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As Red As Hearts And Autumn

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They are sitting behind the Shrieking Shack, James and Peter and Sirius and Remus and Lily (which is a new thing and strange). There are so many reasons they shouldn’t be here – it’s Friday and they’re out of bounds and they’ve already had seven detentions between them this term (none of them Lily’s).

The sky is golden, streaked with grey-blue clouds. James had said, Come on, and Lily had replied, I’m a prefect, Potter and Sirius had said, That never stops Remus. He’d felt guilty at that, a twist in his gut reminding him of all the things McGonagall had said to him last year.

A moth flicks past them, brushing his cheek, and he flinches. Sirius turns to look at him and says, “Alright, Moony?”

“Yeah,” he says and reaches for another plum. James’ mother has sent them a whole crate of fruit. The first crop of the season is always theirs, though James always shares the next few with the rest of the House. He presses his thumbs into the top of the fruit and breaks it in half, checking for worms before he plucks the stone out and slips the fruit between his lips.

Sirius is staring at him, an gleaming apple halfway to his mouth. Then he shakes himself and bites into the apple. For a moment white juice slides down his chin. Then he howls.

“Arh! Urh! Urrr! Worm!”

James and Peter crack up as he spits into his hand and Lily says demurely, “Added protein.”

Remus leans over his plum to hide a smile as Sirius stares at her, all pureblood outrage. When he looks up, he says, “You know you should check first, Padfoot?”

Sirius ignores him to turn his reproachful stare on James. “Your apples have worms, Potter.”

Peter snickers and they all stare at him.

“Oh, come on,” James says, incredulous. “Even you can’t get innuendo out of that.”

“Make it a bet,” Peter replies, eyes gleaming.

“Excuse me,” Sirius says, too loudly. “Why isn’t anyone paying attention to me?”

“The central refrain of Sirius Black’s life,” Remus murmurs and finds himself being tackled by a large, black dog, intent on washing his face. He struggles and yelps but none of the others, traitors all, come to his rescue.

Sirius changes back but stays sitting on Remus, twisting round to say, “Your apples are useless.”

Peter snorts and opens his mouth and a barrage of apple cores hits him before he can speak.

Lily picks up another apple and taps it with her wand. It falls into four parts, which she checks gravely, and then passes to Sirius. “Real apples have worms. You’re just too used to pesticides-”

“What?” Sirius says blankly.

“Muggle equivalent of decimexo,” Remus squeaks, short of breath.

Lily grins at him and continues, “You just don’t appreciate authentic flavour any more.”

“Authentic!” Sirius protests. “Worms are not authentic.”

She laughs and says, “You’re just such a, a-” She waves her hand, groping for the right word.

“Pureblood?” Sirius suggests, tensing dangerously.

She rolls her eyes. “Londoner.”

“Eh?” Sirius says.

“Townie,” she elaborates. “City boy. If it doesn’t come pre-packaged you don’t like it.”

“He’s not that bad,” James says and reaches over to thump Sirius on the shoulder. “And you’re a country boy now. Practically a Potter.”

Sirius grins and bounces and Remus groans. “Isn’t anyone going to rescue me?”

“Nah,” James says. “Serves you right.”

Sirius, who has crammed Lily’s apple into his mouth, leans down and says, dripping apple spit, “Can you still breathe?”

His eyes are as grey and fey as the sky and Remus thinks, no. Instead, he tries to shrug.

Sirius ruffles his hair and twists round to argue with Lily. Remus looks up at the darkening sky and watches the moths flit overhead. There are three daddy-long-legs clicking along the side of the Shack. His back is cold, from the wet grass, and he can smell apples and musty wood and wet dog.

“We’ve missed dinner,” he says to the sky.

Lily looks worried, her eyes wide. “McGonagall…”

James shrugged. “Tell her that you and Remus caught me and Sirius booby-trapping the dungeons and it all went wrong.”

“She’ll believe that?”

“Get Peter to back you up. She falls for every excuse he ever makes.”

“It’s a gift,” Peter said modestly. “She thinks you’re all leading me astray.”

Lily snorts and then says reluctantly, “I have an Arithmancy essay.”

“It’s Friday,” Peter protests.

Remus wonders if Sirius knows how the colours of the sunset reflect in his eyes. He’s looking oddly pensive, staring down at Remus, and the other boy can feel his cheeks begin to warm.

“Tough,” James says firmly. “If Lily needs to get back, we’re going.”

Remus feels distantly amused. Now that James and Lily are officially friends, he’s trying to be subtle. Remus wonders how long it will be before he breaks.

Sirius is still staring at him.

Remus reckons Christmas will be the end. He’s witnessed the unfortunate combination of James Potter and mistletoe before. On the other hand, he could be wrong. He’s managed to go more than five years himself.

“Are you coming, Padfoot?” James demands, breaking the silence. He shoves the back of Sirius’ head and Sirius, caught off balance, yelps and collapses onto Remus.

With the breath knocked out of his lungs, all he can see is green lights. He is surrounded by the smell of apples and the warm weight of Sirius. Then he hears Peter say, “I wish I had my camera,” and manages to push Sirius off.

Sirius rolls over on the grass, laughing helplessly, and Remus scrambles to his feet. James is leaning on Lily, chortling. Remus, annoyed at them all, meets Lily’s eyes.

She’s smiling but when she sees his face she says sweetly, “How many points can we take off Sirius for terrorising a prefect?”

That shuts them up fast and Sirius says indignantly, “That would be abusing his position. You can’t take points off friends.”

“Does he actually reason like that?” Lily asks.

“Afraid so,” Remus says.

Sirius nods. “That’s why this year is going to be great. See, you’re one of us now, Evans. We are so going to win the house cup.”

“Don’t count on it.”

James sighs and says, “Do you want to take those points now or when we get back?”

Ah, yes, that had been the bargain. Come with us, Evans, and you can take the points off later.

Lily smiles. “Let’s wait and see if we get caught on the way back in. After all, if nobody knows, it never happened.”

Remus revises his guess. November. James will crack by November. He sighs and reaches down to pull Sirius up. His hands are warm and sticky with juice and his cheeks are shiny.

“You’re a mess.”

“I know,” Sirius says, sliding his fingers out of Remus’ grip. “I like it.”

Then James is calling them to help carry the leftover fruit back into the Shack. They put it up high, where the wolf won’t be able to reach it, and then charm the loose board shut again, all five of them adding a layer to seal it.

By the time they creep out from below the Whomping Willow night has settled around them and the scent of apples has faded to nothing.