Fandom Harry Potter / Hellblazer
Pairing John Constantine/Remus Lupin
Summary The full moon: one magician transforms into a savage beast. Another narrowly avoids being killed. The last quarter moon: the two meet, this time both human, and out of danger. As they discuss spells and curses, both mystical and mundane, magic of an altogether different kind runs its course.
It was the smell of magic that lured John Constantine into that house. The building was derelict, the smashed windows gaping like vicious mouths. Even from the street, John could sense that there was magic inside. Probably it was just someone who thought that tonight was the only night whatever ritual they were performing would work. John’s personal theory about the magic of the full moon was simply that the moonlight made it easier to see. Magic was easier to perform at night, mostly because no one would interrupt you, but you also wanted to be able to see what you’re doing, so the full moon was ideal. </p>
The lock in the front door had been long since broken, so getting inside was easy. The first two floors were empty, but at the landing on the second floor, he paused. The only door remaining on its hinges drew his gaze. Half on the wall and half on the door, breaching the gap between them, was a circular chalk drawing. John stepped closer and inspected it. It was definitely magical - he could sense it - but he did not recognise it. He tried to figure out what it did from the symbols and the patterns, but could make no sense of it. What did it do? Protection, perhaps? Some of the symbols looked a little like those used in a binding spell… And why this room? What was in there, to warrant magic on the door?
John really wasn’t looking for trouble. He was just curious - and, he conceded, a little stupid. He raised a finger and, wondering what would happen, pulled a finger through the circle. The chalk smudged. The magic sapped out of it, as if he had broken a beaker. The door opened.
John stepped through, but stopped at the doorway, not sure what he would find. It was too dark to see anything. The room was facing out over an unlit courtyard, and the moon wasn’t up yet. He dug into his pockets and found a lighter, which he lit.
‘What are you doing here?’ The voice was hoarse and quivering. It was a man’s, a tenor speaking with a southern accent, but there was some edge to it that sounded odd, almost… not human. As John raised the lighter over his head, he made out the lone occupant of the room. He was cowering in the corner, completely naked and shivering with the cold. His ribs were silhouetted under his pale skin. He had pulled his knees up against his chest, and was hugging himself, doubled up around his own nakedness. ’What the hell are you doing here!?’
John raised his free hand to show he meant no harm. Perhaps this man was having a very weird high. It would explain why he was naked in an uninsulated house in November.
‘Hey, sorry… I really didn’t mean to disturb you - I was curious about the, eum, drawing on the door…’
The man’s eyes - an uncommon amber - widened in horror.
‘You broke it,’ the man whispered. ‘No, no, you can’t have broken it - I’ll get out - I’ll…’
‘You were locking yourself in?’ More and more, an uneasy feeling was settling in his stomach. This was something else than a bad trip. John could smell the magic in the room, and it was not pleasant. It was making his skin prickle.
The man grabbed his head and started rocking back and forth.
‘No, no, no, God please…’
‘What’s going on?’ John asked and took a step into the room.
‘No!’ the man cried, throwing his hands up to ward him off. ‘Don’t! You need to get out. Please, I’ll kill you…’
The words were cut short by a scream. The man convulsed. He fell onto his side, and went stiff. John’s first, idiotic impulse was to run over and check that he was alright. His second was to run. Something was stirring inside the man, under his skin. John stood frozen on the threshold, watching in fascination and horror. After all this time, something like this could still bring him to a stand-still. The man’s bones were changing shape. His joints broke and healed. When he looked up at him, his eyes were an animal’s.
It was the gaze that did it. The hunger in the man’s eyes was so palpable that it propelled John out of the room. He slammed the door shut and leaned against it. Moments later, he felt the man - or whatever he was becoming - colliding with it. The door shook and jumped open a few inches. John dug his heels into the floor and tried to keep it shut, while he dug through his pockets, muttering under his breath.
‘Shit, shit, shit..’
Finally, his fingers met the dry texture of a chalk crayon. He grabbed it, breaking it in half in his haste. Still leaning his shoulder against the wall, he started filling in the lines in the circle which he had broken. He didn’t know what kind of magic this was, or how it worked, but he begged the circle to reseal. All that matters with magic is belief, he told himself. Be in command of it. If I think it’ll work, it will.
‘Oh, please let it work,’ he whispered. For a moment, he was afraid that his doubt would make it fail, but then he felt, rather than saw, the chalk lines blaze. The door sealed. He heard the beast within roar with frustration, realising somehow that it would not get to the human on the other side. As John backed away from the door, he heard the sound of clawed paws against the floor, and the low growls of an angered animal.
There was no reason to linger. He turned and fled. The descent seemed to take far longer than the way up. With a gasp of relief he burst out of the house, like a drowning man breaking the surface. He stopped and caught his breath. Still panting, he reached into his pockets. He found his cigarettes, but not the lighter. It was not until now he realised that he had dropped it when that transformation had started. Well, he would have to buy some matches. Worked better than the lighter anyway. He laughed at himself, so intent at comparing different means of lighting cigarettes. The thought, that thing nearly got me, jolted through him. He could not bare to think of it. Instead, he concentrated on having to buy matches, and resolved to go to the pub after that, to calm down.
The next few days, the encounter in that derelict house barely seemed real. John knew it had happened, but it had a nightmare quality to it. In idle moments, he considered what must have happened, but could make little sense of it. This bloke draws the magical sigil on the door - seals himself in - transforms into… something. So he knew he was going to transform? John remembered what he had said - “I’ll kill you”. He had known, alright. Whatever he was turning into - John was not certain what it had been, having just seen the beginning of the transformation - was vicious. It had seemed keen to eat him. John tried not to think about the details of the magical change. Seeing a man’s bones transform while he was awake was as bad as many of the things he had seen.
Instead of thinking about the beast, he thought about the spell. It had been clever, and he had not seen it before. Finding something new always intrigued him. (These musings often led to the thought about what would have happened if he had not been lucky enough that he had managed to mend the circle. How had he been so stupid to rub it out!?)
After a few days, John felt he had exhausted the topic, and tried letting it go. A week later, he had almost stopped thinking about it. He had not expected it to come find him.
He was on his way home from the corner-shop, reflecting that he should take his mind off things somehow, when he heard a call behind him.
Certain it was not him being shouted at, he continued walking.
‘Excuse me - wait!’
A hand brushed his arm. John turned. A slight man in worn clothes was standing just behind him, his hand still outstretched after touching him.
‘I don’t know if you recognise me,’ the man said. He had a pale, clean-shaven face, which looked pinched and a little ill. His voice was a light, pleasant tenor, but it was hoarse, as if he had screamed until his throat was sore.
‘You look familiar,’ John admitted. The man stuck his hand in his pocket and took it out again. John’s lighter was lying in his palm.
‘Thank you for resealing the door.’
John looked at his lighter, dented and scratched, but definitely his, and then into the man’s eyes - amber, the like of which he had only seen once. His gaze was open, somehow vulnerable. In stopping him on the street and handing his lighter back to him, he was exposing some part of him which was usually hidden.
‘No problem,’ John said. He hesitated, then took the lighter out of his hand. He opened it and tried to light it - it did not seem to work very well anymore.
‘I’m afraid it got… bashed around a bit.’ The man put his arms around himself, looking embarrassed.
‘Nah, that’s alright. I think matches work better anyway.’ He put the lighter in the pocket of his trenchcoat. What was he supposed to do now? Just thank the man for giving it back and leave? He found he didn’t want that. He was curious about the spell, and the transformation, and - he realised, meeting that vulnerable gaze again - the man himself.
‘I wanted to ask about the spell, actually.’ The man’s face changed a little - appreciation or surprise that he understood such things, John thought. ‘Fancy giving me some details? Over a cup of tea - or a pint?’
‘I could do with a cup of tea,’ the man said and shrugged.
‘Come along, then. I’m John.’
The man took the hand he was offered and shook it.
‘People usually think it’s a bit odd,’ Remus said.
‘What’s the point of having a name that everyone else has?’ John said. ‘You try being called John.’
To his surprise, Remus laughed. It brought a new light into his eyes.
‘I am, actually,’ he said. ‘John’s my middle name.’
‘Fancy that. I’m sure there’s a joke in there.’
Remus snorted and smiled. John lit a cigarette and offered Remus one. He declined, and put his hands deep in his pockets instead. After a satisfyingly deep drag, John said:
‘So, I’m curious…’
‘You’re not asking about the spell,’ Remus surmised.
‘I’m going to ask about the spell,’ John said, ‘but… I sort of want to know what happened that night. Why you were locked in. Because you did lock yourself in, right?’
‘Yes, I did.’ At once preoccupied, he took his hands out of his pockets and clasped them in front of him, watching them. This seemed to be a sore subject. ‘I don’t know how much you saw,’ he said at last.
‘Enough to tell that you were changing,’ John said. ‘But by the look of you, you changed back. So what happened?’
Remus’ smile had no joy in it.
‘The fact that I change back at the end of the night is the only blessing with that curse.’
‘It’s a curse?’ John said. ‘What kind?’
‘You can’t guess?’ Remus said, looking him in the eye again. Now, they were sharp and appraising. Without having doubted it before, John found himself reflecting that this man was obviously very intelligent.
‘Tell me,’ he said. Remus stopped in his stride. John, eager to hear the answer, turned to face him.
‘I’m a werewolf,’ Remus said. ‘Once a month, on the full moon, I… Change. I am a savage wolf when the full moon is up. It was just rising when you walked in.’
John bit his cigarette, not knowing quite what to say. Then he grinned and said:
‘Your parents had a good sense of humour, naming you like that.’
‘I’ve always found it a little silly. But I wasn’t bitten until I was five, so my name had nothing to do with it…’
John raised his eyebrows at that.
‘You’ve been changing like that since you were a kid?’
‘Damn. That’s terrible.’
There was something new in Remus’ gaze now. John thought he saw gratitude, or respect. Perhaps people seldom saw the tragedy of it.
‘Does it hurt?
‘Yeah, you were screaming like it did…’ He fell silent, feeling suddenly that he might have said too much. They were at the café anyway, so there was a natural pause in the conversation. Soon, they sat opposite each other, with a mug of tea each. Remus took off his gloves and warmed his hands on it before tasting the tea. There was something fragile about him. Perhaps it was the thinness, or the scars. John had already noticed the ones in his face, but the ones on his hands were worse. He had a set of them on the back of his right hand, which seemed to be indentations from a predator’s teeth. John had a sudden urge of putting his hand over that row of scars, which looked like a string of jagged pearls drawn on his skin. Remus must have seen him watching it, because he let go of his mug and tugged at his sleeve.
Not considering the question before asking it, John said:
‘Are you sleeping rough?’
Remus raised his eyebrows, obviously surprised at his directness.
‘Yes,’ he said. His tone was matter-of-fact; he did not seem offended by the blunt question. ‘I managed to get a bed in a shelter the past few days, though. After the full moon, I usually need it - to give myself time to heal, and to wash off the blood.’
‘You said the wolf was savage,’ John said. Remus nodded. ‘So if it doesn’t get anything to hunt…’
‘It turns on itself, yes.’ He swallowed, looking uncomfortable. ‘Hence the…’ He waved his hand across his face, indicating the scars.
‘Yeah.’ They sat in silence for a while. John felt he had to say something about the homelessness - it wasn’t anything he could leave hanging. ‘But then you’re back on the streets?’
‘Yes. Not much else to do,’ Remus said, with a resigned shrug.
‘It’s not easy though,’ John said. ‘Been there myself a few times.’
‘Oh.’ Remus seemed to take this in, and then looked at him, a sarcastic edge to his smile. ‘Is that why you take me to a café and buy me tea?’
‘Gave you the option of a pint, didn’t I?’ John said and grinned. Remus grinned back. It changed his face. It was as if it made his soul shine through the weak flesh. What a stupid notion, John thought, mildly annoyed at himself.
‘Perhaps we can do that later,’ Remus said and lifted his mug of tea to his lips. He was still watching him over the rim of it. It occurred to John that this man was flirting with him. Perhaps that was why he had gone so lyrical.
‘First, explain the spell.’
Remus leaned back in his chair, still smiling.
‘It’s fairly simple.’
‘I’ve never seen it, and I’ve seen a lot of things.’
‘It’s not special or strange, really. I just think you and I come from different magical traditions.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ John said, putting his elbows on the table. He was finding this man more fascinating with every new thing he said.
‘What are you?’ Remus asked. ‘A ritual magician?’
‘I suppose that’s right,’ John said, ‘although I tend not to bother much with the ritual. It’s usually just bollocks, anyway.’
‘Alright,’ Remus said, quirking his lip. ‘You practice irreverent ritual magic, whereas I mostly practice wand magic of the old school, with some other things thrown in. This is one of the other things.’
‘Wands are limiting,’ John said, unimpressed at the mention of them. ‘Why would you use them?’
‘Because it’s a catalyst,’ Remus said reasonably. ‘And because it’s tradition - and I know that’s a bad reason, by the way, but I was taught to use one since I was eleven, so in a way it’s out of my hands.’ He must have caught John’s look of surprise. ‘Oh. You don’t know about that…?’
‘Well…’ John recalled what he had heard. ‘I know that there are groups around the country who do magic like that. I just didn’t realise that they initiated their kids into it.’
‘The ones they think have magical abilities, yes,’ Remus said. ‘They send them off to school to learn.’ He smiled, sadly. ‘It wasn’t a given for me, of course, considering my… condition.’
‘Condition,’ John repeated and thought about it. ‘I suppose that’s what it is.’ Then he shook himself. ‘Anyway. That spell on the door was not wand magic.’
’No,’ Remus admitted. ‘I like to branch out. But the traditional magical community isn’t very keen on anything where you don’t have a wand, or where you have to use a circle.’
‘So why do you disagree?’ John asked. ‘Don’t you have a wand?’
‘Oh, I do.’ Remus reached into his coat and pulled out a polished, foot-long stick. ‘I’m not sure what I’d do if I lost it.’
John looked at it with interest. He raised a hand and asked:
Remus let the wand rest in his palm. John first thought of picking it up, but then just put his fingers against it. Touching it was like receiving a minor electric shock.
‘That’s not bad.’
Remus put the wand back into his inner pocket.
‘I don’t see a reason to scoff at magic just because it doesn’t use a wand.’ Then he looked uncomfortable for a moment. ‘Also, I find it difficult to hold a wand that close to the full moon. Too much transforming into paws, you see. My hands get stiff.’
‘You did pretty well with that chalk.’
‘I can take my time with the chalk. That’s not the case with the wand. Anyway, that spell is stronger than any of the standard wand-spells for locking doors. It doesn’t just affect the lock, but basically makes the door and wall one.’ He took his napkin and unfolded it. ‘Do you have a pen?’
John dug in his pockets and finally found one. Remus started drawing the symbol on the napkin.
‘It’s Celtic in origin.’
‘That explains why I didn’t know it,’ John said. ‘I’ve never been very good at naturey magic.’
Remus smiled at him.
‘That’s the problem with ritual magic,’ he said. ‘It’s all books and blood.’
Again, Remus grinned. Then, his face settled into a concentrated frown as he finished off the drawing. The shapes were intricate, and many times, he slowed down to make sure he got them right. On occasion John saw his hand trembling. Once Remus even clamped his left hand onto his right wrist, a look of frustration on his face. His hand slipped off quickly, and he went back to the drawing, but John thought he had glimpsed something else of the man. He had spoken so factually about being a werewolf, but here was a deep-seated frustration at that fact. He recalled what he had said about the problems he had with holding a wand close to the full moon. How long had he spent on the circle on that door?
‘There.’ He pushed over the napkin. Now John saw that he had drawn it in two separate parts. ‘The left bit goes on the wall, and the right on the door.’
‘And if it’s the other way around?’
‘Then you flip the circle.’
‘Right.’ John picked it up and looked at it closely. ‘Why is it divided?’
‘It has to be drawn on the two parts separately.’
‘And when you close the door, it merges.’
‘So you have to get them to align.’
‘Yes. That takes practice.’
John studied the pattern again, tracing it with a finger. He appreciated the beauty of this spell. He would have to use it sometime.
‘So how do you get out?’
‘What do you mean?’ Remus asked.
‘Well, I suppose that you drew this on the outside of the door, went through the door and closed it. Actually, why didn’t you draw it on the inside of the door?’
‘If the wolf smudged it, it would be able to get out,’ Remus said calmly, almost coldly.
‘And then when you change back in the morning, how do you get out, if you’ve closed the door with this?’ He waved the napkin.
Remus smiled a little.
‘Circumventing a door isn’t that difficult.’
‘Astral projection?’ John suggested.
‘Rather disappearing from one spot and appearing in another.’
‘How the hell do you do that?’
‘It takes practice, and truth be told, it’s very uncomfortable, and not always very safe.’
John leaned back in his chair.
‘You’re not going to tell me that one, are you?’
‘I think it’d be better if I didn’t.’ Remus said cryptically.
‘I can’t persuade you with a pint?’
‘I honestly think that trying to teach you something that might end with you losing limbs would be a bad idea,’ Remus said, but smiled.
‘Fair enough,’ John said. ‘I usually walk everywhere, anyway. Can’t even drive.’
‘Would a pint be on offer even without magical travel lessons?’ Remus asked.
John grinned and pulled on his trenchcoat.
‘Of course it is.’
They left the café and walked towards the pub without talking. At first, it felt companionable, but little by little, John sensed Remus’ silence change character. Soon, he was looking down into the ground, frowning.
‘What’s the matter?’ John asked.
‘You really were incredibly stupid, opening that door.’
John shrugged, not managing to hide his embarrassment.
‘Yeah, well, I’m known for being a bit stupid.’
‘I could have killed you.’
‘I know.’ He took his cigarette packet out of his pocket, took one himself and, as some kind of peace offering, offered it to Remus. This time, he took one and murmured thanks. They stopped. John struck a match, lit his own cigarette and then Remus’. He could not help reflecting on the way that Remus tilted his head, and his lips shaped around the cigarette.
As they started walking again, John asked:
‘Has that happened?’
‘That I’ve killed someone?’
Remus exhaled the smoke with a sigh.
‘No. It got close once, though. Someone was tricked to go into the house where I’d transformed. One of my friends pulled him out just in time. But I could have killed him… killed them both.’
He raised the cigarette to his lips again, as though happy to have an excuse not to talk for a few moments. He smoked like someone used to it - perhaps he had given it up, John theorised, and that was why he had said no the first time. Fleetingly, he wondered whether Remus was trying to surmise things about him too, and watched him when he looked away. He hoped so, but honestly didn’t know.
‘I’ve killed animals, of course,’ Remus said after a while. ‘When I was a teenager, I would transform outdoors a lot - out in the countryside of course - so I got my share of squirrels, rabbits, even deer sometimes. Raw meat is a disgusting taste to have in your mouth when you wake up, I can tell you.’
John made a sympathetic grimace.
‘Sounds it. So, if you used to transform out in the open, why are you locking yourself in derelict buildings in London? Or was that just an act of teenage rebellion?’
Remus finished his cigarette before answering.
‘I don’t dare do it alone. The friends who used to keep me company are dead, or as good as.’
‘I’m sorry.’ John thought of all his own dead friends, and had a feeling that Remus was doing the same. They really needed that drink.
The pub was almost empty. That suited John well - for once, he did not want to run into anyone he knew. He wanted to concentrate on this new acquaintance. The atmosphere felt considerably lighter when they sat down opposite each other in a deserted part of the pub.
‘So, I can’t help wondering…’ John said, tapping a cigarette against the table. ‘How did you find me?’
‘Are you imagining me with a pendulum and a map?’
John shrugged and said:
‘It works for me.’
‘Well, I relied on good old mundane chance,’ Remus said and sipped his beer.
‘But you kept the lighter.’
‘Well,’ he said, smiling. ‘I didn’t say I didn’t hope to run into you, did I?’ John held his gaze, longer than was usually socially permissible between men. Remus was the one to look away, tilting his head and looking down in the table instead. He took another sip of beer, and then looked up again. His manner was subtly different now, with the change of topic. ‘So I’ve told you about my magic. Tell me about yours.’
‘What do you want to know?’ John asked. ‘About magic, or me and the magic?’
‘Both,’ Remus said and smiled.
John started speaking. He talked about rituals he had performed, powerful items he had got his hands on, cheap tricks he liked to use. He recounted his first forays into magic. He almost told him about Newcastle, but didn’t dare. He did not want to remember it, and what was more, he did not want to give Remus one more reason to think he was an idiot. He thought briefly that Remus had admitted his demons, by telling him about the lycanthropy, but that was different. Remus was not in control when he Changed. John was supposed to have been in control, and instead he had fucked up. It wasn’t the same.
Pushing those thoughts aside, he told him other stories instead. Remus listened with a smile on his face. He was an intent listener, John reflected. Sometimes he asked questions, and he laughed when something was funny, but for the most part, he let John ramble on uninterrupted. After a while John started wondering if this was a way of making sure that Remus did not have to talk himself. Perhaps turning into a flesh-eating monster once a month wasn’t the worst that had happened to him, after all. As he threw himself into yet another anecdote, he tried to read this other man. Was he trustworthy? He saw nothing that made him think otherwise. He may have been circumspect in some of his answers, but John did not think it was for some sinister reason.
When John at last ran out of stories for now, Remus asked:
‘How long have you lived in London?’
‘Came here when I was seventeen,’ John said. ‘I just sort of got stuck here. It swallows you up, London.’
‘So you don’t like it?’
‘It’s got the best and the worst, I guess. Most of the time it just sucks out of the rest of the country, though.’
‘Do you ever think of leaving?’
‘I’ve tried,’ John said. ‘Never seems to work. I get drawn back in. What about you? Where are you from, anyway?’
‘You don’t sound it.’
‘No, I know. My parents were both from Cornwall, I went to school in Scotland, and I’ve lived down south most of my adult life.’
‘You’ve been all around the country, then.’
‘What about London?’
‘On and off for the past few years. I suppose I get drawn back in as well.’
John hesitated, trying to decide how to phrase it.
‘What about now?’
‘How long have I been on the streets, you mean,’ Remus said evenly. John nodded. ‘Going on four months now.’
‘What happened?’ He had been wondering, but had not found any one plausible explanation.
Remus took a moment to answer. He turned his glas between his hands, watching it. Finally he said:
‘In the magical world - my magical world, that is - werewolves are about as popular as… lepers. That makes it a bit of a problem, that it shows - with the scars, and the fact that I disappear once a month at a specific moon phase. My landlord realised what was the matter with me and…’ He trailed off, and took a gulp of beer.
‘He did worse than just throw you out?’
‘He and a few of his friends tried to kill me.’
‘Shit.’ It was all John could think of to say.
Remus made a grimace that looked a little like a smile. He had spoken in a peculiar tone, casual and dispassionate. It sounded too controlled. John guessed that if he did not put on that voice, he would not be able to stop himself from letting the horror of it all crash down on him. Purposefully he did not ask how he had escaped, and how close they had come. He was struck by a mental image of Remus, bleeding and on the run, scurrying through London. He pushed it aside and concentrated on him now, sitting opposite him.
‘Things have happened before,’ Remus said. ‘Petty acts of violence and threats and things. It’s usually to do with the lycanthropy, although sometimes it hard to tell. It’s never been that bad before, though. They weren’t even that many, but they felt like a lynch-mob.’
John wished he could do something to comfort him. Remus’ hand as lying on the table, and for a moment he thought of taking it. Instead, he put his hand on his arm. Remus smiled a little, more genuinely now.
‘Was this in London?’ John asked.
‘Yes and no. Wizards keep to themselves. They seldom leave their part of the city. I’m biding my time, in a way. London is big. You can get lost. That’s to my advantage right now.’
‘You think they’d come looking for you?’
‘Maybe not actively, but if they stumbled across me…’ Remus shrugged. ‘The only good werewolf is a dead werewolf.’
He finished his pint. When he put the glass down, his eyes met John’s. His gaze was so direct that John pulled his hand back.
‘Next round’s mine,’ Remus said.
‘What?’ John said, caught off guard. ‘No, mate, that’s fine…’
‘You bought me a pint, so I buy you a pint.’ Then he smiled and said: ‘Let me decide what to spend my money on.’
John shrugged, accepting defeat.
‘Same again, then.’
Remus went over to the bar, and soon returned with two new glasses. They got through them quicker than the first, as they spoke less, and about lighter subjects. Remus asked him about his experience with ghouls, and John persuaded him to talk about various mysterious beings he had encountered around Britain. It was fascinating stuff, but more than once, John felt a distinct sense of culture-shock. When Remus casually said, ‘I’ve never seen a dragon in real life’, he could not stop laughing for a minute. It had taken him a while after that to calm down enough to explain that in his book, dragons barely existed, at least not like actual animals did.
‘Oh, they definitely do,’ Remus said. ‘But there are very few in Britain. Apart from Wales, of course.’
‘Of course,’ John said and went to buy them more drinks. They ate mediocre bangers and mash with this third pint, but the company made up for the quality of the food. Again and again it struck John how knowledgeable this man was, and it was obvious that it was not all from books. He had had his share of experiences. John found himself wondering how old Remus was. Younger than he was, but he could not quite well by how much. There was grey in his hair, but his face still looked young. He guessed that he was probably under thirty, but by how much he could not say.
As John was watching him, he noticed new things - his delicate hands, the curve of his lower lip, the way his thick hair swept over his neck. Sometimes Remus would look him in the eye, so directly that it felt like touching. There was something there, wasn’t there? When he had just started talking to this man, he had thought that he had flirted with him. He wondered if he had stopped doing it, or if John had stopped noticing. Perhaps he had been wrong to start with. Still, he doubted that that was the case. The things which Remus had said which John had noticed had seemed so pointed, as if he was himself flagging them up. He might have looked away when he tried to hold his gaze, but perhaps he was flustered rather than embarrassed. The way he looked at him felt so deliberate. Also, there were the things he had said when he had talked about the hatred of werewolves among the backward magical practitioners he had sprung from. John could not shake off the suspicion that he had not originally meant to compare werewolves to lepers, but to something else. And what was it he had said later? It’s usually to do with the lycanthropy, although sometimes it hard to tell. Was that a hidden message, to be spotted if you knew what to look for? Or was John simply imagining it, because he found him so intriguing?
He jerked out of his reverie. Remus was looking at him searchingly.
‘You seemed very far away,’ he said. ‘What are you thinking about?’
John weighed his options, and tried to decide what lie to go for. Then, with no reasoning behind it, he decided not to lie at all.
‘I was just trying to figure out whether you’re into blokes.’
Remus looked at him for a long moment, his strangely coloured eyes ablaze. John could not read them - was he shocked, or just surprised?
Then his face split into a grin, both pleased and relieved.
‘I was wondering the same about you, actually.’
John smiled back, feeling suddenly gleeful.
‘Well, in that case - what would you say if I suggested that we go back to my place?’
‘I expect I would say yes.’
They held each other’s gazes for a moment longer, then both finished their drinks. As they left the pub, they did not look at each other, but John could sense something between them. It was a charge much like magic. Had it been there before, unspoken, or had it sprung into existence now, when they acknowledged it? He stole a few glances at the man beside him on the way there, and once or twice saw him watching him too. Neither spoke, and neither touched the other. They both seemed aware that they had to keep this feeling tamed until they could unleash it.
John unlocked the front door and together they tiptoed through the hall and up the stairs. He heard his landlady move around in her rooms, and willed her not come into the hall and spot them. She didn’t, and they made it up to the door undisturbed.
‘Here we go,’ John muttered and unlocked the door to his rooms. Remus stepped in first, and John followed. As he closed and locked the door, he watched Remus take off his mittens and stuff them in a pocket. They watched each other, as though they had only sight and not touch. it was Remus who stepped forward, took John’s face in his hands and kissed him. It was a strange, wonderful feeling, taking someone home and then having them make the first move. John dug his fingers into Remus’ hair and kissed him back. He let his trenchcoat fall to the floor, and Remus shed his jacket. They kissed hurriedly, hungrily. They pressed against each other, as though in a disordered dance. One moment, Remus backed John into the sofa - the next, John pushed Remus against the door.
Abruptly, the jaunt stopped.
‘Wait,’ Remus said. He grabbed John by the shoulders, holding him at arm’s length. John, reeling from the kiss, forced himself to focus. ‘Do you really want this?’
‘Why wouldn’t I?’ John asked.
‘I tried to kill you a week ago,’ Remus said, his voice hardening. John shook his head.
‘No, you told me to get out,’ he said. ‘You told me to run. The thing you turned into tried to kill me. That’s different.’
‘I’d say so, yes.’
Remus’ hands fell. At once he looked strangely lost. John had an impulse to hug him. Remus opened his mouth and closed it again, before finally speaking.
‘Usually people aren’t so laid back about what I am.’
‘Well, I don’t mind,’ John said and shrugged. ‘Everyone’s got problems. Yours just… has fur.’
Remus paled, and a somewhat hysterical laugh escaped him. He clapped his hand over his month, but still giggled. There were tears in his eyes.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Sorry,’ he said and wiped his eyes, calming himself. ‘It just… reminded me of something a friend of mine used to say.’
In this unwilling emotional outburst, John thought he spotted a fault-line in him, a fracture like the scars and seams. Again he recalled Newcastle, and now also Ravenscar. The way Remus was visibly trying to pull himself together looked familiar. He knew better than to ask what had happened. Instead, he asked:
‘What do you want to do?’
Perhaps they should just have a cup of tea and chat for a bit, and then call it a night. He could kip on the sofa, and Remus could have the bed. That wouldn’t be too bad, really. It was still company.
Remus looked up at him. Marks still remained of his agitation, but he had fought it off and composed himself. His gaze made John certain that he was imagining something altogether different to tea and a chat.
‘I want to kiss you.’
John spread his arms and smiled.
‘Go ahead. I’m all yours.’
Remus stepped closer. The toes of his shoes touched John’s. He could feel his lips close to his, before he leaned in and kissed him. A new thrill rushed through him. He tried to catch it and hold it. He wanted to feed this flame measuredly, instead of letting it run through him unchecked. Carefully, giving him time to pull away if he wanted to, John put his arms around Remus. He settled into the embrace. The balance shifted subtly, until they found equilibrium, kissing each other.
At length, John broke the kiss, and asked:
Remus nodded. Their faces were close enough that his fringe tickled John’s forehead.
‘Yes - thanks.’
‘Are you sure about this?’
Again, he nodded.
They smiled and kissed again. They drew closer until there was no closer to draw. The embrace broke, only to let them touch instead. Cradling a neck, rubbing a back, tracing muscles, their hands learned each other’s bodies.
They moved through the living-room, into the bed-room. They undressed slowly, one piece of clothing at a time. A few times John sensed Remus’ discomfort at the display of his scars, which patterned his skin. He would pause and ask his permission. Remus gave it, pleasure winning out over unease. By the time they fell into bed, he had lost himself in sensation as John traced kisses across his chest. Their bodies were preoccupied - lips and hands wandering and exploring. It was Remus who pulled off John’s underwear first, although his own soon followed. John had expected this part to be fumbling and maybe even awkward, but any clumsiness was softened and smoothed out by passion. Not even the pause of the condom and cream really seemed to slow things down.
But this was not blurred or blurred at all, John reflected as Remus’ fingernails dug into his skin. Every sensation was sharp and real. Each detail seemed to emblazon itself into his memory. The unscarred skin on the inside of Remus’ thighs; his deft hand covering John’s; the way his pulse throbbed in his arching neck. All these things fixed in his mind, each of them a piece of reality in a series of events that seemed strange beyond measure. How many hours since they had stood in the bitter cold, and that broken lighter had changed hands? There was an alarm clock on the bedside table, but John did not want to look away from Remus’ eyes, which danced with pleasure and excitement. All of a sudden, Remus started laughing. It came in bursts, like his heavy breathing. The sight made John laugh too. They laughed together, joining in yet another transient delight. Remus pulled him down closer to him. They were eye to eye, nose to nose. Their mouths were not an inch apart, panting against each other. Once they kissed, briefly, no more than lips brushing together. There was magic here, coursing between them. John could taste it on his skin, and see it glinting in his eyes. It was there in the rhythm between their bodies, sparking with every point of contact. Just as it seemed as if their movements were becoming predictable, simply clockwork swinging back and forth, or the ebb and flow of waves, it changed. The rhythm became disjointed. The smile melted off Remus’ face, and was replaced by a look of shocked elation.
In centuries past, they had called this the small death. John thought of that as he held his breath and his heart seemed to stall. For a moment he felt as if he had indeed ceased existing. Then the darkness disappeared from in front of his eyes. Spent, he rested his forehead against Remus’ shoulder. He felt Remus running his fingers through his hair. He stayed there for a few more breaths, then pushed himself up, kissed Remus on the lips and pulled out. He felt a little shaky as he got out of bed to throw away the condom and fetch a packet of cigarettes. When he got back, Remus had flopped onto his stomach and was propping his head up on his arms. He looked up and smiled at the sight of him crossing to the bed and crawling under the covers as well. John opened the packet of cigarettes and pointed to it.
‘Mm, yes please.’ Remus sat up, his leg coming to rest against John’s.
John put two cigarettes between his lips and pawed at the beside table, looking for a box of matches.
‘Here,’ Remus said from behind his back. John turned around, and started at what he saw - he was holding out a handful of flames.
‘Now you’re just showing off,’ John said and leaned in to light the cigarettes, taking care not to singe his hair. When he drew away, Remus closed his hand, and the fire was extinguished. John gave him his cigarette, then took his hand to look at it. There was not even ash on his palm. ‘That’s impressive.’
Remus shrugged, then leaned back and smoked his cigarette. They put with the ashtray between them, talking idly, both feeling content. As John lit another cigarette (this time with the matches he had found under the bed), Remus stretched and stifled a yawn.
‘I think I’m going to fall asleep,’ he said, sounding already like he was half there.
‘Be my guest,’ John said and kissed his forehead. Remus hummed and lay down, still watching him. His eyelids were heavy, and his eyes were losing focus.
‘This was not how I thought today would go.’
‘Me neither,’ John said, ‘but I’m not complaining.’
Remus smiled up at him. Then his eyes fluttered shut. Not many minutes later, he was fast asleep. John sat beside his sleeping form for a while, smoking, tracing the patterns of scars on Remus’ shoulders with his gaze. He was starting to feel sleepy too. He finished his cigarette, moved the ashtray to the bedside table and lay down. After considering it, he edged closer to Remus and put an arm around him. Remus shifted in his sleep, moving closer. John wondered if he felt as peaceful as he did now. He rested his face against Remus’ neck, and slipped off.
John woke earlier than he had hoped. First he felt groggy with sleep, and being awake seemed like a terrible idea. When he opened his eyes, he was not surprised to see the naked back of his bedfellow. He had at no point forgotten he was there, but he had not expected how much it would cheer him up to see him there. Remus was still fast asleep. As well he should, John thought. It’ll probably do him good. Carefully, he climbed out of bed and left the bedroom, with plans of a shower and a cigarette.
By the time he came back into the bedroom twenty minutes later, Remus was awake. He was sitting up in bed, the sheets pooling around his waist. His face was turned away, but the set of his shoulders said something about his state of mind.
‘Are you alright?’
Remus jumped and looked around, startled. When he caught sight of John, he relaxed a little, but his back remained tense.
‘Yes,’ he said half-heartedly.
‘I dug out a towel for you,’ John said and threw it on the bed. ‘There should still be hot water left.’ Remus picked up the towel, concentrating on it instead of John.
‘Thanks.’ As he got out of bed, he covered himself in the towel already. Perhaps like this, in the morning after the night, he was even more self-aware about his scars. Maybe they felt more disfiguring in the daylight. John wanted to reached out and touch him, in order to assure him somehow, but he doubted it was a good idea. Instead, he smiled at him and let him pass.
The kettle was boiling by the time Remus came out of the shower. As John made the tea, he listened to him moving around the living-room, picking his clothes off the floor. When he went into the bedroom, John followed him there, a mug in each hand. Remus was only wearing underwear and a t-shirt, and was trying to find his second sock. He looked up from his search when John entered, and mustered a small smile. Even standing on the other side of the room, John was aware that Remus smelled of his soap, a piece of evidence of what had happened between them.
‘Thanks.’ He accepted the tea and sipped it, then put it down on the bedside table and continued looking. John hovered close to the door. He thought of the vastness of London, and the people who were intent on hunting this man down, or simply pick him as an easy target. Around him was certainly not safe, but it seemed better than the cold and the hatred on the streets.
‘If you like, you can stick around for a few days,’ he said. ‘Gather your strength.’
Remus’ smile looked a little more genuine now.
‘Thanks, but no.’
He finally picked the second sock from under the bed, put both of them on and pulled on his trousers. It all seemed so perfunctory.
‘Why are you in such a hurry to leave?’ Even if it wasn’t, it felt like the first real question John had asked. Last night, he had avoided cues for awkward questions, but now he was too curious, even too invested.
Remus froze at the question. He stood with his jumper in his hands, looking at it like he was memorising it.
‘Last night, I told you too much.’
With a swift motion, he pulled the jumper over his head.
’No,’ he said. ‘About magic. About the magical world.’
‘From what I gathered, you barely scratched the surface,’ John said. He had not been bitter yesterday that there were things Remus refused to tell him, but it annoyed him, being told that the little had learnt was too much.
‘You don’t understand,’ Remus said, angrily. ‘If they find out that I told you about that spell, my wand, the school, the magical creatures, the lycanthropy… They’ll put me on trial and they’ll modify your memories.’
‘Trust me, I can hold my own,’ John said.
‘Can you? Really?’
‘I may not know your kind of magic, but I can damned well defend myself.’ He felt angry now, at Remus and at this strange magical world he was from. ‘Why would they do that?’
‘They want to keep it all a secret. And they’re not going to let go off just because you’re a magician. To them, you’re just another Muggle - that is, you don’t do our kind of magic.’
‘Who are “they”?’
‘The people in charge of the magical world,’ Remus said. ‘They’re afraid what would happen if word got out about us. They seem to think that people who don’t have magic might turn on us.’
‘In my experience, it’s usually the other way around.’
Now, Remus’ eyes looked particularly sad.
‘I could tell you some horror-stories about that.’
‘But you’re not going to.’
‘For your own safety,’ Remus said. He sat down and started putting his shoes on.
‘I know how to erase memories too,’ John said. ‘I could just make sure to strike first.’
‘How long does it take you?’ Remus said, not looking up from his shoelaces.
‘I dunno. Thirty seconds? It’s pretty quick.’
‘Their memory spells will be the work of a moment. You won’t have time.’ He sighed and stood up with the air of someone facing up to something difficult. ‘Look. I don’t know what they’d do, if they knew that you’d slept with a werewolf - another man, at that… They might not stop at changing your memories.’
John stepped closer and put his hands on Remus’ arms.
‘Don’t worry about me,’ he said. ‘If you start, you won’t have time to do anything else. It’s a full-time occupation.’
He felt Remus relax a little, if reluctantly.
‘I just didn’t want to put you in danger.’
‘Well, we don’t know for sure if you have, do we?’ John said. ‘How would these geezers know anyway?’
‘Magic,’ Remus said simply.
‘Huh. Should have been able to guess that one.’
Remus smiled a little. Then he sighed, as if giving into an impulse, and stepped closer. He leaned his head against John’s shoulder. John in turn wrapped his arms around him. They stayed there for a long time. He savoured it, knowing that soon, Remus would leave, and he was probably not going to see him again. It was a pity, but he knew there wasn’t anything he could do to change his mind. He recognised something familiar in Remus’ impulse to run. Perhaps he too was - or thought he was - the kind of person who brought death and heart-break to everyone around him. It was better not to get attached.
They pulled apart carefully.
‘Have some breakfast before you leave, eh?’ John said. Remus nodded. He was still looking sad, but a smile flickered over his face.
‘That would be lovely.’
They brought their tea back into the kitchen, and Remus stood leaning against the counter as John fried some eggs he had dug out of the fridge.
‘So what will you do?’
‘I think I’m going to leave London, actually,’ Remus said. ‘Last full moon was a close call. I can’t let it happen again. Just because you were lucky, doesn’t mean that the next person who wanders in during the transformation will be.’
‘Where will you go, then?’ John asked, and flipped the eggs.
‘I was thinking Scotland. I know someone who runs a pub there. Perhaps he could give me a job.’
‘That’s sounds like a pretty good idea. Put that bread in the toaster, would you?’
Remus did so, his mind obviously still on his plan.
‘I don’t know if it is a good idea,’ he admitted. ‘He’s a bit funny, this chap, and… the place is a bit close to home. I don’t know what it would be like going there.’
‘Must be better than sleeping rough in London.’
‘Yes, I hope so,’ Remus said. ‘As long as my old landlord here hasn’t told everyone what I am, it should be better.’
‘And if he has?’ John asked, looking up from the eggs. Remus shrugged, his face unreadable.
‘I suppose it’s curtains for me, in that case.’
They watched each other. It was John who looked away first.
‘If that’s happened, come back here,’ he said. ‘There’s no need taking this lying down.’
‘And there’s no need dragging you down with me,’ Remus said and took the toast out of the toaster.
‘I’m trying to help,’ John said, annoyed.
‘You don’t have to. And I don’t know whether it would make a difference, anyway.’
‘You could always leave the country,’ he suggested. ‘I’ve know some people in America.’
‘I couldn’t afford to go to America,’ Remus said. To John’s surprise, he smiled.
‘Ireland, then. I’ve got a good friend there, who would help you if I talked to him. I’m sure of it.’
Remus went over and kissed him.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I appreciate it. But I don’t want to make things difficult for you - or for your friends.’
‘The offer stands - if things get really hairy,’ John said. ‘No offence.’
They ate their eggs and toast in the living-room in silence. John finished first, and lit a cigarette.
‘I’m glad we ran into each other again,’ he said. ‘I’ve enjoyed it. Learned a lot of new stuff.’
‘The fucking wasn’t bad either.’
‘No, it definitely wasn’t,’ John said and grinned. He got up, found a notebook and wrote down his full name and his phone number. ‘Here. If anything happens.’
‘Thank you,’ Remus said, looking at it and then at John. ‘Constantine?’
‘It’s easy to remember,’ he said, folding up the note and putting it in his pocket. ‘Roman, too.’
‘You didn’t tell me your surname,’ John said. Remus laughed and, as if admitting a secret, said:
John laughed until he started coughing.
‘I’m glad you see the joke,’ Remus said, smiling at his reaction.
‘You should definitely change your name, mate.’
He finished his cigarette, still sniggering.
‘So how are you getting to Scotland?’ he asked. ‘Train?’
Remus shook his head.
‘Have you got a broomstick?’ John said, teasingly.
‘No, I couldn’t afford one,’ Remus said, quite seriously. ‘Although I know how to fly one, of course.’
‘I’m not going to ask,’ John said. ‘How are you really getting there?’
‘I thought I’d do my disappearing act.’
‘Like around the door?’
‘Exactly.’ Remus got up and fetched his coat. John watched him shrugging it on and putting on his gloves.
‘If you were catching a train, I would have offered to walk you to the station, but… I suppose if you’re just disappearing into thin air, you can do that from anywhere.’
‘I could, yes,’ Remus said. ‘I’m going to go outside, though.’
‘Then I’ll walk you there, then,’ John said and got to his feet.
‘You don’t have to,’ Remus assured him, but John was already grabbing his own coat.
‘It looks like I’m going to anyway. Got everything?’
They left the flat and started walking.
‘I need somewhere without people,’ Remus said.
‘What about here?’ There was a deserted alleyway a few yards ahead.
‘Yes, this should do it.’ Remus went down it, and John followed. Once they were out of sight from the street, Remus turned around. He stepped close and pressed a kiss on John’s lips.
Remus smiled back. Then he took a step back.
‘You’d better keep back for this.’ He planted both feet steadily on the ground and took a deep breath. His face became taut with concentration. He exhaled, and started turning on the spot.
Next second he was gone. There was no flash of light or eldritch screaming or any of the things you might expect. Just a faint pop, and John was alone in the narrow alley. He stood watching the spot where the man had disappeared. Then he turned away and lit another cigarette. Walking through the cold morning, he laughed to himself. Magic, and the things it brought with it, would never cease to amaze him.