To Hozier’s better looking cousin,
We accidentally made eye contact on the circle line today, you looked away, I didn't. Wondering if you’ve inherited the family’s magic fing-
Remus furiously began to backspace, the disappearing words hardly making a dent in the sudden wave of excruciating embarrassment that had overwhelmed him. He removed his fingers from the keys and scrubbed his hands over his face.The cursor blinked up at him accusatorily, as if to say really? His sigh sounded all encompassing in the emptiness of his little two room flat.
He scrolled back up through the Word document, looking over the other two Rush Hour Crushes he’d written. They had been simple enough; all it had taken was a browse through the newspapers for a suitable character. Once chosen, he just had to write something either strange or unsubtly horny in that voice. It was almost fun, like a creative writing character building exercise, albeit more lustful. The one he’d written about the girl getting sick on the underground might have been some tipsy self indulgence but with the reaction it’d gleaned from Twitter, his editor certainly hadn’t complained.
He took a sip of tea, pointedly ignoring his sorry lump of a PhD that he’d been using to keep the table level and set to again.
To the barista in Costa with the charcoal covered hands,
I saw you sketching between orders. Need a model?
-One of your French girls
This one ticked all of Remus’ criteria: not likely to get any real people into trouble, funny enough to hopefully get a reaction, and not down right propositional.
He moved onto the next one.
To the man eating a pasty on the opposite platform last Tuesday,
I’d love to see what you’re made of. See you around Greggs?
-Katsu Bake and a Diet Coke.
That one might have been a subtle message from his stomach that he’d skipped lunch again but it was passable.
The time had come to face his final Rush Hour Crush for this week but he hesitated. Maybe he should make more tea, this one had gone cold, he thought and then stopped. He was not letting himself wiggle his way out of this.
“To Hozier’s Better Looking Cousin” he read, and then promptly closed his laptop screen. It whirred suddenly, like a sigh at his expense. If he had started personifying his Mac again he knew it was time to take a break and eat something. His knees cracked when he stood up and it made him wonder how long he’d been sitting there for, deliberating. At least it was still bright outside.
Whilst reheating yesterday’s pad thai, he stared at himself in the mirror hanging beside the fridge and tried to give himself a pep talk. He’d actually set the mirror up just so, to make sure he looked somewhat presentable before heading into college. As the deadlines loomed, however, he found that he spent more and more time simply standing and looking into his own brown eyes for some signs of life. This was all supposed to be a bit of fun, writing a few silly messages to earn a bit of money on the side. This time however, he felt so awkward about making a silly declaration because it might possibly have been a bit real. As some kind of cosmic payback, Remus Lupin might just have caught himself in a silly little rush hour crush.
The little ding from the microwave made him jump. He was getting far too worked up over all of this, he told himself. Hozier’s Better Looking Cousin no doubt had hundreds of applicable matches over London, if not the entire UK. He chewed through his noodles absently. It would be fine. After all, the real Hozier’s BLC looked like he’d never read a newspaper in his life, that was, if the blaring music coming from his earphones had been anything to go on.
Dinner finished and sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Remus returned to his laptop, determined. His sudden flare of courageous energy was slightly jilted by the ten minutes it took his decrepit Mac to wake up, but he persevered. He stared down at the cursor and began to type. It was a silly crush, he would never see him again, it was fine.
Despite Remus’ hopes to the contrary, for better or for worse, this was not to be the end of the story.
The morning had not been kind to Sirius Black. There were no Metros to be found anywhere on his way into work that morning. Sirius’ Thursday Metro was one of the highlights of his week, compensating for having to take public transport instead of his beautiful bike. James had told him it was weird that his motivation for not drink driving had nothing to do with the potential loss of his own life but the possible damage to his bike. Sirius found nothing amiss.
He’d cast a possibly too eager eye around the tube carriage in an attempt to spot one, but to no avail. The endeavour had afforded him nothing but an appreciative look from a woman dressed in a frankly distressing amount of pink. Even the café beside the shop had been ravaged, only a copy of The Sun remained. Sirius sneered at it as he left with his coffee.
Thus, without gossip to sweeten his morning commute, he entered the Black Star Tattoo Parlour thoroughly grumpy. He swung the door open, causing the little chimes to rattle wildly. He might as well give Marlene some warning that he was not in the mood to be cooperative.
She sat up suddenly from behind the front desk from where she’d been sketching and when she saw it was him, frowned. The sharp point of her eyeliner across her almond eyes served only to increase her glare.
“Who spat in your latte?” She said. “Also, I’m not untangling those chimes every time you feel like having a tantrum.”
Sirius drained his coffee and flipped her an affectionate bird. “There were no Metros today, anywhere. This country has gone to the dogs.” He noticed a fine sheen of sweat on his leather jacket from the train and shucked it off. He spread it across two pegs from their coat stand, hoping to air the distilled sweat of the masses from it.
Marlene smiled up at him, catlike. “Well…” she said, spinning around on the chair and rolling over to the mess of shelves behind the desk. “Don’t give up on it quite yet.”
The next time the chair turned, Marlene was flourishing a newspaper at him. Despite her best efforts she was just too slow to stop him from snatching it. Growing up alongside Regulus appeared to have had some advantages after all.
“Is this today's?” He said, already thumbing the pages open.
“Oh, no need to thank me or anything.” She huffed. Unfortunately, she was not the Metro and her snark fell on deaf ears.
Sirius leaned his hip against the counter, and continued flipping until he found what he was looking for: the Rush Hour Crush column. While the one about the artistic barista left him snickering, the rest seemed relatively mundane and not worth his time. He was about to close the paper when a notice in the bottom corner of the box caught his eye. Something about it pricked at him and he read over it, twice, the feeling growing. Hozier’s better looking cousin, the barest memory of faded gilt on a leather satchel… something, something.
Marlene slapped the paper from between his hands. “I know you’re immersed in your gossip fix but I actually do need to know how to tell the Prewetts apart for-”
Whatever expression he was wearing seemed to give her pause.
“What? You can’t have been scandalized?”
“I think…” Sirius began, just as the chimes announced their first customer of the day had arrived. He smiled, directing them over to the chair almost blindly. The newspaper lay collapsed across the desk, still open on the Rush Hour Crushes.
“I think,” he whispered at Marlene, walking backwards after his client. “I think I’m in it!”
Because he was a professional, he just about managed to keep a lid on this revelation whilst marking strangers for life with a needle. It was a near thing. If not for Marlene’s miraculous decision to play his 80’s synthpop playlist he shudders to think how badly he could have rendered a simple flower. Luckily, the Black Star closed for an hour at lunchtime, leaving him free to have his meltdown. It must have been niggling at Marlene too as it was her who laid the paper out between them on the table in the back.
“Normally I’d make some jab about your over inflated ego Mr Black Star but this time…. I mean, it’s possible.” She offered from over by the kettle.
Sirius leaned across the table to read the passage again, to prove to himself it wasn’t a delusion. The clinking sounds of her stirring the tea were almost white noise.
When it was clear he wasn’t going to answer, she continued. “Why do you think it’s you though? You’re not exactly the only man in London to have this kind of punk chic thing going on.”
Sirius looked up at her with strange kind of vulnerability when she handed him his cup. “Because I remember him,” he said and then caught himself. “I mean, I remember someone.” He took an absent sip.
“Was he cute?” She said, giving him a look over the rim of her mug.
“If it’s the guy I’m- But Marlene! It doesn't even say what gender they are. Anyone can have a bloody brown bag.” He combed a hand through his long hair in frustration, fisting it at the back of his skull. His wide eyes stared at nothing for a long moment and then-
“I need to call James,” he announced and let go of his hair. “What time is it?”
Marlene spun her wrist, revealing the face of her watch and an uninked forearm. “One twentyish.”
“Bloody not even half one. He’ll still be at training. Useless!”
“Oh the woes of being a wag. I don’t see what the problem is, it might not be about you at all and if it is, you might get a decent shag out of it.”
“What is it about committed relationships that turn people into vicious matchmakers? First, it was Mrs Potter asking me about every other person I’ve met. Then Lily moves in with James and suddenly he starts trying to match me up with people he’s met at functions. But you Mckinnon! Dorcas takes you on one couples holiday and now you’re happily pairing me off with anonymous strangers from the paper! I thought I could at least rely on you. He could be a serial killer!”
“Still him then?” Marlene said, one eyebrow raised. It sounded like checkmate.
Sirius took a sulky drink of tea and looked down at the paper again, remembering the soul cleansing experience of listening to Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack whilst hungover on an early Friday train.
To Hozier’s better looking cousin,
Can’t guarantee caviar or cigarettes but am well versed in etiquette. Might be extraordinarily nice. Wanna try?
-Leather Satchel, 10am
It was not unusual for Lily to come home and find Sirius and James sat together giggling about some nonsense idea or other. What was unusual however, was that although James was wheezing with laughter into the back of the couch, Sirius could not have looked more put upon. A newspaper lay open between them.
“What’s all this about then?” Lily said, easing herself down onto the couch beside James. She wasn’t nearly at full pregnacy belly yet but already her back was starting to ache.
James passed the paper, though unable to stop himself laughing long enough to explain. In doing so, his glasses, which had been on the paper, tumbled onto the floor. He seemed to find this also riotously funny and Lily rolled her eyes. She tried looking to Sirius over James’ shoulder for an explanation but he was as forthcoming as a statue. She scanned through the paper, not finding anything even on the sports back pages that could have set them off.
Before she could voice her confusion, Sirius snapped. “If you don’t stop laughing, I’m going to murder you with your ugly sponsored cleats.” He was scowling but Lily had seen the look often enough to see the pout in it.
“James…” she warned and after a few deep breaths, he pointed her to the box containing the Rush Hour Crush. She read through them, more clueless than ever. That was, until she read the final one.
“You think it’s about you?” she said, trying to sound kind and not like she was going to laugh.
“It gets better,” James said to her, still smiling too widely.
He turned to Sirius. “Tell her what you told me, go on.”
Sirius glared at him and looked up at the ceiling as he spoke. “I think I know who it is, or at least, who I want it to be. Satchel’s pretty gender neutral though so I mean-”
James cut him off with a groan. “You’re so boring. Don’t worry my darling, I’ll translate.”
After taking a moment to get into character, James pouted at Lily and said, with far too much wailing, “Jamesss, what if it’s not the guy I’m thinking of. Oh it was love at first glance! He was tall and thin like a willow. Long fingers, and hair like-” James failed to suppress his laughter but did his best through the giggles,“hair like waves of caramel.”
Even Lily found herself overcome at that. She and James clasped each other to stay upright through the force of their laughter.
“Like a willow,” James wheezed to her, oblivious to the rage rising in Sirius just behind him.
“Waves of caramel. Is this a man or a- a twix?” Lily said.
“Willy Wonka?” James said, clutching at his stomach and they were both lost in laughter again.
“I hope that baby never lets you sleep again,” Sirius muttered, a flush blooming in his cheeks.
A reply appeared in a subsequent edition of Rush Hour Crush:
Leather Satchel, 10am,
Guaranteed to blow your mind, anytime. Wanna try?
-Hozier’s Better Looking Cousin
But Remus Lupin did not read his own work. Remus did not read the Metro.
It is precisely because Remus Lupin does not read the Metro that it all fades from memory, until his Saturday morning yoga class. By some grand cosmic joke, it all kickstarts again at a tube station.
Hozier’s Better Looking Cousin was a busker, because of course he was.
Remus could hear someone singing as he entered the snaking passages of his local station, someone he was not going to speed up to avoid. It was only when the singer came into view did Remus pause. Not only was Hozier’s BLC a busker, he was a good busker. Remus knew you had to audition to be allowed to perform at all but it seemed like the universe had set out to needle him with a crush that seemed increasingly perfect. His acoustic cover of “I fought the Law” didn’t even jar Remus’ ears, though that could have been due to the smokiness of his voice and the gentle way he handled the lyrics rather than any general musical merit. As a Clash fan, Remus had to concede that this gentler cover wasn’t a butchery of the original ethos. He was utterly utterly screwed. Hopefully he could just content himself with enjoying this every Saturday and have that be enough.
Hozier's BLC was just ending the song as Remus passed. He made sure to duck behind the applauding crowd as much as his height allowed, heart in his mouth. When he got to the turnstyle however, Remus found himself reluctant. He stood off to the side, fiddling with his Oyster card and watched the busker bow to his little audience. His teeth flashed in a cheeky grin that managed to be boyish rather than narcissistic, and his thick black hair was bound up in a little ponytail which bobbed as he nodded. A few little strands brushed against his cheekbones with the movement and he tucked them behind his ears almost thoughtlessly.
This, much to Remus’ dismay, had him semi-consciously fumbling in his pocket for some change, an excuse to get closer. His fingers detected the ridges of the new pound coin and he plucked it from his pocket, only to watch the object of his affections move out distractedly from behind his mic. That same pound dropped from his fingers as he watched Hozier's BLC approach a man over by the ticket machines.
“Sorry...” Hozier's Better Looking Cousin said to him, hesitantly. “You’re not Leather Satchel, are you?”
He was not. The man he was talking to was one Gilderoy Lockhart, the notorious West End diva to end all others. Despite his increasingly hamfisted performances, he’d somehow become famous enough to have a second book published last Christmas. Busy fumbling with the machine, a fifty pound note and the leather satchel under his arm, Gilderoy seemed to ignore the question.
“No autographs,” he said blithely and pushed the note into the machine for the third time.
It was time to get on his train now, Remus told himself and walked through the barrier.
He spent most of his tube journey and, if he was being honest, a good portion of his yoga class, in a haze. Of course his crush would single out someone like Gilderoy. Someone who, like him, had perfect hair and moved with an air of effortless style. Even if Gilderoy was a pillock, he had to give him that much. He certainly wasn’t filling out auditoriums by artistic merit. Despite the wave of revulsion that gripped him when he imagined the two of them together, they at least sort of matched. Hozier’s Better Looking Cousin had that ‘winner of the genetic lottery’ look that ensured his clothes would always look effortlessly chic. It was mostly the cheekbones and the hair, but Remus also felt his pale grey eyes ought not to be disregarded in that manner.
This little episode had only served to prove that a man like him would never look Remus’ way. Why have someone who looked like they survived on nicotine and pot noodles when you could have your pick of the proverbial litter?
After his yoga class, he resolved to end this once and for all. This would not be keeping him up tonight. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and typed out a text to his friend Alice, ":(“
Halfway down the studio steps, he paused to read her response, “Is that a :( that requires sorrows to be drowned or a filthy chocolate binge kind of :(“
That at least made him smile. “I’m not allowed into Honeydukes without financial supervision, remember?”
“I can be there in half an hour. Do not enter the shop unless I am with you, do not even look in the window.”
He was about to put his phone away when it buzzed against his palm again.
“Also, despite what Frank might say I’m not an enabler!”
After two weeks Sirius was starting to wonder if the Rush Hour Crush had been about him at all. His own note had been either ignored or rebuffed and questioning anyone with leather satchel had long become tiresome. Perhaps Marlene had been right, maybe it wasn’t for him at all. Perhaps whoever the real two were had already shacked up while he spent two weeks chasing his tail. He sighed and tore off his latex gloves, letting them fall onto his work table. His last client smiled at him from the door and he gave them a half hearted wave, grateful for the chime that announced the end of the day.
“Okay,” Marlene said, leaning opposite him against the leather chair. “This has gone on too long. I’m intervening.”
Sirius frowned wordlessly at her.
“That girl was cute and flirting with you and you hardly gave her a second glance which means you’re till hung up on Mr Satchel,” she raised an eyebrow at him, arms folded across her chest. She wasn’t tall by any stretch of the imagination but standing over him while he was seated gave her a distinct loom.
“Maybe she just wasn’t my type,” Sirius grumbled. He knew he’d already lost.
“Bullshit, I know your type. I’m sorry Sirius but you’ve done all you can. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. I’m not letting you mope any longer. It gives the place a bad aura.”
He stood up, stretched out his back and leaned down for a quick hug, “I know, I just... It seemed so clear cut.”
That night, during their bi-weekly Skype call, he told James he was giving up.
“I thought it was him. I- I wanted it to be him so, I… I read too much into it. Marlene’s right though, it’s a waste of energy,” Sirius sighed, looking away from the phone screen. The position of his head on the pillow made the little earbud dig painfully into his ear. He ignored it.
“Hey, now wait. This is not the marauder spirit,” James said determinedly and yet also, soft. The harshness of the backlight washed out his dark skin, making him look tired.
Sirius glanced at him, wary.
“Look. We haven’t exhausted all our options. If you’re serious about this and- Don’t make that pun, it doesn't work. If you’re serious about this, there’s one more thing we haven't tried yet.”
James’ proximity to the camera and his wireframes made it hard to focus on anything but his general owlish look. Sirius, who had heard that owls were supposedly wise, took it as a sign.
“What’s the plan, Jam?”
“That’s a stupid nickname. I’m ignoring that.”
“It’s called slant rhyme.”
James looked at him a moment to ensure his disgust had been transmitted and then continued. “Lily said she knows someone in the Metro. I’m sure they must collect some info on who submits those things, we’ll get onto him about it.”
Sirius, still not quite used to James’ unswerving desire to help even after all these years, smiled at him through the little camera. “Thanks Jim,” he said sincerely.
“Anything for my little brother,” James smiled back.
Sirius sputtered, though he was smiling,“I’m older than you, you twat! Get named player of the year once and you think you’re all that,” he tutted, “It’s a wonder Lily sticks you at all.”
Remus was running late. He was supposed to meet Lily’s boyfriend at one to discuss the Rush Hour Crush column and if his mounting dread wasn’t why he was late it certainly wasn’t the fault of the buses he’d ignored. He knew he might be getting ahead of himself, it might not be a situation caused by his entries at all. All Lily had said was that one of James’ friends wanted to track down a submitter. Hopefully, all he would need to do was put them in contact with his editor and not have to explain to some poor soul that their soulmate was a figment of his imagination.
He hitched the strap of his satchel higher on his shoulder and forced himself through the door of little café. James wasn’t difficult to spot, his miraculous hair attracted the eye simply by virtue of it’s sheer physics defying messiness. Remus dodged between chairs and half-tripped into one of the free chairs at James’ corner table.
“Remus!” James chorused, hardly seeming surprised at his sudden appearance into his life.
“Hello,” he offered, slightly winded, “Sorry I’m late.”
“No problem mate. What’s ten minutes between friends?”
They had only met once or twice but this appeared to be the thing about James, he was just a genuinely nice guy. Remus smiled, unwinding his old school scarf from around his neck and let out the breath he’d been holding.
“So. What’s the problem?” he asked, elbows resting on the rim of the little table.
James speared a bit of omelette and chewed, waving his fork, “Sirius has just gone to the loo. He’s the one who actually needs to talk to you. Should be back in a second.”
“Right. That’s fine,” Remus nodded and poured himself a glass of water from the jug.
“Ah here we are!” James exclaimed. Remus looked up and nearly let the glass slip out of his hand. “Sirius, this is Lily’s friend Remus, the guy who works for the Metro. Remus meet my brother Sirius.”
Sirius doubled over laughing, his sheaf of thick, dark hair falling in front of his face. Remus wanted nothing more than to dissipate instantly. He could feel a flush burning up his neck to the tips of his ears. The only thing he could do was stare, frozen, and watch as Sirius clapped a bewildered James on the back.
Hozier’s Better Looking Cousin was standing right in front of him with recognition in his eyes and his name was Sirius.
As it all started in a tube station, it seems appropriate that the story should also end in a tube station.
Despite their disastrous first meeting, Sirius had, in the end, persuaded Remus to exchange phone numbers. The swap had been eased both by James’ easygoing mediation and Sirius’ confession that he had been hoping it was Remus all along. They’d been texting on and off for the last few days and Remus had been well and truly won over once Sirius had assured him this wasn’t some sort of prank. No date had been set up yet but the more time Remus spent laughing at Sirius’ messages the more he began to look forward to the idea of seeing him again.
Ironically, Remus had been so caught up in the idea of seeing Sirius again, he’d forgotten that he would be seeing him again much sooner than he thought.
There was no singing this time to alert him to Sirius’ presence as he descended the stairs to the station. He was so busy rooting around in his bag for his Oyster card that he failed to notice a woman with a trumpet seem to spot him and bolt back down the stairs.
As he stepped off the bottom step, a guitar began to strum and he looked up. It was Sirius.
Sirius busked on Saturdays.
He waved and Sirius smiled wider as he passed. A tall, curly haired woman stood behind him. She had a shaker hanging around her neck and a trumpet in her hand. Remus shuffled on, not wanting to distract him.
“I don’t know what you smoke, or what countries you’ve been to,” Sirius began, “If you speak any other languages other than your own. I’d like to meet you.”
Remus smiled to himself, enjoying the song and kept moving.
The song however, seemed to follow him. Neither Sirius nor his partner were hooked up to anything. He turned around and watched in horror as both Sirius (still singing) and the woman (shaking her little shaker) followed him towards the turnstiles. He paused and the two of them closed in.
“I'd like to call you. All the same, if you want to. I am game,” Sirius was singing, looking straight into Remus’ eyes.
Then, if there wasn’t enough attention on him already, a station worker grabbed him by the elbow. “Say yes if he asks,” she said, smiling warmly.
“We’re not engaged,” Remus wanted to protest, tried to, but he was drowned out by the woman’s sudden trumpet solo.
Sirius was in front of him now, smiling like a maniac and Remus glared at him.
“I don't know if you can swim, If the sea has any draw for you; If you're better in the morning or when the sun goes down. I'd like to call you.”
There was a definite crowd gathered, people had been stopping their commutes to watch whatever this was unfold.
“Sirius I don’t know what this is but stop it, people are watching,” he hissed.
“I don't know if you can dance, If the thought ever occurred to you; If you eat what you've been given or you push it 'round your plate. I'd like to cook for you,” Sirius sang, almost like a challenge.
Remus grabbed his upper arm before he could sing another line. “I’ll go out with you. If that’s what this is about. I’ll go out with you, just please, stop.”
Sirius stopped strumming. His friend however, kept on with her trumpet piece, seemingly impervious to Remus’ mounting displeasure.
“Make her stop too! I would have gone out with you anyway you absolute loon! This is highly unnecessary!” He hissed, ears burning.
“Promise?” Sirius said, staring him down hard. His friend was now improvising on the trumpet. Sirius had started strumming again.
“I very much promise, just make it stop,” he begged.
“Alright,” Sirius agreed and then looked over his shoulder. “Dorcas? Knock it off.” Mercifully, the trumpet died elegantly and not sounding like it had been strangled.
Once the crowds had moved off, Remus scrubbed both hands over his face and began to laugh. “What the fuck was that?” he said, more to himself than anyone else and then remembered why he was here in the first place, “Jesus, I’m going to be so late for my class.” Somehow, he found he didn’t even mind so much.
“This is wooing, Sirius-style,” Sirius’ friend offered, trumpet glinting in the light as she gestured hopelessly.
“I would always rather be happy than dignified,” Sirius sniffed at her. Then he turned to Remus with a smile. “Why ask you out over text like some horny pleb when I can do it like this? Much more romantic.”
“I- I can’t believe you just quoted Jane Eyre that casually and then said the actual words horny pleb.”
Before Sirius could offer a no doubt equally pithy retort, Remus cut him off, “Look, I really do have to get to my class. I’ll call you after it, okay?”
“If you must,” Sirius said, looking forlornly at the tiled ceiling.
“I must. Later, I promise. No more singing,” he said and with a wave for Dorcas, Remus bolted through the turnstiles and out of sight.
Remus did in fact fulfil his promise of later but whether or not they had their first kiss in a tube station is neither here nor there.