around Remus. The eighteen year-olds in the picture fall asleep occasionally, or sometimes picture-Sirius will kiss the hair or ears of picture-Remus. Their smiles, though, remain constant. He tries to remember when it was taken, and can't. Sometime in the seventh year, and it would have to have been when the common room was nearly empty, because Remus would not have consented to that level of demonstrativeness around anyone but close friends. Lily must have taken it; God knows James wouldn't have let them get away with a soppy display like that, and Peter would have felt too uncomfortable.
"You remember that picture," Sirius hears Remus say from behind him.
"You had it on your desk at our flat."
"It's the only picture I had of just us."
Just us. Sirius shivers. "So you never threw it out, then?"
He hears Remus's indrawn breath. "I... I couldn't. I put it away. But I needed to see your face sometimes." Another breath.
"Here, let me find you another shirt to wear." And the warmth behind him is gone. Sirius hears the opening of a drawer, and rustling on the other side of the room.
A black shirt lands gracefully on his shoulder. Sirius picks it up. "'Dingoes Ate My Baby'?"
Remus smiles. "Must be one of Oz's. He and Alejandra sneak clothes into my laundry because I have so little. But I cannot account for their tastes." He proffers the shirt he's holding. "We can swap. This one is plain."
Years ago, Sirius would have kept the labelled one, but suddenly he feels every minute of his age. He accepts the swap. With his hair short, wearing the silly shirt, Remus looks about ten years younger than he has any right to look.
They walk outside and downstream for a while, wandering away from the buildings but still well within the bounds of the blocking spells. Sirius doesn't sense the end of their boundaries anywhere nearby; this property must go on for a while. They follow the stream for a mile or so until the woods clear, and the water forms a cool, clear pool. Remus picks up several flat rocks. "Violet keeps trying to teach me to skip stones, but I can't get the hang of it."
"What's the story with Claire and Jake? Did they adopt him?"
"In a manner of speaking. Did he happen to remind you of anyone?"
"Lucius Malfoy's son, actually, now that you mention it."
"Right. Draco looks like his mother, Narcissa. And Narcissa Malfoy is Jake's mother's sister."
"I wish I could joke someone out of that family."
"So what is Jake doing here?"
"You'll remember how anti-Muggle those people are."
"Gracie--the sister--had the misfortune to fall in love with one."
"Yes. They disowned her--though I get the idea she was happy to leave. Jake's father was American--another strike against him in the family's eyes---and he and Gracie moved to the States. They settled in Boston and had Jake, who met Claire at primary school. Gracie and Violet got to be friends." A pause. "Jake and his parents were attacked by were-leopards. The parents were killed, and Jake was turned. He was five."
"He shows no magical abilities, and even if he did, the Malfoys still wouldn't have anything to do with him. But luckily he had Violet, Ty, and Claire. Violet's a wolf; it runs on both sides of her family."
"What about Ty?"
"No. Just happened to marry into a family of them. They moved here straight away after Jak's parents died, to help him learn to live with it."
"It's no wonder he's so shy." Sirius shakes his head.
"Malfoys. What rotten human beings."
Remus doesn't reply. He aims a stone at the water and casts it out with a flick of wrist and elbow. It skims the surface three times, then drops with an almost imperceptible splash.
The sun starts to dip down on the horizon, and dinner will be calling soon. Sirius's stomach has had two excellent meals today, and is eager for another. In the meantime, Sirius has figured out the art of stone-skipping; he has also spent a judicious period of time lying prone in the sunlight, wondering if he is so pale that he does, actually, reflect. He lifts his head. "Isn't it almost time to eat?"
Remus laughs. It's the first time Sirius has heard this particular sound in years, and in this instant he remembers how much he has missed it. A laugh from Remus was precious when they were young, and how Sirius had loved to be the catalyst for it. Later, it had seemed impossible that he would ever hear it or any laughter again. Remus says, "That's how I know Voldemort hasn't taken over your body. No one else in the world could possibly be as obsessed with food as you are."
"James Potter," Sirius says.
They both taste the name on the air. It's the first time they've spoken it to each other outside the context of the murders, and instead simply as one friend remembering another.
"But he was never quite as willing to defy rules over it,"
Remus says. "Let me rephrase that. Prongs liked his mischief well-planned, whereas you were willing to fling caution entirely out the window if it involved food."
Remus holds out his hand, and Sirius pulls himself to a standing position. They wind their way back up the path.
"Are we in any sort of condition to present ourselves at dinner?" Sirius asks when they're closer to the dining hall.
"We're fine. The field crew will have just come in, so we'll be sparkling clean by comparison."
They sit at the same table as at lunch, and there's tea, water, milk for the kids, wine for the grown-ups, broccoli, carrots, a risotto, and of course their bread. Violet pours milk for Claire and Jake, and Oz pours wine for everyone else. Sirius hasn't had wine for a good thirteen years, and he has no idea what it will do to him now. He imagines that the intervening years--and poor nutrition--have probably altered his body chemistry and once-legendary alcohol tolerance. He sniffs hesitantly at the glass Oz pours.
Oz mistakes the hesitancy for a discrimination of taste. "It's good. Merlot."
"We trade for it with a vintner in New York state," Alejandra adds. "Organic berries, cheese, and herbs for organic wine."
"It isn't that," Sirius says. "It's just been a while. I seem to have forgotten what it tastes like." He takes a sip, and finds that merlot is as good as he remembers.
Violet passes the risotto and Remus starts the vegetables. Alejandra cuts slices of bread and passes that, too. Sirius remembers that it's good manners to wait until everyone has been served, or perhaps this is so ingrained that it's instinct by now. At such time as it's polite, he tastes the risotto, which is rich with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese. The carrots, he discovers, have been cooked with a ginger sauce, and the broccoli doused healthfully with lemon juice. The bread, too, is delicious with butter and honey. Sirius closes his eyes while he eats.
He opens his eyes to serve himself some more carrots, and sees Alejandra poke Oz. "I'm cutting your hair tonight. You're starting to look like Don King."
"Mind cutting Jakie's, too?" Violet asks.
Jake's hands fly to his head. "How short?"
"Just a trim, baby," Violet assures him.
Alejandra smiles. "So that everyone can see how handsome you are."
Jake looks at his plate and blushes, but he smiles, too.
Sirius hasn't bothered with his hair yet: cutting it himself would no doubt leave him looking like a Muggle doll after an attack of the hairdresser game, and he's been Padfoot so much anyway that it hasn't mattered. Half-consciously, he reaches up to finger the strands that fall around his shoulders. He grew it long in his late teens, partly because it was fashionable and partly because Remus liked putting his hands in it. But it's been unkempt and stringy and perpetually in his eyes for the past thirteen years, and Sirius can't wait to rid himself of it.
He feels Alejandra smiling at him. "Do you want to risk it?"
"Here we go, she's found another victim," Oz says.
Sirius finds it almost easy to smile back. "I'll take the risk. In the worst case, I'll just shave it entirely." He feels Remus shudder beside him, and a small thrill runs through him to see that the threat is still effective after all these years. "Or maybe I'll mohawk it," Sirius improvises.
"Perhaps in blue?" Alejandra suggests. "To match your eyes?"
Remus snorts. The threat works, but it is, after all, merely a threat. Sirius notices that Remus is smiling a bit. He goes back to his carrots.
After dinner and a dessert of raspberry mousse (made from the berrie that apparently did not die after all), Alejandra runs and fetches scissors, towels, and a spray bottle, and her clients sit on the steps and wait their turns. Jake goes first and, after exacting a promise that Alejandra will take no more than half an inch of hair, he sits quietly and lets her snip. Claire flits about and points out any places that are uneven. Alejandra asks the little girl to bring her one of the towels, and the one on the top of the pile floats its way into Alejandra's hands without apparent effort on Claire's part. If she can do a wordless levitation spell, Sirius wonders, what else can she do? And how much of it do her parents know about?
Alejandra lets Jake go, and nods at Sirius. "You next. Oz can keep looking like Buckwheat for a little longer."
Oz gives her a dirty look, then goes back to the melody he's improvising on his guitar. It's slow and intricate, nothing Sirius recognises. But then even after his near-year in the Muggle world, he's still clueless when it comes to their popular music. Sirius sits down in front of Alejandra, who sprays his head judiciously from her water bottle. She combs his hair out and picks up a few hanks of it with her fingers. "How short?" she asks.
"Hadn't we decided on the mohawk? Maybe in a nice crimson?"
Remus rolls his eyes and goes back to the Muggle newspaper he's reading.
"I think Remus will kill me--or, worse, refuse to bake bread again--if I give you a Sid Vicious hairdo," Alejandra says. Sirius isn't clear on who Sid Vicious is, but he sounds like someone who would have a dreadful haircut.
"Just... short," he says. "Although I'd prefer not to look like a members of the American army, if I can help it." He's seen a few of them in the islands, and their buzz-cuts make their heads look like anvils.
Alejandra considers. "Do you want bangs?"
Several possible permutations of what this could mean run through Sirius's head, and he settles for, "Excuse me?"
Alejandra draws a line across his forehead, just above his eyebrows. "Cut like this," she says.
"No. I want it bloody out of my eyes for the rest of my life."
"Give him a mullet," Oz suggests. Alejandra thwacks him.
"How do you feel about the Caesar cut?" Alejandra asks. Sirius tries to remember who Caesar is--a Muggle king, he thinks, from a long time ago. Gods only know what kind of hairstyles centuries-dead Muggle rulers wore, but he decides to close his eyes and let Alejandra have her way with him. If he doesn't like it, he'll shave it, despite any protests Remus might make, or just wear a hat for a while. "Caesar," Sirius says. "Certainly."
It takes a while. He's accumulated a good bit of hair over the years. Alejandra is careful, and her hands are gentle. It's been a long time since another human being touched his hair, even in this casual, impersonal way. Sirius closes his eyes, listens to the chords from the guitar, and falls into a state that's somewhere between consciousness and dreaming.
Alejandra nudges him some time later. "Hey. It's done. Go in and have a look."
Remus is smiling, and Sirius takes that as a good sign. He lets himself be led inside to see.
It's short, shorter than it has been since he can remember.
And light: when he turns his head, there is no weight holding it. His ears are exposed for what must be the first time in twenty-five years. And he can see every bone and sinew on his face, every place drawn by the years and pain.
"You look like an emperor," Remus says.
"It seems more ascetic than imperial."
"An emperor who has been away at war, perhaps. But an emperor nonetheless."
Sirius ruffles his hand through the top of it. "It's not so bad."
There's the brief warmth of Remus's hand on its back. "It suits you."
"Makes me look bloody old."
"You *are* bloody old." The flash of a wolfish grin.
Sirius cuffs him. This feels familiar, and good. "No older than yourself."
"Three months older, if memory serves."
"And three months wiser, no doubt."
"Three months dafter from loss of brain cells. Brought on by age, you know."
They look at each other and laugh. Then they go back outside, to the dark, the stars, the guitar, and the laughter.
It grows late. The night gets progressively chillier and none of them are dressed for it. The kids are getting tired; so is Sirius. Apparition over great distances, particularly oceans, is exact and exacting, and the adrenaline he walked in with has worn off. He finds himself trying to blink away sleep with progressively lesser degrees of success, and finally Remus says, "I believe Mr. Black needs to be put to bed."
"You try Apparating over the Pacific Ocean and see how you like it sixteen hours later."
"Best follow Remus's advice," Violet says. "This porch isn't too comfortable."
Sirius does, finally, follow Remus back to his cabin. Remus points him in the direction of the shower, and Sirius washes off sweat and river-bed sand and worry with soap that smells bitingly of spearmint. In the tropics, he has been sleeping naked due to both the heat and the novelty of it, but he decides that's a line best not crossed here. He finds a clean shirt and a pair of loose Muggle underwear--he casts around in his mind and remembers that they are called boxer shorts, although they do not seem remotely athletic--and emerges to find Remus bedded down on the couch with yet another enormous tome. There's a pillow behind him, a blanket covering his knees.
"Don't be foolish," Sirius says. "I'm not putting you out of your bed."
"You've been sleeping, no doubt badly, in substandard conditions. Of the two of us you need it most."
Remus looks amused. "I'm already here, and it would be exceptionally rude to force me off my own sofa, don't you think?"
Sirius, this time, is the one to roll his eyes. The bed, he finds, is extraordinarily comfortable: assembled of plain-hewn oak, it smells like Remus and like clean sheets. Sirius burrows into it like a nesting animal, and is asleep before he knows it.
He knows it's a nightmare--he almost always does--but he can't make himself wake up. He's heard that dream-senses, particularly smell and pain, are supposedly dulled or altered, but the smell is as vivid as it ever was, rotted and crushing. It gets stronger as the thing gets nearer, and he can see the skeletal hands reaching for him, the bones like train tracks underneath the decomposing skin.
"Sirius," the voice says. "Sirius. Wake up. It's alright."
His mind stumbles around for a moment and then his eyes blink open. He feels himself take a deep breath, as though his dream self had been choking. He's not in Azkaban; he's in Remus Lupin's small house, lying on the bed with the white sheets thrown off him. Remus is sitting at the edge of the bed, grey eyes worried, hand on Sirius's shoulder. Sirius shivers and draws a little closer to the warm presence next to him.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Remus asks quietly.
Sirius draws another breath. "There's not much to tell. They're all more or less the same."
"The smell. Like something decaying. And not- not being able to breathe."
Remus's thumb moves gently back and forth across the fabric that covers Sirius's shoulder. "You're safe here. You know that, don't you?"
"I know. But it won't stop-"
"I know it won't. But I do want to impress upon you that this place is safe. The people who matter know the full story. And everyone here is familiar with unjust persecution."
Sirius breathes, this time more or less regularly. He wonders how long it will take to convince his subconscious of this safety.
"Why don't I make you some tea," Remus suggests.
"Not that foul milkgrass stuff."
There's the sketch of a smile on Remus's lips. "I have peppermint and camomile flower. Rosehip, too."
Sirius makes a face. "I'm no nancy-boy."
"I'm not introducing any caffeine into your system now, Padfoot. You'll just have to be a nancy-boy for the morning."
And it is morning. It's not bright enough to read--the litmus test for Christmas mornings in Sirius's childhood--but there's enough light for Remus to move around the kitchen without the assistance of wand or lamp. He conjures the water to boil--much faster than using a Muggle stove--and pours it into the pot over a diffuser filled with dried peppermint leaves. The sugar bowl and teacups float over, but Remus carries the pot himself. They let it steep for a few minutes, then Remus pours some for Sirius and for himself. Sirius drinks it straight, but smiles to notice the four teaspoons of sugar Remus still piles into his tea. Sirius wishes he had a sugar quill to give him; he wonders if one can even buy them in America. A pity, if not. The Americans never know what they're missing.
As Sirius finishes his tea, he finds his eyes beginning to close again. Remus sends his own cup to the sink, but leaves Sirius's on the bedside table. He rests his hand briefly on Sirius's forehead, smoothing backwards as he did this morning, fingers no doubt accustomed to brushing hair away. "I'll let you sleep," he says quietly.
Sirius's eyes blink back open. The nightmare hasn't receded far enough yet; he knows from experience that it's likely to return when he falls asleep. He reaches for Remus's wrist before he's fully aware of what he's doing. "No. Please. Just- stay. For a little while."
He can't read Remus's expression, but the other man nods.
"Alright." He Summons his mug back from the counter and pours a bit more tea. He swings his legs up, Summons his book from beside the couch, and pulls a pillow up to cushion himself against the headboard. Soft wand-light shines from the bedside table, just enough to let Remus make out the letters.
The cuffs of Remus's blue pyjama bottoms are frayed, but they look velvet-soft, the dye faded from repeated washings. Sirius wonders if these, too, were inherited, or if Remus bought them brand new. It would have to have been years ago, by the look of them. It's hard to imagine Remus wearing anything stiff and new.
Sirius burrows back into the bed, which is inviting with shared warmth. Remus turns a page with one hand, and Sirius feels the other stroking his hair and scalp, just barely touching, just enough to let Sirius know that Remus is there. It's easy to fall asleep like this, to curl on his side just a little closer to Remus and rest without dreams.
He wakes again slowly. The bed smells familiar, like tea and soap, and the person next to him, breathing slowly and evenly, sleeps curled against Sirius's chest the way he has always done. Sirius's arm lies over Remus's side and across his belly. It telegraphs the air as Remus's chest rises and falls.
Is this Gryffindor? The light's not quite right, too bright to have been filtered through thick bedcurtains. And how is it possible that they've flagrantly fallen asleep like this, where Prongs or Wormtail could waltz in, whisk the curtains aside, and demand their presence for a kitchen raid? No, it must be later, in London--but London light is greyer, translated to their windows through clouds and rain. The windows are the one good thing about this place--although the kitchen bathtub does mean that the kettle is within easy reach if they decide to stay in the bath on a lazy weekend morning, sometimes afternoon. Remus likes to lean back against Sirius in the tub and drink lapsong soochong until his entire body starts to look like a piece of particularly pale dried fruit. Then they get out and dress and leave and run the errands that require them--or else they bolt into bed to get warm and stay there for the rest of the day.
Sirius opens his eyes. He's in Vermont, he realises for the second time this morning. And Remus must have fallen asleep, too, prey to either the desire to share warmth and sleep, or to the long-established tendency to nod off when reading lengthy passages about rare magic. Sirius has no memory of taking Remus into his arms, and he hopes Remus won't object upon waking, but Remus hasn't moved away, and his hand rests atop Sirius's own.
Sirius closes his eyes again. He doesn't want to move, doesn't want to do anything that could possible disrupt this sleep, this morning, this perfect sunlight across the room. Sirius doesn't fall asleep again, but he lies there, eyes closed, and wonders at his good luck.
Remus wakes a little while later. Sirius can tell by his muscles, which tense just slightly as he goes from sleeping to waking, and by his breathing, which becomes minutely less regular. Remus is very still for a few moments, and Sirius wonders if he, too, is having trouble figuring out where he is. Sirius wonders if he will move away once he realises where he is, and whose arms these are.
But Remus doesn't. He yawns the long yawn Sirius remembers from many mornings. "You seem to have slept better this time," Remus says.
"Good." Remus yawns again. "Are you hungry?"
Sirius is almost always hungry. This trait, at least, he has not lost over the years. "No," he says, because he will give up food if it means he can stay where he is for just a little longer. "Are you?"
"No. I don't usually eat until I've had a cup of tea."
"As I recall, you do very little until you've had a cup of tea."
Remus laughs. "I can think of little that's worth putting off tea for." Remus stretches, and Sirius is momentarily afraid that Remus will shift, roll over, get up, and make tea; break this bubble of tentative affection. And Remus does roll over, but only once, so that he's facing Sirius, resting one hand lightly on Sirius's hip. Remus's eyes are sleepy and cloud-coloured, and Sirius has to force himself to meet them. Remus's hand moves away from his hip and trace the line of Sirius's forehead, just barely skimming the skin, then the curve of his ear. Sirius remembers being kissed there, how his toes would curl, and has to force himself not to shiver.
But when he ventures a glance at Remus, the expression surprises him. It's not arousal, or even desire--just a look of intense, amazed discovery, as though Remus has been seeking his whole life to make a potion, and suddenly, miraculously, the rare and missing ingredient has turned up next to the basil in his garden. Remus's fingers describe Sirius's left eyebrow, his cheekbones, the declivity underneath his lower lip. "Is this okay?" Remus asks quietly. Sirius nods in response. He doesn't trust his voice not to break.
Sirius finds his own hand resting against Remus's face. He has no conscious memory of bringing it there, but so it lies, the backs of his knuckles brushing the slight morning stubble on Remus's cheeks. Age and stress have tightened Remus's skin, given him some furrows that Sirius's fingers don't remember, but the lines of the face are the same: the soft, arching eyebrows, the concise curve of Remus's mouth, the angle of his jaw. Even the grey hair is soft, and Remus closes his eyes as Sirius cards his fingers through it.
Remus takes a breath, eyes still closed. "I missed you, Sirius." His voice is almost a whisper.
Sirius thinks back over a twelve-year period, over the twin aches of a human and a canine heart. The dog had missed the wolf and pack mate; the man had missed the friend and lover. "I know," Sirius says. His voice is miraculously steady. "I missed you, too."
Remus opens his eyes. The cloud colour is gone, replaced by something greyer and depthless. Remus and Sirius look at each other for long moments, still touching, Sirius's breath coming quickly. Sirius isn't sure what happens first, whether he leans in or Remus does, but it happens. It's hesitant, a brush across the other's mouth, eyes open, each watching for a reaction. And the reaction is the one Sirius wants: Remus's breath catches and his eyes close. They nuzzle as if in canine form, smelling and learning and familiarising, and then it's Remus's mouth again, his tongue, the taste that Sirius remembers, black tea underlaid by Remus's own tang. It's all just like Sirius remembers: Remus's gentle hands and precise lips, the sighing sound he makes when he gets kissed. It's a little awkward like this, directly face to face, but they're managing, and it's not too much at once.
But it is awkward, and half-consciously, Sirius rolls to his back and pulls Remus with him. His body remembers the feeling of weight on top of him, of Remus's thigh between his own, even if his mind hasn't got there yet. Sirius starts to remember why he likes this angle: it's easier to touch from the bottom, more body exposed to curious hands.
They kiss for a long time, trailing fingers up and down each other' s bodies, over faces, through hair. They shift positions: Remus pulls Sirius on top of him, tangles their legs together. Remus on top again, Sirius's hands on his back and on his backside. Remus circling Sirius's navel, sliding his fingers under Siriu's shirt to re-learn the terrain of his chest. It feels like nothing so much as that winter in Gryffindor Tower, just the two of them in their room with an entire stretch of long days in which to learn each other's geographies. It feels like that first day, really, the best Christmas Sirius ever had, snowy and warm and comprised almost entirely of Remus Lupin, chocolate frogs, and a fire that had crackled throughout the morning and afternoon.
Sirius considers putting his hands inside Remus's pyjama bottoms, touching him in a way that's hard to argue with, listening to his soft moans. Remus used to accuse Sirius of never shutting up when they were in bed--and it was true that Sirius whispered and murmured (how beautiful Remus was, how much Sirius loved him, how much Sirius wanted him, how good Remus's hands or mouth felt), but Remus was louder than he liked to admit. He was usually not verbal--and Sirius was almost always verbal--but Remus would whimper and moan and, the few times when he would let himself go and pin Sirius to the bed, shout. The neighbours only pounded on the walls a couple of times, but it was enough to earn them glares from the elderly man and woman next door, and smirks from the female couple downstairs.
Sirius considers touching further, and decides just to kiss instead. They will get to that later, perhaps. But for now this is enough: the pale sunlight, the caught and released breaths, the careful intimacy.
A little bit later, neither of them making any move to get up, Sirius ventures, "You know what this makes me think of?"
"No," says Remus. He's lying stretched out along Sirius's side, arm across Sirius's belly. "What?"
"Christmas. Seventh year."
"It's true," Remus says. Sirius hears the smile. "That's twice you've invaded my bed."
"Only because I was shoehorned!"
"Well, this time. But I remember clearly that you hegemonised my bed, and would not remove yourself."
"Only because it's deeply unnatural not to want to get up and open presents on Christmas Day."
"Why get up when the presents, along with hot chocolate, will be delivered to you?"
Sirius shakes his head. "A severely spoiled child."
"The perks of being an only child."
He remembers that morning. He has managed to keep the memory over the years, but it's clearer now that he's out of Azkaban. Full moon had fallen on the night of December 23rd, and Remus had decided to stay at school rather than go through the transformation at home. James and Lily had gone to visit each other's families and announce their engagement, and Peter had gone home. But Sirius had whined at his own family, wheedled that he had a sick friend, and finally they had become so tired of arguing that they let him stay at Hogwarts over the break, with their blessing.
Sirius woke up that Christmas Day ready to bound into the common room in search of presents. He pushed aside Remus's bed-curtains only to find his friend still fast asleep. Granted, the transformations took a lot out of him, and it had only been a little over a day, but this was *Christmas*.
"I was appalled," Sirius tells Remus. "I went to wake you up for presents, and all you wanted to do was sleep."
"And somehow you never quite displaced yourself from my bed."
He didn't, Sirius remembers. He sat on the edge of the bed and poked Remus, and when Remus threatened to hit him (which Remus only threatened when seriously annoyed), Sirius poked him some more. But he realised that Remus wasn't going anywhere.
"I did bring you hot chocolate, though," Sirius reminds him.
"And even presents, I believe."
"You did. It was entirely the way things ought to be on Christmas Day."
Remus submerged himself in _Dark and Dastardly Deeds of the Denmark Dervishes_ (a gift from his parents) and Sirius delightedly flipped through _How to Make Your Enemies Sprout Horns (And Other Dirty Tricks)_, which James had bought him at Zonko's. It looked highly useful for tormenting Snape, Malfoy, and anyone else who happened to annoy Sirius on any given day. He was running out of good charms, particularly of the variety that made unsightly things grow out of people's noses. Not that Snape's nose needed to be any uglier, but it was worth keeping in mind.
As the morning and afternoon passed, it didn't seem strange to stay stretched out on Remus's bed, or even for Sirius to climb under the covers with him. For one person, the beds were spacious, but for two they were cramped, and it seemed only natural that Sirius and Remus would curl up together in the small space, Remus reading quietly, Sirius snickering at the latest idea for Snape-harassment.
Maybe it was that no one else was around; maybe it was that wolf and dog nuzzled and ran together, and finally their human sides were catching up. But Sirius was less surprised that he might have been when he finished a chapter ("Things That Look Like Food But Aren't") and realised that his arm was around Remus, and that Remus was leaning against him. Sirius remembers reaching up to touch the ends of Remus's hair, to draw his fingers across the nape of Remus's neck, and part of him wondered if this was too much, too far, while another part of him seemed sure that this was the correct, and in fact the only thing to do. Remus looked up at him and buried his fingers in the hair that was long then and Sirius found himself not quite surprised to be kissed. Sirius thinks of that now: how they spent the rest of the afternoon kissing and nestling, and how on one level it seemed like such a strange thing to be doing and how on another it seemed like what they should have been doing all along.
Remus's stomach growls. Sirius can't help but laugh. "I seem to remember that, too."
"We should get something to eat," Remus says. "It won't be suppertime yet, but they'll still let us in the kitchen." And that, too, is near enough to what happened all those years ago. They finally pulled themselves out of bed and put robes on, then wandered downstairs to plead (they never had to plead very hard) with the house-elves for food. It was past dinnertime, and the halls were empty, echoing with their footsteps.
Sirius wondered if there were some magic that could display fingerprints on human skin, if there were some kind of wizard eyesight which would reveal who had touched you last. He felt emblazoned with Remus, and he couldn't believe that no one else would notice, that people wouldn't be able to tell just by looking at his skin, or at his swollen lips.
He told Remus about some of the ideas for pranks he had, and Remus told him about some of the dark wizards he'd been reading about, and they didn't touch. The house-elves provided them with food and a large pot of tea, and they ate in the kitchen. Sirius regaled the elves with the things he was going to do to Malfoy next semester, and while they weren't allowed to encourage him directly, none of them discouraged him, either.
Walking back upstairs with full bellies, Sirius and Remus didn't touch. And then Sirius reached out and wound his fingers around Remus's, and he felt Remus's hand tighten around his. They went back to their room and slept, and they slept wrapped around each other every night until Prongs and Wormtail came back.
Remus rolls over, and this time it's to get up and stretch. Sirius looks out the window and sees that it's mid-afternoon. He really is hungry, he realises. "Will the kitchens be unlocked?" he asks.
"They're always unlocked."
Remus brushes his teeth Muggle-style, and Sirius cleans his wizard-style. They dress, but it's warm enough outside that they don't bother with shoes. This time Sirius does something different. He doesn't wait. He finds Remus's hand with his own. Their fingers twist around each other as they walk across the footbridge and up onto the veranda, where a guitar-playing Oz and a sweater-knitting Alejandra greet them without a second glance. Sirius and Remus go inside, where it's darker and cooler, and they eat.
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