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the name of the game

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“I know, I know you don’t listen to ABBA, I know that, Remus, I know it and I frankly don’t give a fig about it, because I do listen to ABBA and this is a group activity.” 

 

“Why, why must it be a group activity.”

 

“Because I say so. The fuck kind of question is that.” 

 

The thing about being best mates with Lily Evans is that one winds up involved in quite a lot of things for the simple reason that she wants to and reportedly doesn’t give a fig how that makes you feel. Case in point: Remus might have become a proper swot had she not had the bollocks to buy a spliff off a Hufflepuff and corner him in a tapestry passageway before the quidditch final in fourth year. They stumbled up to the match an hour late, both of them unable to open their eyes all the way, and Remus reckons they haven’t been fully sober for even a moment since. Being best mates with Lily Evans is the sort of thing that sounds nice when you’re both lonely first years, then fucks you up for life.

 

“Cheer up, Moony,” James says, reaching up and up to scruff a hand through Remus’s hair. Remus bats him away. “It’s not like we’re making you listen to The Who.” Remus hates The Who on principle. “Be a mate, won’t you?” And this does resonate: James has been on a borderline Arthurian crusade for The Album from the moment of its release until now, it’s fucking March and the record came out last December. It’s almost impressive it took James as long as it did, considering James has a niffler-esque sixth sense for record-finding i.e. he shagged the girl who works the counter at the record shop in the Hollow specifically so that he could call in favors for the rest of his merry life and it worked: Hattie (no tits, spectacular legs, a solid eight in the right lighting) set aside a copy of The Album the moment the shop received a shipment. It’s so convenient an arrangement that James reckons it was well worth the kick in the dick he got when he mindlessly, Jamesishly, told Hattie he was buying the vinyl for a bird. Remus has to agree with James’s judgment anyhow: Lily was so pleased to receive it that she kissed James on the spot, in the middle of the Common Room at seven in the morning with coffee breath and sleepy eyes and enough vigour to wake Davy Jones. James was so beyond overjoyed he started laughing into her mouth, loud and unabashed. It wasn’t a long snog, but Remus honestly felt the earth shaking through the soles of his shoes; something enormous had fundamentally shifted, like fate or something, aligned planets, a dentist visit with no cavities. 

 

It was fucking romantic. Bastards. Absolute bastards, Remus can’t stand either of them, James has just-shagged hair all the time now. Remus can only share so many looks of suffering with Sirius before Sirius realizes it’s not commiseration Remus is sifting for in those quicksilver eyes but rather consolation, rather some sort of succor and substance, something to soothe that old fucking ache in the pit of his stomach, God, sometimes he feels like the groove and canyon glaciers leave, still chilled down to the lowest layers of his crotchety and abused selfhood, but Sirius has these warm hands, square and bony through that brown skin, he looks like the sort of thing that is gilded and gilds—the sort of thing that would touch Remus and turn him into Ozymandias’s dream boy. Like a statue, an old statue, a Renaissance one, a dissertation in shard-like lines and the color beige, but better because Sirius’s nimble hands, his evergreen hands, would have had him. Insane. Anyway, Remus is insane, so he simmers in his certifiable madness and allows Lily to push him onto the bed that dominates her special head girl’s single dorm, he allows her to drop the needle on Eagle, and he very pointedly does not look at Sirius where he sits in Lily’s bay window, where he reclines in Lily’s bay window like he’s modeling for a porno magazine, and not even a classy one, but rather the sort where everyone seems to be making contrived moans and wearing leather and fishnet, smudged makeup and lots of pierced tongues. 

 

Not that Remus has seen many porno mags. He just sells filched ones to whoever’s willing to buy. 

 

“This is a great bloody song,” Lily says feelingly, eyes closed, earrings jangling and wild curls bouncing as she bobs along to the beat. “Something about their voices feels like getting clobbered by a wave in the sea, but peacefully. Like, I don’t mind the fact that I’ve been ground against the sand and half-drowned. You know?”

 

“No,” Sirius says from the window, and he is lying for the sake of being a contrarian, and they all know it. 

 

“I sort of do,” says Peter from the floor. “Sometimes destruction is peaceful.”

 

“Yeah, but you’re an arsonist,” Lily says. “That makes it different, fundamentally speaking.”

 

Lily’s door smacks open. In the gaping frame stands frazzled prefect Lottie-or-something, something old and quaint like that, and Remus only knows her name because she has a tendency to throw doors open in search of Lily precisely like this, wringing her hands and shifting her weight. 

 

“Here we go,” Remus mutters.

 

“Lily?” she says in her whiny, anxious soprano. 

 

“No no,” Lily says. “Remember how this works.”

 

“Right,” says Perhaps Lottie. “Erm. James?”

 

“Yes, Kitty?” James says, polite as he always is to the prefects, continuing to twirl Lily under his arm. 

 

Kitty, Remus mouths. Huh. Somehow his eyes have found Sirius’s just as he mutters the name again, distantly baffled, which makes a blister of a smile break across Sirius’s lips. He turns towards the window, hiding it.

 

“Well, it’s just that those sixth years—”

 

“The Prewett twins?” James says. He scrubs a hand tiredly over his face. Lily twirls herself right into his side, looping an arm around his waist. “Yeah, alright.”

 

“They’re, erm,” says Kitty. “They flushed a lot of dungbombs down the toilet.”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Lily says. “I don’t know how many more times I can emotionally handle them pulling the same prank. It’s not funny. It was never funny.”

 

“It’s sort of funny,” Peter says. Remus rolls his eyes. “They call it The Great Shit. It’s sort of funny.”

 

“For that,” James says, grabbing Peter by the collar and wrenching him to his feet like a mother cat her young, “you’re coming to reprimand them with us.”

 

“Karma,” Lily says smugly, prodding Peter’s nose as he scowls and whines, “You always make me come along, and you always make me tell the story of the dungbomb accident.”

 

All it takes is the mention of it to set Remus off snorting. Sirius, with a new and yet-unlit fag perched between his teeth, barks his impossible laugh, the one that sounds so surprised to jump from his stomach to his throat, surprised there’s mirth to be had and that he can have it, and says “To this day I’m stunned you came out of that cabinet with both of your bollocks attached.”

 

“I mean, we haven’t checked,” James says, pausing in the doorway, one hand on the frame, fingers tapping. “We could check, Petey.”

 

“You could not,” Peter says, grabbing tight to his belt.

 

“Erm,” says Kitty, somehow more shrill. Remus wonders how rude it would be to bury his head under Lily’s pillow, or perhaps attempt apparition in a warded area and splinch his ears clean off. “The toilet was really… spouting, when I left.”

 

“We’re coming,” Lily says, grumpier than anything else, shooting a longing look at her record player, still spinning, something jaunty now, synth heavy, honey I’m still free, take a chance on me.

 

“We could wait for you,” Sirius offers, smoke pouring from his lips, Christ, Christ, Remus has to look away, he locks his eyes on the ceiling, on that one stain that looks like Sagittarius, there’s Ascella, there’s Rukbat. Take a chance on me echoes in his skull-space. Ha ha. Sometimes he thinks he is well and used to Sirius and all of his looks, the liquid way of him, the hips and the incisors and the deep blue glint behind his eyes, the shadow of freckles across his nose after time in the sun, and then he does something inane, he scratches his brow, he takes a pull on that fag like Venus’s first greedy breath above the waves, and Remus forgets how to see, how to blink, how to do anything at all, he becomes a mollusk, an anemone, he becomes the bacteria on the anemone with a memory of personhood and no idea how to return to it. What a fucking lame song to play in the background of a biblical, rib-scraping sort of silent meltdown. Remus does not listen to ABBA. 

 

“Don’t,” Lily is saying to Sirius, James is tucking one of her curls behind her ear and she is both batting him away and looking sickeningly infatuated, “don’t bother, I’ll have to restart it anyway, I need to listen to it all in one go or it doesn’t count.” She slips through the doorway and James follows, a dedicant, only pausing to toss a strange look over his shoulder at Sirius—most of James’s looks are strange, but this one is all suggestive eyebrows and toothy madman grin—before the door shuts behind the group of them all, leaving Sirius and Remus in the room alone together.

 

Remus is not one to break into histrionics over anything, but Sirius Black might just be the thing that makes him. Mostly because he has promptly and immediately dropped himself on Lily’s bed beside Remus, so close that their hips scuff together, that Remus can smell the inconceivable hint of black pepper that has always pooled around the pulse in Sirius’s throat, and Remus has to hold his breath to keep from doing something absolutely insane like rolling over and digging his nose into the nape. He and Sirius have always been touchy—the first day they met, Remus broke Sirius’s nose for using the M-slur and he supposes that punch was the start of some great and terrible symbiosis that has yet to snap apart despite straws and camels et cetera et cetera—but sniffing him would probably cross a line. Several, really. 

 

Sirius has his head back, settled into Lily’s pillow. The fag in his mouth is still unlit. It wags as Sirius says, “You hate people, don’t you?”

 

“Only annoying ones,” Remus says, “and no more than you do.”

 

“That’s fair,” Sirius says, one corner of his lips quirking. It’s true, more than it’s fair: James is the one who likes people, and he’s collected his little arrangement of assorted douchebags and outcasts like crystals for his windowsill. Remus can’t help it; he snaps to spark a flame on the tip of his thumb and lights Sirius’s fag for him. Sirius takes it in stride, catching the length between two fingers and looking at Remus through the smoke. It would be extremely fucking sexy, if not for the way he inhales too hard as their eyes catch and starts coughing like a novice, or rather like Peter. “Jesus Christ.”

 

“I haven’t seen you cough on smoke since we were fourteen,” Remus says, watching, “and James got a pack of fags off that one bird—”

 

“Oh, what was her name?”

 

“I don’t remember,” Remus says, starting to grin, every frayed nerve-ending from the soles of his fucking feet all the way to his scalp is shouting, “I have no clue, but James—they went into a closet, right? It’s the girl with the closet—”

 

“The one who stuck her hand right down James’s pants, bless her—”

 

“—and he was so surprised he knocked the pair of them right to the floor?”

 

“Freaked out so bad she gave him a fag to calm him down,” Sirius says proudly, fondly. “We’ve all been smokestacks since. Ah, Jamie. Where would we be without you.”

 

“Able to take the stairs without seeing stars, for starters,” Remus says, and Sirius grins, takes the fag from his mouth with two long fingers, and turns to blow the smoke away. When he looks back, Remus is treated to the miracle of their proximity once again. Eyelashes, it’s all eyelashes and Sirius’s front teeth with that hair-breadth gap between them and the cleft in his chin. It’s neck bleeding into collarbones into shoulders and solid arms, and Jesus Jesus Christ. “Can we put on some Modern Lovers or something.”

 

“I’m not touching the sacred record player Lily inherited from her very dead father,” Sirius says, but the corner of his eyes crinkle with the smile he’s failing to tuck away and Remus is privy to the eternal and resplendent bafflement that comes with the knowledge that he has the ability to make Sirius do things like that (smile smile smile again). “Big old prude. Musical prude, Moony, you’re a fucking joyless sack of soggy opinions and jadedness, you’re eighty-seven and you’re seventeen and the world does not have it out for you, you don’t need to constantly play your depressed little woe-is-me game, so would you appreciate the depthless jaunt of ABBA for twenty miserable fucking minutes with me, please.”

 

“With you,” Remus says.

 

“Yes,” Sirius says staunchly. It is at this point that he jabs his fag between Remus’s lips too hard and it hits one of Remus’s front teeth. The paper is soggy. He takes the length between two knuckles and inhales, following the Floo-bottom taste down the length of his throat as Sirius continues, “I’m fairly certain, reasonably certain even, that my presence is enough to turn ABBA from something people of the same ilk as Remus Lupins scorn into something that feels somewhat nostalgic and, dare I say it, bearable.”

 

“I don’t understand how Lily likes it,” Remus says. He passes the fag back to Sirius, watching him attach his mouth to the spot where Remus’s had been. “It’s, erm,” he is still staring at the fag, at Sirius’s tendons cutting great walls in miniature through the spread of his hand, “remember how she was friends with Snape?”

 

“Do not fucking dare compare Lily’s brief stint as a fasc apologist with enjoying ABBA,” Sirius says, and they are both laughing so hard that the room tosses their voices back, Remus is curling over his knees like this mirth is the fucking womb he’s shoving himself out of all new, tender flesh like an overripe apricot. “In her defense, she didn’t know he was a fascist at the time. She thought he was a fascist sympathizer, which is obviously so very different.”

 

“We’re so lucky she loves us,” Remus says. “Remember how she hexed him?”

 

“Poppy had a field day reversing spells layer by layer, yes I remember, you sentimental bastard. It was the best day of my young life, yes, I remember Lily destroying Snivellus Snape. Stupid question.”

 

Remus is still snickering, feet planted flat on the mattress and knees bent up like those arced things at the muggle skate parks, and Remus can imagine plainly the way his heart will come clawing out his mouth and ride the curve up towards the ceiling, make a run for it, like that Beedle story, the one Lyall used to tell him before he was bit and Mam picked him up and carted him off to Ireland. Hairy. The heart was hairy. Remus reckons his heart is calcified, pure jade, or else a Frankenstein’s beast of eggshells and wicker and blood-stained tissue and pink salt and graphite and tomato roots. He reckons this, and he looks once more at Sirius, once more into the fucking breach, and he thinks with equal certainty that his heart cannot be made of anything other than sodden meat, roadkill and the streak of pink guts along the pavement. ABBA has taken it upon themselves to start a third song. One chance to take that never comes back again, you and me to the end. Fuck you, ABBA. There’s more than one chance. There always is. “Fucking cliché platitudes.”

 

“You’re insufferable,” Sirius says. He is looking at Remus, and looking at him. Remus feels filleted, necrotic, like letting a wound fester and showing up at hospital too late and watching the doctor look at you like this is your fault. “You’re insufferable,” he hands the fag to Remus who pulls like he’s starving, “and did you know there is green in your eyes.”

 

“Yes, Sirius, I know there’s green in my eyes,” Remus says. He is losing his mind. “My—my mother has green fucking eyes, you know this, you met her, you spent half a summer helping her plant fucking cabbage.”

 

Sirius huffs. He shoves Remus flat on his back and then perches over him like Olivia Hussey over Leonard Whiting’s corpse in the Capulet crypt. Two friends and two true lovers. Fuck you, ABBA, fuck you kindly. “It’s—this light is shitty.”

 

“Sirius,” Remus croaks. 

 

“What,” Sirius says. He is holding Remus’s face in his warm hand, studying. Remus is acutely aware of the fact that he has skin. “These freckles, too, I didn’t know they went all the way up here.” He runs a thumb over Remus’s eyebrow. Remus is about to start fucking panting or something. “Maybe I need glasses, Moony.”

 

“Maybe,” Remus says. “You’d look a proper swot.” He clears his throat. Sirius is touching the bridge of his nose, he is leading the fag still in Remus’s hand to Remus’s mouth and Remus has half a mind to thank him because he forgot he was holding it. He has that focused dimple to his brow, his free right hand twitches like it’s looking for a sketch pad, a quill, a napkin and pencil, anything he can find, and Remus says, borderline hysterical, smoke softening the train-tilt abrasive sound of him, “What are you, what are you doing?”

 

Sirius is off the bed so quickly, off Remus so quickly, that Remus feels whiplash without having moved. “Erm,” Sirius says. He runs a hand roughly through his hair. A new song has started. I was an impossible case, no one ever could reach me… but I think I can see in your face there’s a lot you could teach me… He is stood there, beautiful and wild-eyed, and Remus can feel every glug-rush of his heart compressing and the blood shooting through it, because of it, because the way Sirius looked at him is the way Remus feels, and isn’t that backwards, that Sirius is doing the looking and Remus the feeling just this once. What’s the name of the game? Does it mean anything to you?

 

“Sirius,” he says. “Sirius, look at me.” Sirius won’t. He has his fingers knit at the base of his neck, elbows bent and wide like he’s looking to catch a wind and float the fuck away, a tree seed. Can you feel it the way I do? “Sirius, c’mon.”

 

“What?” he says, sharp, turning towards Remus, and Remus feels eye contact like a jolt, like clipping wires onto pipes or whatever, however muggles jumpstart cars, Mam tried to teach him once but he’s learning more about it right now in this moment with Sirius looking at him than he did throughout all of that sun-sodden afternoon. “What, Remus?”

 

Remus feels a smile spreading across his lips. “I don’t mind this one,” he says.

 

Sirius hands are lowering so, so slowly. “Yeah?” he says.

 

“Yeah,” Remus says. He nods, hair flopping in his eyes. “Yeah, like, I really like this one, actually, even if it’s fucking weird, even if it came from ABBA, which is objectively a bad thing to come from, I, erm, this one is really good, it’s really good and I—”

 

“This subliminal messaging is, like, so shitty, Remus—”

 

“I’m saying—I’m saying,” Remus is saying nothing, clearly, he is saying everything, clearly, he stubs the fag on Lily’s headboard and drops it in the ceramic ashtray on her nightstand without looking, it is rote, everything is rote and wrote other than this thing he is saying and not saying, “I’m saying that if you look at me that way again and—search for my fucking freckles, Sirius, I am going to jump your fucking bones—”

 

“You should’ve,” Sirius says, and he is grinning, he is grinning like moonrise and the promise of bloody teeth, “you should’ve, I’ve been—I’ve only been imagining it every time I shower since I discovered what pricks are for, I’ve only been writing Sirius Lupin Sirius Lupin Missus Sirius Lupin in the margins of my class notes since we were fucking twelve—”

 

“Come—here, come here,” Remus says, then negates the request by standing up himself, he reaches for Sirius at precisely the moment Sirius reaches for him and after that it’s a kiss, literally a kiss an actual fucking kiss and Remus has had some of those before, he’s done more than that even, but this is different intrinsically because it is very, very Sirius, it has teeth and Sirius’s shocked too-sharp breath through his nose and the remnants of smoke on his tongue (his tongue!!!) which is in Remus’s mouth, there are a lot of things Remus does not like, he does not like ABBA or shrill prefects or homework or war or cold chips or Lord Byron but he likes Sirius very much and so he sticks his hands up the back of Sirius’s shirt and pushes him against one of Lily’s bedposts and kisses him as good as he knows how, kisses him like he’s trying to make that unruly thing in his stomach pass from his mouth towards Sirius’s back teeth so Sirius can chew and swallow or else speak it, Sirius is braver than Remus is and he’s likely better at this, too, God, Remus thinks Sirius is spectacular at this, but that might just be because Sirius’s hand is curled along on the side of his neck like a scarf or a tender fucking touch, and Remus can smell desperation, he can smell desperation, he smells it on Sirius. It feels like everything he's ever wanted coming up like lavender in his cupped palms. 

 

When he pulls back, it’s to look at Sirius, and Sirius has this absolutely stupid face on his face, it’s the stupidest face Sirius has ever made, it’s all infatuated and sodden like he’s James or something, it’s the best thing Remus has ever seen. He is going to love Sirius every day for the rest of his life, it turns out, and he should’ve known it sooner. Your smile and the sound of your voice, ABBA says, and the way you see through me… got a feeling, you give me no choice, but it means a lot to me…

 

“What,” Remus says.

 

Sirius bursts into laughter, hiding his face in Remus’s nape like a fucking—like he’s shy, like Sirius has ever once been shy, and it is a beautiful thing to have Sirius’s barking, throaty laugh hit his skin like a dry July breeze, like a song, some other song, some not-ABBA-song but also “God,” Remus says, “is this, like, our tune now?”

 

“Remus,” Sirius says between peals of laughter, he is holding Remus’s waist between those two hands of his and Remus is looking at the ceiling and wondering if some sort of God is going to peek at him, shoot him a thumbs-up and wink, “Remus, you—are so fucking… crotchety, and delightful, you fucking delight me, can I kiss you again?”

 

Remus groans into Sirius mouth, Sirius is still laughing like he’s full of fucking bubbles and ABBA has the audacity to keep singing only maybe Remus truly does not hate this song as much as he thought, it is making him feel very lightheaded and good, very good, Sirius’s hands are deep in his back-pockets and Remus’s hands are probing the step-slip of Sirius’s narrow ribcage where he knows there are moon phases tattooed in an arc, maybe Sirius has been telling him he wants him for longer than Remus knew, Remus drags his lips over Sirius’s jaw, down his throat, and says into his collarbones, “You should’ve fucking told me with your words, you know what I’m like, I would’ve never figured it out, you should’ve told me—”

 

“The name of the game,” Sirius sings along with the record, head thrown back, breathy, there is something ferocious rising in Remus’s stomach, “does it mean anything to you?”

 

“It means a fucking—lot, a fucking enormous amount of lot—”

 

“Me too,” Sirius says, hunting for Remus’s mouth, another kiss, “me too,” muffled against his lips. “God. We’re stupid, we’re stupid, we could’ve been doing this forever.”

 

“I would’ve traded all my firsts,” Remus says, horrifically honest, there is something about this moment making him feel absurd and high, “all of them, I would trade every single one of them to have been with you.”

 

“Well, we’ll make new firsts,” Sirius says, rubbing his hands up Remus’s spine, down again, he’s touching everything like it makes him hungry, he is in Remus’s arms, “new firsts, I dunno, have you had sex to Blue Öyster Cult yet?”

 

“Have I—” Remus bursts into laughter. “Don’t Fear the Reaper. No Sirius, I have not shagged to Blue.”

 

“Then we have our first first for the list,” Sirius says, grinning, leaning to keep eye contact as Remus laughs. “Green in your fucking eyes. Who knew.”

 

“Me,” Remus says. “Jesus Christ.”

 

“You should’ve told me.”

 

“About the green?”

 

“Yes,” Sirius says with a shout of laughter, neither of them have laughed this much in fucking ages, the world is bleak, fucking bleak, but this moment is so sudden and bright that Remus laughs too, shaking his head, “yes, stop laughing, Moony, Moonshine, Moonbeam, Moonboy, you should’ve told me about your green eyes.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Remus says, “and—and I have a birthmark on my hip, this patch of freckles that always comes up in the sun on my ear—”

 

“Your fucking ear.”

 

“—and I had Lily give me a stick-and-poke on my—” he moves the overgrown ends of his mullet off his neck and shows the little line of stars he knows is crooked and fading already, “look, look, it’s—”

 

“You bastard,” Sirius crows, turning Remus fully around to look at it, “I hate you. No I don’t, I’m in love with you, like, hellishly in love with you, you have Canis Major on your neck but sideways—”

 

“So I could hide it under my hair,” Remus says, beaming at the door, beaming at the door which is why he knows before Sirius that it’s about to open. With a shock of panic in his gut he lurches out of Sirius grip and is halfway across the room when Lily, Peter, and James come pouring through, arguing loudly about something, Remus doesn’t care, he doesn’t care at all, Sirius is still leaning against the bedpost looking waterlogged or shocked or something, rattled, possibly poisoned, and Remus pretends to inspect this fucking candlestick of Lily’s that has the Virgin Mary on it only the Virgin Mary is in lingerie and holding a handgun, everything feels absurd and Remus is muffling laughter in his sleeve.

 

“Well,” Lily says, huge, she is 145 centimeters tall and she is enormous of spirit and the room is so, so full of her now that she’s back, her gold aura pressing against Sirius’s unbelievable silver one, this room is so very much and Remus turns away from Lily’s desk so that he can soak it all in, “how did we like side one, then?” 

 

Remus hadn’t even noticed it finished. “I liked the last song, actually,” he says offhandedly. “A lot, I liked it a lot, it might be one of my new favorites, truth be told. How were the stinky toilets?”

 

“Awful,” James says, “but mostly because Peter told the dungbomb accident story completely wrong—”

 

“Great,” Remus interrupts, there is something struggling to burst out of him. He crosses his arms, drops them loose, and then wrenches his hands through his hair, giggling helplessly. 

 

Lily is looking at him like he’s been drugged. “Did you—are you, have you cracked up? Are you high, do you have a fever?”


“No,” Remus says. He meets Sirius’s eye for only a moment, for a blinks’s space, and has to look away to keep from dropping to the floor. “No, I’m great. Start side one all over, would you, Prongs? I want—I want you to hear this song.” Remus is alight. “It’s a good one. I think—I think you’ll really like it.”