Written for the Tales of Sin and Virtue Challenge at the LJ Community, Redandthewolf. Based around the song lyric prompt: "Will you keep your fancy clothes on for me? Can you bear a little longer to wear that lease? My love, I swear, by the air I breathe: Sooner or later you'll bare your teeth." Monkey and Bear by Joannna Newsom. All the characters are owned by J K Rowling and definitely not me.
It's every girl's dream this. Every romantic fantasy brought to vivid life. I'm one of the belles of the Hogwarts Ball in a gown of deepest gold and softest cream, and there's no way on earth I'm turning into a pumpkin at twelve. There are still hopeful glances in my direction, even though I've laughingly told everyone within earshot and beyond that my head's spinning, my feet fit to drop, and I've got to have a break so I can be ready to dance them all off the floor again at midnight. They're leaving me in peace for now but I'm not sure how long it will last. Being the life of the party is very tiring on my soul, or so it seems.
The Great Hall is filled with colour and laughter and music, and so incredibly, vibrantly alive you can't quite take it all in without giving your senses time to absorb it scene by scene and bit by bit. This is a chance for us all to let our hair down after the weeks of hard slog and exams, even though it's taken me hours of spells and pins to get mine up in supposedly cascading curls. But now all I want is to be in my bed with a book and an escape route for what feels like a bruised and tender mind. Let other people get on with the business of living and leave me out of it for once.
Couples are going past in a blur, swaying and shuffling to the beat. The odd face leaps out at me and demands to be recognised: Caitlin, who came with one date and may leave with two the rate she's going; Rhys, who can't dance a step but makes everyone laugh so it doesn't matter; and Remus Lupin, the first time I've seen him all night, which is odd in itself, strangely silent and unfamiliar with a politely blank expression. No time to dwell on that because another unmistakable head comes into view and it's Sirius Black, resplendent in layers of black velvet and self-assurance. There's flaxen hair hanging straight and low down his partner's white back so it must be Hannah from Ravenclaw. I wonder if the sexy tattoo just peeping through on her shoulder blade is real or a spell, how Sirius pulled a seventh year prefect when his brand of charm leaves me so very cold, and then I forget all that and just simply watch them together like everybody else.
She's pressed up against him, rubbing closer at every beat, every turn, and he's touching her pendant necklace admiringly, letting his fingertips brush and linger against the tops of her breasts. Their lower bodies are clamped together, his hand sliding round her waist, pulling her in tight. When she turns her head to the side he looks at the silver hoop hanging low from her earlobe, his eyes measuring the length and the curve of her neck as his thighs press against her legs. When he turns his, she stares avidly at his profile, drinking it in, and her lips part in the smallest of sighs as her hips move underneath his hands in time to the music.
It's funny how you can recognise desire, see it in the air, almost smell it, even though you've never met it yourself. Not quite so funny how it makes you feel when you know without boasting that you're clever, that people want to know you, but in this one area, and such a vital one at that, you are completely, utterly out of your depth. Lily Evans may be a friend to all but she's as clueless and terrified as she was on her first day of school, and there's no one around to tell her the missing ingredient of this particular potion.
"Isn't it fantastic?" Stephanie Kelby, breathless and ecstatic, comes to a skidding halt next to me, and collapses half onto the red velvet cushions and half onto me. "Oops! Didn't squash you, did I? Isn't it just the best?"
"The best." I nod in agreement, smiling back at her, noticing the sweaty fingerprints on the pink satin round her waist, which have doubtless been left by Aidan Quinn. I've spent I don't know how many hours in the loo with her in recent months listening while she insists she doesn't fancy him in the slightest. Even if he was the last wizard on earth. Now she's lit up from within and I'm sitting in that glow, warmed by it, reflecting it back at her, and not understanding it in the slightest. Especially not when it's for Aidan, whose nice enough, and tries hard enough, and who asked me out last year. He kissed me, too, right in the middle of me saying I was really, really flattered but, actually, I'd really rather not because I wanted to concentrate on my exams, and it turned into a wet, slobbery mess that went on for far too long because neither of us had the guts to put an end to either it or our embarrassment.
The shine in Stephanie's prominent blue eyes says otherwise. That his tendency to both a spotty jaw and to talk over people doesn't matter a damn. To her he's worth learning a charm that crushes her ribs to get into the clinging pink satin, and everything else she's done for this one night, and is willing to do now.
I envy her. I'm all alone in my innocence, in my untouchable golden tower, and I'm beginning to think I'll never find what everyone else seems to so easily.
"Are you drinking that?" She gestures at the goblet at my feet, her face shiny under the heat of the torches, and the mascara beginning to run. I've drunk plenty already, too much in an effort to feel whatever it is I don't seem able to feel, and I pass it her without a word, watching her gulp it down thirstily and then wipe her mouth with the back of her hand.
"Aidan wants to meet me near the gazebo after twelve," she announces low-voiced, leaning forward, wanting to share. "You know. At the back."
"Mind the nettles." I say it automatically, knowing she means the ha-ha, a ditch separating the castle grounds from one edge of the woods with a high, sheer face, that effectively keeps anything in it hidden from view. As long as the occupants are lying down, anyway. "Only I was collecting some there the other day and it's—"
I break off in surprise because she's laughing.
"Oh, Lily!" She's shaking her head, clutching her side in merriment. "You're so practical. So sensible. Always pulling us back before we go too far."
Her hand gives my arm an affectionate squeeze which I barely feel because I'm suddenly so cold. Sensible? Dear Merlin, is that what people think of me? I might be a prefect but I'm still fun, aren't I? Only last week, didn't I suggest we spelt all the stars and constellations backwards in Astronomy, so that Professor Golovnin, whose English and calmness are totally unreliable under pressure, would quickly become hysterical when Perseus was repeatedly referred to as Sue's Rep. The class was a riot and we all learnt a great many new swear words in under an hour.
He certainly didn't think I was sensible. Stephanie must be seeing me through a haze of mulled wine, flickering firelight and that hot blood pumping round her veins. I ignore the persistent internal voice that says a year or so ago I'd have thought that sort of thing pathetically tame.
But there's worse to come. She stands up to leave me and smiles.
"You're like my older sister, you are. Always there to fight my corner. I don't know what I'd do without you."
She's gone back into the crowd, which parts to admit her and include her, while I'm left alone on my chair, thinking of my sister. Thinking of Petunia, who never once fought for me. Am I living in fear too? Have I turned into her? I'm sixteen and a half years old, my hormones should be raging; I should be irrational and moody, falling desperately in love every other week like Lucy Culloden, yet my head rules my heart without dismay every time I have to make a choice. My hands ache to shake Lucy instead of comfort her because we can all read the reports and the rumours in the papers, the people being murdered with no rhyme or reason apart from their status or reputation. We're all scared, all wary of what's out there waiting for us, but there's no need to go to pieces about it, is there?
Lost in my thoughts, I belatedly become aware of a commotion at the end of the Hall. People are craning their necks to see what's going on. There's a tall, dark head in the middle of it and, really, I might have known. Even without James Potter by his side, absent through some mysterious stomach upset which seems to cause amusement rather than sympathy amongst his closest friends, there's no keeping Sirius Black from being the centre of attention. Voices are raised now; one of them female and louder than the music because of the anger in it. And then someone's pushing their way through the crowd, towards me, and I see that striking pale hair again.
"Hannah! I can explain—" Sirius' long legs are making rapid ground on her but he's hampered by having to take a minute to snap "Nothing!" at Peter Pettigrew who materialises in front of him and, like the rest of us, obviously wants to know what the heck's going on.
"I don't want to talk to you!" Her face says otherwise, though. There are plenty of words in the anguish that's written on it.
"Hannah! I didn't think—"
"No, you never do, do you? Oh, get stuffed!" She's off, running towards the staircase, her long skirt gathered and bunched in one hand.
Sirius looks as though he's about to take off after her but then realises there's an immovable object in his way.
"Oh God, Evans, not now, please. I really don't need one of your lectures. Just let me sort this out, okay?"
"Judging from the wine stain down your front, which looks like a thrown glass to me, you don't seem to be doing a very good job so far." I know that voice and I smile inside. Whatever's going on, there's a good chance Remus and I can resolve it without the evening being spoilt. "Besides," he adds, coming to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside me, "I should probably have a say in this as well. As I didn't get one earlier."
There's a definite edge of something in his tone, and despite the wine I can smell on his breath as well as his robes, it seems to have an instantly sobering effect on Sirius who nods, albeit reluctantly.
The elegant shoulders shrug in their velvet. "Your bright idea of trying to find her and make sure she's all right has been a stunning success, Moony. She was spotted over near Hagrid's cabin. There's been at least six people comforting her at different times, and five of them decided to pop back and tell Hannah all about it and what a right bastard I am." He sounds momentarily subdued but the effect is rather spoilt when he says, "Crap timing. We were just about to spend some quality one on one time together."
"Shame for you." Remus is looking at me though now, with friendly and appreciative eyes. "Hello, Lily. You look lovely. I'm sorry I didn't see you earlier to ask for a dance."
"I'm sorry, too." I smile at him, wondering why his answering one looks much more reserved than usual, and thinking how very much I'd have liked that dance. Also how easily he says that sort of thing. Sirius couldn't say it without it turning into a leer, James Potter would try and be suave and sophisticated about it all, while ending up anything but, and Peter Pettigrew, who is now standing just behind Sirius to listen to every word, would stammer and mutter, and then go on and on until you just had to shut him up out of pity.
But Remus makes it sound perfectly natural. As though he really means it.
Sirius clears his throat. "Getting back to the problem in hand while you wonder like the rest of us if those freckles really do go all the way down—" His eyes trail insolently across my chest and, drunk or not, he is going to pay for that later as I can feel myself colouring, "—and it's such a pity James isn't here to see Lovely Evans as well. But I'm not quite sure how to put this mess right."
"You apologise and spend some time with her." Remus raises a cool, unimpressed eyebrow at him. "Like you were supposed to in the first place."
"Yes, but there's Hannah. I need to spen-, apologise to her, too."
"She'll have to wait. It's called priorities."
"Yeah." Sirius sighs, heavily. "I know what you're thinking without you saying it."
"Really?" Remus' lips curl a little. "Then I'm sorry you had to hear that."
I interrupt because I've had enough of this. Being left out. "What's going on? What have you done?"
"Oh, just ballsed things up as usual." Suddenly the Black charm is there in abundance as he rolls his eyes self-mockingly and smiles. At least it is until he adds, "I should learn to be more cautious. Like you, Evans."
"It's got nothing to do with caution," I snap, before I've got time to think it through. "Life's too short for caution. It's to do with knowing what you want and what you can live with on your conscience. If you've got something worth fighting for, and living for, then wanting to protect that at all costs is what's important!"
He stares at me. They're all staring at me. Oh crap. That came from the deepest part of me, and it really shouldn't have because I'm not quite sure what it all means, and I know I've coloured up again to give that fact away.
"I suppose you could always apologise to me, too, while you're making a list." Remus breaks the awkward moment and Sirius' attention, always swift to move elsewhere, switches back to him.
"Don't tell me you've left your sense of humour under lock and key tonight as well?"
"No, I think I'm wearing it." Remus looks down at himself with some disfavour and then grins at me; this time it's the old, reassuring Remus grin that makes my heart flare warmly because he's with me and he's got me over that embarrassing moment. "They're James', by the way. As he didn't really need them while lying face down and groaning, he thought I might like to give them an airing."
"You look lovely, too." I grin at him in return, making it enough of a joke for the comfortable old friends that we are, but hoping he can hear the sincerity in there with it. Because he does. Remus never wears clothes that stand out; doesn't seem to have that many, in fact, but now, in darkest oak brown robes, seeing them against his lighter hair and pale skin, I think he's not quite blending in any more. It might make him uncomfortable but I like it. Wit and compassion covered in subtle brown appeal far more than all of Sirius' flamboyant good looks.
Talking of which, it's about time I got this sorted out.
"So what have you done then, idiot? Double dated and got caught out?"
A lock of long black hair is pushed back behind one ear. He seems to be considering his reply. "Not … exactly. More like … triple?"
"Triple?" I'm staring at him in amazement.
I get a rueful smile in return. "I was going with Jess but she thought she was going to have to miss the Ball because her brother's ill and she was going home. So I asked someone else. Then Hannah broke up with her boyfriend and … well, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. As it turned out, Jess got some good news only yesterday, and I … hadn't got the heart to tell her I'd made alternative arrangements."
"That was big of you," I say coldly and he grins at me, as though we've reached an understanding. What I do understand is that he's a selfish prat. "And you hoped to get away with this how exactly?"
The hands are spread out in apparent submission. "I thought Moony, who hadn't got a date, would keep two of them occupied, while I, erm, spent time with the other somewhere else. Sort of a tandem broomstick flying operation. Right up his street being gentlemanly and turning on the charm. So I thought."
"You didn't ask me. I could have helped." Peter adopts a matey tone, clearly implying we're all men of the world together, here, while his small eyes flit anxiously up to Sirius' face.
The reply is breathtaking in its brutality because it's said entirely without thought or malice. "What, from your normal party position in the corner, eating all the peanuts? I don't think so, somehow."
I can see the flush staining Peter's face out of the corner of my eye but he's a background shadow, indecisive and soundless, because all my attention is on the nice-looking boy, almost a man, next to me. Nice looking? Where did that come from? More to the point, why am I so mad at him, and feel as though he's let me down?
"And you went along with this, Remus? I don't believe it!"
"Good." There's tightness to his jaw, a taut muscle locked in there somewhere. "Because I didn't."
"So what happened?" I look from him to Sirius, who is still managing to look slightly shame faced, slightly bored at the inquisition, and as if it's all a huge laugh at one and the same time, and back again to Remus. "Tell me!"
"What happened is that Sirius didn't quite tell me the plan, either. So I rather blew things."
"I just thought it would be a nice surprise for you." Sirius cuts in, attempting to pat what looks like a rigid brown shoulder, and being forced to let his rejected hand slide away down the arm. "Two woman for an evening when you didn't have a date. That's all."
That's all, indeed. I could smack his stupid, beautiful face because he just doesn't get it, does he? He probably thinks he's done something very nice for his pal, for poor old Moony, with no one to go with to the Ball. Having Sirius Black's cast offs to amuse himself with is a very thoughtful gesture, no doubt. Why didn't he do what Potter did and give him some decent robes to impress all us girls? Now that was a nice thing to do. Instead, I'm staring at Remus' expressionless face, which clearly says I'm hurt, but you're my friend, so it's … okay, and I have to clench my fist to stop it moving for my wand because it absolutely isn't in any sense of the word.
"Anyway, it's mostly fine." Sirius glances down at my empty goblet and frowns. "Jess called me a few names and went off with a Hufflepuff. Hannah's having a bit of a strop but she'll come around when she realises she was the one I wanted. Which just leaves—"
I suddenly realise no one has mentioned the name of the third girl.
There's only one Lucy I know of and anyone less capable of taking care of herself I can't imagine.
"Oh, for—" I bite it off. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"
"Well, she's not exactly fairy-like, is she?" He adds hastily as he sees my face, "I didn't think, okay? She likes Moony. I thought she'd have a few dances with him, and hate my guts, and everything would be all right. I didn't know she was going to have hysterics and run off into the night, shrieking like a banshee, now did I?"
I give him a look which says he ought to have done and he turns around, muttering about needing a drink.
"You're going to apologise to her and make it right!"
"Yeah, yeah, Miss Goody Two Shoes. Stop flapping. God, women!" He gives an exasperated sigh. "I'm going. When I've had a drink."
He turns away and Peter follows him, which leaves Remus apparently watching the dancing, and me watching him.
"You know." Suddenly Sirius is back, and it's rather obvious that the one thing he doesn't actually need is another drink, and worse, he's looking at Remus and trying to do the doomed shoulder clasp thing again. "What with her—" he nods at me "—being so bloody cautious and you doing the same thing as well … Why don't you do something a bit dangerous for once, Moony? Live a little! Do what you want for a change! Would it kill you?"
He laughs, gives Remus a little shake, backs away saying, "You know I don't mean it, mate," and spoils it by laughing again. Peter is laughing as well and though there doesn't seem to be any ill-feeling there at all, quite the contrary in fact, I can't help but feel that I've missed something again. Something else going on around here that I don't understand, that I'm left out of.
It's probably some kind of in-joke they have; they seem to have loads we mere mortals are not privileged to share. Remus is very still as they leave us once more, a slight curl to his lips, but he doesn't look especially bothered. Thoughtful, if anything.
I'm just being paranoid, aren't I? Thinking he'd like to explode because that's what I want to do.
To lighten the mood I'm not sure needs lightening, I say, "I can't believe you didn't hit it off with Lucy. She always falls for the heart-breakers."
It's a relief when he smiles in response because I have no idea why I've just called him that. The damn wine must be catching up with me, as well, because nice boys aren't the ones who ever do the heart-breaking, are they? "Mmm. I don't think I really registered that much with her. She was too busy talking about Sirius' eyes."
I laugh. "But?"
"Yes, that got a mention as well." Now we're both laughing; in fact, I can't stop. This is what I always enjoy so much about Remus, that he gives you his whole attention, listens to you, and always understands what you mean. You don't have to explain, he just gets it.
It's so easy being with him. No pressure when everyone else wants something from me. He's a giver not a taker.
"Anyway, I'm sure she won't think she's missed out on much." The blue eyes are dancing at me in merriment, inviting me in to share this joke, too, but I'm not having this, not for a minute.
"Well then, she's an idiot, isn't she?" I can't have him thinking this; not as his friend. Nice-looking Remus in his brown robes, the kindest boy I've ever met, and Merlin knows kindness is in very short supply around here. And he is lovely; he's funny and he's wicked, and he has amazing eyes himself and fabulous hands with nervous fingers, which shake just a little sometimes, so I've noticed. Although I've no idea when I've done all this noticing.
They shake fractionally now. As he raises a hand to push his hair out of his eyes. I like it when he does that, as well.
I look into the blue eyes again. Just looking; not thinking. Remus looks back. Obviously surprised at first, but it looks like a pleasant one because his then takes on a whole new meaning, which is usually my signal to run for the hills or the girl's dorm. There's no pressure in it, but it's a look all right. One a boy gives a girl to say that he likes looking at her and isn't at all averse to looking a lot harder. And I'm quite happy about it.
Should I be so happy? This is Remus, after all. My friend, who I've never even thought about touching or kissing in a million years.
Kissing? No idea where that's come from. God, I must be really drunk, except I know I stopped drinking before I got that far. Because I'm always sensible, aren't I?
"Right you are." Sirius, Peter, and two accompanying bottles are suddenly loudly back next to us, making me wince. "So are we going then or we just having a quiet moment of contemplation regarding the sinful amongst us?"
"We?" Remus raises an eyebrow, his eyes still on me.
"Yeah, we thought we'd take the prefects along to keep us on the straight and narrow."
"Even the useless ones," Peter adds, grinning at us.
"Shall we?" Remus smiles at me, except it's a different smile somehow, in some way I can't quite pinpoint. "They'll probably get lost without us, after all."
I'm not quite sure what to say suddenly, which for someone who always does is a bit of an odd sensation. Everything's odd tonight and perhaps I should have gone to bed when I had the chance. Part of me would like to say: Can't we stay here, just you and me? I think something's happening, but I don't really know because I don't know how it should feel. Do you know? The other part, the usually cool, sensible Lily Evans part, which has been a bit trampled on in the last half hour or so, is back in force and with an icy dose of unarguable reality to go along with it.
Remus wants to go, doesn't he? Who's the idiot now? I'm misreading the signals, because there aren't any.
"Yes, let's go." I tear my eyes away from him in those brown robes and glare at Sirius, reminding him of his responsibilities. "If we leave it to you, you'll probably make it even worse."
"Such little faith!" He clutches his hand to his heart in mock-hurt and flicks his wand at Peter's bottle. "There. Still, you'd better come along. You and Moony can play Mum and Dad, and keep an eye on the children, and talk about us behind our backs, eh Peter?"
Peter laughs, clearly pleased to be classed alongside Sirius, and waves the Transfigured bunch of red roses at me in salute. I think about getting my own wand out and covering them in greenfly, just to make a point, but I can't be bothered. I'm too busy being … disappointed.
Being ridiculous, that's what I am.
"Come on then!" Sirius sets off and we all obediently troop along behind him in order. Peter, Remus and me, leaving the colour and music and my stupid hopes behind where they belong. Till we get to the heavy door to the garden, which the first two go through and Remus holds open for me, gesturing me to go ahead.
I don't look at him as I go through because I'm not going to till I'm sure I've got things back to normal inside and out. That this wild thudding which can only be my heart steadies down again, and my mouth isn't dry, and I can stop wondering how soft Remus' lips would be if I kissed them.
"Lily." The word is barely a breath.
I glance at him then, just quickly, and he smiles. It's that different, slow smile again. The one that understands me and I think I might, just might, be starting to understand him, too.
Those eyes are glinting at me, but the next words still take me by surprise. "People think you're sensible above all else, don't they?"
I hesitate. "Is that what you think?"
The answer is the same smile but he confirms it in words, as well. "No, that's not what I think."
"Come on!" Sirius bellows from some way up ahead of us and I suddenly can't meet Remus' gaze any more so I gather up my skirt and move into the night.
The air is so freshly welcoming after the heat of inside, a finger of gentle breeze cooling and caressing my spine. The herbs and the flowers are crisp and sweet-smelling, all the scents mingling together, and I can't resist bending down, tugging my shoes off, and then rejoicing in the feel of the springy grass and every small bump on the soles of my feet and in-between my toes. The lights and the music of the castle are brilliant behind us as I follow Peter's outline across the lawns, and all the time I'm conscious only of the boy following behind me, the soft pad of his footsteps, and the rhythm of them matching mine exactly.
I wonder if we're thinking the same. If Remus Lupin really is considering whether my freckles do go all the way down while I'm wondering if his …
Laughter bubbles up inside me and it is glorious. Practical, sensible Lily Evans is doing what no one will believe I can, least of all me, and I'm quite taken with the idea of punching the air with delight.
There's muffled laughter away to our left and I hear Sirius say something to Peter, a crude joke. I can hear voices, male and female, and then a soft moan, another laugh. We're passing right by the ha-ha, creeping by it, and I wonder if it's Stephanie and Aidan in there, and instead of feeling like an embarrassed and lonely outsider as I normally do, I feel part of the happiness that abounds on this night. Part of me knows I'm being stupid – what can Remus do out here, after all? – but my veins are fizzing with excitement and apprehension, and it's both thrilling and intoxicating to be sixteen and a half years old and alive.
It occurs to me that this feeling is certainly worth fighting for. Perhaps I did know what I was on about earlier on.
Sirius stops without warning up ahead and there's a sharp exchange of words I can't hear. For a crazy moment I think he's talking to himself, and then I see a figure I think I should recognise but can't quite make out moving off into the gloom.
I open my mouth to call out and ask who it was but Peter has joined Sirius and is muttering something to him so I wait.
"Snape," Remus says quietly, by my ear.
"Mmm. Keeps following us around lately." The low chuckle doesn't sound that amused. "Not quite sure what the attraction is."
Neither am I because if there's two people Snape can't stand then it's Sirius and James. Normally I know I can ask Remus anything but something in the silence behind me tells me to let it drop. Probably a male quarrel over something pathetic and do I really want to spoil the mood?
"Look out for the trees. Short cut. And don't try the ivy! James will vouch for that." Peter calls over his shoulder, some way ahead of us again, and clearly the worse for wear himself as I hear him laugh at his own nonsense. I quickly duck as several low branches seem to reach out towards me.
I go past one, then another, neatly dodge a third. Probably I should put my shoes back on, though I'm loath to in my current as-one-with-nature state of mind. The fourth one I don't even see coming. There's a little tug on my hair, a definite pull on my scalp when I try to move forwards, and I obediently come to a halt.
"Careful." Remus is there beside me, that comforting, dependable presence again, his hands reaching up. Untangling my hair and possibly me along with it.
"You be careful." I smile invitingly, looking at him from underneath my eyelashes like I've seen other girls do as his hands move in my hair. His breath is on my neck and my shoulder. Warm breath, slightly nervous breath, that makes me want to shiver.
"I'm a little careful with everyone." He doesn't smile, only meets my eyes at the last moment, and says, "There."
I swallow, feeling quite sick. I've got this all wrong, haven't I? I'm ruining our friendship with every wrong word and I hate myself for what I'm doing to him and me. I've taken a step forward to get away, to try and think, when I feel those nervous hands moving again and my hair is gently lifted and pushed to one side.
There. I feel him there.
His lips touch the back of my neck; a place I hadn't even known was mine. A burn of breath seems to touch every pore, every fine hair, and then he's gone, backing up a couple of paces, into the dark and the gloom. The last glimpse I have of him proves beyond all reasonable doubt that this is no confident seducer, no Sirius. Not this half boy and half man watching me with frightened eyes darkened by both want and doubt. This is Remus, and he wants and needs to find out what this means as much as I do.
I understand as well that the choice is mine alone. No hard feelings if I turn him down, he'll probably agree I've done the right thing. And wasn't alone what I've wanted to be all night?
There's a moment's doubt, but it's fleeting, old habits dying hard, and then it's gone.
"Sirius!" I shout it out into the dark as a challenge, the faint dampness of that kiss upon my skin like a living, tingling brand. "Peter! We'll go the other way round! I'm getting torn to bits in here!"
"But it's much longer! You'll be ages! She could have killed me by then!" The cry comes back with an exasperated laugh and more muffled words. Something that could possibly be oh spare me from any more damsels in distress, followed by suit yourself. A snigger from Peter.
I wait till the footsteps die away. Silence.
I wait again. Just to make sure. Cautious to the end, that's me.
I know instinctively that Remus has moved to the right and I follow him. Through the trees, ducking carefully again, and finally through a rough archway in a high, long yew hedge, straightening up once through it, and realising he's in here in this tiny enclosed square and he's waiting for me.
It's still unexpected, somehow, and my surprised intake of breath shocks me as it stabs painfully at my heart, like a cramped stitch shooting across my ribs. No one said anything about this hurting as I let my shoes slip to the ground. He says nothing - which is perfect as what can we say at this stage? - just places a trembling hand over mine at my side, lacing his fingers through my own, and hesitatingly touches first my shoulder, then my hair.
I can feel the tremor in him and I know he can feel it in me. Perhaps I should say something after all, not just leave it to him to always smooth the way for everyone, and sort me out while he's at it, but suddenly his lips are on mine.
Just a touch, but then he doesn't move away. Just waits.
I've been kissed three times by boys, far more deeply, far more intimately, and each time I've wanted it to end before it has even begun. That quick brush of his lips, that warm slide of them over mine, is enough to know it won't be like that with him. Somehow, something's changed inside. Something's been lit.
I put my lips up to his and his come down to mine. All very easy, very gentle, and then I grip his hand far too hard, could easily break it in fact, but I have to do it because now I'm the one who is breaking. I can't stand all this gentleness any longer, not now I have his scent on my skin and in my head, and I kiss him hard, sliding my tongue against his as if extracting a promise.
A promise that this is for real.
I kiss him for dear life, clinging to him, because I've fought for this feeling, fought to get here, and he's just as fierce in return. Understanding what I want because he wants it just as badly.
Eventually we draw back. Trying to regain our breath. Not quite sure I'll ever regain my composure when my lips are wet and swollen, my legs no longer my own. He rests his forehead against mine, cupping my face, stroking it with those long fingers which now seem so still and sure.
"What happens now?" whispers Remus Lupin to me in the dark and the cool of a late June night, where the distant music and lights of the Hogwarts Ball serve merely as the background to what we've found out here.
There are several answers I can give. Easy to blame the wine, our age, or anything else that takes my fancy. Really we should go back inside and kiss goodnight and take this slow. It's happened out of nowhere and that doesn't bode well for the future. We almost certainly need to talk things over. The sensible and cautious answer is usually the right one.
But he already knows the truth. That it's going to be down to him now if he wants to play it like that.
As for me, I just want more.
Reviewers get to go on a bit of supposed nettle collecting with Remus in the ha-ha or just spend some quality time alone in the woods. ;) Either way, I hope you enjoyed this.