The Cadence of Part-time Poets - Chapter 1 - motswolo - Harry Potter (2024)

Chapter Text

Magically bored,
On a quiet street corner;
Free frustration,
In our minds and our toes;

Quiet storm water,
M-m-my generation;
Uppers and downers,
Either way blood flows;

Inside outside, leave me alone,
Inside outside, nowhere is home;
Inside outside, where have I been?
Out of my brain on the five fifteen!

- “5.15” The Who, 1973

Monday 1st September 1975

The flat only had two bedrooms and certainly housed more than two bodies, but somehow Remus still woke up alone. It wasn’t his room of course, but he felt more at home there than he had anywhere else in a long time.

Like most summer nights in the flat, he’d been sweating in his sleep and his t-shirt was plastered to his back, outlining a skinny frame and a boney spine in the mirror that leaned up against the closet doors. At some point during the summer a small crack had unceremoniously appeared in the corner of the mirror. No one had said anything about the crack, probably because there was nothing to be said; even if the mirror had bestowed a curse of seven years of bad luck upon one of them, it wouldn’t matter. The boys would just split the bad luck between them until it was nothing more than a few rainy days, and those were common enough in London.

Remus blinked in the bright morning light that peeked through the broken blinds. He’d fallen asleep with one shoe on, apparently, and came to the conclusion that he’d lost the other somewhere in the flat as he collected his belt and remaining sock from the floor. Both the flat and the bed he’d woken up in belonged to Tomny, which should’ve been a cause for alarm, but really only meant that the older boy had most likely followed some bird elsewhere for sleep and other machinations. Probably Cheryl or Donna. Just because Tomny was always inviting people over didn’t mean they had to stick around his place.

He found his other shoe tucked up under Doss’ head in the flat’s shabby living room. It was still early hours as far as the London East End boys were concerned, but Remus had other issues to contend with apart from the lateness of the morning and the nauseous feeling in his gut. Lyall was going to kill him, if Giles didn’t beat him to the punch.

The only other person up with the larks was Seesaw, so named because he was blind in one eye. It was thanks to that, that he didn’t notice Remus until he’d stepped right in front of him in the kitchen.

“Mornin',” said Seesaw, as he nursed his cup of coffee-and-whisky.

“Mornin',” Remus mumbled, almost wishing he’d had time for a mugful himself. He and Seesaw had never been particularly close, but had lent each other a few quid or a spliff here and there and they’d always been good for it. “Tomny around?”

Seesaw shook his head. “Had summink to do early. Said he would be back soon to see yeh off though.”

Remus ran his tongue across his teeth. His mouth tasted terrible. “He don’t need to. He saw me off last night.”

“Headin' out then?”

“Yeah, got sumwhere to be.” Should’ve been there last night, really.

“Well,” Seesaw said, raising his mug, “cheers.”

“Cheers,” Remus said, before shoving his hands in his trousers and walking out the front door of the dodgy little flat.

He didn’t regret not saying goodbye—they’d said plenty of goodbyes the night before while hopped up on God knows what. Generally it was just a lot of messing around while they dared each other to do stupid things like dangle from the third floor balcony by their thumbs or play a round of chicken that involved setting an apple atop one’s head and letting your mate throw a dart at it. Remus almost always got off easy thanks to Tomny, but even he wasn’t immune to shotgunning a beer or getting pantsed. Sometimes it wasn’t all that bad to be fifteen.

The closest phone to Tomny’s flat was three streets away and more often than not had a bum sleeping inside. Laces still untied, Remus made the trek on his own as he always did, though he was lucky this morning; no bums. He put the change in the meter, trying not to wince when the dial tone made his already present headache throb even harder. Remus always carried enough shrapnel on him to make a call or two, and more than once he’d been jumped for the couple of quid. That had stopped happening since others had started to notice him hanging around Tomny. Going along with a group like his meant he didn’t have to worry about anyone eyeing him up in the street like a bag of meat. That would change though—East End reputations were only maintained as long as people saw you out and about. By the time he returned next June, he’d be bottom of the barrel again. Less, if Tomny didn’t welcome him back.

Though, Remus couldn’t imagine why he wouldn’t.

Giles always picked up on the third ring, except this time the phone clicked and hovered over open air. He might’ve thought that the call had been dropped completely if he didn’t hear the shallow breathing on the other end.

“Alright, where are you?”

“Mornin’ to you too, Gil,” Remus mumbled, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Come pick me up?”

“You’ve really gone and done it this time, lad.”

“Yes, what time is it?”

“Just tell me where you are, little buggar.”

“Meet me at the usual.” Remus hung up the reciever and rubbed his face, letting out a shallow moan. It was bleeding hot in the booth and he still felt sick from the night before but a quick check of his pockets told him that he still had his cigarettes at least. He’d just lit one of the fa*gs off his last match when a slam came from the booth’s door behind him. Nearly dropping the cig, he spun around, ready to give whatever dickhe*d hell for picking a fight so early in the morning, but when he saw just who’s ugly gob was staring back at him, his shoulders relaxed.

“Orright, Lu?” Tomny called, squinting at him through the scuffed glass.

Remus waved him back and pushed the door open, stepping out onto the street corner. “You’re such a wanker.”

Tomny grinned back at him, blue eyes squinted in the early sun. He reached out and plucked the cigarette from between Remus’ lips and took a deep drag, even though he already had one of his own tucked behind his ear.

“Where's it ya think yer goin'?” Tomny said, speaking around the smoke.

Nibbling on his bottom lip, Remus looked down and pulled out another cigarette. Before he could even check his empty matchbox Tomny produced his own metal zippo and clicked the flame to life, holding it out for him. Remus inhaled and let the smoke drift up between them before he spoke.

“You know where. I got to go home. Should’a been back already.”

Tomny nodded casually. “But yer not.”

“Only because I listened to you.”

“All the best stories start out like that anyway,” Tomny said, grinning. “Doesn’a mean you could jus’ up and leave without sayin' goodbye.”

Remus raised his eyebrows pointedly. “You weren’t at the flat when I woke up. And we already said goodbye yesterday.”

“Pish. Who was on the phone?”

“No one. Jus’ home. The usual.”

Tomny just eyed him. “Hm.”

Remus returned the look. “Hm.”

That earned him another smile, and after breathing a bit of smoke out of his nose, Tomny turned away and crossed the pavement to a low retaining wall. He turned and perched himself on the edge and after a moment of staring, Remus joined him.

“Awful hot today, innit?” Tomny said, squinting up at the August (now September, Remus realised) sky. A few dirty-blonde curls dropped across his eyes as he looked up, and he brushed them away before itching his nose.

“I don’t got no dosh on me,” Remus said.

Tomny looked back to him, smirking. “What’s that?”

“You always turn to the weather when you’re tweaking, ya nob.”

Tomny smirked, crinkling the corners of his eyes. “Gotten predictable, 'ave I?”

“Nah,” Remus waved, “s'jus' me.”

“That’s right,” Tomny said, pointing at him with his cigarette, “can’t get nothin’ past you. S'because you see things, Remus Lupin. You see people. Must be the height, I swear’s you grew half a foot in the last month.”

Unable to argue with that, Remus just took another drag of his cigarette, the familiar taste of the cheap tobacco burning his throat as he smiled to himself. He couldn’t help being a tall, lanky git, and seeing people was easier than knowing them, but it wasn’t hard to know Tomny Armstrong.

Born ‘Thonas Daniel Armstrong’, after his own mum misspelt ‘Thomas’ on his birth certificate whilst strung-out on oxy’s, Tomny lived everyday like it was his best friend. Barely a man and already with a terrible candy habit himself—not that it ever seemed to slow him down—he made the East End his palace, and every one of the bums there, his subjects. He made trouble when it suited him, and good when it didn’t, and he took care of his own.

“The boys were glad you came last night,” Tomny said around his cigarette, flipping up the collar of his jacket to keep the sun off the back of his neck.

“Oh yeah?” Remus said, looking down at his lap as he swung his scuffed trainers against the wall until they bumped into the cement. “S'pose you were livid, then.”

“My cheeky Lu,” Tomny said wryly. “ ‘Course I was happy. This mornin' I practically ran out of Burrin’s to see yeh off, little git. I was lucky to catch yeh as yeh snuck off.”

Burrin was a patron—a boss Tomny considered closer than blood after all the years spent running around the East End for him before any of the boys had even known him. It had been Burrin who bought the flat in the first place, though it had been in Tomny’s name for years now.

“I wasn’t sneaking,” Remus pointed out, “ ‘cause of you I missed my train. I’m likely to get skinned when I get home.”

“Might help with your lip. But I s’pose that’s the swot school’s job. I know yer excited.” He wiggled his eyebrows cheekily.

“I’m not!” Remus snapped. “And I’m not goin’ ‘cause I wanna. Dad jus' got this work-out. It’s this or he’ll really have me done up. After last time's run-in with the cops I thought he'd actually leave me on ice.” And Lyall might have, if the thought of ‘Minister’s Son Lands Himself in the Bin’ or ‘Lupin Serving Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ plastered across the front of The Daily didn’t sound so unappealing.

“I don’ blame yeh none, Lu,” Tomny said, briefly slipping into the Scottish-brogue he’d used in his early youth, before his mother had brought him from Dunoon to London. Sometimes he switched between that and his usual East End slang just to pick up girls.

“Not jus’ everyone gets a ticket out of this place, ya know?” Tomny continued. “I understand. Though I admit, it helps some to think of one of my own boys, heading to some poncy place.” Tomny clapped Remus on the back and he nearly dropped his fa*g between his legs. “What’cha say the place’s name was again?”

Remus’ stomach clenched. “I didn’t. Just some toff’s school s’all.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll like it soon ‘nuff.”

Doubt it. “Got nothin’ in common with toffs.”

“You speak like ‘em.”

“I do not!”

“You do!” Tomny laughed. “When you're tired, or drunk, or high, you always slip back into that gentry-posh. You might be able to fool the rest of the lads, but not me, Lupin ol’ John. You’ve got good RP, bet yer mum’s real proud.”

“I should’ve never told you my middle name,” Remus grumbled. “You sound ridiculous.”

Tomny’s eyes glittered. “You called Doss, ‘pet’ last night.”

“I did not!"

“Did! You's were making fun of 'im but still. And then Cheryl got yeh to kiss ‘er hand.”

Remus groaned and covered his face, embarrassed. That was the trouble with alley juice, that real cheap sort of liquor. One second you were completely coherent, completely in control of your actions, and the next you were plastered and face-first in someone’s lap.

“It really was very charming,” Tomny said, shouldering Remus lightly until he dropped his hands. “Cher wanted to give you a kiss in return, but then you threw up in the bin.”

Remus grimaced. “Yeah, charming.”

Tomny turned his smile toward the other side of the street, past the dingy phone booth. The retaining wall where they were sitting faced west and left their backs open to the sun. People shambled past, heads down, collars up, withdrawn completely. It was bad business, making eye-contact with strangers on streets like these. Not that he had to worry much when he was with Tomny. While together, Remus could afford to be distracted by things like the way the summer sun lit Tomny’s dirty-blonde curls up a golden colour. His own hair didn’t do that—it was too much of a muted brown—and he stared as Tomny knocked his heels against the cement wall and began humming a tune out of the corner of his mouth. Remus recognised it immediately; “Hello, Goodbye”, by The Beatles.

He could’ve socked him.

They sat there for a good, long while, just side by side—Tomny humming, Remus sulking—each taking their time. Giles wouldn’t be at the regular spot for a while anyway. Like an average cabbie, he refused to go most places in the End out of fear that some chav might so much as breathe on his precious Rolls-Royce.

While they sat Tomny just kept humming, content to sit in peace against the background of the slum’s noise. That was the nice thing about Tomny: he never hurried. Never let others hurry either. Tomny was a ‘stop and smell each and every rose’ sort of guy, and if there weren’t any roses, Tomny would smell the rubbish on the street corner and tell you that it smelt of sunshine and bloody rainbows. If anyone had tried telling Remus a year ago that he’d still be running with the biggest walking-contradiction of an eighteen year-old possible, he’d have probably pressed a cigarette between their eyes for trying to take the piss. Back then Remus had thought that to be hard you had to be the worst one on the block, the biggest and meanest; but that wasn’t Tomny. Kind and ruthless, stony and soft all at once; Tomny wore his heart on his sleeve like a banner of pride. If he had any faults at all, it was the drugs and the way he got rattled both while on and off them. But Remus could hardly blame him for that.

Born on it, with a mum barely conscious for most of his childhood, there was little for boys like Tomny aside from the streets. After leaving school at ten he’d spent his childhood running for the other dogs of the End until he’d saved up enough favours to warrant his own tiny spot at the top, and he was never not generous. Tomny offered his past up like party favours; one secret for you, a sob story for you—but if you pity me even a little I’ll knock you one.

If Remus had been given his own choice of story-favour, he’d have asked how Tomny got that scar on his upper lip. The one that made him look like a Bond villain in low light rather than a greaser. A fight, he imagined, but with who—and was it just a split lip that had healed badly, or was there some slashing involved? What did it feel like to run his fingers over the little ridge there? Or to kiss a girl? Would she feel it? Would she find it mysterious and intriguing and spend as much time thinking about it as he—

“Got summink on my face, Lupin?”

Straightening up suddenly, Remus looked away and fumbled for his cigarette; but he’d let it burn down to nothing while daydreaming.

“f*ckin' waste,” he grumbled, flicking the stub away and reaching for his pack. Tomny held out his hand, and Remus stuck another tab between two of his fingers without a second thought before tucking another one between his teeth.

“Here.”

Tomny reached over with his own lighter and cupped his hand around Remus’ cigarette. His own was already lit, and he puffed smoke out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on getting Remus’ to come to life. They were close enough now that Remus could smell the sour scent of left-over liquor on his clothes. There was a mole too, he noticed, just below Tomny’s right ear, on the edge of his hairline.

“C’mon, Lupin. Suck in!”

“Sorry!” Remus squeaked, inhaling deeply as the cigarette came alight. He pinched it with two fingers to get a good draw and Tomny leaned away, his zippo snapping shut with a satisfying click.

“You seem wound up, Lu,” Tomny observed.

Remus blew out and shook his shoulders, trying to loosen them up as he watched a gent move down the street opposite to them, wearing a suit that had more patches than material. “Jus' thinking about having to leave.”

“Don’t think too hard. You’ll get used to being gone soon ‘nuff.”

“Don’t wanna get used to it,” Remus muttered. He felt a knock to his elbow, and turned to find Tomny staring at him with that familiar wry expression.

“You’ll do fine.”

“S'not about that.”

Shrugging, Tomny kicked his feet out in front of him before letting his heels knock back against the wall. “Well, if you really struggle, you’s could always find yerself a lady. Then you can whinge and whine to her about how unfair it all is.”

Remus snorted. “Tosser.”

Tomny leaned in very close and Remus felt something in his throat flutter. “I hear those private school girls are actually all closet freaks.”

“And just who did you hear that from?”

“I got my sources.”

“Hm.”

“All’s I’m saying is there must be a good part—what’s it they call it? A silver—”

“A ‘silver lining’.”

“Ha! You are posh.”

“Oh, shove off, wanker.”

Tomny chuckled and shook his curls, clutching the edge of the wall between his legs and leaning back to stare at the blue sky. “A ‘silver lining’,” he mused finally. “Sounds like a good thing, don’t it?”

Remus followed his gaze upwards. “Should, I s’pose.”

“Do me a favour, Lu? Don’t forget this.”

Remus’ eyes snapped back to Tomny, but the other boy was still looking up.

“This place,” he said, softly, “the scum and slime—the bums and bleeders. The smokes and the boys and the bends and the cracks. The weeds and dust and dinge and…” Tomny trailed off like he’d run out of words, but Remus understood.

“I won’t, Tom.”

Tomny’s soft expression broadened into a contented smile, then a grin. Finally he looked back down. “You're a good’un, Lupin.”

“Git.”

“Yeah, that’s me, Tomny the Git! And you're Lu, all knobby knees and lanky limbs and posh-talk. You’ll remember. You—”

“LU! TOM!”

Turning their heads at the same time, they spotted a small group of boys, waving as they made their way up the street. Tomny’s face sank back into an easy smile as he lifted a hand to his brow to squint in the mid-morning sun.

“Here’s some of the tossers now,” he said, before calling out to them. “Orright, boys?”

“Orright, Tom!” They called back in unison.

“That Flacky wit’chu?”

“ ‘Course!” Flacky called, waving his short arms as he and the other boys approached; Doss beside him in his bovver boots with Lee bringing up the rear, hands in his pockets.

“Thought your mum iced you for liftin' from Bailey’s shop again?” Tomny asked with a pleased smile.

Flacky grinned, showing a missing front tooth. He was only thirteen, younger than Remus, but he’d been running with Tomny for just as long.“She jus’ boxed my ears a bit,” he said. “I escaped out the window!”

“Good lad.”

“What you lot doing up so early?” Remus asked, nodding at Doss. “You were passed out on top of my shoe this mornin'. Wagered you were dead, actually.”

“Seesaw woke us,” Doss said. “And I’m not dead yet, wanker.”

Tomny pushed off the wall beside Remus and clapped his hands together. “Then you’ve arrived just in time, my friends,” their leader said, audaciously, “to wish our lil' John a tearful goodbye. 'Course though, we won’t be the ones cryin'.”

Hand shooting up to the sky, Tomny whirled around and pointed directly at Remus. His eyes were happy, his expression cheeky. “Lads, sick ‘im.”

With grins like devils, both Lee and Doss ran forward, and before Remus could so much as turn back to the phone booth, they had him by the arms, hauling him off the wall to hold him between themselves.

“Let go, you nobs!” Remus shouted, but he was laughing because it was all good fun anyway, just Tomny’s idea of a show.

“Our boy, Lupin ‘ere, is leavin' us!” Tomny exclaimed. “He’s being sent far, far from our kindly corners. Yes, awaitin' him is nothin' but green pastures, bleedin' narks, and—I’m sure—several fine poshy mares.”

“Boo!” Flacky yelled.

“He would leave us for them! For the poncy, well-heeled, upmarket—”

“Careful Tom, or you’ll run out of adjectives,” Remus said pertly, still pinned between his two friends.

“He’ll leave us for them’s who knows what an ‘adjective’ is!” Tomny cried, stifling laughter.

Remus twisted the arm Lee was holding and flourished his cigarette. “S'not my choice! You know my dad—”

“Excuses,” Tomny cut in. “It’s nearly heresy.”

“Treason!” Doss shouted in his ear.

“Sedition!” Lee added, which surprised Remus, who would’ve assumed that the boy had no idea what the word meant.

“It’s an offence of the highest degree, leaving behind grimy ol’ London to become some Fat Cat swot.” Tomny popped his own cigarette into the corner of his mouth, smoke puffing out his nose like a dragon. Remus dropped his head, fighting the small smile on his lips.

“Then what,” he asked, wrenching his body around in Lee and Doss’ grip for good measure, “would you have me do? Give you a kiss goodbye?”

Tomny’s smile widened. “No, nothin' so sweet. We’re not here to impede your education, Lu. We’re jus’ gonna teach you a lil’ lesson s’all. Doss, give him a taste of the ol’ barley-sugar, eh?”

“Oh f—no!” Remus wailed, but Doss simply twisted his arm behind his back, nearly popping out his shoulder. A moment later and Lee was wringing hisother arm out like a dishcloth, burning and pinching his skin while he cackled.

“Rest assured Lu, that this is only a small taste of the pain we feel knowing we’re about to let you go forever,” Tomny called, before finally stepping up and ushering both boys away, freeing Remus from his school-yard torture. He was tempted to point out that a single school year was hardly forever—and that was only as long as he didn’t get himself tossed out like all the rest— but instead he just shoved both of his friends away for good measure and made to swat at the older boy. Tomny caught him by the wrist with a smug expression and gave it a slight squeeze. Held in place, Remus returned the smile and Tomny pulled him in for a sudden hug, patting his back and locking both arms around him with enough force that he was nearly lifted onto his toes. Over his shoulder, Remus got a good look at the other boys’ faces, each one marred with dirt, freckles, or little white scars, but happy anyway.

It was going to be hell to be without them. He would miss these boys no matter where he was going and he was going toward a future nothing like the summer they’d shared, a realisation that made it all the worse.

“Orright,” Tomny sighed, pulling away but keeping a strong hold on the back of Remus’ neck. His fingers felt warm, and when Remus met his gaze, something in his stomach flipped. “You're gonna do good,” he said, firmly. “You're gonna show those swots what a dirty London boy can do.”

“You're smart, Lu,” Doss called.

“Yeah, and if they’re smarter, jus' set their homework on fire,” Lee added, helpfully.

Tomny chuckled, squeezing the back of Remus’ neck a bit. “That’s not a bad idea.” From his pocket, Tomny pulled out his zippo and held it up between their faces. “To remember,” he said, before tucking it into the front of Remus’ t-shirt. He patted the pocket a bit, right over his heart, before finally dropping his hand and stepping back to join the other boys on the pavement, leaving the cracks in the cement to divide them.

“I’ll be back,” Remus said, feeling a lump rise in his throat. “They’ll probably have me out on my rear by Halloween.”

“That’d be a new record,” Tomny said, in that way that could’ve made anyone think he was holding all the cards, "but don’t rush it.”

Lee shrugged. “Or do.” Doss shouldered him for it.

“We’ll still be here,” Flacky added, as he reached up to pluck the cigarette from behind Tomny’s ear. He let him of course, and pat the top of the boy’s head fondly. When Tomny finally looked back to Remus, he gestured sharply with his head; go on, and winked.

It wouldn’t have mattered if Remus was late for his own funeral, he would take this moment to look his friends up and down and imprint their bittersweet smiles into his memory. When he’d run out of smiles, Remus slowly nodded his head and turned away. The walk to the next corner felt unbearably long, but he forced himself not to look back. A small voice said that if he did they might already be gone, and he couldn’t handle that, so he forced himself to keep going until he’d turned a corner. After a summer of running up and down the dirty city streets his trainers were barely more than a bit of rubber and the glue that held them together, but never had his feet felt so heavy.

The Cadence of Part-time Poets - Chapter 1 - motswolo - Harry Potter (2024)
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