Remus has habits. It’s the only word he has to refer to them (not that he often does, not out loud) and it makes him feel a little more normal. Everyone has habits. His dad always neatly folds the Prophet when he’s done with it, and keeps a collection of beer mats, both wizarding and muggle, in his bedside drawer. His mum never changes out of her slippers before noon on Saturday, even when she’s gardening, because her mother always told her that Saturday was the only day on which such a thing was acceptable. Remus hates it when the different kinds of food on his plate touch, and he pulls the cuffs of his jumpers down over and over until they stretch, floppy and shapeless, over his hands, because he can’t keep his fingers still sometimes and he likes how it feels to rub the familiar softness of the wool between his fingertips. He can hardly bring himself to look at baked beans, let alone eat them, and sometimes when he wants to work and there are people around he stuffs bits of torn-up paper into his ears so that he can tune out the incessant, inconsistent rise-and-fall of conversation that pulls his attention every way but where he wants it.
James laughs at him when he finds him in a corner of the library, with a corner of an article on goblin welfare reforms in each ear. ‘I always knew you harboured a secret longing to become a hermit, Moony. Tell you what, we’ll turn the Shack into your hermitage, you can grow a beard like Dumbles’.’ Remus laughs, too, because it’s funny. Remus is funny, with his old man cardigans and picky eating and prefectly ways, and they all know that he knows it. A Marauder prank wouldn’t be a Marauder prank without Remus theatrically rolling his eyes, putting up a token resistance, stretching it far enough to make them worry just a little before the inevitable ‘Oh, alright, and since I might as well be hanged for a sheep here’s how you could make it even smellier.’ They all know that he only really folds and sorts his socks by colour to allow Sirius to despair of him with maximum drama and garment-rending (not that Sirius needs much of an excuse for garment-rending), and not because he likes to run his hands over the neat rows when nobody else is around, because the feeling of things in their proper places, even if it’s only his socks, gives him a strange internal feeling of relief.
James doesn’t notice Remus stuff the newspaper back into his ears as he saunters off, but Sirius does. Days later, Sirius plops down in the chair opposite him with a grin that can only signify trouble.
‘Where are the Dungbombs?’ Remus inquires, not looking up.
Sirius shakes his head. ‘Oh, Moony, my dear Moony, this is nothing so mundane as Dungbombs.’
‘The Dungbombs will be devastated to hear you be so disloyal.’
Sirius puts a finger over Remus’s lips. ‘Shh now. I found a new spell.’
Remus groans. ‘What or who does it explode?’
‘Terrible grammar, and neither. Observe.’ He pulls out his wand and performs a complicated gesture under the table, muttering something that Remus doesn’t catch. Nothing appears to happen.
‘What-’ Remus begins, then notices that his is suddenly the only voice in the room. He looks around, panicked, momentarily convinced that everyone has heard him say something offensive or obscene and is staring at him in horror, despite knowing full well that he has said nothing more offensive than ‘what’. No-one is looking at him. In fact, conversation seems to be going on as usual, just inaudibly.
‘Did you turn me deaf?’ he asks loudly, realising even as he speaks that he can hear himself. Sirius shakes his head. Remus considers. No-one appears to be clutching their throats, or showing any other sign of awareness that they are no longer making a sound, so it can’t be a Silencing Charm, and anyway Silencing Charms are hardly new and exciting.
Sirius snaps his fingers. ‘Moony.’ Remus shakes himself.
'Right. Yes. Sorry.’
Sirius is looking extremely pleased with himself. ‘Better than newspaper, eh?’
Remus shakes himself again. It’s hard to focus on what Sirius is saying when all he can feel is relief, as though the incessant noise of the common room was a swarm of insects around him that suddenly flew away. He closes his eyes, overwhelmed by the blissfulness of quiet. It’s a cliché, not being able to hear yourself think, and yet he’s only just realising how much he couldn’t. He drags himself, reluctantly, out of his trance. ‘Newspaper?’
‘In your ears.’ The expression Sirius is wearing reminds Remus strongly of Padfoot, not quite pleading but still belying a certain desire for praise. ‘I tried to steal you a pair of Pomfrey’s noise-cancelling earmuffs, but I had a near-death experience with a geranium.’ He yanks up the sleeve of his jumper, revealing several thin red marks wound around his forearm.
Remus is having difficulty forming words. He stares down at his hands, picking rhythmically at a hangnail. ‘Are you…all right?’ The words sound stiff for having been forced out, one at a time, like pushing a broken-down car uphill.
Sirius frowns at him. ‘Are you? I have to say, this isn’t quite the effect I anticipated.’
‘Fine.’ He nods as he talks, hoping that it will get the sentiment across faster. ‘I’m fine. Thank you, Sirius.’ He’s aware that he still sounds like a speak-your-weight machine, but he can’t seem to make the words match the emotions.
Sirius’s frown deepens. ‘You don’t like it.’ Remus can’t speak. It is as though he exists in the same apparent vacuum of sound as everyone else in the room appears to, lips and tongue capable of the same movements as always but without the effects. ‘I can undo it’, Sirius says, watching Remus with a closeness that makes him feel like his skin is too tight. ‘Finite-’
‘No!’ Remus says, startling even himself. His hand shuts around Sirius’s wrist, staying the motion of his wand. ‘Don’t. Sorry, I…I don’t….’
‘S’okay’, Sirius says, smiling. ‘I understand. You’re overwhelmed with gratitude, or just plain overwhelmed. Happens around me all the time.’
‘Knob’, Remus says, rolling his eyes. He looks down, and realises belatedly that he’s still holding onto Sirius’s wrist.
Sirius bounces up behind him on the way to Charms, and holds out a very grimy, very well-worn-looking little teddy bear.
‘I’m not sure what magazines you’ve been reading’, Remus says, eyeing the bear, whose fur is so worn as to be practically non-existent, ‘but it’s supposed to be a new teddy, Sirius. Preferably a fluffy one with a heart that says ‘Be My Valentine.’ But points for effort, I suppose. When can I expect the roses, or do I have to wait until you can dig some out of a skip?’
Sirius retracts the bear with an expression of great offense. ‘Well, now you’ve hurt his feelings.’
‘I’m very sorry to hear that.’ He bends down until he’s at eye level with the teddy. ‘And what dustbin did Sirius find you in?’
‘It was a bush’. Remus raises an eyebrow at him. Sirius backtracks. ‘I mean, not recently a bush. I was six. My governess was taking us on our constitutional- shut up- and I got away when she wasn’t looking and hid in a bush and I found him. I’d always wanted a teddy and Father wouldn’t allow it, so I took him home and hid him under my pillow. I think Reg knew about him, but he never said anything.’
‘As entertaining as stories of your traumatic childhood always are’, Remus says, noting with pleasure the definite hint of pinkness stealing up Sirius’s neck, ‘and as revelatory it is to discover I have been sharing a dormitory with a potential carrier of all manner of infectious diseases for lo these six years, I’m still not really sure why I’m being presented with-’
‘Mr Fuzzy’, Sirius mumbles, not making eye contact.
‘Yes. Mr Fuzzy.’
‘I used to carry him around in the pocket of my robes’, Sirius mutters, his voice growing smaller in inverse proportion to the intensity of the redness spreading across his face, ‘and, uh, you know, stroke him. When I was…stressed. I thought, since all your jumper sleeves practically touch the floor now, you could…you know…’
‘Sirius…’ Remus starts. ‘Are you offering me a beloved childhood friend as a stress toy?’
Sirius’s eyes are now affixed firmly on his shoes. ‘Is there any way I can make this appear manly and heterosexual?’
Remus pats him on the shoulder. ‘Please just say I can cast a Cleaning Charm on him.’
Remus corners James in the common room, on a Tuesday evening when Sirius is in detention and Peter, miraculously, is on a date.
‘Do you and Sirius have some sort of bet?’
‘What’, says James, nonplussed, ‘no. Well, yes. But none involving you.’
Remus pauses. ‘Any outstanding dares?’
James’s eyes track up and sideways as he appears to rack his brains. Remus suspects that he is dragging it out on purpose. ‘...Nnnnno.’
He sits down on the sofa next to James. ‘He’s being…nice to me’, he informs him, regretting even as he speaks how pitiful he sounds. James raises an eyebrow.
‘Remus, old chap, I know you’re a little bit dim, but surely even you have noticed by now that Sirius is your friend. You know, friends? Chums? Pals? Cohorts in mischief and hijin- ow.’ He breaks off, wincing, as Remus extracts his wand from his ribs.
‘I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I hate it when you talk like that.’
‘You’re fooling no-one, Moony. We know all about the stash of Ethel Blighty books under your bed-’
‘Enid Blyton’, Remus corrects automatically, and then, catching James’s smug look, ‘Damn. You did that on purpose, didn’t you.’ He fidgets with the sleeve of his jumper, remembers Mr Fuzzy, and feels his face grow warm. ‘He gave me a…teddy bear.’
‘You know about Mr Fuzzy?’
James bristles. ‘Mr Fuzzy and I are friends of old. There’s a certain bond formed between the man and bear who brave the terrors of Sirius Black’s bed together.’ There is a brief pause in the conversation, during which Remus contemplates James and Sirius’s relationship as he never has before. ‘He gave him to you?’
He shrugs, staring at his hands twisted together in his lap. James is silent for what feels like a long time.
‘He’s seducing you.’
Remus chokes on absolutely nothing. ‘By that logic- giving me the bear is attempting to seduce me, but sleeping with you and the bear is what, exactly?’
‘Sirius doesn’t need to seduce me’, James says primly. ‘He knows I’m always there if he needs the loving comfort of a brother’s arms.’
Remus decides that this is a sentence to which he has no response. He settles for saying weakly, ‘He is not seducing me.’
James pats him on the back. ‘Whatever you say, my man. Just turn Mr Fuzzy around when you’re getting frisky. There are some things a bear shouldn’t see.’
Sirius is not seducing him.
One dubiously sourced charm and an elderly teddy bear does not constitute a seduction. Even in Sirius’s mind, that surely does not constitute a seduction. If Remus were any of the girls Sirius has occasionally deigned to take to Hogsmeade, he is sure that he would feel insulted.
Except that he isn’t any of those girls. He knows Sirius better. He knows how rarely Sirius speaks about his childhood. And he is aware, with an ache in his gut that persists even as he tries not to acknowledge it, of what it must mean for him to give up one of his few cherished things from home.
‘Fuck’, he mutters to himself. A group of third-year girls turn and glare at him. He ignores them, and speeds ahead to catch up with Peter. ‘Hi.’
‘Hello’, Peter says, sounding for some reason like he’s uttering some kind of secret code word. He stares meaningfully at Remus for several seconds. Remus allows himself a small, internal sigh.
‘How was your date?’
The recap of Peter’s date lasts them all the way to Herbology, and continues in sporadic bursts sandwiched between bouts of attempting to prune a very sensitive gardenia for much of the lesson. It’s only as they’re leaving the greenhouse, Remus highly aware of the dirt under his nails and still a little unnerved from the sad little whimpers the plant had made whenever he came near it with the shears, that he finally gets his chance. Naturally, he immediately realises that he has no idea what to say.
Peter looks at him askance. ‘Are you all right?’ He pats Remus’s arm sympathetically. ‘Was it the plant?’
Remus shakes his head. He finds himself once again struggling to form words, as if the link between thought and speech has been severed.
‘Sirius, uh….he gave me a, um…bear.’
Peter looks blank. ‘Is that a euphemism? Because if it is, I don’t think I want to know.’
‘That’s pretty rich coming from someone who spent the last half-hour describing the exact shape and texture of Sadie Llewellyn’s-’ Remus starts. Then his brain catches up with him. ‘Hold on, why would it be a euphemism?’
Peter turns a shade of pink that bears a startlingly close resemblance to the gardenia Remus just spent an hour apparently traumatizing. ‘No….uh….I mean….No reason.’
Remus raises an eyebrow. ‘Peter.’
It’s possible he’s imagining things, but Remus swears he sees Peter roll his eyes a little. ‘Well…haven’t you noticed?’
Peter just shakes his head. ‘I thought you were supposed to be the clever one.’
‘Yes’, Remus says through gritted teeth, ‘and being the clever one means I know many, many more jinxes than you do. What haven’t I noticed?’
‘Sirius’, Peter says slowly, as if this explains everything. Remus makes a point of starting to pull his wand out of his pocket. Peter backs away. ‘I mean…the way he’s always looking at you. He trips over things doing it. And he never talks about anything but you anymore when you’re not around. Though I suppose you’re not around for that.’
‘I suppose not’, says Remus, in a voice of forced calm. ‘Thank you, Peter. This has been enlightening.’ He hoists his bag over his shoulder and runs for the castle, not knowing quite why or where he wants to go.
Naturally the universe, being the temperamental mistress that she is, makes the decision for him by having him collide with Sirius the first time he turns a corner. Possibly he was always headed here. It’s possible that fate intended him and Sirius to find themselves entangled, bruised and potentially concussed, on the cold, hard stone of this particular corridor, but that doesn’t make it any less painful.
‘Ow’, Sirius says, after several long, agony-filled moments. He attempts to sit up and instead drives his elbow into Remus’s ribcage. Remus makes a noise like a small animal in its death throes. He drags himself into a semi-upright position, considers standing, and thinks better of it.
‘I think this technically qualifies as loitering’, he manages, once his head has stopped spinning.
Sirius pulls himself up with an almighty groan to sit propped against the wall next to him. ‘Even Minnie’s cold heart would surely melt under these circumstances.’
‘It’s more likely to melt if you don’t call her Minnie.’ A semi-awkward silence ensues. Remus closes his eyes. Fate, he tells himself. Fate brought you here, don’t let this possible concussion be for nothing. Although I don’t believe in fate, so this may in fact be the concussion talking.
‘You gave me a bear.’
Sirius looks at him askance. ‘Did you hit your head? Is that the last thing you remember?’
Remus soldiers doggedly on. ‘No, I mean…you gave me a bear, and you found that charm for me, and you were savaged by a geranium on my behalf, and James said…he said…some things. And I don’t know what I’m asking, quite honestly, because I haven’t had a chance to process any of this, it’s only that I’ve had James’s input and I’ve had Peter’s and neither of them have been all that helpful and I thought maybe, you know, yours might be. Straight from the horse’s mouth, and what have you.’ He glances up and down the corridor. ‘Oh god, I am so grateful this corridor appears to be staying empty. This is embarrassing.’
‘Remus,’ Sirius says. ‘I can’t move my neck.’
‘I.’ Remus says weakly. ‘What?’
‘Turn your head, please’, Sirius says. ‘I can’t move mine.’
Remus turns his head. Sirius tilts stiffly towards him and kisses him on the mouth.
For a few long seconds, Remus doesn’t move, focused instead on processing new information. Sirius’s lips are dry, a little chapped, surprisingly cool. He can feel Sirius’s body without being in contact with it, through the strange, intimate feeling of sharing the air immediately around you with another person. It’s overwhelming, but not unpleasantly so.
When he finally remembers to move, he does so too quickly and somehow manages to knock their foreheads together. They break apart.
‘Ow’, says Sirius for the second time in as many minutes. His lips are shinier than usual. Remus doesn’t want to look away. ‘Does that answer your not-actually-a-question?’
‘I’m not sure’, Remus says. He feels even more dazed than before. ‘I think the best course of action would be to find an empty classroom and try it again.’
Sirius leaps to his feet in a surprising burst of agility, extending a hand to Remus to pull him off the ground. Remus takes it.