Chapter 1: First Fruit
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.
Chapter 2: First Fruit
Sirius wakes up far too early on Saturdays.
The first sign that Sirius was awake was the thump and the scrabble of claws on the stone floor, closely followed by James groaning, “Nooo. Saturday. Piss off.”
Remus pulled his blankets over his head and curled into a ball. Even so he could hear the click as Padfoot charged across the floor, the screech of bedsprings and Peter’s squeak of protest.
Another thump and Sirius whined, “James. Peter went rat.”
“Good for him.”
“But I can’t bounce on him.”
“That was the point,” Peter said, sounding slightly muffled. Remus suspected he was safely ensconced under his bed.
“Shut up and go to sleep,” James said. “All of you.”
“Can’t,” Sirius said. “I’m awake.”
“I don’t care,” James said. “It’s Saturday.”
“You’re so boring these days.” There was a suspicious silence and Remus sat up hurriedly, knowing what was coming.
“Sirius, why don’t you just get the tennis ball out and I’ll take Padfoot out to play fetchies?”
It came out sharper than he had intended and Sirius peered over the end of his bed, wide-eyed, and said, “Moony?”
“Sorry. Let me wake up before you pounce, please.”
“Okay.” Sirius perched on the end of his bed and studied him as he dragged his robes on. He knew he was blushing and had to turn his back as he wriggled his pyjamas off under his robes. It wasn’t until he sat down to lace up his boots that Sirius slid off the bed to scrabble through the heap of assorted clothes for something to wear himself.
“Wormtail, I’m nicking your scarf.”
“Use your own!”
“Can’t. I left it at ho – at my parents.”
“Okay,” Peter said sleepily. “Now, piss off, please.”
The castle was quiet. Even the portraits weren’t awake yet. Sirius was silent and Remus felt uneasy. He wished Sirius would make his mind up – half the time he was raucous and the rest he spent brooding. Remus was beginning to think the flight from Grimmauld Place hadn’t been the best thing in Sirius’ life, after all.
They had to unlock the front door and Remus left Sirius to it. He had never quite learnt the knack of flirting with the door knocker.
When the door finally swung open the cold air surged it, brushing around them like water. Remus breathed in, feeling instantly more awake, and stood up straighter.
“Cold,” Sirius said, retreating. Remus reached out, more by instinct than judgement, and grabbed the sleeve of his robes.
“Don’t you dare. You woke me up at dawn on a Saturday.”
“I just thought we could pop down to the dungeons first and hex Regulus.”
Which meant Sirius was homesick and wanted to prove he wasn’t. Remus knotted his fingers more tightly in his robes and said, “Outside.”
The lawns were white with frost and the mist over the lake hid the forest completely. All was cold and crisp and clean. Remus breathed in deeply and heard Sirius sigh beside him. He turned to look at Sirius and the other boy gazed back, his eyes as pale and pure as the morning.
“It’s real,” he said. “It’s too real.”
“What is?” Remus asked, confused.
Sirius shrugged and leapt out into the morning, crunching across the pale grass towards the lake. Remus followed more sedately, waiting for the black dog to appear back out of the mist. Padfoot did not appear, though, and when he finally reached the shore, it was Sirius who stood there, his hands shoved into his pockets, gazing at the grey water.
Remus stopped beside him and waited. He was used to waiting for Sirius.
“This place,” Sirius said at last. “Hogwarts. Us. Too real. Because it’s here or out there, y’know. They can’t both be real but they are and it makes no sense.”
Remus shrugged. Life was full of contradictions and irony. It didn’t bother him like it did Sirius.
“You know what I mean, don’t you?” Sirius asked, suddenly intense. “How it’s a game here but out there it’s real? How they lie to us?”
It was too early in the morning for this. He sat down on the nearest rock and fiddled with his bootlaces, trying to avoid the question.
“All lies,” Sirius said moodily. “If you’re a Slytherin, you know the Gryffindors are lying. If you’re a Gryffindor, you know the Slytherins are wrong.”
“And who knows what they tell the Hufflepuffs?” Remus said, trying to lighten the mood.
“More lies, I’m sure. Or maybe the truth. Maybe they know it’s all meaningless and we should all just get on with the ordinary things.”
“Maybe they do.”
“Aren’t you going to argue with me?”
“I’m not in the mood,” Remus said wearily. He was beginning to think he should have stayed in bed. “Not before breakfast. I thought you wanted a run.”
“Too cold,” Sirius said morosely and added, “The nights are drawing in.”
Remus laughed at him. “Pretentious twat.”
“Moody Moony. Moooooo.”
“Sirius Black, cow animagus.”
And for the second time in less than twelve hours he found himself floored by a large black dog.
Chapter 3: First Fall
There are some letters he doesn’t want to read.
He didn’t want to open it. Really, there was no reason why he should. They were nothing to do with him any more. All the same he turned it over and over in his hands as he leant back against the rough trunk of the tree. The yellowed parchment felt grimy in his hands, as if it was imbued with all the dust and smut of the London air. Even the wax of the seal was black, two serpents entwined, biting each other’s tails. The wax had softened a little in the post but he could still make out some of the letters around the edge of the seal – the ornate T and the pur as if that side of the seal had been pressed down with extra force.
There were perfectly good reasons not to open it. It was probably cursed and would undoubtedly be unpleasant. It was perfectly acceptable to ignore it – discretion, after all, was the guardian of purity. However, he was the Black’s black sheep, the disgrace, the brave one, rather than the cunning one, and it was inevitable that he would open it.
Just not now.
He shoved it back into his pocket and leant back. The wide leaves of the horse chestnut were layered above him, the yellow showing in streaks around their edges. Conkers hung in thick green clusters, their cases dangerously spiked. This was not London and he tried his hardest to pretend there was no such place, that there were only trees and the smell of fading leaves and the light gold and green around him.
The letter was too heavy, though, and he sighed and shifted on the branch, trying to find a way to balance that didn’t press quite so uncomfortably on sensitive places. The branch shook, conkers rained down around him and he covered his face with his arms. When the shaking stopped he lowered his arms to find that the fine spikes of the seed cases had snagged in the rough material of his robes. He threw back his head and laughed before he began to pluck them off and toss them away.
There was a startled yelp and someone called, “Sirius?”
Bugger. He froze, drawing his legs up slowly in the hope he would be less obvious that way.
Remus appeared beneath him, his head tilted in query as he stared up. Sirius glared down at him, the full-strength, ancient-and-noble-House stare.
“Are you deliberately hiding in the prickliest place possible?”
“Yes,” Sirius said and continued to stare down at him. He looked like autumn down there, all faded hues and hints of bitterness.
“You’re daft, then. The barrage of conkers was a giveaway. Can I come up?”
Sirius considered it, scowling. He did not want to talk about it. On the other hand, if there was anyone he was going to not talk about it with, Remus was the best. James, almost-brother, that he was, just didn’t understand the mess that was family and Peter couldn’t take it seriously.
“Where are the others?”
“Lily’s brewing potions, Peter’s watching her and Prongs went for a run.”
So Sirius reached down. Remus grasped his hand and scrambled up, limber and neat. Sirius, who moved with a chaotic grace, was intrigued by that neatness. What was the point?
Remus perched on the next branch, his scarf trailing, and said, “You alright?”
Sirius shrugged. With James he would have brazened it out and it would have ended with someone punching someone and the untimely demise of a lot of good conkers. He didn’t need to lie to Remus. Instead, he bounced on his branch and caught the end of Remus’ scarf.
“Please don’t throttle me.”
Sirius grinned and combed through the fringe of red and yellow wool. “I’m just tidying you up.”
Remus rolled his eyes. “That from Mr If-I-leave-my-boxers-on-the-floor-long-enough-they’ll-clean-themselves.”
“Well, they did,” Sirius said reasonably. “Although I still don’t understand how they started smelling of lavender.”
“I’ll give you one clue. It starts with house and ends with elves.”
“Nah,” Sirius said, already feeling better. “It was Chemisty.”
Remus threw his hands up in dismay and then wobbled. He steadied himself against the trunk of the tree, leaning comfortably, and blinked at Sirius. “Do you want to talk about this one?”
Sirius, who had been thinking about how warm that scarf looked and how much of Remus’ warmth would linger if he stole it, felt his mood plummet. “Haven’t read it yet.”
“Maybe I should just burn it. Thwart them. Maybe I should send it back. Or maybe I should just read it and not care because it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s nothing to do with me.”
Remus just waited, his eyes grave.
Sirius huffed and pulled the letter out of his pocket. Then, as if he hadn’t been brooding about it all morning, he ripped it apart and hurled the shreds into the yellow leaves. “I’m Sirius,” he said fiercely. “I am not a monster.”
Remus stared at him, wide-eyed. Then he smiled and held out his hand. “Hello, Sirius. I’m Remus and I’m not a monster either.”
Sirius looked at him, at his quiet smile and outstretched hand, and lunged forward to grab it. “Pleased to meet you.”
Then the branch sprang back in protest and, as is always inevitable when one disregards the laws of gravity, Sirius fell out of the tree, dragging Remus, scarf and all, behind him.
Chapter 4: First Fence
“Gather round,” Professor Kettleburn called. “Nobody enter the paddock until I say so, though.”
Sirius sighed heavily and slouched after the others. They crowded against the fence, waiting, with some trepidation, to see what the lesson would entail. Sirius sighed again, more heavily, and Remus elbowed him.
“Now you’re at NEWTs level, we’re going to be looking at more, heh, challenging creatures, class. We can’t spend all our lives petting unicorns, can we?”
“Bet he could,” Sirius muttered and James snickered.
“Are you listening at the back, Mr Black?”
“Unicorns, professor,” Sirius said demurely and Remus elbowed him again.
Kettleburn twitched. “Actually, Mr Black, we’re going to be looking at a rather more, heh, interesting creature today. Hagrid has been kind enough to allow us a chance before the ministry, ahem, heh, that is- Class! Please pay attention.”
The group had swayed back from the fence. In the shuffle, Remus was shoved against his side. Sirius caught his arm to steady him and then had to remind himself to let go. Remus was warm and it was bloody freezing out here in the paddock.
Remus’ cheeks were pink and Sirius looked down at him, suddenly worried. He didn’t want Remus to be ill. He hated it when people were ill and knowing that he should be sympathetic and wasn’t made him feel small and mean inside.
“Nothing to be alarmed about!” Kettleburn called. “Now just stay right where you are while I herd it into the paddock. Don’t make any sudden moves.”
“Why are we doing this?” James moaned. “Why? Why? Why? We could be in Advanced Potions. Inside. In the warm.”
“Except you’re crap at Potions,” Sirius said. “You only just scraped onto the NEWT course – Slugbum’s hardly going to want you doing in the Advanced module.”
James stared at him piteously. “If I get eaten, tell Lily…”
“…Good riddance?” Sirius said.
“That you’re sorry about the exploding valentine in second year?” Remus suggested.
“Shut up,” James said urgently. “She’s forgotten that.”
Sirius looked at Remus. Remus looked at Sirius. Both laughed.
“I hate you both,” James said glumly.
Remus had his hands on Sirius’ chest. Sirius froze.
“My scarf is caught on your buttons.”
“Okay,” Sirius said, holding himself so stiff he could hardly breathe.
“I wonder if that would work with Lily?” James said.
“Definitely,” Remus replied, pulling the last strands away. “Absolutely guaranteed.”
“To get you hexed into next week. Remember the master-plan, Potter.”
There were little bits of red and yellow wool all over the front of Sirius’ coat. He began to pluck them off one by one, releasing them into the wind.
“Here it comes!” Professor Kettleburn carolled and appeared round the side of the paddock at a run, his over-long robes swishing around his ankles.
There was the skitter of spindly feet and a blot of red-brown fur staggered into the paddock, legs whirling. Sirius frowned at it, trying to focus on those legs. There seemed to be a few too many of them.
“It’s a quintaped,” Remus said, his voice very steadily. “One of the most dangerous carnivores known to wizardkind.”
A Ravenclaw girl whimpered and tried to sidle behind Sirius.
“Five points for Gryffindor for educated guesswork, Mr Lupin. Don’t worry, class, it’s safe in the paddock.”
“But they’re not allowed onto the mainland,” James hissed. “It’s completely illegal.”
Sirius could feel that Remus was shaking but he said, quite coolly, “Yes, well, that wouldn’t stop Hagrid.”
“Fuck,” James muttered, eyeing the paddock.
“So who wants to come and meet Tibbles?” Kettleburn trilled.
The class shrunk back. Chins dipped below scarves. Eyes were averted. Shoulders lifted.
“Oh,” Kettleburn said.
“I will,” Sirius said.
“Sirius!” Remus protested and now he didn’t sound calm.
Sirius grinned and shook his hair back. He’d had another letter that morning and at least if he got eaten he wouldn’t have to decide whether to read it. He strutted over to the fence as the class parted around him, wide-eyed with horror.
“Super. Just climb onto the fence, Mr Black, and Tibbles will come and say hello.”
Sirius swung up onto the fence. He was already feeling better.
There was a soft pad of footsteps behind him and Remus climbed up next to him. Sirius stared at him in horror, wondering if he could pick him up and hurl him away. Remus set his shoulders, not meeting Sirius’ gaze, and said politely, “What shall we do now, professor?”
“That’s just right, boys. Just don’t startle her. She’s of a very nervous disposition.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Sirius stared out across the paddock. Tibbles was crouching in the centre, eyes gleaming redly. He met her gaze, trying to ensure she’d go for him when she moved.
“Now just step down into the paddock and approach her carefully,” Kettleburn said.
“I’ve got you covered,” James murmured from close behind them. “If you want to stun Kettleburn and run, you’re safe.”
“Cheers, Prongs,” Sirius muttered back. “How would I ever stay out of detention without your help?”
“Never mind detention. Try to stay alive.”
Tibbles yawned, displaying a row of polished teeth. One of the Hufflepuffs whimpered.
The beast surged to its feet, roaring. Several girls screamed.
Tibbles howled, leapt several feet into the air and dived backwards. Wailing, she raced out of the paddock, fur on end.
“Eh?” James said.
“Oh, dear,” Kettleburn said. “You scared her. They’re such shy things. Typical herbivore behaviour. Can anyone tell me why?”
Sirius felt his jaw drop open. James said slowly, “Professor, aren’t Quintapeds man-eaters?”
“Of course they are, Mr Potter. Their cousin the Common Pentapod, however – Oh. Oh, dear. You didn’t think…? Goodness me. Five points all round for bravery and ten points off each of your houses for not exercising appropriate caution and lacking any common sense whatsoever.”
Beside him, Remus put his foot down to steady himself and began to laugh helplessly. Sirius looked at him and then at the empty field and doubled up.
“You two are insane,” James said but he sounded less tense. “Bonkers. Nuts. Loony.”
Remus shook his head. “That’s Sirius. I’m-”
“Don’t say it,” James said. “I hate this fucking class.”
“Mr Potter! Five points from Gryffindor!”
Chapter 5: First Flight
Transfigurations class. Not as autumnal as I wanted it to be.
…like the leaves of autumn, dropping from the trees, James thought, gazing at the sunlight glowing in Lily’s hair. After a moment, he thought again. That sounded like he thought her hair was falling out. Like the firelight shining-
He jumped, almost knocking his ostrich feather onto the floor. “Yes, Professor McGonagall?”
“Have you finished transfiguring your egg?”
He waved his feather at her to prove it and she nodded and snapped, “In that case please refrain from daydreaming and assist one of your classmates.”
James sighed and looked around, pushing aside thoughts of Lily’s hair. Wasn’t much point thinking about that sort of thing, anyway. He and Lily were friends now and Remus had told him quite firmly that the quickest way to lose that friendship was to start flirting again. Sirius, to his disappointment, had agreed. Then again, those two agreed on far too much these days. What was the world coming to?
Lily had a feather, although it was flaked with shell. Remus seemed to be coping, despite being weaker at Transfigurations than the rest of them and not having had the practice they had at non-verbal spells. Peter had produced a quill, fully nibbed and inked. He was turning it round in his hands thoughtfully.
“Need a hand?” asked James.
Peter shook his head. “I know what I’ve done. I overemphasised the temporal spiral.”
“Okay,” James said brightly. He hated theory.
“I just need to work out if I can get it back to a feather without it regressing completely.”
“You’ll need to allow for the Moebius effect, Mr Pettigrew,” Professor McGonagall said and stalked to the front of the room. “Quills out, everyone. Mr Pettigrew has raised an interesting theoretical question.”
James groaned inwardly and settled back into his chair. He glanced across at Sirius for sympathy and winced.
His friend was sitting quietly behind his desk, looking meditative. Before him lay an egg and a sealed letter.
“Mr Black, you are supposed to be taking notes.”
Sirius’ brows knit a little but he did not move.
“Wake up, Padfoot,” James hissed and tore the end off his own scroll. He shoved it in front of Sirius and jabbed a quill under his nose. Sirius batted him away irritably.
Professor McGonagall was approaching. James winced and looked helplessly at the others. Peter grabbed his wand and pointed at Sirius’ egg but James shook his head frantically. She was too close.
Remus was staring at Sirius, his brow creased with worry. It was a familiar look and James suddenly wondered when he had started fretting all the time.
“Mr Black?” McGonagall said, sounding surprised. “Is there something wrong with your egg?”
“No,” Sirius said.
“Then why is it still an egg?”
“I like eggs,” said Sirius pensively. “I don’t think I would like to be a feather, if I was an egg.”
James flinched and waited for the explosion. It didn’t come and he glanced up to see Professor McGonagall studying Sirius, a faint frown on her face. Then she said, “Are you feeling unwell, Mr Black?”
“Never better,” Sirius said morosely.
“It’s a little early in the year,” she murmured, “but not impossible. Are you harbouring any feelings of unusual ardour towards anyone?”
“No!” said Sirius, jumping.
“Not a love potion, then.”
“It probably wouldn’t work on him,” Lily said seriously. “He’s got a particularly high tolerance for most potions.”
James beamed at her proudly for a moment before he thought to wonder just how she’d learnt that.
Most of the class had downed their quills in anticipation. James, who knew they must be expecting a prank, suddenly wondered uneasily if the others had planned something without him. He didn’t think they would have but he glanced at them quickly. Remus looked worried. Peter was twitching his nose, which meant he was puzzled.
“Nobody’s hexed him,” Remus added. “Not unless they did it when we were asleep. I’ve been watching him.”
“Were you expecting someone to attack him, Mr Lupin?”
“Then why were you watching him?”
James saw Remus’ eyes wide in dismay and then he said earnestly, “You told me to, professor. Last year. You said to keep an eye on Sirius and make sure nobody got hexed.”
Sirius grinned, very faintly. Professor McGonagall’s eyes narrowed. “Are you trying to be clever in my class, Mr Lupin?”
“Shouldn’t I be, professor?” Remus asked and Sirius smirked.
“Mr Lupin, your prefect’s badge does not make you immune…”
Sirius picked his wand up and nudged his egg into the centre of the desk. Then, he made a quick, silent gesture.
The egg sprouted pink wings and took off, clucking madly. It zigged across the room, narrowly missing Lily’s head. While the girls shrieked and Peter collapsed with laughter, Sirius pointed his wand at the table again and turned his letter into a Snitch. He then grabbed for James’ quill but James beat him to it.
“Cut it out.”
Sirius sighed and said, “Spoilsport.”
The Snitch pursued the egg across the classroom, buzzing with what James sincerely hoped was not amorous delight. The egg, panicked into speed, headed straight towards the wall.
Professor McGonagall turned and lunged forward gracefully to pluck the egg from the air, bringing her hand down in time to let the Snitch crash past into the cold stone. It squeaked and slid down to the floor, wings twitching.
“Nice catch,” Lily said and James applauded.
“Thank you, Miss Evans. I was considered an adequate seeker in my day. Now, Mr Black.”
Sirius put his wand down and looked at her, wide-eyed and innocent.
“I commend you on an elegant piece of transfiguration. Consider yourself fortunate that it was sufficiently impressive to cancel out the number of points you could have lost. Be warned, though. You will all come of age this year and I expect you to begin behaving like adults in my classes.”
They settled down to copying her diagrams off the board. Sirius wrote quickly, in neat, copperplate writing, and then stole James’ feather. He busied himself with turning it orange. Peter asked a question. Remus scribbled, darting quick, unhappy glances at Sirius. James, who intended to steal Sirius’ notes if he ever needed them, copied the first few sentences and went back to staring at Lily.
She glanced at him, looking a little worried, and he shrugged and rolled his eyes. She sighed and smiled at him quickly before leaning over her work.
Her smile is like the autumn sun, James thought happily. Golden and far too brief. Does that sound like I think her teeth are yellow?
Chapter 6: A Simple Sneeze
There were days when Remus really wished he had stayed in bed.
Remus wasn’t paying much attention to Sirius at breakfast. He was busy trying to shush Peter, who had taken offence at having to get out of bed while it was, “Still dark, Moony. It’s not natural. Human beings are not nocturnal. It’s not healthy to get up in the dark.”
“But then wizardkind invented lumos,” said James glumly. Remus was certain he would have joined in the whining if Lily hadn’t been glaring at Peter.
“I think cavemen invented fire first, Prongs,” he said patiently. “Wormtail, you’re being ridiculous. You got up at exactly the same time last week.”
“But it wasn’t dark, then.”
“Good point.” James applauded.
Sirius was attacking his porridge with military precision, glowering at the letter in front of him. Remus was aware that he really ought to do something about that situation soon but right now McGonagall was glaring at him and Peter was getting louder.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t get more sleep in winter. There’s nothing wrong with hibernation. It’s not like there’s exams or anything important-”
“Quidditch,” James intoned, draping himself across the table to grab the honey. “Have to thrash Slytherin. Kill them. Wipe them out. Decimate them.”
“But there’s only seven of them,” Remus began.
The sneeze was loud enough to be heard the length of the Great Hall and it came from the Slytherin table.
“Good show!” James called loudly.
Remus elbowed him. “Don’t start anything.”
“Who is it?” Peter asked, bouncing in his chair as another volley of sneezes echoed around the table.
“Regulus Black,” one of the fifth year prefects said.
Sirius still hadn’t moved. He was regarding the depths of his porridge bowl with an intensity Remus found unnerving. Over at the Slytherin table Narcissa Black was leaning towards her cousin, the candlelight gleaming off her wreath of pale hair. Regulus looked flushed and his eyes seemed bright, even from here. Narcissa said something and he tossed his head back in negation, an action so arrogant, so graceful, so Sirius that Remus felt dizzy. Then he sneezed again, ruining the effect.
Severus Snape, sitting on the other side of Narcissa, got up and stalked across to loom over the younger boy.
There were times when Remus blamed all his lackings as a prefect on his inability to loom.
Regulus crossed his arms and shook his head. Remus was intrigued. Regulus Black did not make scenes. At least he hadn’t - not since the time he had been heard making remarks about Sirius behaving like a common Muggle which had ended with his face smeared into the lemon syllabub and James Potter’s fifty-fifth detention.
Snape glared down at him and Regulus shot to his feet. Immediately he swayed and the colour drained from his face. Then he toppled backwards onto the Slytherin table, sending plates and pumpkin juice skidding into his housemates’ laps.
All through the resulting commotion, Sirius continued to eat his porridge, spoonful by steady spoonful. Remus, who always felt queasy this close to the full moon, wondered how he could.
He made the mistake of looking away as Madam Pomfrey floated Regulus out of the Hall. When he looked back, Sirius had commandeered Peter’s bowl and had dropped that day’s letter into it. It was emitting a green, sulphurous steam as he prodded it with his spoon.
“I hadn’t finished,” Peter complained.
James craned over to look. “I wouldn’t try now, mate. It’s melted the tip of the spoon.”
Sirius was humming faintly. Remus, with a certain sense of impending doom, asked, “Padfoot?”
“Wingardium leviosa,” Sirius murmured and the steaming bowl rose quietly. Remus watched it soar towards the ceiling and silently begged a teacher, any teacher, to notice.
The clouds were rolling overhead, grey and heavy, and the bowl was almost hidden against them.
He really ought to intervene but Sirius was smiling. He hadn’t smiled properly since the letters started arriving.
“Who’s it for?” Peter asked, tilting the milk jug so he could watch in its reflection.
“Slimy, bullying git.”
Remus was fairly sure that he had just seen a fellow prefect attempt to send a sick housemate to the Hospital Wing. “Sirius…” he tried.
“Can’t let a prefect abuse their power, can we?” Sirius said.
“Lily!” Remus yelped, taking the coward’s way out.
She turned and stared at them. Immediately, her eyes narrowed. “What’s going on?”
“Traitor,” Sirius said and brought his wand down.
The bowl plummeted.
“Don’t kill him!” James snapped.
Sirius twisted his wrist again and the bowl turned upside down. The glowing contents slid from the bowl in a single, viscous glob, straight onto the glistening head of Severus Snape. The bowl bounced off the table as he reared back in surprise and then howled as his hair caught fire.
“Don’t kill him!” Lily shrieked at James. “Was that the best you could do?”
Narcissa Black, whose reflexes Remus couldn’t fault, dashed a jug of pumpkin juice over Snape’s head and then whirled, charging towards the Gryffindor table. Half of Hufflepuff ducked and Sirius went for his wand with a whoop of glee.
Regulus, Remus thought as chaos descended, probably had the best of it.
Chapter 7: A Simple Solution
Remus was awake long before dawn. The moon was round and heavy already. Tonight he would run free, though he would not remember it, come the day. This morning all he could feel was the ache in his bones and the sick dread twisting in his stomach. There was no point staying in bed so he dug his book out and went to sit by the window. It was cut deep into the castle walls and he could perch in there and press his aching back against the cool stone.
The others were still sleeping. Peter was curled up, snoring. James was flat on his back, arms folded. There was a faint smile on his face. Sirius, in his usual fashion, was sprawled across his bed, bare feet thrust out of the end, hair spread across his pillow, blankets knotted and clutched close. His lashes were smutty against his cheeks and his lips were slightly parted.
“You look about twelve,” Remus whispered, so softly he could barely hear himself. He wasn’t sure he believed it, though, even as he spoke. Innocence was not youth. It hardly seemed fair that Sirius, who had spent the last day dodging Slytherin curses and scrubbing Moaning Myrtle’s toilet with a toothbrush for detention, should look so peaceful when he slept.
The sun was coming up over the lake, making the water gleam chilly. The clouds had vanished, banished by the moon, and the whole world seemed silver. Fernlike spars of frost criss-crossed the window. Remus sighed and traced their patterns, holding his fingers just away from the glass so the heat of his body wouldn’t melt them.
His hand was shaking.
With a heavy sigh, he rested his cheek against the stone, letting the cold numb his skin. He hated this. They had told his parents, so long ago he couldn’t remember it himself, that he would get used to it. Instead, every time it was worse. Except it wasn’t, damn this melodramatic moon-cursed indecision. He couldn’t bear the thought of doing it alone again. It was why he was such a bloody awful prefect. There was nothing he would deny them, all of them. They had made him human again when he hadn’t even realised how far he had wandered into himself.
The ice-ferns were shining now, the sun bright behind them.
There was a creak of bedsprings and someone padded across the floor.
“Shove up,” Sirius said and climbed in beside him. Remus brought his knees up obediently, making space for Sirius to sit opposite him. His nightgown pooled around him and he tucked the end over Remus’ bare feet. The flannel was warm and Remus was too grateful to feel more than embarrassment at his blush.
“I woke up in the night. Saw the moon but you looked like you were asleep. Bad night?”
He shrugged and looked at the window again. “It might be a nice day. The frost is lovely.”
“Lightning,” Sirius said, glancing at it. “Pretty.”
“You could sound more interested.”
“I prefer people.” He shoved his feet forward so they covered Remus’ toes. “Cold feet.”
“Not all of us have inbuilt heating spells, you warm git.” But he wasn’t going to pull away.
Sirius grinned at him. “I had an idea while I was asleep. About getting news from the Hospital Wing. I reckon, if I can poison Snape in Potions, then all I need to do is persuade Slughorn to let me take him to Pomfrey.”
“Even the Slug won’t trust you with that one. Why don’t you just go there and ask her how your brother is?”
Sirius looked surprised. “Oh, I couldn’t. It doesn’t work like that.”
“Because I hate him and he hates me.”
“So why do you care?”
“Because he’s still my brother. Blood matters.”
“And in two words you’ve summed up all that is wrong with this world.”
“Rightfully. Please don’t start something today, Sirius. I ache.”
Sirius studied him, looking worried. “Go back to bed.”
He stared at the ice again, refusing to meet Sirius’ gaze. “Not letting it win.”
A heavy sigh and Sirius asked, “What can I do?”
“Behave. Oh, and, grovel to Lily, will you? She’s blaming James for what you did yesterday and he’ll whine all day if she’s not speaking to him.”
“I heard that!”
“Morning, Prongs,” said Remus and sat up a little.
“Prongs, tell Remus to go back to bed.”
“I’m not ill! I can walk. I can write. I can read. I can hold a wand. Not ill.”
Sirius grinned and wriggled his toes. “He asked me to behave. Must be something wrong with him.”
“I might bloody well ask you to behave yet. You could have waited until Lily wasn’t watching.”
“Lily’s always watching you,” Peter said sleepily. “Shut up, will you all. Bell hasn’t gone yet.”
“Really?” James breathed, sitting up. “Really, really, really? Right, you lot are going to have to start acting like civilised human beings.”
There was a three-voiced protest and Sirius demanded, “Who made you prefect?”
“He should have been,” said Remus glumly. “We might actually have kept some points.”
“But we wouldn’t have had any fun,” Peter protested, blinking at James.
“Bet he would have told us the password to the prefects’ bathroom more often,” Sirius mused. “I still think it’s not fair that we couldn’t do anything to Narcissa’s bathwater.”
“Will you all stop staring at me,” snapped James. “And stop talking crap. I’d have been a terrible prefect.”
“Couldn’t have been worse than me.”
Peter looked at James who rolled his eyes. Peter, smirking, said sweetly, “Time of the month, Moony?”
“He even shrieks like a girl,” James added happily.
He might not have felt his best but Remus still had his wand and was still quite capable of charming two pillows into high-speed flight.
Sirius roared with laughter. “And Lupin scores for Gryffindor. The combination of his tactical genius and the devastating talent of Beater Black – oof!”
Remus, knocked into Sirius by a flying pillow, leant comfortably against the warm muddle of Sirius and pillow before he took aim. The moon was coming but he wouldn’t be alone and he was damned if he’d let Prongs and Wormtail win a pillow war.
Chapter 8: A Simple Solace
A stag, a dog and a rat stood in the mist by the shores of the Hogwarts lake, still as the grey water. Then the stag lifted his antlers, the dog shook the water out of his coat and the rat quivered.
For a moment there was only shadows in the mist but then three boys stood on the shore.
“Sirius!” Peter squeaked. “Did you have to? I’m soaked.”
Sirius, whose brain was still muggy with paws pounding, long strides, wolf, stag, chase the moon grinned at him, showing all his teeth.
“Cut it out,” James said slowly, gazing at the water. He was always quieter after the moon. Sirius cocked his head at him and grinned again.
“Nice shiner, Prongs.”
“That was the Willow,” Peter said. “It was while I crawled under it, so it was. Whomp!”
“Take a deep breath, Wormtail,” James advised, exploring his eye with his fingertips. “Ow.”
“Take it to Pomfrey,” Peter said.
“And explain it how?” James demanded. “Oh, yes, Madam Pomfrey, I was just hanging around the Whomping Willow in case any friendly werewolves happened to drop by, why do you ask?”
“Thinks he funny, doesn’t he?” Peter asked, nose twitching.
“Push him in the lake?” Sirius suggested, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“Get lost,” James said amicably. “It’s Hogsmeade weekend. Do you want to be kept here?”
“Got a date, Prongs?” Peter said with a snigger and James sighed heavily.
“At least she’s talking to you now,” Peter said as they turned towards the castle. “Another six years and you might get lucky.”
Sirius did not move. It didn’t seem right, to stroll around talking about girls and jokes and pointless things when Remus was still huddled down there, hurting.
“Padfoot?” James asked patiently.
“I’m going back to the Shack.”
James and Peter moved as one, grabbing an arm each before he could transform. “No!” snapped James. “I have to tell you every month. No.”
“It’s not fair,” Sirius muttered, twisting.
“Nor is it fair to make Remus explain how he suddenly acquired a pet dog,” James said.
“And how he managed not to rip said dog to shreds,” added Peter. “She’ll be there soon, Sirius. You know she will.”
“It’s still not fair. Why him?”
“Pointless question,” James said crisply. “We can’t change things that have happened. We just have to decide how to react to them.”
Sirius glared at him. One night as a bloody stag and the daft twat thought he was deep. “Let me go,” he snarled. “I won’t go to the Shack. I just need to- I dunno.”
“Run?” James suggested gently.
Peter smirked. “Howl at the moon?”
“That’s wolves, you prat.”
“But dogs are part-wolf and Sirius is part-dog so he must be a slightly part-wolf, too. Hey, Padfoot, if you’re a boy who’s part-wolf, does that make you some sort of tame werewolf?”
“Grr,” Sirius said and Peter cackled and ran, scuttling up towards the castle.
Sirius grinned at him. “Try to de-rat him before breakfast. It’s embarrassing when he tries to gnaw his porridge.”
James looked at him, uncertain, and he gave him a slight push. “Go on. I’m fine.”
“Are you? Really? You’ve been in a state all week.”
“I’m fine. Worry about Remus, not me.”
“I can’t do anything about Remus. I can thump some sense into you, though.”
“Sense,” Sirius said loftily, “is plebeian.” Then he reached and twisted so that he folded down into Padfoot. James put his hands on his hips and glared down. Padfoot began to lift a leg.
James leapt back, yelping, “Wanker!” and Padfoot turned and loped away into the mist.
Everything was grey, even the grass. Scents criss-crossed his path like dripping cobwebs. He ignored them, running on in search of something he could not define. At last he stopped, dropping down on his haunches on the edge of the water.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that he could break free in a roar of glory and exhaust fumes but Remus, Remus who never complained in words, was bound tighter every moon. It wasn’t fair that he could run free, whenever the mood took him, but Remus had to lie there, in the cold room, broken and waiting. It wasn’t-
The urge to howl overwhelmed him and he lifted his head, baying at the treacherous moon where it crouched secretively, hidden by the sun and the grey mists.
Leaving Remus was the worse of it, every moon-morning. He loved the run, the thrill, the danger of the Forest. When he held the wolf at bay he was real, not some puppet child or dazzling rebel. Pranks and smiles and crafted wit were not real, not like the salt-hum of blood and wet leaves and the fear of the forest beasts. One day, they would jump through the appropriate hoops and become legal animagi. It would be something to strut about, something fun but this pitting of brawn and will against a monster was what mattered. It was all that mattered, really, if you stripped away all the stupid, pointless ordinariness of life.
And then the moon was gone and there was Moony, torn and tired and sick. It wasn’t just unfair to leave him. It was wrong. It was letting the monster win. Somebody should be there.
Now, there was an interesting problem. Much better than inventing increasingly messy ways to destroy his family’s letters. Moony needed someone to look after him. Someone who could be there when he woke up. Someone devious enough to hide from Pomfrey. Someone who could keep a secret.
The only suitable girl he could think of was Lily. Nah, Prongs might make a fuss. They’d have to make a list – they could do that in the Three Broomsticks this afternoon, after he’d been to Honeydukes.
Of course, she’d have to be able to piss off for the rest of the month. It was bad enough to have one girl hanging around. Two would be unbearable. He’d have to consult Lily.
Spirits lifted, Padfoot lolloped away from the lake. Today was going to be fun.
After all, finding Remus Lupin a girlfriend had to be easier than the animagi transformation and they’d managed that.
Chapter 9: A Simple Suggestion
Remus doesn't take well to Sirius' idea.
“But, Sirius,” Remus protested feebly, “I don’t want a girlfriend.”
Sirius was beginning to feel more than a little aggrieved. Peter had laughed at him. James had hit him round the head and told he was a twat. Lily… Best not to think about what Lily had said. What was a chauvinist, anyway? It sounded like something his family would put in their music room.
“I’m trying to help,” he said sulkily and turned to stare out over the garden. They were on the balcony of the hospital wing. Remus was so swathed in blankets that he probably couldn’t see the yellowing sweep of clematis leaves and collapsing buddleia and the bright Michaelmas daisies. Flowers, Sirius thought, were just too cheerful, even when they were dying.
“How could that possibly help?” Remus demanded. “I’m lying to enough people.”
He was always crotchety after the moon and so Sirius slid off the balustrade to retuck his blankets. “Where does it hurt?”
“Fuck off, Padfoot.” He retreated beneath his blankets. Sirius flopped down at his feet, squirming around to fit into the patch of sunlight that stains the stones golden. He didn’t lean, although he wanted to, because it would make it hurt more. Instead, he let the sun ease his own aches and waited. Only one more night of this bloody moon and then they could relax for a month. He had a thin scratch across his back which stung like salt and a bruise on his hip he would have to blame on a Bludger.
Remus still hadn’t emerged. It was obviously time for extreme measures. Very gently, so Remus wouldn’t jump too much, Sirius worked his hand under the blankets and tickled his ankle.
“Get off me!”
“Shan’t,” Sirius said, wrapping his hand around Remus’ bony heel. “You need a girlfriend.”
Remus sighed. “You’re not going to give up, are you? Alright. Enlighten me. Why do I need a girlfriend?”
“To look after you.”
“I do not need looking after.” Ah. That was the huffy voice.
“Course not. Only after the moon.”
“She makes you wait!” Sirius snarled and was shocked at the bitterness in his voice. “You shouldn’t be on your own. And nobody chases girlfriends out of the hospital wing. And you might get a shag out of it.”
Remus blinked. “And what does she get out of it?”
That was a stupid question and Sirius regarded him with scorn. “You. Well, at full moons, anyway. The rest of the month you’re ours.”
A faint, quirky grin and Remus said, “Doesn’t sound much of a bargain.”
Remus laughed a little and Sirius beamed at him. He almost never laughed on moon-days. Then he squirmed back under his blankets and said, “Padfoot. Think about it. Why would I want a girlfriend who was only there at full moons?”
“Oh.” Sirius felt his heart sink. It was bad enough that Prongs actually spent time with Lily these days. However, if making Remus happy meant losing him to some girl, he’d survive. He might not have any fun without them but he’d survive.
“I would be using her,” Remus said. “It wouldn’t be fair and, well – if I was only using her why should she keep my secrets? If I can’t trust someone, why bother?”
“Lily said that,” Sirius mumbled. “Sort of.”
“Sort of? Wait. You told Lily?”
“I thought she might suggest someone.” He used his free hand to sweep up the thin, yellow leaves into a neat square. The other was still comfortably curved around Remus’ ankle. “She yelled at me.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“And tipped butterbeer over my head.”
Remus laughed again, a little, dry snort. “Poor, maltreated Padfoot. Bloody stupid idea, though.”
“Maybe.” He eyed Remus thoughtfully. The sun was bright, though there was a bite in the air, and he looked so frail, like the fading golden threads in the tapestries at home – no, at that house, nevermore home. Tentatively, he suggested, “There’s always plan b.”
“Lily. We’d have to kill Prongs first, though.”
“Please tell me you didn’t suggest that.”
“Holding it in reserve.”
“Sirius, I absolutely, totally and utterly swear to you that I don’t need a girlfriend. To be even more precise, I don’t need a girlfriend selected by you and Lily-”
“And Prongs and Wormtail.”
“Should I get Pomfrey?”
“No. Just stop making me laugh.”
“I didn’t mean to!” Sirius protested.
“You never mean to, Mr Black,” Madam Pomfrey said tartly. “Remus, dear, I’m going to wheel you in. It’s getting cold.”
“Thank you,” Remus said and leant back in his chair. “Can Sirius stay?”
Pomfrey glared at him, arms crossed. Sirius tried to look innocent.
“Not when I have a ward full of Slytherins,” she said firmly. “You’re unreliable, Mr Black.”
“You wound me,” Sirius said, mock-swooning.
Remus laughed and she relented. “Five minutes more. In the warm.”
Sirius released Remus’ ankle and scrabbled to his feet. The dying garden was glowing gold and brown, Moony-colours. He worked out the words in his mind as Pomfrey turned Remus’ chair.
“Got a lot of Slytherins in, then?”
“At least half the house. They always start these things. That common room of theirs is unsanitary. Damp.” She pressed her lips together and Sirius realised she was tired.
“Any of them really bad?” he asked casually, as if he hoped they were all dying.
“Your brother’s fine, Mr Black. Just too stubborn to admit he was ill. He’s fine now but he ran a high temperature for a couple of days.”
“He always does,” Sirius let out and then stumbled. “Not that – I mean – I didn’t – I don’t care.”
She pressed his shoulder gently. “I won’t tell him you asked then.”
“Thank you,” Sirius said and slumped onto the end of Remus’ bed. Remus wriggled his toes and Sirius shifted along.
“You’re an idiot,” Remus said.
“But you’re the best type of idiot.”
Sirius gave him a Padfoot-grin and admitted, “It was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?”
“I’ll forgive you,” Remus said wryly. “I always do. Now piss off so I can get some sleep before moonrise.”
Chapter 10: A Simple Sweetness
Lily waits for the Marauders after a full moon.
Lily had made cocoa.
It wasn’t much of a gesture but she’d got up before dawn to creep down to the common room to do it and it wasn’t as if she could do much else. She wasn’t one of them. She couldn’t run with them.
If any of the four of them had dared laugh at her for waiting she would have huffed and lectured about how modern witches were perfectly capable of anything a wizard could do, thank you very much. Here, in the warm, ancient quiet of the old tower she could feel the faint ghosts of more archaic emotions, of what it meant to wait and trust.
It had been the Fat Lady, befriending a bewildered little Muggleborn, who had once told her that it took as much courage not to act. “Those boys,” she’d said with a sniff. “All bravado. They’re not brave, dumpling. They’re just pretending.”
Lily, who had forgotten the password and wasn’t sure if she was more terrified of the lurking dangers of a Hogwarts night or of being caught, had said, “But everyone thinks they’re brave.”
“They don’t know what brave is,” the Fat Lady had said firmly. “Boys never do. They just run around and shout to pretend they’re not afraid. Those of us who wait and watch and pretend that all is well with the world…” She’d shaken her head, her corsets creaking ominously.
“That’s old-fashioned,” Lily had said, with all the omniscience of an eleven year old.
The Fat Lady had just smiled and launched into a story about her friend Violet’s feud with the Bloody Baron.
The cocoa was getting cold. Lily muttered at it, waving her wand, and then wobbled over to the window. She was feeling increasingly all-overish.
It was raining, thrumming against the glass and washing the walls with water. She leant her forehead against the window and squinted but she couldn’t even see the Willow. She’d just have to wait.
She made her way back to the sofa and collapsed into the corner. It was a comfortable sofa, this. She never got to sit on it. It was usually full of Sirius Black. That was still a surprise, being friends with the boy who’d caused a riot in their very first class by refusing to sit next to ‘that Mudblood because she’s probably infectious.’
And there was Peter, wily little Peter, who tried so hard to pretend he didn’t adore James. Lily didn’t think there were enough witticisms in the world to conceal that loyalty, undeserved though it might be.
She’d always assumed she knew Remus. She’d never even suspected he had a secret, let alone one so unnerving. She wondered, vaguely, what other secrets he hid. There were times when something crossed his face, something she would have called loneliness if he hadn’t been a Marauder.
Rain made such a lovely noise. She’d much rather stay here all day and listen to the rain. Classes seemed rather daunting. Breakfast seemed rather daunting. She wasn’t even sure she’d cope if Sirius kicked her off the sofa.
There was a creak and the portrait hole swung open.
Peter tumbled through first. He darted across the room. “Cocoa! James! Sirius! James! Sirius! James! Lily made cocoa! Cocoa!”
Oh, god, Lily thought desperately. Too much rat.
Sirius strode after him. He eyed her balefully for a second before he scooped up a mug and went to glower out of the window. “Ta, Evans.”
“Any time,” she said and blinked at how her voice creaked.
James let the portrait fall closed and stood still, gazing at her. She looked back, blurry-eyed, and couldn’t stop herself from smiling. He came to her, all controlled force and silence, and looked down, his eyes dark and wide.
“Cocoa!” Peter squeaked, slurping it up.
“Are you okay?” James asked.
She sometimes wondered if he could be like this all the time, all his restless energy focussed. It would be terrifying.
“I’m okay,” she croaked and felt her throat convulse. “I – achoo! Ah-ah-achoo!”
The sneeze tore through her, throwing her back in her seat, wet-eyed. As she fell back she could see he was still watching her.
“Slytherin flu,” Sirius said, still glaring out the window.
“No it’s not,” Peter said. “If Lily’s got it, it’s Gryffindor flu.”
James smiled, a quick quirk of his lips, and said, “Get Pomfrey.”
Peter bounced up, spilling cocoa.
“She won’t be back yet,” Sirius said. “She’ll still be out there.”
Lily curled back in the corner of the sofa. She wanted to go back to bed but here came another sneeze, tearing through her.
“Then we’ll take her ourselves,” James said firmly. “Should get there at the same time.”
“And Sirius can check that Remus is okay,” Peter added.
James looked puzzled. “We know he’s okay. We just saw him.”
Peter shrugged. “He always checks.”
Sirius swung round, fierce and cold, but then shrugged.
“Ups-a-girl,” James said, pulling at Lily’s hand.
“I can’t,” she said. “Fuzzy legs.”
“Padfoot! Get your arse over here.”
Sirius came over, quirking his head. James didn’t say anything but after a moment they bent over Lily.
“Arms up,” James said.
It was an effort but she lifted them obediently. A broad shoulder was shoved under each arm and they stepped forward, their arms sitting across the back of her thighs.
“Lift,” James said and she was hoisted up. After a bewildering moment, she found herself sitting on their arms.
“Alright, Evans?” Sirius said.
“Never better,” she managed. “If either of you even thinks of doing something inappropriate we’ll be in negative points until Christmas.”
“You wound me,” James said and Sirius murmured, “Such gratitude.”
Peter darted ahead to open the portrait hole. Lily, who was embarrassingly close to tears, closed her eyes and hung on.
She roused briefly when they reached the Hospital Wing and deposited her on a bed, mainly because James was arguing with Pomfrey.
“…not leaving her here with a load of Slytherins.”
“Mr Potter, whatever you are implying, enough!”
Lily huddled back against the pillows and watched Sirius slide away to the side-ward.
“And for your information, Mr Potter, I currently have forty-three Slytherins, twenty-nine Ravenclaws, twelve Hufflepuffs and three Gryffindors in the influenza ward. Now will you please remove yourselves before you get infected.”
“We’re going,” James said calmly.
“Where’s Mr Black?”
There was a brief silence and then Peter said, “He went down for breakfast. I don’t think he appreciated James waking him up for this.”
No, Lily thought as she slipped thankfully into sleep. She might not be a Marauder but she could keep their secrets. Then, hazily, Hang on, that’s almost a third of the school…
Chapter 11: A Hidden House
Grumpy, sleep-deprived Marauders in the rain.
“No Potions for us,” Sirius chanted gleefully. “No Runes for Moony. Hours of unexpected freedom. We have been liberated, comrades. Up the revolution!”
Remus had regretted a great many things during the course of his friendship with Sirius Black. Introducing him to Muggle newspapers was one of them. He wasn’t sure which subscription worried him more – the one to The Sun or the Socialist Worker
James, who was blithely ignorant of Muggle politics, pressed his chin further into his coat and said, “You do realise you’re celebrating the misfortune of others, Padfoot?”
“Why should I care if Slugbum has the flu?” Sirius demanded. “Death to the oppressors.”
“It’s not a laughing matter,” James snapped. “This is serious, Sirius – shut up, Wormtail. This is an epidemic of unseen vastness. This is a pandemic.”
“Technically-” Remus began and then shut up as James glared at him. Between James’ extended sulk at being chased from Lily’s bedside and Sirius’ usual post-lunar silliness, tempers were fraying.
Peter said hopefully, “Prank?”
James turned an anguished stare on him. “When the light of my life is dying alone amongst Slytherins? You are heartless, Wormtail, heartless and vile. Your callous-”
Sirius started making sick noises.
Remus thought wistfully of the quiet of the Hospital Wing after the moon. “It’s only flu, Prongs. It’s not lethal, as I’m sure you’re discover fairly soon.”
“You’re obviously sickening for something.”
“You reckon?” James asked hopefully as Sirius said, “Nah, he’s just sickening.”
“Fuck off, Black, you purebloo- achoo!”
“Told you so,” Remus said as James caught his breath and began to grin.
“Wow,” he croaked. “Do you think Pomfrey will give me the bed next to Lily’s?”
“What, so you can wank over Evans in her pyjamas?” Sirius asked. “You’ll die in agony if she catches you.”
“You are a low-minded pimple, Black,” James said loftily and then added thoughtfully, “Some causes are worth dyin- achoo!” He stumbled as he sneezed, slithering across the wet grass. Sirius caught him, propping him up until he regained his balance.
“Wormtail,” he said, all dignity. “Take me to the Hospital Wing. You two wankers can bugger off.”
Remus blinked at him and Sirius said indignantly, “Moony didn’t-”
“He pedanted at me.”
“There’s no such verb,” Remus said, just to be aggravating.
Peter snorted. “Sounds dirty.”
“Everything sounds dirty to you, you pervert. Now escort me to my lady’s- achoo!”
Sirius and Remus were left on the lawn. The sky was getting increasingly grey and Remus, whose new scabs were itching, glanced wistfully after them. “Back inside, Padfoot?”
“Inside? Why? It’s a lovely day.”
Remus stared around at the wan light, the wet lawns and the grey lake and said, “How precisely?”
Sirius waved his hand and said vaguely, “It’s very, uh…”
“That means black and white. This is grey.”
Sirius shoved his hands into his sleeves. “I don’t want to go in. The portraits keep talking about me.”
Even for Sirius that was excessively paranoid.
“Half of them are my family,” Sirius added.
“Oh.” It was getting dark and the wind was biting. “What do you want to do then?”
“Peter’s right. Let’s prank someone.”
“I shouldn’t…” he began, heart sinking, and Sirius swung away, scowling.
“Fine. Be like that.”
“It’s alright for you,” Remus snapped at his retreating back. “Just because you’d have abused your powers.”
“I’m not listening,” Sirius called out and put his hands over his ears.
“Fine.” Remus marched off in the other direction.
By the time he’d made it to the lake it was pissing it down. He slumped down on a boulder anyway. Let Sirius be self-righteous. It wasn’t like he ever had to be responsible for anything or look after anyone. He never - moon nights didn’t count!
Thwarted even in his self-pity, he hugged his knees and glared out at the water. Even the squid was hidden from sight. He hadn’t wanted to give up pranks. He liked the thrill and challenge of it. It wasn’t fair that not only had he been deprived but also blamed for it.
There was water running down his nose. His fringe was sticking to his eyelashes. His toes were soggy. It would serve them all right if he caught pneumonia and died even though he wouldn’t because werewolves didn’t.
A large, damp head butted his thigh. He looked down to see Padfoot gazing up at him, eyes begging and tail wagged hopefully.
“Piss off,” Remus said. “I’m not talking to you.”
Padfoot whined and caught the corner of Remus’ robes in his mouth.
“And don’t slobber on me, either.”
An insistent tug and so he sighed heavily and got up. He maintained a dignified silence as Padfoot dragged him across the grounds towards the Quidditch pitch.
“I am not playing fucking Midnight Snitch with you.”
Another reproachful look and a tug.
Padfoot stopped underneath the old oak at the foot of Hufflepuff tower. Remus pressed against the trunk, hoping the patchy covering of leaves would hold some of the rain off. In a puddle by his feet he could discern the disintegrating remnants of a letter. The Black family crest, mud-smeared and well-trodden, floated in the murky water.
“I suppose you’re feeling better now?”
Padfoot looked up.
There was something in the tree. After a bewildered moment he recognised the tree house some of the younger Hufflepuffs had built last summer. There was a light showing. Intrigued, Remus scrabbled up the trunk, anchoring himself with the guide rope.
The inside of the tree house wasn’t very big but it was dry and flat. The roof was shimmery with waterproofing spells and a clay bowl was floating in the middle of it, full of burning twigs.
It was almost, well, cosy.
Sirius stuck his head through the hole in the floor. “Moony?”
He didn’t know what to say but at last managed, “Aren’t you coming in?”
Sirius scrambled up in a sprawling flurry. “Inside but not inside,” he said, looking sideways at Remus.
He could hear the rain drumming comfortably on the roof. “Nice.”
Sirius crawled across the floor to lean against the trunk of the tree which formed most of the back wall. “We just need alcohol.”
“Bad idea,” Remus said squatting next to him. “Mood we’re all in, ‘twould end in violence.”
“Why are we in a mood?” Sirius was fiddling with the hem of his robe.
Because James and Lily are ill and you’re getting menacing letters and Peter’s feeling insecure so he’s being loud and I’m – okay, I have no excuse…
“Blame the weather. And the moon. Blame everything on the moon.”
“Or my family,” Sirius said with a tentative grin and yawned. “D’you mind if I go to sleep? Can’t do it in the common room – people ask questions.”
Of course, none of them slept properly during the moon. Feeling guilty, Remus said, “Course I don’t mind. Might just join you.”
Sirius grinned at him and slumped back. “Transfigure some leaves into pillows, then. I can’t be bothered.”
Remus dipped carefully out to gather a handful of leaves. By the time he had a single green and crackly cushion Sirius was snoring loudly.
Remus put the cushion down and looked at Sirius. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Thump me when I’m grumpy. I do appreciate it. More than I ever say.”
“I know that, you prat,” Sirius said, without opening his eyes. “Now hush! The Almighty One is trying to sleep.”
For that Remus would let him have the cushion.
Chapter 12: A Hidden Hope
Sirius isn't going to let Remus in from the fog until he gets some answers.
The fog was thick and yellow, clinging around them. Sirius seemed to regard it as an adventure, glancing around with bright eyes as he held up his wand to light their way. Remus followed at his heels, still blinking sleep from his eyes. He had no idea what time it was and wasn’t sure whether to be more worried about getting caught or that he had woken up with his head pillowed on Sirius’ thigh. He was pretty sure Sirius hadn’t woken up until after he had jumped and thrown himself across the treehouse. He wasn’t quite certain, though.
Sirius was humming between his teeth. Remus recognised the tune.
“The Red Flag, Padfoot?”
Sirius smirked at him. “Falter not, comrade Lupin. We will find the front doors yet.”
“Where did you learn that?”
“What did you think I did in London all summer? Stare out my window and brood?”
As he had thought just that Remus decided that discretion was the better part of valour and kept quiet.
“Don’t know how you can disapprove. You recognised it. Tell.”
“Partying on the sly, Moony, old man?”
Remus shrugged. “Y’know. Students, booze on the beach, no dogs waking me up before dawn. Have to get get away sometimes.”
“Did you pull?”
Remus wondered how much Sirius knew about Brighton and its peculiar nightlife.
“Not quite,” he said and immediately regretted it.
Sirius stopped dead. “Not quite?”
“Means no,” Remus said hurriedly.
“Frightfully chilly,” Remus said. “Must be past two. Must go. Bed. Bed good.” He began to creep sideways, crab-fashion.
Sirius grabbed his arm. “How far is not quite? Did she turn you down?”
No, Remus thought. He didn’t. He shrugged. He wanted to go inside, away from this clinging fog and memories he wasn’t proud of.
“That means something happened,” Sirius said, eyes narrowing.
“Yes, it did.”
“Hah! Tell your Uncle Padfoot all, Moony.”
“Fuck off, Sirius. It’s nothing to do with you.”
He wasn’t expected to be tackled and he went flying. The ground was wet and the breath went wheezing out of him as Sirius landed. As soon as he could he swung up, punching blindly. Sirius hit back with a whoop and they went rolling and scrabbling across the lawn. It ended, as it usually did, with Sirius sitting squarely on Remus’ legs.
Remus looked up at him. The lights from the Hospital Wing stained the fog yellow and it swirled around Sirius, making him look sallow and fey.
“Better?” he asked.
Remus was surprised to realise that he was. It annoyed him. Physical violence was not meant to be a solution.
“Good,” Sirius said. “So?”
He wasn’t going to give up. Remus considered waiting him out but his back was freezing and he was already losing circulation to his toes. So, if you can’t lie, equivocate.
“It was shit, alright.”
“Do I interrogate you?”
“I am as chaste as the morning,” Sirius said loftily. “And curious.”
“Can’t you be curious about someone else?”
“But you’re my Moony. Come on. Did she slobber?”
He was really tired. If he closed his eyes he might be able to go to sleep. That would stop this nightmare of a conversation.
“Was she sick in your mouth?”
“That’s disgusting. No.”
“So why was it shit?”
“Sirius, can you not take a hint?”
“When I want to,” Sirius said, settling himself more comfortably. Remus, whose treacherous body was beginning to register that it was being sat on by Sirius Black, pressed back into the wet grass and tried to summon hypothermia by will alone.
“I’m not going to this time.”
“Why not?” Remus asked, eyes shut.
“Because you’re upset about it and you’re my mate and nobody else but me has the right to fuck with your head. So I want to know. I want to know what she did and I want to know who she is so I can go and give her fucking hives because you’ve been weird on me all term and if this is why then- then I don’t like it.”
Oh, fuck. He did not have a lump in his throat and Sirius Black was not an unpredictable, brilliant wanker and he was probably obliged to say something before it was too late. “Your loyalties scare me, Pads. Only I’m allowed to fuck with my head.”
“You are not,” Sirius said. “I can give you hives too. I’m really good at it. Just ask Snivellus.”
“Are you trying to get me killed?”
“No. It would be funny – don’t change the subject.”
Damn. He considered his words carefully. “I was at a party. More of less gatecrashed. I’d had too much to drink but not quite enough. We were outside and the wind suddenly came off the sea and I sort of panicked and-”
“Take a breath,” Sirius said, patting his hip comfortingly. Remus really wished he wouldn’t. “On the beach? Did you get sand in your bits?”
“There isn’t sand, you twat. Pebble beach. Anyway, we were under the pier.”
“It’s damp and concretey and stinks of piss and I suddenly got sober. And there were mermaids.”
“They shouldn’t have been there. They kept commenting.”
“Could put a bloke off,” Sirius said soberly but he was grinning.
“You’re laughing at me.”
“Only because it’s funny.”
“Sorry. Alright. You’re under Brighton pier, pissed off your head, with mermaids ogling-”
“With mermaids singing at you. And you look at them and have a Moony-freak and sober up because they’re looking at your bits and-”
“Actually,” Remus said, halfway between amused and annoyed, “I was thinking, shit, there’s mermaids and some Muggle whose name I don’t know has his hand down my trousers and all I can think is what if he turns round and – oh, fuck.”
Sirius was gawping at him. If he hadn’t just inadvertantly outed himself Remus might have appreciated the sheer bewilderment on his face.
“Oh, fuck,” Remus said again and made a lunge for freedom.
Sirius dropped his full weight onto his legs, trapping him. Then, with a gurgle, he threw back his head and laughed.
Remus had had enough. With a force he hadn’t known he possessed he shoved himself up and punched Sirius in the shoulder. Sirius collapsed backwards and Remus dragged his legs free and tried to scrabble to his feet. Sirius took him down with a rather giggly whoop and he kicked back, gasping.
It was not very long before he found himself flat on his back again, this time with Sirius sitting on his chest. Remus, who really wasn’t thinking about how that placed Sirius’ crotch directly in his line of vision, tipped his head back and stared at the fog.
Sirius’ face appeared above his, his hair falling down to brush Remus’ cheek. “Mooooooony.”
Remus shut his eyes.
“You daft twat,” Sirius said happily. “Is that what’s been bothering you?”
He wasn’t going to say anything. And not just because Sirius was squashing his lungs.
“You don’t really think we’d care? Get as debauched as you like, mate. We won’t take any points. Good for you, getting debauched is. Puts things in perspective. We could go and nick some firewhiskey now if you like and go and debauch Peter. Actually, on second thoughts-”
“Shut up,” Remus croaked.
“Yeah, he’s about as straight as straight gets, isn’t he?”
Remus had a long mental list of things he never, ever, ever, ever wanted to discuss with Sirius Black. Peter Pettigrew’s sexuality was now on it.
“So what happened next?”
It wasn’t that he wanted to lose his friends but it would have been nice to get a bit more of a reaction. Scowling, he muttered, “Said would miss my bus and ran.”
“How early in the evening was this?”
“Not that early. The last bus to Bognor is about half-eight. This was late. I flooed home.”
“Ah.” Sirius cocked his head, frowning. “Does sound a bit shit, mate. Don’t think debauchery is your thing, really.” He shoved himself up and Remus squeaked as his lungs protested. Sirius offered him a hand and he let himself be pulled to his feet.
“You’re soaked and I’m starving. Kitchen raid?”
“Okay,” Remus said.
“Knew that prefecting hadn’t corrupted you completely.”
“You should do that more often, mate. Would make life much easier.”
“For you?” Remus snapped, still disconcerted.
“No,” Sirius said, still too serious. “For you.”
Sirius sighed and hunched his shoulders before turning round. “It doesn’t bother me. I mean, I’ve seen you watching Quidditch practice and you look at everyone. I just didn’t know whether you knew yet. Just sorry it was shit. Now, c’mon. It’s bloody freezing out here.”
Remus followed him, not sure how he was meant to be reacting. He would never understand Sirius Black.
Chapter 13: A Hidden Hoard
The dormitory seems strange without James.
The house elves had made James’ bed. The red blanket was straight. The corners were neat. The pillows were perfectly plumped and aligned with the edge of the mattress.
It was wrong. As far as he was concerned there were certain inalterable truths in the world and one of them was that Prongs and neat beds did not combine.
“Is everyone else still awake?” he asked loudly.
“Only because you won’t shut up,” groaned Peter.
“Yes,” Remus said quietly.
Sirius glared at him. He had the covers up around his neck again and had turned his back. Which was code for ‘Remus Lupin does not want to talk.’ Which meant that he was still fussing about yesterday. Which was also wrong.
Sirius sighed and threw himself back onto his pillows. “You two are crap. I want Prongs back.”
“You’re crap,” Peter retorted sleepily. “Go and get flu, then.”
Remus dragged the blankets over his head.
Sirius looked from him to Peter, who was blinking at him, and threw his hands into the air. Rolling out of bed, he stalked over to glare at James’ pristine bed. “Do you know what I’m going to do? I am going to bounce on Prongs’ bed.”
“Why?” Peter asked.
“Because it shouldn’t be neat. We have a sacred duty to keep his stuff as he’d like it. If he dies, he’ll be back here to haunt you, you’ll see. He’ll hang over your bed, moaning, Wormtail, Wormtail, you failed me! You let them make my bed! Ooooooo!”
Peter dodged him and said, “But James isn’t going to die?”
“No,” Remus said. “He’s only got it lightly. And he wouldn’t haunt you, Pete.”
“I don’t deserve to be haunted,” Sirius pointed out. “And you’re boring.”
Remus retreated under his blankets again. “He’d haunt the girls’ bathroom, you twat.”
Some people, Sirius thought sourly, were just too clever for their own good. He cast a baleful glare at Remus’ blanket-obscured back and heaved himself onto James’ bed. He hurled himself backwards, throwing his arms out for maximum blanket-rumpling effect. Then he looked up.
“Bloody hell! The dirty bastard. Come and look at this, lads.”
Peter was there immediately and after a moment Remus joined them, perching on the edge of the bed. They both looked up.
There was a moment’s silence.
Then Remus said, “Looks like he’s already haunting the girls’ bathroom.”
Peter, hoarse with awe, added, “No wonder he wanks all the time.”
“Evans will kill him if she ever finds out,” Sirius contributed.
They all went back to staring at the photographs pinned to the canopy above them. All were of Lily Evans, in the common room, by the lake, in bed, getting undressed, in the bath . Most were blurry, as if taken from behind something clear and-
“Fuck!” Sirius yelped. “I’ve touched that cloak.”
Remus twitched beside him and Peter said wistfully, “Well, if you’ve got it, use it.”
The other two sat up to stare at him and he said hurriedly, “Not that I would. Don’t like redheads.”
“Yeah, right,” Remus said.
“Angela Mainwaring?” Remus asked.
“Alright. I don’t like Evans – don’t fancy her, I mean. Nice girl. I prefer blondes.”
“Only because you’re scared of Prongs.”
Sirius, who was thinking, let the argument roll over him. It was beginning to occur to him that there was more than one reason to be glad he’d left home. He’d been thinking about it as he burnt that morning’s letter, about all the little things that were no longer his mother’s business. He hadn’t thought of this one until now.
“At least I never stared at Sturgis Podmore’s bum!” Peter said, a little shrilly.
“I did not!” Remus sat up and Sirius reached out absently and grabbed his wrist before he fled. Then he registered what he’d just heard and said, “Podmore?”
“Did too,” Peter said. “Come on, everyone knows I’m the only straight and normal one in this dorm.”
“Make that subnormal and shut up,” Sirius said.
“You like to go rat and run up girls’ legs,” Remus flung over him.
“They smell good!”
There was another silence and Remus said, rather shakily, “Too much information, Wormtail. And James is straight.”
“Oy,” Sirius said.
“Nah,” Peter said wisely. “He’s Lilysexual.”
They all pondered that. Sirius, who was still mulling over his latest revelation, studied the photographs above him. Several of them were moving: Lily running down the corridor, Lily sighing in her sleep, Lily in the bath, arching her back and running her hands down-
“Don’t look at the top right!” Sirius blurted out.
“Urk,” Remus said.
Peter gulped and began to babble, “Blondes, blondes, blondes. Blondes with big tits. Not redheads.”
“Montrose Magpies,” Remus offered. “In the showers. Hot showers.”
“Alone with the Holyhead Harpies,” Peter added. “Which of the Magpies?”
“Er,” Remus muttered and elbowed Sirius. “Your turn, Pads.”
Remus Lupin under Brighton pier, Sirius thought and blinked. Did I just- Bugger Prongs, the dirty stalker.
They were still looking at him. He shrugged and said, “We should burn that one. Or she will find it. Fate, that sort of thing. Always happens. Could be messy.”
“Yeah,” Peter said dreamily and Sirius edged away slightly only to find himself pressed against Remus. He jumped and said, “Right.”
“What?” Peter said. “It’s still your turn. Spill.”
Prongs, Sirius thought desperately, Come back. All is forgiven.
“Sirius?” That was Remus, propped up on an elbow and frowning down at him.
“That’s the thing,” Sirius said. “I was thinking. About my mum-”
“And you said I gave too much information!”
“Not like that! I meant not having to worry about her reacting. Because she’d either disapprove which would be great, except I get sick of Howlers. Or she’d approve which would be bad because she’d expect me to marry them. Only now, it doesn’t matter. I could go down into the common room and shout ‘Come and shag me’ and then do whoever threw themselves at me first and it wouldn’t matter.”
There was a stunned silence. Then Remus said, “Your ego is terrifying.”
“Bet it would work for him, though,” Peter said wistfully. “And I don’t see how you can imply I’m perverted after that.”
“You are a pervert, Pete. Just because he has more issues doesn’t mean yours have vanished.”
“Aren’t you happy for me?” Sirius asked, a little hurt. He was sensitive about their sex lives, wasn’t he? Even if Wormtail was a freak.
“Yeah,” Peter said cautiously.
“Course we are, Padfoot,” Remus said, sounding a little more convincing.
That was good enough for him. He bounced up, grabbing both their heads in an arm lock. “Great! Let’s have an orgy!”
Peter screamed like a girl and threw himself off the bed. Remus froze.
“What?” Sirius said indignantly. “We’ll invite some blondes for you.”
“Moony! Stop him!”
“Me? Why me?”
“He listens to you.”
“Do I?” Sirius asked even as Remus said, “He does?”
“Yes! No orgies!”
“Because you can’t seriously expect people to accept that sort of invitation!” Remus exclaimed.
“We’ll never have any points again.”
“I don’t care,” Sirius muttered, flopping back on James’ pillows. He turned a pleading look on Remus. “Moony. I don’t want to die a virgin.”
Remus squawked and dived away to join Peter on the floor.
Sirius, deserted and betrayed, leant over to glare at them. “Are you two having fun down there? Because, y’know, it was my idea and I’m feeling left out- Wormtail?”
Peter had dashed to the furthest point of his own bed and was holding his squashed up blankets before him like a shield.
“No orgy, Padfoot,” Remus said firmly.
“Wait until Prongs gets back. If you still want one, we’ll discuss it again.”
“Yeah,” Peter said. “We can’t have an orgy without Prongs. Did I just say that?”
“Afraid so,” Remus said and pulled himself up. “Go to bed, Sirius. Before you have any more bright ideas, please.”
He leant over to blow out the candle by James’ bed but Sirius didn’t move. “Might stay here,” he muttered. “Guard it.”
“If you intend to wank over Lily, remember we’ll be able to blackmail you forever.”
“Not my type,” Sirius said loftily. “Night, all.”
“G’night, you freak. Night, Moony.”
“Good night, Peter. Night, Sirius. Don’t do anything stupid in your dreams.”
Chapter 14: A Hidden Haunting
Somebody has raided the Marauders' dormitory. Revenge is called for!
“I just don’t understand,” Remus said, frowning at his porridge, “how I’ve managed to lose one glove and not the other.”
“And I’ve only got one sock left,” Peter said mournfully.
“I’m wearing Prongs’ shoes,” Sirius said, leaning back in his chair. “Because my left shoe, my precious shoe, is missing. This is no coincidence, my friends.”
“You mean?” Peter began.
“We’ve been pranked,” Remus said grimly, stabbing at his porridge. “Us!”
“Us!” Peter echoed, outraged. “Who would dare?”
“Slytherins,” Sirius hissed, glaring over at their table. He should have expected Snape to be after him.
Remus shook his head and leant forward. “Unlikely. They don’t know our passwords. No, don’t look now, but there’s a firstie watching us.”
Peter swivelled the milk jug and they studied the reflection.
“It’s the kid with the broomstick name,” Sirius said. “A firstie! Pranking us!”
“Shacklebolt,” Peter supplied. “The others look guilty too.”
“Right,” Sirius said and then stopped. “Damn. They’re ickle firsties. Can’t poison them.”
“Why not?” Peter demanded. “I’m getting a blister.”
“Points,” Remus said patiently. “Whatever we do has to be subtle, untraceable…”
“…and brilliant,” Sirius finished. “Because this, my comrades, is simply not on. Postpone the orgy! We need to plan revenge.”
He preferred to pretend he hadn’t heard Peter murmur, “Thank Merlin.” There was nothing wrong with the idea of an orgy. It was just that the honour of the Marauders came first. They had obviously been getting lax. Too much worrying and not enough mayhem. Well, Prongs wasn’t here to worry about Lily and Lily wasn’t here to worry Prongs so now was the time to act. Or rather, now was the time to plot…
By lunchtime, Kingsley Shacklebolt was beginning to get jittery. It was all very well for Hadrian Oliphant to tell them all about the pranks his older brothers had played when they were at the school. It was fine to go from there to exchanging stories about more recent legends. Who could deny the sheer genius of singing Christmas trees stalking the Slytherin prefects or house-elves who did the can-can on the staff table? They’d been expecting such things. They’d been looking forward to them.
It was quite expected, quite sensible even, to be disappointed that those almighty pranksters of legend had yet to perform anything spectacular this term. He just wasn’t sure how that had led to the idea of pranking them.
“It’s a right of passage,” Hadrian had said, biting the legs off a chocolate frog. “If they’re going to go and grow up they have to pass the mantle on. So, it’s up to us to claim it.”
“How?” Robert Brownlow had asked and that had stumped them for a while.
Kingsley was expecting consequences. The longer he had to wait the more terrible his imaginings grew. He hardly dared hope that they hadn’t noticed.
“Thing is,” Hadrian said, waving a chicken leg in the air, “that they’re nothing without Potter. My sister Felicity says that Potter’s so gone on Lily Evans that he won’t prank anymore.”
“I heard he’s had a crush on her for years,” Robert said sceptically.
Hadrian shrugged. “And Lupin’s a prefect so all he can do is take points and who cares about that? Pettigrew’s a bit useless, really, and Black’s all looks and no brains. Mark my word, they’re baffled.”
“Afternoon, Oliphant,” Remus Lupin said mildly from behind them. Hadrian choked on his chicken. Lupin thumped his back obligingly. “How are you doing, boys? Settling in alright?”
Hadrian was still purple and Robert was speechless with horror so Kingsley said, “Yes.” Feeling that was a little inadequate, he added, “Thank you.”
Lupin sat down beside them. “Getting used to everything? Your first term is quite an experience, if I remember rightly. Do come and talk to one of us prefects if you’re confused about anything.”
Oh, Merlin, he was being prefecty. Not now. Really, not now.
“What classes do you have this afternoon, then?”
“Flying lesson,” Kingsley said, seeing his co-conspirators were still speechless.
“Make sure you wrap up warmly then. It’s freezing out there.” He held his hands up ruefully. “We had Care of Magical Creatures this morning and I almost got frostbite.”
Kingsley resisted the urge to sink beneath the table. He didn’t notice the odd smile on Lupin’s face as he walked away.
Sirius, coordinating operations from the far end of the table, grinned at Remus as he slid back into his seat. “Done?”
“I think so. Wormtail?”
“It took. Should reach full potency about the time ickle firsties go to bed. Nice diversion. What did you do?”
“I made them feel guilty.” Remus smirked and Sirius beamed at him proudly. “They haven’t the foggiest. They’re under the impression that Prongs is the brains of the operation.”
“Prongs!” Sirius protested. “I can see why they underestimate you two but what do they think I am?”
“Decorative,” Remus said. “Pass the pumpkin juice.”
By evening, no retribution had fallen on them and even Kingsley was beginning to think they’d got away with it. The five first year boys trooped up to bed, grinning excitedly at each other.
“Right,” Hadrian said. “Next thing is to inflate them. Then we need to make them move. Start with the shoe, yeah?”
Robert nodded and knelt down. Then he howled and leapt back. “It bit me!”
“What?” Hadrian said. “Don’t be daft.”
A faint low growl sounded from under Robert’s bed. They all fell silent.
Hadrian swallowed audibly. “It’s just a shoe.”
“But it’s Sirius Black’s shoe,” Robert squeaked. “You know what they say about the Blacks.”
There was another uneasy silence as they all lifted their feet onto their beds. Kingsley, whose bed was by the window, stood up and unhooked the curtain pole. He didn’t notice the shadow that suddenly passed across the window. Kneeling on his bed, Kingsley poked the end of the curtain pole under Robert’s.
There was a snarl and the pole shook as something latched onto the curtains. Then something belched loudly and settled to a steady chewing noise.
The shadow crossed the window again and soared out of sight.
Sirius was humming as he rose up the side of Gryffindor tower. The wind was high and the rain was pouring down, dribbling along his spine. He didn’t care for he had a broom between his legs and he was pranking again. All was right with the world.
Remus was waiting inside the room. He helped him through the window and whisked his broom away. Sirius made to follow.
“Stay on the towel. The wet floor will be a giveaway.”
“Okay,” Sirius said. “Transfiguration worked.”
“The eavesdropping charm just reached fruition,” Peter said, hunched over something in the middle of the room.
Remus came back with a warm towel and wrapped it around Sirius’ shoulders. “Dry off. We’ll need you later.”
“We’re go for phase two,” Peter said.
“On my way,” Remus said and headed out. Sirius rubbed himself down and wrapped the towel around his hair before coming over to join Peter. A round mirror sat on the floor and he could just make out the tinny voice of their victims.
There was a quiet knock on the door and Remus Lupin stuck his head in. “Have any of you seen- is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Hadrian squeaked.
Lupin came right into the room. All five of them stared at his feet, waiting for the inevitable shoe attack. “Your curtains have come down. Hang on.” He produced his wand and gestured quickly, muttering. The curtains lifted off the floor and they all winced, expecting to see the creature hanging off the end.
The corner of the curtains was shredded and Lupin frowned. “That’s not on. It’s not part of the house elves’ job to fix that sort of thing. You’re new so I won’t take any points but I won’t warn you again.”
The others seemed struck dumb so Kingsley muttered, “Sorry.”
“Be careful in future. Now, has anyone seen a pair of gloves? I’ve lost them.”
“No,” Kingsley said. There was only one glove residing under his bed.
“Let me know if you find them. They used to be Davey Nestor’s and it’s really better if they don’t wander.”
“Okay,” Kingsley squeaked. Trying to pull himself together, he managed, “Why?”
“Oh, you know,” Lupin said, his hand on the doorknob. “Poor old Davey.”
Kingsley felt his eyes widen. Lupin was tracing a pattern on the back of the door, frowning a little. “Maybe,” he began and then shook his head. “No. Better not to worry you.”
A low growl sounded from under Robert’s bed.
“Has someone lost their toad?” Lupin asked. “Poor thing sounds hungry. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” whispered Hadrian.
The door seemed to swing shut behind him all too slowly.
“Get the runes done for the summoning charm?” Sirius asked as soon as Remus came back in.
“Back of the door. Now we wait.” He went to pick the towels up.
“Are they pissing themselves yet?” Peter demanded.
Remus paused. “I don’t think-”
“It’s traditional,” Sirius cut in. Trust Moony to go ethical on them. “We’re not actually going to hurt them. Just scare them. Like the Prewitts did to us.”
“And Gideon Prewitt was a prefect,” Peter added.
“Okay,” Remus said reluctantly and took the towels away. When he returned Sirius dragged him over to the mirror. They were just in time to see Robert Brownlow dive under his blankets. Sirius beamed proudly. Decorative, indeed.
There was a shuffling sound under his bed. Surely one glove couldn’t be that loud?
“Kingsley?” Hadrian whispered.
“I can hear munching. What if they eat through my mattress?”
“What have you got?”
“Pettigrew’s socks. But there’s more than one down there. They’re gnawing.”
Kingsley looked over at him and froze. Something had just slithered out from under his bed and was twining itself around the bedpost. He lifted his hand and pointed, shakily.
Hadrian turned round to look, clinging to his blankets.
The thing grinned at him, its grey mouth spreading wide.
Then it hissed.
They all screamed.
A few moments later Sirius Black burst into the room, his scarlet dressing gown swirling around him. “What is wrong with you little nutters? Some of us need our beauty sleep!”
“Sock!” Kingsley said, pointing.
Black looked at the sock, now draped innocently across the end of Hadrian’s bed. “It’s a sock. You wear them on your feet,” he said and plucked it off the bed. Kingsley tensed but the sock remained quiescent.
“Bit big for you shrimps, isn’t it?” Black said and tossed it away.
Four gazes followed it as it fell into the shadowy corner.
Black sat himself down beside the quivering lump that was Robert and gazed around. “I haven’t been in here for years. Which of you has the Bed, then?”
“The Bed?” asked Kingsley, chills running down his spine.
“Yeah. Davey Nestor’s bed.”
“Davey Nestor’s bed?” Kingsley quavered.
“Yeah. Think it’s probably you, mate. I’m pretty sure it was the window one. Poor old Davey.”
“What happened to him?” Hadrian asked.
The door swung open. “Mr Black!”
“Professor McGonagall!” Black exclaimed, shooting off the bed.
“What are you doing in here? If I discover you’ve been terrorising these poor young boys, there will be detention!”
“I didn’t do anything,” Black protested.
“We shall see about that, Mr Black. Wait for me outside.”
Black slouched out and she turned to the boys. “I want an explanation, gentlemen. There seems to have been an unwarranted degree of disturbance from this dormitory tonight. What is going on?”
“There’s a sock!” Hadrian babbled. “And a shoe and it ate the curtains and the socks are coming to get us and…”
“Enough. What is this nonsense, Mr Oliphant? Nightmares? I shall speak to the House Elves. Your diet is obviously far too rich. Bread and gruel for supper from now on, I think.”
“Silence, Mr Shacklebolt. I don’t expect to hear another sound out of this dormitory tonight. Is that clear?” And she swept away, leaving the door open behind her.
Everyone looked at Kingsley.
“What,” Hadrian whispered, “do you think happened to Davey Nestor?”
Sirius managed to hold his laughter in until they made it back into the room. Then he collapsed onto Remus’ bed and laughed until his belly ached.
“It’s alright for you,” Peter grumbled. “Why do I always have to dress up?”
“Because you’re the only one who can fake her accent,” Remus said. “Sirius, let’s end this. They’re really scared now. Enough’s enough.”
“Spoilsport,” Sirius said and rolled off the bed. “Shall I go out the window again?”
“We’ll use the cloak,” Remus said. “If we’re wet she’ll suspect.”
They squeezed underneath and left Peter stripping out of his McGonagall costume. Sirius found himself suddenly aware that sharing the Cloak with James was very different from sharing it with Remus. Remus was taller and thinner and would fit very easily into the curve of his body and he really shouldn’t be thinking like that midway through a prank.
They slipped into the first year dorm and Sirius drew Remus back against the wall.
“You mean you think my bed is haunted,” Shacklebolt was saying and Sirius had to admit he looked terrified. “But nothing’s happened yet.”
Remus pointed his wand at the bed and the curtains flapped and billowed before snapping outwards to freeze at right-angles.
The first years screamed and Sirius leant over Remus’ shoulder and breathed, “Accio!”
From under Brownlow’s bed his shoe came hopping out. It turned to stare at the boys, tongue lolling, and slowly slurped. Then another shoe followed it and another and another and another.
From Shacklebolt’s bed the gloves came walking on their fingertips, ten by ten by ten.
A veritable sea of socks surged out from below Oliphant’s bed, faintly sluglike.
“What is the meaning of this?”
As Professor McGonagall, the real McGonagall, descended, Sirius and Remus crept away.
Remus was curled on the sofa, smiling to himself. Sirius, on the other end, grinned at him, and went back to watching the whole of Gryffindor House file through the Common Room, retrieving their lost shoes, socks and gloves.
McGonagall was still going. “Blundering attempt at a Summoning Charm! Do you realise the extent to which you have inconvenienced your housemates?”
Oliphant faltered something and she swelled. “Davey Nestor is a highly regarded young curse-breaker and was an excellent head boy! I utterly fail to see what he has to do with this contretemps!”
“He’s not dead?”
“Dead! Of course he’s not dead!”
“Poor old Davey,” Sirius said. “A great man tied down by the trammels of respectability. ‘Twas a sad day when he made Head Boy.”
“And that’s enough from you, Mr Black!”
“Yes, Professor,” Sirius said and winked at Kingsley Shacklebolt.
Remus wriggled his toes and sighed. “Y’know, Padfoot, after all this I still don’t have my glove back.”
“Someone must have picked it up by mistake,” Sirius said, gazing into the fire. “Easily done.”
He was careful not to reach towards the pocket of his dressing gown. A prank well-executed deserved to be remembered and Remus’ tatty old glove would be a good souvenir. It wasn’t as if it kept the cold out. No, he’d buy himself new gloves, lend Remus the old ones and keep this one.
Just as a reminder.
Chapter 15: Hidden
This is not a happy story. Peter has received bad news.
The wind was wet and blustery and the leaves had finally turned. Peter didn’t know how they’d done that without him noticing. It was amazing, just absolutely amazing, how you could be so busy with pranks and lessons and food and stuff and then things changed and you had no idea why.
The grass was slippery under his feet and no one would have blamed him if he’d turned back but he had to – had to tell them. They wouldn’t let him see Prongs. He had to see the others.
The air was full of leaves, blowing out of the piles Hagrid and the house elves had raked up around the walls. They slipped past him, wet and clammy on the wind.
Paul had a oak tree in his garden. Peter had visited last Halloween and they’d crept out in the night to do scouring charms to clear the leaves when the Muggle neighbours wouldn’t notice. Jenny had scolded them both but she’d made hot chocolate and smiled. She was so proud of her garden.
It must be in such a mess. Somebody – somebody ought to do something about that.
A black dog came bursting out of the edge of the forest, closely pursued by Remus Lupin, laughing as he staggered on the grass. The dog ploughed through a pile of leaves, scattering them across the lawn and turned back to bowl Remus over into a leaf pile.
Peter watched dully as his friend vanished under the leaves. Paul had a dog – had had a dog. Not a daft black mongrel like Padfoot but a big, slow rambling rug of a dog called Timmy who Saffy and Leaf adored.
Saffy and Leaf.
He’d asked McGonagall about Timmy and she’d given him that odd look she always gave him, as if she was disappointed in him. She’d told him anyway.
Remus extracted himself from the leaves and looked around. He waved at Peter and then trotted off towards one of the leaf bins, where a black tail could just be seen, wagging furiously.
Peter turned and walked over to them. He was in time to see Padfoot burst out of the leaves and bounce towards him. He remembered, just in time, to brace himself as Padfoot jumped up to buffet his shoulders.
“Don’t,” he said and his voice sounded wrong, all breathy and squeaky.
Padfoot dropped and Remus said, “Pete? Is everything okay?”
He took the last few steps and dropped down onto the edge of the bin. Remus sat down beside him, waiting, and Padfoot sat by his feet, looking up at him. Peter stared down at his hands, at his stubby fingers and the splotches of ink on his nails.
Padfoot whined and Peter stroked his head and said, “Paul.”
“Your brother? What’s happened? Are the kids okay?”
Peter was shaking. The leaves behind him were slipping around him, red and gold and brown, dry as bone. His hands kept curling up into little fists, though he didn’t want them to.
“They’re dead,” he said. “They’re all dead.”
There was a moment of horrified silence. Then Remus put an awkward arm around his shoulders and Padfoot dropped his head onto his lap.
“Do you?” Remus began and then hesitated. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” Peter said miserably. “Yes. No. It was Death Eaters. In Wolverhampton. There’s not meant to be Death Eaters in Wolverhampton. Three families – all – all with someone like Jenny.”
“Muggleborn?” Remus asked grimly.
“Yes. They even killed Timmy. They killed the dog, Moony. It wasn’t enough for them to kill P-Paul and Jenny and –and Saffy and the baby. They killed the bloody dog.”
He could feel the hot lines of tears on his cheeks and refused to look up. He wasn’t meant to cry. Blokes didn’t cry.
“Pete,” Remus said hesitantly.
“And y’know what,” Peter said over him because sympathy would finish him. “You know why the bloody Aurors didn’t get there in time? Do you know?”
“Because they’ve got the flu. The whole fucking country has the flu and there aren’t enough Aurors and so Death Eaters can just go and kill people and it’s not fair. Flu is meant to be funny.”
Padfoot licked his hand, a quick flicker of rough tongue, and Remus said, “I’m sorry.”
It was too much and he shot his feet. “I have to go. I have to go home now. My Mum… Look, tell Prongs, will you? But not anyone else. I don’t want…”
“We’ll say your gran’s ill,” Remus said and brushed the leaves off his back.
“Do you want us to come to the station with you?”
“Yeah.” Peter couldn’t manage any more.
“Sirius, meet us at the gate. Pete?”
“McGonagall. Waiting for me.”
“Right.” Remus touched his arm and then withdrew, as if thinking better of it. “Let’s go.”
Trust Moony to be such a bloody prefect, Peter thought. Jenny had been a prefect. They’d written to her last year, after Sirius and Remus had been fighting about Remus taking points and she’d come and taken them out for lunch and lectured them. Now she never would again because she was gone.
McGonagall had refused to tell him how. He knew what that meant.
As they walked back to the castle, silent and awkward, Peter looked back to see the leaves floating into the lake, bright scraps sinking into the grey water. And he wished, wished with all his heart, that he was living in some other time, where people didn’t die as easily as leaves. It wasn’t enough to be brave. Paul and Jenny had been Gryffindors, both of them, and it hadn’t been enough. It could be Sirius next, reckless as he was, or Remus or James or Lily.
There had to be some way to stop this. They were the Marauders, weren’t they? They should be able to fix this. War was stupid, everyone knew that.
There had to be some other way.
But here was Sirius, sprinting up the drive behind them, his face fierce with anxiety, and Professor McGonagall was coming down the steps to meet them. It was time to be brave now. Everyone expected him to be brave.
Chapter 16: A Paucity of Prefects
A prefects' meeting.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” said Lorelei Sprout, the Head Girl. “Move up. It’s not like we need the space.”
Remus reluctantly shuffled up the table until he was sitting next to her. He grinned uncomfortably at Jeffrey Adams, one of the fifth year Gryffindor prefects. Adams rolled his eyes and cast a look to his right where Severus Snape sat with Narcissa and Regulus Black. All three of them looked furious at having to sit so close to a Gryffindor and neither Regulus nor Narcissa looked well.
“Right,” Lorelei said. “First thing on the agenda is the conker ban.”
“Um, Lorelei?” said one of the other Hufflepuffs. “What about the prefect crisis?”
Lorelei’s shoulders dropped. “Business as usual. It’s what Dumbledore would expect.”
“He has the flu, too,” Adams said. “And there’s only ten of us. We can’t do business as usual. The lower years are running riot.”
“I don’t understand why they haven’t been affected yet,” the other Hufflepuff said.
Daniel Goldstein, the Ravenclaw, rolled his eyes. “Because Black there was the first to get it. We all caught it from him and people in our years caught it from us.”
“The whole of wizarding Britain has it,” Snape said, glaring. Regulus, beside him, shook his hair back and sneered at Goldstein.
“No accusations,” Lorelei said firmly. “Alright. Suggestions for dealing with this situation, please.”
There was a long silence. Remus looked down at the table. He could see Lily’s point but the Slytherins were going to hate the idea.
“Anybody?” Lorelei said.
Remus cleared his throat.
“As if he’ll have anything useful to say,” Snape muttered.
Remus scowled at him. “Lily Evans suggested this – she’ll be back in a few days, Lorelei, which should help.”
“Go on,” Lorelei said. “Lily has some common sense.”
Remus hated being a prefect. “Lily thinks we should co-opt the remaining sixth and seventh years as interim prefects.”
“What!” Snape shrieked. “Make Sirius Black a prefect! Over my dead body!”
“You’re so predictable, Snape,” Remus snapped. He’d told Lily this would happen.
“Because I’m right! It’s outrageous!”
“Stop it! Please, stop it!”
Everyone turned to stare at Narcissa. Her hands were wrapped around the edge of the table and her cheeks were bright. “Stop it!” she said again. “Just stop it! Stop shouting! I don’t like shouting.” Then she burst into tears.
“Oh, no,” Lorelei muttered as Regulus sprang up. “Not another one.”
“Cissa?” Regulus asked, his face tight with worry. Lupin wasn’t sure if the others recognised that look but he knew. It was the one Sirius gave him.
Narcissa buried her head in her arms. “Go away. I don’t want you! I don’t want any of you. I want my sister.”
Everyone flinched. The last thing they wanted in school right now was Bellatrix Lestrange.
“I want Andromeda!” Narcissa wailed. “I – achoo! Achoo!”
“Nine prefects,” Lorelei said gloomily as Snape and Regulus led the weeping Narcissa away. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if Pomfrey kept the younger Black in. Bloody, sickly purebloods.”
“I’m a pureblood,” Adams protested.
Lorelei banged her fist on the table. “Order! Order! Let’s discuss Lupin’s suggestions before Snape gets back. Hufflepuff has the floor.”
“Snape has a point. Can we really trust Black and Potter not to abuse the power?”
Remus felt obliged to object. “They’re not the only ones.”
“But they’re the worst,” Goldstein said and everyone laughed.
Remus slid down in his chair. He really hated prefects’ meetings.
“Lily can deal with James,” he said, “and I’ll talk to Sirius.”
“Going to make him sleep alone, Lupin?” Goldstein asked, smirking.
“What?” Remus yelped and felt the blood rush to his cheeks.
“It’s hardly a secret, Lupin.”
“I’m not- I never. Piss off, Goldstein.”
“Sorry, Loz,” Goldstein said and winked at her. Lorelei blushed. Remus eyed the clock discreetly. The hand was pointing to ‘Off-Topic’.
“Further comments from Hufflepuff?”
“Nope. I like it. I just don’t want Black and Potter to start a House war!”
“And Snape!” Remus protested.
“Oh, shut up, Lupin.” That was half the room and he sighed and began to wish, quite sincerely, that his immune system wasn’t flu-proof.
“Ravenclaw has the floor.”
“You’re too good to us, lovely Lorelei,” Goldstein said and she frowned at him. “I like the idea but with provisos. How about we restrict these interim prefects to taking points off their own houses?”
“And give actual prefects the right to overrule them?” Adams suggested.
Remus sat back and let them debate. He’d done what he’d promised Lily. All he needed to worry about now was the fact that all his fellow prefects thought he was shagging Sirius. James would never let either of them live it down if it got back to him. As for what Sirius might say…
The discussion was interrupted by Snape and Regulus returning.
“What are we discussing?” Regulus asked, throwing himself into his chair.
“Prefects,” Lorelei said. “Daniel has made some very useful suggestions.”
Goldstein blew her a kiss. “But if you’re bored we can go back to discussing Lupin’s sex life.”
Snape looked disgusted and Regulus glowered. “I don’t want to know about Lupin’s perversions.” Then he muttered, audibly, “We all know you’re just his adolescent rebellion, anyway.”
Enough was enough. “Lorelei?” Remus asked and was surprised by how cool he sounded. “If I permanently transfigure a fellow prefect will I lose my badge?”
“Not when I only have nine prefects standing!”
“Fine. Short and painful it is. Stand my second, Adams.”
Snape was already going for his wand as Remus stood up, pointed and said, “Devesto totalum!”
Regulus Black, he was amused to note, shrieked like a girl when all his clothes vanished. Then battle commenced in earnest. Not all prefects’ meetings were that bad.
Chapter 17: A Paucity of Peers
Sirius isn't as awake as he claims he is. Remus copes.
Remus trailed up the stairs to Gryffindor tower, listening to the wind wuther around the castle. It was late and quiet and the halls seemed vaster than usual. He paused by a window to catch his breath. Outside the leaves were whirling by, caught in the wind. The light from the corridor made them glow briefly, gold and red, before they vanished into the dark once more.
It was cold and he hunched his shoulders, pulling his robes around him more tightly. Winter was coming now, sure and steady. It seemed too long since summer, when the nights had been short.
He heard a distant whoop and heaved himself up. He wasn’t in the mood to get caught by Peeves.
The Fat Lady tutted at him as he approached. “You’re out after hours. No example for a prefect to be setting.”
“I had detention,” he said wearily. “Ziggy Stardust.”
“Detention!” the Fat Lady scolded but swung open. Remus sighed and scrambled through the portrait hole. Next time he wasn’t going to let either Lily or Sirius have any say in what the password was.
The common room was dark. He shouldn’t have been surprised – with the older students struck worst by the flu, there weren’t many people likely to have stayed up this late.
The wind howled again and he heard the flat splatter of wet leaves hitting the window. The fire hissed and spat and somebody made a snuffling noise.
Intrigued, Remus crossed over to the fireplace.
Sirius Black was asleep on the sofa. His head was flung back over the arm, one hand trailed against the floor and he had half-kicked his shoes off so they dangled from his toes. He was snoring.
Remus settled into the nearest chair and studied him. It always fascinated him how someone so full of energy and motion could sleep so peacefully. The dim firelight cast red lights in his dark hair and made his skin golden. His brows were relaxed and his lips just parted. Remus wished he had the right to reach out and trace the line of his cheek, to brush those lips with his fingertips.
He shook himself and nudged Sirius’ shoulder. “Padfoot, wake up. You’re going to hurt in the morning if you stay there.”
Sirius stirred and muttered, “Moony. Not breakfast yet.”
“It’s the middle of the night, you daft twat. Wake up.”
Sirius blinked at him. “Awake.”
“You going to move, then? You’ll ache if you don’t.”
“Shan’t. I’m flexible.”
“Remus.” He blinked again and then sat up a little. “Detention? Been gone ages.”
“It was a long and unpleasant task,” Remus said sourly.
“Dusting portraits in the Great Hall?”
Remus shook his head. “McGonagall changed her mind. Sent me to Pomfrey. Been cleaning bedpans.”
“Just for righteous hexing?” Sirius demanded indignantly. “What if you get the flu?”
“That’s not fair.”
“Neither’s life,” Remus said lightly, biting his lip. Sirius, outraged, with his hair on end where it had been trapped by the sofa cushions, had lifted his mood. “Why aren’t you asleep? Plotting Snape’s downfall?”
“That’s what History of Magic lessons are for. I was waiting for you.” Then he yawned enormously and Remus felt his jaw ache in sympathy.
“You didn’t have to.”
“Course I did. Going back to sleep now.”
Remus grabbed his arm and pulled. “Not on the sofa. Bed.”
“You’re a bully. Mean, prefect bully.”
“And you revert to a six-year-old when you’re not awake.”
“Am awake.” He surged up and set off towards the stairs, dragging Remus after him.
“That’s the girls’ stairs.”
“What? Bugger.” He turned round and Remus chuckled.
Sirius swung back to stare at him. Remus smiled. Sirius’ eyes narrowed. Remus waited.
“I did not fall for that. I know which stairs are which.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Did not. Going to bed now.” He headed for the stairs at a vague stumble and Remus followed at a safe distance. He had no wish to be toppled if Sirius fell asleep before he reached his bed.
When he made it into the room he found Sirius collapsed onto his own bed, feet sticking off the end.
“Budge,” he said, pushing at his shoulder.
Sirius snuffled into the pillow and grabbed an armful of blanket.
“Padfoot, that’s my bed. Budge.”
Sirius’ breathing was steadying again.
Remus eyed the three empty beds. They looked cold and shadowy. He really didn’t want to have to pick one. He had a bed and he didn’t know what was on their sheets.
Sirius turned over, kicked his shoes off and grabbed Remus’ arm, tugging him down beside him. Remus yelped and then found himself draped with sleep-addled Sirius.
“I meant to your own bed.”
Sirius cracked his eyes open and stared at him reproachfully. “It’s over there.”
“Well-observed. Why are you over here?”
“It’s too quiet. Can’t see you from there.”
“You can’t usually see me.”
“Can see someone, though.” He shoved his head into the pillow and said, muffled, “Didn’t sleep last night. Or night before.”
“Too quiet. S’okay when James and Pete are here but they’re not. Kept waking up and thinking I was at – back there. Thought they’d got me back somehow.”
Remus sighed and said gently, “I was here.”
“You sleep too quietly. Kept having to get up and check.”
“We can’t share, Sirius. It’s not-” He couldn’t think of the right words. How to explain that he didn’t want him in his bed because he wanted him there too much?
Sirius was looking at him, wary and not quite pleading. “Who’s going to know?”
That was a fair point. He wasn’t sure he could argue with that.
“See,” Sirius said happily and contorted himself until he was under the blankets. “I win.” He latched onto Remus’ arm again and dropped against the pillows. Within moments, he was asleep.
Remus, who wasn’t quite sure how he had lost the argument, blinked down at him. He tried to tug his arm free. Sirius tightened his grip. With a sigh, Remus shoved his shoes off and tugged the blankets round. He was a prefect. He was sensible. He was good at secrets. He could cope for one night.
Sirius rolled over and wrapped himself around him.
Sirius opened his eyes and said, outraged, “You’re not my blanket. You’re Moony.” Then he laid his head on Remus’ shoulder and was gone again.
It was going to be a long night.
Chapter 18: A Paucity of Parental Authority
Sirius babysits. Apologies to anyone who dislikes shortened names. I refuse to call a three-year-old either Tonks or Nymphadora. She's Nym.
Sirius flitted down the stairs. He wasn’t supposed to be up yet – the bell hadn’t gone and when he’d peered into the kitchens he’d seen the house elves had only just put the bacon on. On the other hand, there was no way he was staying in bed. He just hoped Remus hadn’t been even half-awake.
Blacks did not snuggle. Not even if the object of their snuggling was their over-bony, pointy-elbowed, wriggly fellow Marauder. Therefore, because they did not snuggle, they did not have to worry about what would happen when they woke up the next morning tangled around said wriggly friend with said friend’s thigh pressing in a very sensitive place. And because they didn’t have to worry about that, they didn’t have to worry that they’d enjoyed it.
He leapt over the three trick stairs, grabbed the banister and dropped over to land on the stairs below, thus avoiding the portrait of his Great-Great Aunt Cassiopeia. He was beginning to wonder whether avoiding relationships had been such a good idea, even if it had infuriated his mother. It was all very well to know who he liked to wank over (the Holyhead Harpies, Daniel Goldstein, Gideon Prewitt, Mandy Whatsit in Ravenclaw, Ludo Bagman, Sturgis Podmore, the blonde girl in Violet and the Veelettes – he wasn’t fussy) but it didn’t teach him what to say in this sort of situation. How about, “Oh, sorry, Moony, thought I was Padfoot and you were a chair leg?” or “Oooh, Lily, yeah,” because then Prongs would kill him before Remus worked it out.
He really hoped Remus had been completely asleep. That was the problem. He could have been awake and pretending, devious git that he was.
Here were the stairs down to the entrance hall. Today was a Monday and the house elves always polished that bannister on a Sunday night so it should be just right for…
Still at a run, he hurled himself onto the bannister, spread his arms out and slid. The polished wood was just right beneath his feet and he only just had time to think, There’s someone by the front door before he sailed off the end.
He landed with a satisfying thump which stung the soles of his feet and stood up to face the music.
“One of those days, is it?” his cousin Andromeda asked. She was leaning against the doors, heavy winter robes wrapped around her, with her arms full of sleeping toddler. Nym was wrapped in so many layers Sirius could only see a tuft of green hair.
“Meda!” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see Narcissa,” she said and gave him a sharp look. “Didn’t anyone tell you?”
“Tell me what?” he asked, feeling uneasily.
She looked at him again. “How ill she is. They don’t know if-” She hesitated.
“But-” he began, head whirling. Cissa? Cissa was dying? “Nobody dies of flu. Why isn’t she at St Mungo’s?”
“They’re full,” Andromeda said grimly. “And no, nobody’s died at Hogwarts.”
Sirius shivered. That wasn’t- surely- “Where’s Ted?” he blurted.
“At home,” Andromeda said and he realised now how exhausted she looked. There were shadows under her eyes and her hair was coming down from its pins. “He’s got it but not badly. It’s the old and the very little ones who are in danger.”
Sirius felt unsteady. Dark wizards killed people. Hexes killed people. Escaped dragons killed people. Illness was only meant to be a nuisance. “But we’re wizards,” he said.
“That’s right,” Andromeda said, starting up the stairs. “And this influenza attacks wizards. It’s barely touched the Muggle population but we’ve almost come to a halt. The pureblood lobby are making nasty insinuations.”
“I can imagine,” Sirius said sourly. “Who’s studying it?”
“No one, at the moment. The ministry can’t spare anyone. We’re down to a skeleton staff.”
“Is it hitting purebloods worse?” Sirius asked. He’d been to see Regulus, though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, and it had scared him. But Reggie was better now and it was Narcissa who was up there somewhere, delerious, with the breath rattling in her chest.
Andromeda shrugged and Nym yawned and said, “Mum-mum.”
“The infection rate is much higher among Muggleborns but when we do get it we’re hit much harder.”
Sirius felt himself grin, though he wasn’t amused. “Inbred.”
Andromeda nodded. “It’s a disaster, little cousin. An absolute disaster.”
“Because there’s no one to stop the attacks,” Sirius said.
She stared at him again, quick and assessing. “You know about that?”
“Yes.” He didn’t want to talk about Peter.
“Hush, darling. Sirius, since you’re here?”
“Yes?” He was cautious – she might be his favourite cousin but she was still a Slytherin.
“Can you take Nymphadora? I’ve coated her in anti-flu charms but I don’t want to take her into the ward and I couldn’t leave her with poor Ted. He’s not well enough to keep up.”
Andromeda wasn’t meant to look upset. She was meant to solve problems, to rescue him from family fights and laugh at him when he sulked.
“Hand her over.”
Andromeda set Nym down and released her from at least three layers of blankets. “Go with Sirius, darling. And be good. You know what happens when you’re bad.”
“Bribery?” Sirius asked, mock-stern. “Shame on you, cousin dear.”
“Do I look like a Gryffindor, squirt?”
“No more than I do. C’mon, Nympho.”
No, Andromeda would never be as scary as Bella but she wasn’t far off sometimes. He grinned at her and said, “Shoo. And, y’know, tell Narcissa we’re going to give Slytherin the worst defeat ever if she doesn’t get back on her broom in time.”
She smiled at him and then hurried away.
Nym grabbed his knee and demanded, “Sirrus! Up!”
He picked her up and headed back to the tower. “How’s my favourite, then?”
“I’m three! And after I’m three, I’ll be four and then five and then seven and then grown up!”
Sirius grinned. “And then what?”
“Then I’ll come to school and I’ll get sorted! By the funny hat! Daddy says I’m too devi- devi-nuss for Gryffindor and Mummy says I’m too noisy for Slytherin. And…and I can’t remember what the others are.”
“Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw,” Sirius said. When had she got this heavy? “You can be in Gryffindor today.”
“Good. Sirrus? Did you know I can make my hair pink?”
“Yup. I knew.” It changed colour anyway, growing into a shock of curls that tickled his chin.
“But pink isn’t in the rainbow. I know my rainbow – it’s redorangeyellowgreenblueindigoviolet!”
Sirius ignored the flicker of colour below his chin to grin at the Fat Lady. “Ziggy Stardust.”
“And who’s that?”
“Nymphadora Tonks. You’ll remember her dad.”
“Oooh,” the Fat Lady said. “That nice Ted. In you go then.”
Most of the House were already in the common room. Even Lily was there, looking rather wan. Her eyes widened as she saw Sirius.
“Morning, Evans,” he said. “They let you out, then?” Where was Remus?
She nodded. “Sirius – who on earth?”
“My cousin Andromeda’s brat.”
He put her down with a sigh of relief and tried to shake the cramps out of his arms. How could such a small girl weigh so much? Andromeda must have a Beater’s arms under her robes.
Nym walked across and held out her hand. “How d’you do?”
Lily shook it gravely, though Sirius could see she was hiding a smile. “Very well, thank you. I’m Lily.”
“Lily!” Nym said and turned her hair red.
“She’s a metamorphmagus,” Sirius said.
“She’s adorable,” someone said. Sirius looked around and felt his eyes widen in dismay. Where had all these girls come from?
“Who is she?” a fifth-year asked.
“Oh, you wouldn’t remember Ted – he was Head Boy the year before you started. She’s his little girl.” That was one of the seventh-years.
“Oy, Black, is Ted here?”
“Got the flu,” Sirius said, struggling to keep Nym in view through the crowd of girls. “Nym?”
“Can you say Yvonne, sweetie?”
“Sirius? What’s going on?”
That was Remus, blinking at him from the bottom of the stairs. Sirius reminded himself very firmly that Blacks do not blush and said, “Er.”
“Who he, Sirrus?” A small, blue-haired streak headed for Remus.
“That’s Remus, Nym.”
“Is he your friend?”
“Yes,” Sirius said, horribly aware that he was surrounded by girls. Giggling girls.
Nym looked her at Remus, who looked alarmed, and held her arms out. “Up!”
“What am I meant to do?”
“Pick her up.”
“What if I drop her?”
Nym’s lip was trembling. Sirius, who recognised the warning signs, said urgently, “Merlin’s sake! Pick her up before she howls.”
Remus bent down and picked her up, holding her stiffly.
“Oh, for goodness sake, Remus,” Lily said. “Don’t you know anything about children? You don’t hold her like that.”
“Er, ladies?” That was Adams, the fifth-year prefect. “Do you know you’re missing breakfast?”
There was a general squeal and Sirius dodged as they all ran for the portrait hole. He, Remus and Lily ended up at the back of the crowd, with Lily still lecturing Remus.
“Can’t she walk?” Remus hissed.
“Not fast enough to get there by lunchtime,” Sirius said.
“Do you want to be my friend, Remus?”
Remus looked alarmed. “If you like.”
“Sirrus is my friend. I’m his favourite.”
Sirius was sure he had had an image to maintain. Once.
They met the Slytherins leaving the hall as they entered. Sirius glared at Snape, because no day was complete without a confrontation. Snape sneered and made a remark about latecomers.
“Why’s that boy staring, Sirrus? He’s got a big nose. I can have a big nose, too.”
Snape’s face as Nym transformed would warm his heart all day.
“That’s why you’re my favourite brat,” he said to her.
Lily tutted. “Honestly. What do you want for breakfast, darling?”
Remus put her down with more force than Sirius thought was necessary and dropped into the next chair, massaging his wrists. Sirius sat beside him and Lily climbed in beside Nym.
“Pumpkin or raspberry?” he said, trying not to look at Remus.
“Sirius, you can’t,” Lily protested.
Lily waved her hand vaguely and said, “Well, because.”
Sirius scooped a generous spoonful of each onto a bit of toast and passed it down. There was a blessed silence as Nym set to and he muttered to Remus, “You’re quiet?”
“Not awake yet. Where’d you go, this morning?”
“Woke up early,” he muttered uneasily. “Went for a run. Met Andromeda.”
Remus looked unhappy. “Did I- did something?”
“No!” Sirius said and grabbed for his own porridge.
“Then why won’t you meet my eye?”
“Uh-oh. Naughty Nym.”
They both turned to see pumpkin juice spreading all over the table, and all down Nym. A large piece of toast was stuck to her jumper and her cheeks were glistening with jam.
“Quick!” Lily said. “Get her jumper off before it goes through!” She tugged the offending garment off and Remus lifted Nym before the spreading orange puddle got too far.
“Nymphadora,” Sirius said, frustrated. When was Andromeda coming back?
Her lip trembled and her hair faded to brown. “I didn’t mean to.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Remus said, glaring at Sirius.
“I want my jumper!” There was a definite wail.
“You can have mine,” Sirius said hopefully.
“I don’t want yours. You’re mean.”
Sirius was aware that every girl in Gryffindor was glaring at him. He wasn’t a monster. He hadn’t even raised his voice.
“You can have mine,” Remus said, sitting her on the table and wriggling inside his robes until he produced a rather tatty jumper. “See. Nice and warm. No need to cry.”
She regarded him suspiciously and then held her arms up. Lily helped him.
“There,” she said as she rolled up the sleeves. “You look like a proper Gryffindor now. Just like Sirius. Say thank you to Remus.”
Nym giggled and stood up. Remus’ jumper came down to her knees. She jumped forward onto his lap and Remus winced.
Sirius blinked in sympathy, hoping she hadn’t landed on any recent scars.
“Thank you very much,” Nym said and kissed Remus on the cheek, her hair turning pink again.
Remus jumped and someone from the Ravenclaw table said, “Ooh, Lupin, have you finally got a girlfriend?”
Sirius turned to glare and spotted Professor McGonagall descending from the staff table in wrath.
“What is going on here? What possible excuse is there for my entire house to be late for breakfast? If someone has been resetting clocks they will regret it.”
“Oh, be quiet,” Nym said and Sirius sunk into his chair. Where, oh, where, was Andromeda?
McGonagall stopped in mid-flow and said, “Who’s this then?”
Sirius managed a sickly grin and said, “My cousin Andromeda came, professor. This is her daughter.”
“Is this little Miss Tonks?” McGonagall said and scooped Nym off Remus who looked relieved. “Ted’s little girl? Oh, goodness, let’s get you get cleaned up, dear.”
Sirius looked at Lily. Lily looked back.
“I never see any of the next generation until they’re Sorted,” McGonagall murmured. “And as for the rest of you, hurry up, please! You’re all going to be late.” She turned back towards the staff table.
Sirius set off in pursuit. “Professor! Give my cousin back!”
By the time McGonagall had dealt with him, everyone else had finished breakfast. He got back in time to hear Lily say to Remus, “If I ever have a baby, I’m bringing him in to show off.”
“Be thankful Prongs isn’t here,” Sirius growled, shovelling jam onto cold toast. “Or you’d be getting all sorts of offers.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “As if I’d procreate with Potter.”
“I won’t tell him you said that,” Remus said. “He’d lose the will to live. No luck getting her back, then?”
“Abducted!” Sirius muttered.
“Why is your cousin here, anyway?” Lily asked.
Sirius put his toast down. He suddenly wasn’t feeling hungry. “She came to see Narcissa. She’s bad.”
“Oh,” Lily said, wide-eyed.
Remus looked at him thoughtfully and said, “Eat your toast. Oh, your letter of the day came.”
“Where is it?” Sirius growled.
Lily smirked and pointed to a heap of ash in the middle of the table. Sirius blinked and grinned at them both. That was one less thing to worry about.
Some hours later, after he had placated an anxious Andromeda and found out that Narcissa’s fever had eased slightly, he remembered and asked, “Meda?”
She turned back. “Yes?”
“Have you been getting letters? From the family?”
She frowned a little. “You too?”
“Yeah. What have you done with them?”
“Burnt them unopened. I always do. I wonder what they want?”
“Well, I’m not opening one,” Sirius said, crossing his arms.
She grinned at him. “Have Reggie and Cissa been getting them?”
“Not that I’ve noticed. Must just be us black sheep.”
She tapped her fingers against the wall. “Interesting. I might floo old Alphie. See if he’s included. Now, have you any idea where the old cat is teaching? I want my baby back before she turns tartan.”
Chapter 19: A Profusion of Prefects
The Feast of St Frideswide.
Adding the Erumpent horn had been an inspiration, Sirius decided happily, as little explosions popped away in the heart of the fire. The puffapods might have been a mistake, though, – he wasn’t sure if bonfires were meant to emit pink bubbles.
His arms were black with soot, his eyes stung and his hair was standing on end. It was brilliant. Now where had he put the sausages?
By the time he had found them and set them to hovering in the flames, he could hear the others approaching. James was protesting loudly and he could hear Lily giggling. Remus’ voice cut under them, low and amused.
Sirius stepped back from the fire to watch in amusement as they led a blindfolded James into the clearing, tugging him to halt. All three of them were wrapped in heavy coats and scarves and Lily had James’ glasses folded into her pocket.
“What’s going on?” James protested. “What’s on fire? What’s cooking?”
“Venison,” Remus said and laughed hollowly.
Sirius wished Pete was here. It would have been the perfect moment for a McGonagall impression.
“Oh, you’re so funny,” James said as they released his arms. “Where’s Padfoot? What’s he up to?”
“That’s no way to speak of your revered host,” Sirius said. “See if you get any sausages.”
“Sausages?” James said, pulling his scarf off his eyes. “You kidnap me to feed me sausages? I can’t see a thing.”
“Sorry,” Lily said and came round to put his glasses back on his face.
James blushed and spluttered. Sirius smirked.
“Ahem,” Remus said. “We have gathered here on the Feast of St Frideswide-”
“Who?” James demanded.
Remus fixed him with a stern gaze. “A holy maiden who was saved from a suitor who refused to cease his advances until the scoundrel in question was struck blind.”
“You’re making this up.”
“No, he’s not,” Sirius said. “We checked. Though he only knows in the first place because he’s a freak.”
Remus glared. “On the all too appropriate Feast of the persecuted St Frideswide, the extremely well-known patron saint of Oxford, to welcome back to our number the lovely Miss Evans and the village idiot standing next to her.”
“With feasting and merriment and lots of burning things,” Sirius added helpfully, waving his wand at the sausages. “Did anyone bring rolls?”
Remus rolled his eyes and produced a squashy parcel from under his coat. “It’s a good thing I only asked you to burn things, isn’t it?”
“I like burning things,” Sirius said and grinned at him.
“Why am I not surprised?” Lily said and produced another parcel. “I have a bowl and chocolate.”
“For?” James asked.
“Melting to dip the marshmallows in, obviously,” she said. “You’ve obviously never been to a campfire.”
“And you have?” Remus asked as he split the rolls open.
“I was a Brownie.”
Sirius blinked. She looked human enough. Even Remus looked baffled. She looked between them and said, “Alright? What does that mean in the wizarding world?”
“Wild house elf,” James said, staring at her. “You don’t look that short.”
“It’s a sort of club for Muggle girls. You go once a week and learn crafts and play games and try and earn badges to show you’re good at things. Um. Then you move onto Guides which is the same but older girls and they go camping. In my district they always used to invite the Brownies to their practice campfires and we had marshmallows dipped in chocolate and I should never have started trying to explain, should I?”
“Muggles are weird,” Sirius said comfortably. “Sausage?”
She sighed and flicked her wand, charming one out of the fire and into a roll.
Sirius had dragged a couple of logs over to make seats and they perched around the fire, grease-smeared and contented. Lily gave up after three sausages but James, who had subjected the others to his death glare when they chose their seats, took the rest of her share out of her hands and ate them. Stuffed, they settled to watch the flames and fill James in on all he’d missed while he was ill.
“Is someone telling Pete all this?” James demanded.
Sirius nodded. “We’re taking turns to write. Poor git.”
They were all quiet for a moment. The fire crackled and heaved. Remus yawned. Sirius, who’d slept well last night, eyed him in worry. He’d woken up tangled around him again this morning but he thought he’d got away with it. However, if Remus was tired that suggested that Remus had been awake at some point last night which meant that Remus might know that Sirius had spent the night wrapped around him like an extra blanket.
Lily said something soft to James who turned to murmur a reply. His cheeks glowed red and and Sirius couldn’t tell if it was a blush or the heat of the fire.
Sirius muttered into Remus’ ear, “Bet she wouldn’t be so nice to him if she knew about those photos.”
“She’s not going to find out,” Remus whispered back sternly.
Remus gave him a look. Sirius grinned.
Remus’ gaze dropped. “So.”
“So?” Sirius said cautiously.
Remus lowered his voice. “Are you going to sleep in your own bed tonight?”
“Suppose so,” Sirius said, staring into the flames. “Prongs might object now he’s back.”
“You could always share with him.”
I don’t fancy him, Sirius almost said. He choked it down and said, “Nah. Don’t like his photo collection.” Then he thought, what? Oh, fuck.
He did not fancy Remus Lupin. He might fantasise about him having it off under Brighton pier. He might like sharing a bed with him but really, it was cold, and Remus was always warm. He might always know when he was in a room. He might sit up waiting for him to get back from detention like some besotted girl. That didn’t necessarily mean…
It was entirely possible it was just physical proximity. If Remus had been carted off to the Hospital Wing he could have got into this mess with James or Peter.
He considered it for a moment and then shook his head.
“Earth to Padfoot. Hello.”
Some prat was waving their hand in front of his face. He batted at it in annoyance.
“I said,” James said loudly. “Did you bring the booze?”
“Behind that log,” he said absently as Lily exclaimed, “James! Not on a Tuesday!”
“Ah, but my dear Lily, this is no ordinary Tuesday. This is St Frideswide’s Day, right, Moony?”
“That’s right,” Remus said with a chuckle. “Be careful, Prongs. You’ll get your prefect’s privileges revoked.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you about that?”
“I’m a prefect? What did you do to Regulus Black?”
“We’re all prefects,” Sirius said, pulling himself away from an uncomfortable trail of thought. “I’m a prefect.”
“Sad but true.”
“I’m a prefect?”
“Slow, isn’t he?” Remus said.
“Padfoot’s a prefect?”
“It’s no fun,” Sirius said gloomily. “Not allowed to take points from Slytherins.”
James stared between them. “What are you doing, letting me set a bad example? Prefects shouldn’t be having illicit bonfires in the Forbidden Forest. Remus doesn’t count, before anyone argues with me.”
Lily said pointedly, “That’s not what you said to me last time we broke bounds.”
“That was different. I’m a prefect?”
“Kill him now, Evans. No one will mind too much.”
“Peter might,” Remus suggested. “Can’t really kill him without a full vote.”
Sirius sighed. “Wormtail only wants him back for the orgy. We can kill him afterwards.”
“For the what?” Lily exclaimed.
Remus glared at him. “Padfoot – we are not having an orgy.”
“What else did I miss?” James demanded.
Sirius still didn’t see what the problem was. An orgy would be ideal. If everyone was involved no one would notice it was Remus he was most interested in.
“Moony,” James said, sounding rather alarmed. “Please tell me Peter doesn’t…”
“You’re safe. Sirius is being delusional again.”
“Some people,” Sirius said, “don’t appreciate genius.”
“It’s a hard life,” Lily said. “Would the genius appreciate marshmallows?”
Lily was alright, really, Sirius thought. He probably wouldn’t mention the photos to her after all. She deserved better than Prongs but he wasn’t interested and Remus wasn’t available so she’d have to make do. He might even help.
“Are prefects allowed to eat illegal marshmallows?” asked James.
“No, mate,” Sirius said, “but don’t worry. I’ll have yours.”
“Like hell you will.”
Sirius grinned. He could already tell the evening would end with melted marshmallows stuck in people’s hair and charcoal up people’s shirts. Why worry about complicated things like emotions when the simple things were so good? So he fancied Remus. He’d think about it later. You could put problems off for years that way.
Chapter 20: A Profusion of Problems
James has noticed there's something wrong.
It was strange how things could change in even a few days. Perhaps they had been changing all along and he had simply failed to see it. It was a subtle thing, friendship, built of custom and shared secrets, jokes that no one else understood and scars that could not be discussed.
Perhaps he had been the one to change the balance when he welcomed Lily in. He didn’t think it was just that. With Peter gone he could hear the silences between Remus and Sirius. He was sure they hadn’t always been there.
There was no point in trying to talk to Remus. He was too good at evading awkward questions. It would have to be Sirius.
He’d spoken to Lily first, though. She saw things he didn’t and he wasn’t too proud to ask for help.
She’d cupped her chin in her hands and frowned, considering. “You know what everyone says about them, don’t you?”
“No.” James felt his shoulders tense. Nobody was allowed to talk about his friends behind his back.
“You’ve never heard all the jokes? About them being a couple?”
“Remus and Sirius? But they’re not-”
“Aren’t they?” Lily asked.
James thought about it. He thought about little touches, about the way attention strayed in long classes, about Quidditch posters and magazines Lily didn’t need to know about.
“I don’t know,” he said at last. “Sirius is private about that sort of thing – more than you’d expect. And Remus…” He really wasn’t sure, now he thought about it. “Do they know what people are saying?”
“Remus does. It’s all part of the usual barrage at prefects’ meetings.”
James frowned. “Are interim prefects allowed to go to meetings?”
“Not if they’re only going to start a fight,” Lily said firmly.
“Damn. I think I shall be having a relapse in Charms this afternoon. Cover for me, will you?”
She crossed her arms and glared. “James.”
“Please. I need to corner Sirius.”
“Just this once. Honestly, I’ve broken more rules this term than in my first five years.”
“Fun, isn’t it?” he said and fled.
They ran out of the forest, stag and dog, around the edge of Hogsmeade and into the mountains. It felt so good to run again, after days cooped up in the Hospital Wing, the black dog dashing around his feet.
It wasn’t until they were high above the village that he changed back, dropping onto a rock to catch his breath. The dog rose into Sirius, who sprawled on the ground, panting.
James waited until the last of the stag’s mood had faded and prodded Sirius with his foot.
“So, what else did I miss?”
“What do you mean?”
That causal tone and the carefully graceless pose meant that Sirius was on guard. He could read the signs.
“Well, I know that you all terrorised the firsties and that Remus hexed your brother. I know what happened to Peter and how ill your cousin Narcissa is. I even know that you bastards found my art collection.”
“You freaky pervert,” Sirius said happily and relaxed.
James put his foot on Sirius’ stomach, to keep him from escaping. “So now tell me about the rest of it.”
“So why are you and Remus being polite to each other?”
Sirius squirmed and then scowled. “Because we’re not barbarians, like some people.”
“Piss off, Padfoot.”
“Go fuck yourself, Prongs.”
“Right. Now we’ve proven barbarity all round, talk.”
Sirius crossed his arms and stared at the sky. “If you had a brain, you’d be dangerous.”
“We’re not going back until I get answers.”
Sirius reared up under his foot. “Says who?”
“Half the school,” James said. “According to Lily. Are you?”
“None of your fucking business. Don’t talk about me behind my back.”
“I don’t think asking Lily if she knows why you’re upset counts in that respect, my lad. Is that why Remus has gone skittish? Does he have a problem with it?”
James shrugged. It seemed the right word. Sirius had sprawled out again, arms crossed behind his head. So wrong tack but not completely wrong.
“What would you do if he had?”
“Sit on his head until he saw sense.”
“It never works,” Sirius said morosely. “He wriggles.”
James filed that snippet away in his mind. Maybe Lily had been right.
“What would you do if I was?” Sirius asked warily but he didn’t meet James’ eye so that wasn’t quite the real question.
“Take the piss for the rest of your life.”
James pressed down hard with his heel. “You prat. What kind of wanker do you think I am?”
“A creepy, stalkerish one who really needs to get his invisibility cloak cleaned. People do mind, y’know. Only half the family cut off old Alphie ‘cause he’s in trade. The rest didn’t like his taste in men.”
“Is that your uncle? The one who owns a villa? With all the young, Muggle manservants?”
“Yup. Good, old Alphie.”
“Well, the harem is rather creepy. But, y’know, if you fancy Peter or something, that’s fine.”
Sirius scowled but he was smiling slightly. Silly git thought he was devious.
“So,” James said, leaning back. “Remus is gay.”
“What?” Carefully modulated outrage, there. “What makes you think that?”
“You as good as told me.”
“I did not.”
“Padfoot, you remember in second year when Pete had the bladder infection. What did you do?”
Sirius smiled in fond memory. “Striptease on high table so he could get out unseen.”
“Your modus operandi is unmistakable. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Did you freak out on him?”
Sirius glared at him and said grudgingly, “No.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“It’s nothing to do with Remus.” The challenging stare. Misdirection.
“So what is it?”
Sirius sighed. “We were sort of talking about, y’know, and I realised that I didn’t have to worry about the family reaction. I could have an orgy and it wouldn’t matter. I could go out with anyone, if I wanted, and it wouldn’t matter.”
He wished he’d been there for that conversation. “Was this before or after Remus came out?”
“So you decided it was time to fancy Moony.”
“No!” That was honest and angry enough that he was glad he had the high ground. Then Sirius shuffled his shoulders and muttered, “Sort of, accidentally, slept with him. Twice.”
There were times when James Potter sincerely wished he’d been Sorted into Hufflepuff. He was sure these sorts of things didn’t happen to Hufflepuffs. “Slept with?” he repeated. “Twice? You’ve been busy.”
Sirius looked horrifed. “Not – I didn’t. Asleep. I meant asleep. In his bed. With him. Twice.”
James sighed with relief. “So, you find out Remus is gay – how did you manage that, by the way? I can never get a straight answer out of him.”
“Bad puns are not appropriate,” Sirius said. “Sat on him.”
“Do you think Lily would go out with me if-”
“No.” Sirius folded his arms, looking disgruntled. “Could we get back to my crisis, please?”
“Okay. You find out about him then you realise you’re free to start shagging your way through the school-”
“They would so all do me.”
James glared. “And, then, despite all this, you crawl into bed with him. Does your brain actually function?”
Sirius glared. Then he pushed James’ foot off his chest and scrambled up onto the rock beside him. He hugged his knees and stared out at the sky.
At last he said, “I think I might fancy him. Fancy him quite a lot, that is. But I have to be certain, don’t I? Because you can just stop fancying people, can’t you?”
James, who had once spent a terrible week fantasising about Flitwick’s underwear after a particularly lurid dream, nodded fervently.
“And if you don’t know someone and they don’t know you, doesn’t matter. But you don’t fuck with your friends’ heads. You have to be absolutely certain. Then you have to be sure that it would be a good thing because you can’t change back, can you? You can’t just do that to someone who matters. Wouldn’t be right.”
“It wouldn’t be honourable,” James said and watched Sirius twitch. “You’re a Gryffindor, you twat. Honour matters.”
“Nah. I was just too loud for Slytherin.”
They sat in comfortable silence, watching the clouds. James was almost relieved to know he hadn’t been wrong. The balance had shifted. He just needed to study Remus now, - to work out which way he was running. He wasn’t quite sure he liked all these changes but things and people grew. You just had to make sure that you kept making new links between people, even when the old ones faded. They hadn’t stopped being the Marauders just because they weren’t learning to be animagi any more. They wouldn’t stop just because some of them fancied, well, people. That was the thing about friends – you changed with them and they changed with you.
“What are you going to do then?” he asked.
“Dunno. Wait and see if I change my mind.”
“That’s the crappiest of your crappy plans yet.”
“Think of something better.”
“Don’t ask me. Pete’s the detail man.”
“I am not asking Wormtail for dating advice.”
“He’s pulled more than the rest of us put together.”
There was another long silence and James said, “Be getting dark soon.”
“Want to race back?”
“Why not? Tell you something, though.”
“I am never getting ill again.”
Sirius snorted. “I never get ill.” Then he sank into the black dog and James stretched into the stag and they went thundering away down the mountain.
Chapter 21: A Deluge of Detentions
Sirius Black hates being introspective. Luckily, he's evolved a way to drive it out of his mind. James, Remus and Lily are just trying to survive to the end of the day. Exceedingly silly.
It had been one of those days. One of the days when Remus forgot that he was more than half in love with Sirius Black; one of those days when it didn’t matter that he was desperate to touch him, that he wanted to wrap himself around that warm elegance and rub against him, that he loved the way he had walked away from his home, for friendship’s sake, and was infuriated by the way he refused to admit he was upset about it. It was one of those days when he couldn’t even be diverted by that stupid, alluring thing Sirius did with his bum when he was thinking and forgot he wasn’t Padfoot and didn’t have a tail.
In short, it was one of those days when all he wanted to do with Sirius Black was gag him, tie him to a tree in the Forbidden Forest and leave him for the acromantula.
It had begun well with a rather engrossing dream involving a naked Sirius sprawled by a bonfire, begging Remus to cover him in charcoal. Remus had just reached his thighs when he was awoken by an enormous black dog landing on his chest and drooling on his face.
He had yelped and flailed but the dog was already gone. After a moment he heard James howl and Padfoot went streaking back to his own bed, barking wildly.
There was a thump of footsteps and one of the Seventh Year boys burst in. “What the hell are you little shits doing? Have you got a dog in here?”
“A dog?” Sirius said, sitting on the end of his bed, looking dangerously angelic. “You’re hearing things, Turner. Why would we have a dog in here?”
“Because you’re a load of freaks,” the Seventh Year snarled and slammed out again.
At breakfast Sirius decided to burn that day’s letter before the owl delivered it. The owl, who had been in the Black family for years, dodged and kept coming. The resulting air battle finished off three milk jugs, two tureens of porridge and a platter. The bacon which had been on the platter reformed into a battalion of tiny, flying pigs which attacked the owl from both flanks. Three banners caught fire, two Hufflepuffs acquired green hair and a jar of plum jam sprouted a substantial tree, causing the Ravenclaw table to collapse under its weight. Even so, there was a round of applause when Sirius hit the target and the letter exploded into a rain of purple stars. The owl soared away again with a disdainful glare.
Lily got to Sirius before Professor McGonagall, who was still fighting off flying pigs. When she launched into a lecture on cruelty to helpless beasts, Sirius obligingly stripped to his drawers to display the scars that particular owl had given him when it attacked him in the bath when he was ten.
In Potions, Sirius brewed away happily. Remus, who had only just scraped into the NEWT class, couldn’t spare the attention to watch him and trusted he was suitably distracted. He didn’t think that Polyjuice Potion was meant to be turquoise but his own was a rather odd shade of green, despite Lily’s help.
It wasn’t until the cauldron began to belch that Remus reconsidered. He grabbed Lily’s arm and gestured. She looked over his shoulder and then her eyes widened before she grabbed him and James with an arm each and dragged them under the bench.
The explosion a few moments later toppled every stool in the room, coated the ceiling with glowing slime and made everyone still standing burst into spontaneous song. Sirius chortled happily.
In Defence Against the Dark Arts, the new professor, who obviously hadn’t been warned about Sirius Black, set them to subduing pixies with non-verbal magic. Sirius smiled and transfigured all the chalk in the room into miniature bows and arrows.
Professor Gibbon, fighting off attack from the air, failed to notice that Sirius’ inkwell was full of paraffin until he set it alight.
“Mr Black! What are you-”
“Let him have it, boys,” Sirius commanded, waving his wand like a baton and tossing pencils to the pixies.
“Mr Black! Cease this immediately or I will be forced to give you detention!”
“Can I pencil you in for Sunday, sir. Professor McGonagall’s booked tomorrow and Professor Slughorn expects me Saturday.”
Remus ducked a flaming pencil and crawled across the floor to where James had taken cover with Lily and the other Gryffindor girls.
“Has he lost his mind?” Lily demanded. James was looking shifty.
“Long ago,” Remus muttered and took aim at a pixie. “Aquajaculare!”
“I love that one,” Lily said and smirked. “It always makes men blush. Aquajaculare!”
James, faintly scarlet, grabbed his wand and took aim.
Thankfully, it was raining too hard to go outside for Care of Magical Creatures. Professor Kettleburn set them to noting a chapter on Augerey metabolism. Sirius sat meekly in the corner, as if he wasn’t aware that the rest of the class were paying more attention to him than the textbook. Every few minutes he tore a strip off the bottom of his scroll and wrote something on it. Then he twisted the strip in half, set it down on the floor, and sent it scuttling out of the room. Remus pitied the recipients but was rather relieved to be spared himself.
He scribbled a note and wafted it across. Do you want to be in detention forever?
Sirius considered it, wrote something and passed it back. Want to join me?
Remus glared at him and shook his head. Sirius pouted and tickled his textbook. It snapped at him affectionately. He grinned and reached into his pocket for a handful of leaves.
“Oh, shit,” James said audibly. “Not the catnip.”
Sirius’ textbook burped and then launched itself into mid-air, pages rustling.
“Feet up!” James yelled as it hit the floor at a run. The textbook turned, teeth gnashing, and wove between the desks, hunting for exposed flesh. The room filled with shrieks and shouts as various hexes were hurled at it. The book dodged them all and fixed its attention on Professor Kettleburn, who was charging forward to meet it. The book purred and settled back, spine tensing as it prepared to launch.
Kettleburn brought his hands up to protect his face and Remus, who had discovered the catnip effect in the first place, shouted, “Professor, no! It’s not aiming that high!”
But it was too late. Kettleburn’s howl of agony echoed around the classroom and Remus winced. He was pretty sure he wasn’t the only bloke in the room crossing his legs right now.
“Shall I get Madam Pomfrey, sir?” Sirius enquired politely.
At lunch, McGonagall marched Sirius off to a table on his own. He went happily enough. Remus took a moment to stare up at the grey clouds above and then said to James, “Have you any idea what’s wrong with him?”
“Ah,” James said and took an unnecessarily large mouthful of steak and kidney pie.
James shrugged. “Had a bit of a talk, yesterday.”
“I knew you were just bunking Charms. Ill, my arse. What’s wrong with him?”
“Can’t tell you. Not my secret.”
Remus felt his stomach go cold. He hadn’t meant to cling to Sirius in the night. He’d hoped Sirius didn’t mind. “Oh,” he said and prodded his potatoes. “Did you give him advice?”
“You know what that does to him. Did he admit to anything, y’know, he wouldn’t be happy about?”
“Moony. Don’t ask. I can’t tell you.”
Shit. Double-shit. Trying to ignore what that implied about Sirius’ opinion of him, he said, “You twat. You know he goes insane whenever someone’s forced him to be introspective.”
“He might have grown out of it,” James said feebly.
“The last time was August!”
“August was a long time ago. Oh, shit, look at Regulus.”
Remus looked. Regulus Black stood in the doorway of the Great Hall. His hair was green, his robes were red and his eyebrows had sprouted ringlets. Every piece of exposed skin was covered in boils and he left a trail of blue slime as he moved. Remus could smell the sulphur from here.
Sirius grinned at him and waved chirpily.
Remus closed his eyes and put his head down on the table.
He had some respite after lunch, when Sirius was in Divination and James was in Herbology. Lily took pity on him and found other topics of conversation for the whole of their Runes class. It didn’t hide the way that everyone else was murmuring about Sirius but it helped.
“Did you hear about Snape?” she asked.
“No,” Remus said. “He wasn’t at lunch.”
“Collapsed in Advanced Potions.”
“Not just. It turns out he’s had it as long as Narcissa but has been making himself potions to hold the symptoms off.”
“He poisoned himself?” Remus asked, brightening.
“Snape? No. The flu caught up. All he managed to do was intensify it. I heard he’s been rushed out to St Mungo’s.”
“At least that’s one less person who’s going to want revenge,” Remus said glumly as the bell went. “Braced for Transfiguration?”
Lily winced. “If all three of us jump him in the corridor, I can grab his wand and you can stun him. I’m sure McGonagall won’t mind if he’s unconscious.”
“It never works,” Remus said. “His reflexes are too good.”
When they joined him in the Transfiguration classroom, Sirius was smiling serenely. His eyes were bright and he seemed flushed. The rest of his Divination class were eyeing him sourly.
“Padfoot?” James said cautiously.
“Beware!” Sirius said, rolling his Rs. “Beware the Grim.”
Remus didn’t want to know any more than that.
Transfiguration turned out to be a pleasantly uneventful class for Remus, mainly because Sirius turned him into a hamster in the first five minutes. He promptly went to sleep on his desk, lulled by the drumbeat of the rain on the windows. James had to wake him up at the end of the lesson by taking his shoes off and tickling his feet.
“Piss off, Padfoot,” Remus muttered. “I’m not sharing.”
“What did he say?” Lily demanded and Remus jerked awake.
“I didn’t hear anything,” James said blandly and Remus thought, Oh, fuck, Sirius told him.
“Where’s Padfoot?” he asked.
“Yvonne lured him back to the tower with chocolate cake,” Lily said.
“I’m tying him to the bed tonight,” Remus said grumpily.
“Because there won’t be a castle left in the morning if we don’t,” Remus added, scowling at him.
Trying to do homework in the same room as Sirius wasn’t easy at the best of times. Tonight, it could only be described as challenging. James, the git, charged him to keep Sirius confined and went off with Lily on her prefect patrols.
Remus bribed a couple of firsties to sit with their legs across the portrait hole and made a start on the mountain of homework they’d been given that day. He bloody well wasn’t going to let Sirius copy it either.
Sirius demonstrated his ability to write names on the wall with spit pumpkin juice, stuck a couple of second-years to the ceiling, unleashed a few pixies he’d somehow saved from Defence, drew obscene pictures on the windows, recited the first six hundred lines of Beowulf in Old English whilst standing on someone’s divination homework, did a lengthy and loud impression of the fate of Professor Kettleburn, passed around a bottle of firewhiskey Remus was sure he had pilfered from Peter and sang the whole of Dancing Queen in a shrill soprano.
“Why hasn’t someone given him detention tonight?” Yvonne Hazledene demanded.
“Would you want to be alone in a room with him while he’s in this state?” Remus asked.
“That doesn’t mean they’re completely insane. How many t’s in transmutation?”
“Four, I think.”
“Where’s the applause? Applaud, everyone! Come on – altogether now – You can dance, you can jive…”
“Can’t you stop him?” Yvonne demanded.
“Not when he’s this far gone. Most common hexes bounce off him.”
“…See that girl, watch that scene…”
He sighed and put down his essay. “Sirius! Your image is in tatters!”
“Remus! Why aren’t you dancing?”
Thankfully, James and Lily erupted back into the Common Room, sending Kingsley Shacklebolt flying.
“You imbecile!” Lily shrieked.
“They were deliberately breaking rules!” James protested, puffing his chest out. “Devious little Slytherin gits! They knew I couldn’t take points!”
“That didn’t mean you had to turn them blue!”
“I wasn’t going to let them get away with it. Be reasonable, Lily.”
Remus peered over the top of the sofa in time to see James make a fatal error.
“And don’t do that thing with your hair!” Lily threw her arms into the air. “Honestly, James Potter! I thought you’d changed!”
“I don’t want to know!”
“Fine!” James snapped. “I would have thought you’d appreciate some help in a crisis. Obviously not!”
“You call that help?”
“I’m not listening.” James stalked away.
Lily snarled and stormed away to the far corner of the room where she was welcomed into a gaggle of girls.
James flung himself onto the sofa beside Remus. “Girls! I will never understand girls!”
“You’re meant to say, ‘That’s because they don’t make sense.’ C’mon, Remus, keep up.”
“That’s Peter’s line,” Remus said and Yvonne rose huffily.
“You’re no good,” James muttered. “Where’s Padfoot?”
It had gone dangerously quiet. The singing had stopped.
Then there was an outraged feminine scream from the far corner. James and Remus sat up to look.
“He’s stealing bras again,” Remus said.
James settled down. “That should keep him happy for a while. Is he slowing down yet?”
“Nope. Can you not even give me a hint? If it’s this bad, I’m expecting him to take off for Bermuda tomorrow morning. Where he’ll rename himself Tallulah and make a living serving drinks in cheap bars.”
Remus was beginning to get really worried.
There was another scream. “Sirius Black, I hate you.”
Remus heard a low chuckle and was in time to see Sirius duck under a table. He watched him creep the length of the common room and then stick the tip of his wand out. Lucille Oliphant had her arms crossed over her breasts and was scanning the room with suspicion. Unfortunately, she didn’t look down. There was a faint pop and her bra came slithering out of her sleeve, straight to Sirius’ wand. He chortled and slid away.
“Maybe we should take him out for a run,” James said.
“Have you seen the rain?”
Remus went back to his essay. James glared across the room at the back of Lily’s head. Sirius kept collecting.
You could get used to the screams. It was like the rain, a vaguely comforting background when you were trying to think.
“Aha! Full house! I win!”
Sirius burst out from under the table. Every girl in Gryffindor levelled her wand. Sirius yelped, threw the bundle of bras at James’ head and dived for the sofa, grabbing at Remus.
“Save me! Be my shield!”
There were girls coming at him from every angle. Remus, who wasn’t as convinced of his value as a human shield as Sirius seemed to be, dived under the sofa. Sirius came with him.
“Black! Lupin!” James wailed. “Don’t leave me!”
Sirius hugged Remus to him gleefully and then took off under the chairs, squirming on his belly.
James cleared his throat. “Well, ladies, here I am. Help yourselves.”
Sirius had been far too hot. Abandoning James to his fate, Remus took off after him, wincing as he caught a still tender scar on the bottom of a chair.
Sirius dodged right and turned to grin back at Remus. His eyes were bright and his face was red and glistening. He never usually broke a sweat at the bra game. Remus sped up.
Sirius chortled and dodged again, between the legs of an unsuspecting fourth-year.
“Argh! Black, what the fuck-”
Forced to dodge, Remus almost lost him.
“Just one left!” James said. “Any claimers? Come on, ladies, 32C, embroidered with butterflies. Pretty, shiny butterflies. Just the right size, in my informed opinion. Any claimers?”
“Potter,” Lily grated.
Sirius leapt to his feet and lunged onto the table. Remus shot after him and jammed between two high-backed armchairs.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” Sirius roared. “Perverts and pervees! I have an announcement to make!”
Everyone turned to stare.
Sirius threw his arms out. “I am – I am-”
“Get on with it!” Someone shouted.
“I am – I am really not quite myself.” Then he swayed.
“Sirius!” Remus squeaked, struggling to get free.
The force of the sneeze sent him staggering backwards. He scrabbled for balance on the edge of the table and then toppled backwards, his arms spread wide.
Twenty spells slowed his fall but he hit the stacked desks behind with a crash. His head cracked audibly against the wood and he halted, still and silent.
There was a shocked silence and then someone screamed. Remus shoved the chairs away with a force he didn’t know he possessed and threw himself across the room.
“Shacklebolt!” James roared. “Pomfrey! Now! Move back, everyone!”
One of the girls had got there first and she looked up as Remus dropped beside her. “He’s still breathing.”
There was blood on the tables.
“Steady,” Lily said quietly in his ear. “Head wounds bleed a lot.”
“I know,” Remus said and she squeezed his shoulder. Remus took a breath and tried to shove down panic. He knew about wounds. He’d had enough of them. There was no reason to panic.
Except this was Sirius and Sirius wasn’t meant to lie that still.
“We need to move him,” James said.
Lily nodded. “Immobilise him first. We don’t know what he’s broken.”
“Somebody clear the table off,” James snapped. “Remus, can you ice over the cut until Pomfrey gets here.”
Remus nodded and dug his wand out. It wasn’t until he pointed it at Sirius that he realised how much his hand was shaking. He whispered the spell and sighed in relief when Sirius flinched a little at the cold.
They moved him very carefully onto the table, six of them working the spell from all sides to keep him level. Remus couldn’t look at the mess they left behind.
Lily peered at him. “His breathing’s okay. I think he just knocked himself silly.”
“He was silly already,” Remus said and was horrified to hear how thick his voice was.
James and Lily closed ranks around him.
“Where the hell is Shacklebolt?” James demanded.
Yvonne was leaning out the portrait hole. “They’re coming.”
Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t let any of them come to the Hospital Wing with her but she spared a quick smile for Remus. “Head as hard as rock, dear.”
“But we have to go!” James protested, following her down the corridor. “He needs us!”
“No, Mr Potter. And take that thing off your ear.”
“My ear?” James repeated blankly and felt the side of his head. He came away with Lily’s bra. “My ear?”
“It suits you,” Lily said coolly and took it back.
Remus smiled weakly at them both and then turned back to watching Sirius disappear down the corridor.
“He’ll be fine,” Lily said. “It’s just the flu. Sirius style.”
“Right,” James said. “Now in. Have you seen the state of this room? I shall be taking points!”
“You will not, James Potter!”
Remus followed them in reluctantly. He supposed that, even on his worst days, he didn’t really want to feed Sirius to the acromantula.
Chapter 22: A Conversation on Chivalry
Sirius hates being ill.
Remus dropped his quill and said, “Sirius? Are you awake?”
“I think so.” He sounded very uncertain, his voice small and rasping.
Remus schooled his expression and looked up. Sirius had pressed his cheek to the side of the bed and was gazing down at him. His hair was stuck to the side of his nose and his cheeks were blotchy.
“Hello,” Remus said gently.
“’Lo. What are you doing down there?”
Sirius scowled a little and then winced. “My head aches.”
“That would be the concussion.”
“My everything else aches too.”
“That’s the flu.”
“Oh. Don’t sit on the floor, Moony. Hurts looking at you.”
Remus put his essay aside and curled upon the bed beside Sirius. “Better?”
“Hah!” Sirius said and grabbed his ankle. “Can’t escape now.”
His grip was considerably weaker than little Nymphadora’s had been but Remus was too wise to point that out. Instead he brushed the hair out of Sirius’ eyes. He was still far too hot and Remus sighed. Madam Pomfrey had already warned them that his temperature would keep rising until he was delirious. It didn’t seem fair. People like Sirius had too much life in them to get ill.
“Moony. What happened?”
“You sneezed yourself backwards off a table.”
“Was there blood?”
“Lots of it,” Remus said lightly and shivered.
“Good.” Sirius said and squirmed around to press his shoulder against Remus’ thigh. “Can’t get comfy. Ache.”
“I can call Madam Pomfrey.”
“No!” Sirius said petulantly. “Want you.”
Remus knew he really shouldn’t feel so pleased over something so small. To hide it, he said, “Do you remember what happened?”
Sirius frowned. “Prongs had Lily’s bra on his head? And I did the catnip trick and you were a hamster.”
“That covers the main points,” Remus said and let himself stroke Sirius’ hair again.
Sirius pressed into his hand. “Nice. Stops the ache. Do it again.”
Remus kept stroking. Sirius closed his eyes. Remus thought he’d gone to sleep again until he said, “Reggie didn’t have concussion too.”
“No,” Remus said, trying not to laugh at him. “They’re still trying to get some of those curses off him, though.”
“Did I curse Reggie?”
“Don’t remember that.”
His hair was so soft, warm and heavy in his hands. It should have felt more like Padfoot’s fur, matted and pungent.
“I’m ill,” Sirius said indignantly.
“It happens to the best of us.”
“I don’t like it.”
“No one does.”
“Don’t laugh at me,” Sirius snapped and buried his head in the pillows.
Remus kept stroking. He might never have a valid excuse to touch Sirius again and he would make the most of this. He rubbed the back of Sirius’ neck and was rewarded by Sirius tightening his grip on his ankle.
An owl hooted and he looked up to see the Black family owl swoop in, a letter clutched in its talons.
“Get out!” Remus said and Sirius looked up.
“Not today,” he muttered. “I don’t want – I can’t-”
Remus grabbed his wand and thought for a moment. Then he thought of day they’d become animagi for him and said, “Expecto patronum.”
The light flowed out of his wand and split into three. The stag, the dog and the rat, joined by fine ribbons of light, charged the owl. It swooped and dived and the stag cut it off. Together, they drove it out of the window and Remus pointed his wand away. The window crashed closed, almost catching tail-feathers.
“Patronus?” Sirius said huskily.
“It is a guardian spell,” Remus said lightly and jumped as Sirius dropped his face against his thigh and burst into tears.
“Padfoot?” Remus asked, looking around frantically. “Don’t. I didn’t think you wanted the letter.”
“Of course I didn’t. I – I’m not crying.”
“Of course you’re not,” Remus said gently and got punched in the thigh.
“Not! You hexed Jormungardr.”
“I’m sorry,” Remus said frantically, patting him on the back. What were you supposed to do when you had a weeping, feverish Sirius Black attached to your thigh?
“Fucking brilliant. Hate that fucking bird.” Sirius scrubbed his eyes against Remus’ leg and then blew his nose loudly.
“That was my robes!”
“Sorry. Thought it was the sheet.”
“Sirius Black, please tell me you don’t blow your nose on the sheets.”
Sirius shook his head but didn’t look up.
“I am never letting you in my bed again,” Remus said, before remembering he was trying to avoid that topic.
“S’alright. You can come in mine. Well, not come necessarily but, y’know-”
“Sirius, shut up!”
He found himself being stared at by two doleful grey eyes. “You can’t shout at me. I’m ill.”
“Sorry,” Remus said, patting him again. “But people might get the wrong idea.”
“Don’t care. Hot.”
“Do you want a glass of water?” He started to get up and Sirius tightened his grip.
“Yes. Don’t go.”
People were definitely going to get the wrong idea. Faced with the woebegone specimen beside him, Remus found he didn’t care that much. He reached over dangerously to grab the jug on the bedside table and pour a glass of water.
“You’ll spill it if you try to drink lying down. Do you want to sleep in a puddle.”
“Sirius,” Remus said sternly. “Sit up.”
Sirius squirmed up against the pillows and then crashed back, closing his eyes. “I don’t want to be ill.”
Remus wrapped his hands around the cup and said, “Poor old Padfoot.”
It was a shame, Remus thought, that he couldn’t record this. Sirius was bound to deny later that he had ever whined.
Sirius drank quickly, lapping the water up. Then he dropped the glass and sank down again. Remus picked it up and put it back on the table. Sirius was staring at him. Remus smiled nervously. He was beginning to feel self-conscious under that steady regard. It wasn’t his fault Sirius had ended up in his bed. He hadn’t been the one to snuggle first. It wasn’t fair of Sirius to be upset with him for something he hadn’t started.
“You saved me from Jormungardr,” Sirius said and beamed.
“Real Sir Galahad, me,” Remus said dryly to hide his confusion. Of course Sirius was thinking at tangents.
“No!” Sirius said shaking his head. “Ow.”
“Not Galahad. Hate him. Had a picture of him at home. Drippy git. One of the others.”
“Lancelot?” Remus suggested.
“What did he do?”
“Only know Galahad. And Merlin, of course.”
“He was Arthur’s foremost knight. The noblest and most true. No one could defeat him.”
“That’s me, then.”
Remus rolled his eyes. “Then he fell in love with Arthur’s wife and ended up running around a forest naked for years.”
“I don’t fancy Lily. And I like to keep my bits somewhere safe. And warm.”
“Stop right there before you provide too much information.”
“Prude,” Sirius said and curled round Remus’ thigh again. “Aches. ‘Nother one.”
“Gawain,” Remus suggested, rubbing his back again. “Eldest of the princes of Orkney. Arthur’s nephew.”
“Did he have brothers then?”
“Three of them. And a half-brother.”
“Bit of a ladies man, Gawain. Brave, bit reckless, loyal. Hot-tempered. He always took the challenges the rest were too scared of.”
“I’ll be him, then,” Sirius said smugly. “Brothers?”
“Gaheris was the second eldest. He’s a bit like Gawain but less famous. Stopped him from doing stupid things when he lost his temper.”
“That’s Prongs, then. Second-best.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him you said that.”
“S’why I said it.”
“Then there were Gareth and Agravaine. You’re definitely not Gareth. He was the polite one. So worried about being judged in comparison to his brothers that he disguised himself as a servant and worked in Arthur’s kitchens for a year. Then he went and saved a damsel in distress and only revealed his identity once he succeeded.”
“Drip,” Sirius muttered. “Devious drip. He’s you.”
“And the other one’s Peter, right?”
Remus hesitated. He had just remembered what happened to Agravaine. “No, I don’t think so.”
Sirius glared. “Then it doesn’t fit. Why not?”
“Because of the way it ends,” Remus said.
“Bloody legends. What’s wrong with happy endings? Tell.”
“You won’t like it.”
Sirius prodded him in the hip. Hard. “Tell!”
“Their half-brother, Mordred, was Arthur’s illegitimate son-”
“Thought they were nephews?”
“They were. Very pureblood set-up.”
Sirius snorted against his leg. “More.”
“Right, Mordred wanted to seize the throne. Merlin was out of the way by then-”
“Know about Merlin. Some bird put Imperius on him.”
Remus looked at him sternly. “Don’t interrupt. Merlin wasn’t there to stop him so Mordred set up Lancelot so he got caught with Guinevere-”
“Trousers round his ankles?”
“They didn’t wear trousers in those days.”
“Ah. No wonder he didn’t worry about waving his bits about.”
“Agravaine helped Mordred and Lancelot killed him when he was trying to escape. Mordred was a bit pissed off, seeing as Agravaine was his favourite brother, and demanded that the queen be executed. Arthur agreed-”
“D’you think James would kill Lily if slept I with her?”
“I thought you liked Lily.”
“I do. Just wondered. Because he’s a freaky pervert.”
“Arthur agreed and Lancelot was forced to rescue her. Gareth and Gaheris were guarding her but they refused to wear armour because they disapproved and Lancelot killed them both by accident.”
“Git,” Sirius said sleepily. “Can’t trust a man who runs around forests naked.”
“How many times have you streaked in the Great Hall?”
“Different. S’inside. What happened next?”
“Gawain was almost mad with grief. He persuaded Arthur to pursue Lancelot into France. In their absence Mordred seized the throne. Arthur rushed home, landing at Dover. Gawain was killed in the battle there.”
“On the right side,” Sirius said. “In the end. What happened to the Slytherin one?”
It took a moment but Remus worked it out. “Mordred? Arthur continued the war against him but the country was divided. A lot of Lancelot’s friends joined Mordred even though they thought Arthur was right. Gawain had sent a message to Lancelot from his deathbed, begging him to come to Arthur’s aid.”
“Not in time. The story says that Arthur dreamt he saw Gawain’s ghost. Gawain warned him not to fight the next day.”
“Why didn’t he listen?” Sirius demanded, sitting up. “A-achoo!”
Remus caught him before he shot off the bed, gripping his arms until he was still. He flopped back down, wan, and Remus said, “He did. He warned them all not to draw steel. It was bad luck. A snake bit one of the knights who drew his sword to kill it and that was enough to start the battle. They were all expecting treachery.”
“And did everyone die?” Sirius looked stricken.
“Yes,” Remus admitted, wishing he’d never started the story. “Except Sir Bedivere, the king’s oldest friend. He was the only survivor. He threw Arthur’s sword back into the lake – no, that’s another story entirely. Don’t ask. Bedivere was the one who saw what happened to Arthur.”
“Did he ever quarrel with Arthur?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Maybe Peter could be him, then. Better than the other one.”
“Okay,” Remus said gently and wiped the sweat off his forehead.
“What did happen to Arthur?”
“He was gravely wounded, nigh to death. Three queens came in a boat over the water and carried him away to Isle of Avalon.”
“He didn’t die?”
“No one knows. The legend says he’s just sleeping. He’ll come back one day, in Britain’s greatest hour of need.”
Sirius latched onto his thigh again and said vaguely, “He’s late. Should come and get rid of bloody Voldemort.”
“So he should,” Remus said and sighed. Sirius was asleep. How the hell did he do that so quickly?
He watched him for a while as he snuffled and moaned. His nightshirt was sticking to him and he was tossing in the bed. Sirius never moved in his sleep. Remus had often wondered how someone could sleep so serenely with so much on their conscience. He was feeling fairly guilty about that now.
He obviously wasn’t going to get his leg back.
Quietly, he whispered, “Accio essay,” and went back to work.
Chapter 23: A Change of Colours
Sirius is delirious. Please note that both Remus and I are aware that his explanation leaves a lot to be desired. It didn't seem like the moment for a chemistry lesson. ^_^
He could see the trees through the window, boughs tossing in the wind, yellow and red and green, still green, just the one tree.
Why did the leaves change colour anyway?
He was hot. Everything clung to him, nightshirt, sheets, hair. The sheet knotted around his legs and he fought it, scrabbling at in silent panic. Someone had hexed it. Someone – Regulus, Severus, some evil git who wanted him to die. His knee was bent backwards and the sheet had his ankle. It had him.
He was breathing heavily, could hear the rasp-gasp of it and where the fuck were they all? Why had they left him to be eaten by a sheet? Where was Remus? Remus would stop the sheet.
Then Pomfrey was there, wiping his forehead with a cool cloth and untangling him. She straightened the sheet and tucked it around him firmly, murmuring, “Try to rest, dear.”
Sirius lay still, as still as he could, in case it came for him again. Everything ached, a slow, deep thrum against his bones. Maybe the sheet had been poisoned. Yeah, he could see Snivellus doing that, smearing it with something pale and cruel, creeping in at night to throw it over him, sniggering from the shadows as the sheet ate him.
Sirius whimpered and tried to throw it off. He didn’t want to be eaten by a sheet. He was Sirius Black! He was meant to be a hero, the scourge of Dark wizards and werewolf hunters everywhere! How could he be brought low by a bit of cloth?
He couldn’t get out. The poisoned sheet was sapping his strength.
Cunning! He had to fight cunning with cunning! He stilled and fixed his attention on the trees outside. Let the sheet think he was off guard.
Why did the leaves change colour? Why couldn’t they just be red all the time? Red was a proper colour.
The sheet! Musn’t lose focus!
He moved his hand to the corner of the bed. It was hard because he was shaking so hard. Had to get out soon. Strength failing him.
It took three tugs to pull the corner of the sheet out. That done, he began to work around the bed. It fought back. It didn’t want to be cast off but he was determined. No sheet could defeat him.
There was sweat running into his eyes. He couldn’t breathe properly. He had to get out.
Here was Madam Pomfrey again, bustling towards him.
She pressed him back against his pillows with a firm hand and he didn’t have the strength to fight. He gazed at her desperately, trying to convey with his eyes what the sheet was doing. She couldn’t just abandon him to the forces of evil like this.
She tucked him in again.
Sirius almost cried. He had been so close. Why? Why, why, why? Perhaps she was the enemy too? Perhaps she wanted him to be eaten. She always shouted at him when he came to cheer Remus up after the moon. She’d be glad if the sheet won.
Maybe she was Slytherin, too. He’d never asked what house she was in. That was it. It was a Slytherin plot. He had to escape. Had to find James and Remus. Remus would know how to stop the sheet. Remus knew everything. Remus probably knew why the leaves changed.
No. Mustn’t think about the leaves. Had to escape. Had to be stealthy. He could do stealthy. Good at it. Better than James. James was crap at the bra game.
He was a lot more careful in getting the sheet out this time. Stroked it, coaxed it. Shame he couldn’t feed it catnip. As soon as he’d worked one side free he rolled out.
The sheet pounced on his feet and he crashed to the floor, clumsy and heavy. He wasn’t clumsy! He was Sirius Black, Beater extraordinaire!
He kicked wildly and heard the sheet rip with deep satisfaction. He was free! All he to do now was get out before he was spotted.
He tried to crawl forward but didn’t move. Frantically he scrabbled again but though his hands gripped at the floor he didn’t go forward.
Where was Remus? Remus would know what was wrong? He’d been cursed!
“Remus!” he wailed, just in case he was close enough to hear. “Remus! James! Peter!”
“Oh, goodness me, Mr Black. What have you done?” Efficient hands lifted him back onto the bed and stripped the sheet away.
“Remus?” he said again, his voice little more than a croak.
“He has to go to classes, dear. If you’re a little better later I’ll let him visit. Now stay still while I get you a new sheet.”
She’d taken the sheet away. He was saved. Remus had saved him. The evil Slytherins were scared of his Remus!
She came back with a new sheet. This one was blue which meant Ravenclaw which meant it was probably safe. He watched it carefully as she tucked it in, just in case.
He felt her press the back of her hand to his forehead and she tutted. “Time for more medicine, dear.” Then she muttered, “These highly-strung purebloods.”
He was not! That was Reggie and Cissa and Bella and Meda, only not Meda, because she was alright, Meda was. He wasn’t highly-strung. He’d show her highly-strung. He didn’t know how but he would! Nobody called him a pureblood!
Cool medicine slipped down his throat and he sank back aside the pillows. Where was Remus?
He couldn’t move at all now but he didn’t ache, except for his lungs. The trees were still whirring about outside the window. He see the leaves in the air, all bright and wild. The wind was throwing them about. Did it hurt? Was that why they changed colour? Was it like bruises?
He felt too light. What if the wind came in? It would pick him up, too. He didn’t want to be thrown around. It would hurt to be a leaf.
His feet were floating. He clutched at the pillow to anchor himself and wailed, “Remus!”
The thingy-woman was back, the maybe Slytherin one. He didn’t want her. He wanted Remus. She bent over him, looking worried.
“Remus?” he asked. Why wouldn’t anyone listen to him?
“Later,” she said gently. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to,” he said. He didn’t want to be a leaf. Leaves changed colours. They went from green to red. What if he went from red to green? Maybe that was what the sheet was for. They were trying to make him Slytherin.
She had another of those cool cloths and that was good because he was so hot. So hot he thought he might burn the sheets. Did leaves burn themselves red?
“You don’t have to do anything, dear. Just lie back and try to sleep.”
“No!” he blurted out. He didn’t want to wake up someone else or some other colour. “No! No!”
But he’d said too much and the breath caught in his throat and he was coughing. He couldn’t catch his breath and every time he tried it knotted in his throat and the room was jerking around him and it hurt, it hurt so much.
Then he wasn’t breathing for himself but big, deep breaths were filling his lungs and he was falling back against his pillows. Someone murmured a counterspell and he was breathing for himself again, burning, shallow breaths. He was crying and there was drool coming out of his mouth but he couldn’t stop.
Then someone murmured again and he sank into sleep.
He dreamt about the wolf, coming at him, red of tooth and claw. There was no Remus in the wolf, no gentle smile and sly humour. The wolf was rage and passion and power. He tried to change and couldn’t, still Sirius, not Padfoot, and the wolf was stalking him.
He ran and he wasn’t in the forest anymore, though the wolf was still on his heels. He was in the House, their House, scrabbling up the stairs. The heads on the wall were all laughing at him, shrill house elf giggles, and his mother was at the top of the stairs screaming. He turned again and the wolf was coming up behind him and his father was at the foot of the stairs, chanting, “No son of mine, no son of mine.”
He jerked awake, shouting and flailing, and someone came running.
Then he was coughing again, hurling himself against the bed as the air tried to escape him.
They stopped his cough and forced him back into sleep again.
This time he was Peter and everything was burning. The Dark Mark hung in the air before him, the smoke tinged with green. He was surrounded by dark figures and, as he spun and tried to escape, they lowered their hoods.
They were all Reggie, grey-eyed and solemn. He backed away, throwing his hands up, and they smiled at him and he realised.
They weren’t Reggie. They were him.
“No,” he gasped. “No. I won’t!” But the smoke was filling his lungs and he couldn’t breathe.
He came awake again to see the sun setting beyond the trees and thought frantically, The whole world has changed colour. The leaves are infectious.
Then he tried to breathe and it hurt and he forgot about the leaves.
In the next dream Remus was dead, sprawled across leaves as red as the blood on Sirius’ hands. He looked so pale with no blood in him. Sirius dropped to his knees and shook him, screaming his name, but the harder he shook the more the blood crept up his arms.
Behind him, low voices were whispering, “Kill the beast. Kill the beast.”
“No!” Sirius screamed and knew he’d been screaming for hours because his throat was raw, so raw it should be bloody.
“Padfoot! Sirius! Stop! I’m here!”
There was a cool hand on his and he clutched with slippery fingers and opened his eyes.
Everything was blurry. Remus was looking down at him but as Sirius blinked he split in two. Two worried Moonys, just for him.
“Remus,” Sirius croaked. “Don’t die.”
“I’m not the one who’s ill,” Remus said gently. “What’s wrong? They got me out of Charms.”
He wasn’t dead. Wasn’t dead. Wasn’t wolf. Just Remus. Hadn’t changed.
“Don’t die,” Sirius said and couldn’t tell if his face was wet with tears or sweat.
“I won’t die, Sirius. I promise I won’t die.”
Sirius lunged for him and couldn’t aim because there were two of him, the silly git. Gits. He landed on his lap and grabbed for a handful of robe.
Remus’ hand was on his back, stroking, and he said, huskily, “Sirius. You’re shaking. What’s wrong?”
He hadn’t changed. He was still Remus which meant that Sirius was the one who was a leaf. He didn’t want to be a leaf. Leaves went green and fell into the sky.
Remus would know how to stop it. Remus knew who St Frideswide was and what happened to King Arthur and how many dungbombs you could fit in a pigeon pie.
“Why do the leaves change colour?” Sirius asked and then burst into tears because it was the wrong fucking question.
“Shush,” Remus said and he could feel his hand, hesitant and gentle. “You know why leaves are green, right?”
“Slytherin,” Sirius said into Remus’ knee.
“They’re full of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll makes them green but it dies in the autumn when it gets cold and the other colours that it hid show instead.”
The leaves were pretending to be green?
“Red,” he croaked. “Red all along.”
Remus hesitated and then said, “Yeah. Pretty much.”
Sirius grabbed upwards for a handful of robe and pulled himself up to glare at Remus. “I’m red inside. Not green.”
“Course you are,” Remus said breathlessly and tugged at the collar of his robes. “Can’t breathe.”
Sirius let himself fall back onto the bed. He still hurt but it was alright. Everything was all right. Remus was here and he wasn’t green.
Fucking, stupid leaves, pretending to be Slytherin all summer.
“Don’t go,” he whispered. “Don’t want to be a leaf.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Remus said and he had that note in his voice that meant it didn’t matter what anyone did he was just going to politely do precisely what he wanted. Which meant he wanted to stay. He was safe. They were both safe.
Chapter 24: A Choice of Conspiracy
In which Sirius learns some interesting information. A very plotty one, for a change.
He woke up and Remus wasn’t there.
He croaked his name, panicking. They’d taken him away.
“He’s gone to the loo,” a cheerful voice said. “Wotcher, Sirius.”
Sirius shuffled his head round on his pillow until he could see his visitor. “Ullo, Ted.”
Ted Tonks grinned at him from the chair beside the bed. In usual Ted-style he seemed about to slide onto the floor, though the chair wasn’t that small. His feet were crossed on the end of Sirius’ bed, his fingers were drumming on the bedside table and his brown hair was falling out of its dragonclaw clasp.
“You look like a wet weekend in Bognor, mate.”
“Feel worse,” Sirius muttered. “Remus.”
“Give the poor bloke a chance. You don’t want his bladder to explode. He’d be no good to anyone then.”
Sirius grinned and let his shoulders sag down. He felt feeble. “What you doing here?”
Ted shrugged and the chair creaked dangerously. “They reckoned they ought to get some family in case you popped your clogs. Andie’s out flat and I was coming this way so consider me your official visitation.”
“I’m not that ill,” Sirius croacked. “Meda?”
“Nowhere near as bad as you or Narcissa,” Ted said firmly. “Friendly sort, my sister-in-law. I stuck my head in to see how her convalescence was going and got nothing more than the patented you-are-the-worm-beneath-my-heel stare.”
“Ancient family secret, that. Taught in our cradles. What you done with Nym?”
Ted grinned and tilted the chair. “Dumped her on my sister. Kathy can put up with her for a few days, Muggle or not. How are you, seriously?”
Sirius let the pun go. He didn’t think he could move but the room wasn’t floating around anymore. Everything was fuzzy but he could think again.
“Grey,” he said.
Ted nodded. “Fair enough. Have to warn you, though – there’s a fair chance your temperature will go up again. Bastard of an illness, this.”
“Ug,” Sirius said. He wanted Remus.
He didn’t realise he’d said it out loud until Ted grinned and said, “Is he your boyfriend then?”
“No!” Sirius croaked.
“Doesn’t bother me, kid. Andie and I have a bet and I’d like to know if I need to pay up.”
“Hah,” Ted said, letting the chair crash down. “That’ll teach my grasping wife to keep her paws off my hard-earned cash.”
Sirius closed his eyes. It was such a tempting idea. “Ted?”
“Don’t rush to spend the money.”
“Oh.” Ted hesitated and then said, “Look. I know the Potters are good people and everything but you know Andie and I are here, if you need to talk to someone a bit, well, younger.”
“Thanks, Ted,” Sirius said and squeezed his eyes tighter shut. “Where the hell is Remus?”
“Ah,” Ted said and his voice had changed. “I’m afraid I told him to get lost for a bit after he’d had his piss. I need to talk to you, if you’re well enough. Officially.”
Sirius cracked his eyes open, interested. Ted had swung his feet down and was leaning forward, intent. This wasn’t just Meda’s husband but Ted the Auror who, though he wouldn’t even have admitted it to Remus, Sirius wanted to be when he grew up.
“I’m well enough,” he said and tried to sit up.
When he’d finished coughing, Ted gave him a glass of water and said, “Listen and don’t move, alright. I know Andie told you a little about what’s going on out there. What I’m going to tell you now is less widely known so don’t spread it about the school, please.”
“I wouldn’t,” Sirius protested and then shut up when Ted glared.
“Influenza is a Muggle illness. It doesn’t usually affect wizards and when it does it’s easily cured. This varient can’t be treated with the standard potions. Healers are having to use Muggle remedies. That’s suspicious in itself. Then there’s the infection rates – it’s at almost a hundred percent amongst Muggleborns. Purebloods are resisting better but more of them are dying from it. You can imagine for yourself what tensions that’s creating between the two communities. Now, there’s enough of us Muggleborns in the Ministry that someone spotted what was wrong. A hundred per cent – it’s not just unlikely. It’s impossible.”
“Someone modified it?” Sirius asked and got a quelling look. “Sorry, shutting up.”
“That’s what we’re working on. There’s not many Aurors still standing so they’ve pulled all the convalescents onto this. I probably couldn’t take down a hungry hinkypunk right now but I can chase an epidemic. Problem is, we don’t know who started it. Can’t see Voldemort’s lot taking their own out but the nastiest Muggle-rights groups tend not to operate like this. They’re raze and burn types. This is too slippery.”
“Slytherin,” Sirius said.
“Too soon to judge, mate. Have to say, I think you’re right, but old Moody will have my ears if I don’t check every eventuality.”
“Moody’s on this?” He’d heard of Moody, of course. Who hadn’t?
Ted nodded, his face grim. “Do you know what else is happening, while everyone’s ill?”
“Death-eaters,” Sirius whispered. “The Pettigrews.”
“The brother’s in your year, right? There’ve been more attacks since then. No, you won’t have heard. We’ve been keeping it out of the papers. With the Ministry barely functioning and Dumbledore ill-”
“Dumbledore?” Sirius rasped. He was beginning to feel dizzy again and he didn’t think it was just the flu.
“Things are bad,” Ted said. “That’s why I’m here. I actually came to see Regulus but he wasn’t helpful.”
“He wouldn’t be,” Sirius said. “Not to you.”
“Moody thought the family connection would help.”
“He’d hate you even if you were a pureblood,” Sirius said honestly. “He’s still angry about Meda.”
“Bugger. I’ll have to pick your brains, then. This is what proved to us that this is no natural epidemic. There’s no common point of origin. It started simultaneously in six different places – two here in the UK and four elsewhere and spread rapidly. Where we’ve managed to pinpoint the original sufferer, we can tell they all went down on the same day. Within hours of each other.”
He took a sip of water and began to tick them off on his fingers. “Here, your brother Regulus. In London, me. In Cyprus, your Uncle Alphard-”
“Is he alright?” Sirius asked. He liked the sleazy, old git.
“He’s survived,” Ted said shortly. “He’s not well, though. He’s an old man. In Berlin, we believe it originated with Hieronymous Lufkin. He’s dead so he can’t help us. We can’t pin down the source in Bombay but we’re sure the Beauxbatons outbreak started with Aline Peverell.”
Sirius whistled through his teeth. “Aline’s from the disgraced branch of the family, right. Never met her – they’re not welcome at parties. Married out. Lufkin – fuck, he wrote half the Muggle protection laws. Gets ritually cursed with a toast every Christmas. Alphie – blackest of the Black black sheep. You – well, don’t need to say anything there. Bombay – did the Patils go back? Old family but there was the scandal last Christmas.”
“What scandal?” Ted asked, scrawling notes.
“Amrit Patil and Lucius Malfoy. The Malfoys always invite the various ambassadors to their Christmas ball. Seems Amrit didn’t care for the direction of the conversation after a few cups of punch. Malfoy the younger made some remark about weak-willed colonials, Patil pointed out that the Indian government had enough problems without imperialist wankers trying to exterminate Muggleborns on their soil and it ended up with fisticuffs. Last I heard the Malfoys were putting pressure on the Minister to request a new ambassador. That was early August.”
“That’s why I needed to talk to you, mate. Andie’s been out of the loop too long.”
“Don’t send me back!” Sirius blurted out and then took a breath. “I’d be a terrible spy.”
“Be a waste of your talents,” Ted said and Sirius relaxed.
“Reggie doesn’t fit,” he said.
“Ah,” Ted said and fiddled with his quill. “We’re working on the hypothesis that one was aimed at you.”
“Me?” Sirius echoed and it came out quavery. “Me?” he said again, trying to sound brave and indignant.
“I’m afraid so. Which is why I need to ask you – is there anything you can remember? Anything at all that might have been the trigger, which might have rebounded on Regulus.”
He couldn’t think. His brain was too fuzzy. He would have noticed if someone cursed him. He was sure of it. Except it wouldn’t have been him. It would have hit Reggie.
“Haven’t seen any of them for months,” he said. “Not since the wedding.”
“Bella. I, er, left before the end.”
“I know nothing about motorbikes and do not wish to,” Ted said, staring at the ceiling.
“Yeah,” Sirius said, looking away. He had only broken a handful of laws in running away. Couldn’t blame him for that, right?
“Were any of the others on my list there?”
“Um. Yeah. Patil. Alphie. Lufkin. Not sure about the Peverills. You weren’t.”
“Andie was. Polyjuiced as a waitress. Thanks, mate. I’ll look at that. Anything else you can think of?”
Sirius frowned. There was something – something he could almost think of. Why wouldn’t his brain move? Defeated, he shook his head.
“Don’t worry. I’ll let you sleep.” Ted winked. “Loverboy’s on his way back.”
“Ted! He’s not!”
“Better get a move on, mate, or our Nym will beat you to him. Can’t get his jumper away from her.”
Sirius summoned a sneer. “Do I look worried? Later, Ted.”
“Ta-ra, Sirius. Hang on to the end of the month, won't you? I'm broke.”
Chapter 25: A Chance to Convalesce
Lily thinks on her feet.
Lily was not in a particularly good mood by the time she headed back to the Common Room. She wasn’t always sure she liked the Slug Club but she had learned early enough that to get anywhere in this world when you were a Muggleborn meant you had to be twice as good and twice as canny. She wasn’t above using Slughorn and his creepy little clique.
On the other hand, it meant she was obliged to do him the odd favour. She really didn’t appreciate having to take over Severus’ Remedial Potions classes. Her evenings should not be filled with snotty second-years who couldn’t even chop a shrivelfig properly. The fact they’d tried to play her up because she wasn’t as much as a bastard as Severus – hmph.
Then she ran into the entry hall and found the Potters.
Mr Potter spotted her first and waved.
Her mood cast aside, Lily dashed over. “Hello. What are you doing here?”
“Came to see our reprobate,” Mr Potter said with a chuckle. “The new one, not the one we’ve been stuck with for sixteen years.”
Lily nodded. “Remus says he’s getting better. He was really bad, though.” She shivered. Sirius might be one of the minor banes of her existence but he wasn’t meant to almost die. Loud, loyal, infuriating people didn’t just die.
“We’re going to ask Professor McGonagall if we can take him home with us,” Mrs Potter said firmly.
“But the Quidditch season’s about to start!” Lily protested and then blinked. She’d been spending far too much time with James.
“Precisely,” Mrs Potter said. “There’s no way he’ll rest properly if he’s flying about in all weather.”
But what about Remus? Lily thought and had the sense not to say it. She adored the Potters but they were old and who knew what they’d think if they knew their adopted son was besotted with one of his best friends. Particularly as she wasn’t sure that Sirius knew he was besotted.
“We brought some apples,” Mr P said. “Jamie said you’d enjoyed the first batch. Here, we are – last of the season.”
“Thanks,” Lily said, her mind whirling, and found her arms full of a sack of apples. She staggered under the weight and squeaked as the Potters headed upstairs.
Mr Potter turned back to look at her, frowning curiously.
“I’ll, uh, just tell James you’re here,” Lily said and headed off as fast as she could under the weight of the apples.
By the time she shoved the sack through the portrait hole she had a plan.
He was crouched by the fire, sucking the end of his quill so intently she was sure he was writing to Peter rather than doing homework. At her breathless shout, he bounced up and dashed over to relieve her of the sack.
“Your parents are here,” she gasped.
“And they brought food?”
Lily threw her arms into the air. “They’ve come to take Sirius away!”
James blinked. “Why?”
“Because he’s ill.”
“What’s wrong with being ill here?” James demanded, undoing the bag. “Wow. There’s jam in here too.”
“They’re not going to bring him back until after the Slytherin match!”
All the colour drained from James’ face. He made a strangled noise and ran. Lily leapt over the apples that were spilling across the floor and went after him.
She had enough breath left to think, Hah! The Hat had a point. Maybe I should have been in Slytherin. Then she had to sprint to keep up.
James burst into the Hospital Wing and charged across to Sirius’ bed, howling, “Noooo! We can’t lose again!”
Madam Pomfrey in the side ward, talking to the Potters, and obviously couldn’t hear him through the glass. Sirius sat up and waved his arms wildly before collapsing back onto the bed, coughing.
“They can’t steal my Beater!” James roared and cast himself at the bed. “No!”
Across the ward, Jan Lucas, the Hufflepuff captain, sat and called croakily, “What’s that? You’re going down, Potter!”
“No!” James said and attached himself to Sirius’ bedpost. Lily suddenly wondered if she should have been more concerned about the Potters getting the wrong idea about James and Sirius.
Sirius stopped coughing and said feebly, “’Lo, Prongs. What’s wrong?”
“Don’t you dare!” James said. “Don’t you dare betray me.”
Sirius blinked and said indignantly, “Me?”
On the other side of the bed, Remus had finally stopped laughing enough to say, “James, I really don’t think you’re helping. Leave him to his sickbed.”
“I haven’t been sick in the bed!”
“Of course you haven’t,” Remus said soothingly and mouthed, ‘temperature’ at Lily.
“Blown my nose on the sheets, though.”
“That’s revolting!” Lily said immediately.
Sirius gazed at her soulfully. “Remus says he won’t sleep with me again if I keep doing it.”
“Oh, fuck,” Remus muttered.
“What?” Lily said.
“It’s alright,” James said. “I know what he means. But shut up, Pads, before anyone gets the wrong idea.”
“I’m getting the wrong idea!” Lily exclaimed. Surely, they weren’t?
Remus seemed to be doing his best to sink through his chair and into the floor below.
“Remus wriggles,” Sirius said and blinked at her. “Did you know your hair’s on fire, Evans?”
“No, it’s not,” Remus said from behind his hands. “You’re seeing things again. Which means it’s time to shut up and go to sleep.”
“I don’t want to shut up. I don’t like shutting up. Talking to you. Like making you blush. Isn’t he funny when he blushes?”
“Not saying anything,” James said.
Sirius pouted and Lily took pity on him. She smiled sweetly at Remus and said, “He has a very pretty blush.”
“See!” Sirius said triumphantly. “Evans knows. Did you know James fancies you, Evans?”
“I’ve changed my mind,” James said. “Take him away. I never want to see him again.”
“He’s not that bad, really,” Sirius said confidingly. “Apart from being a sick pervert.
But that could probably be a good thing, if you were in the mood. You should give him a try – I mean, you can’t have me and Remus doesn’t like girls-”
“Kill me, please. No, kill him first.”
Sirius beamed. “You can share my grave, Moony.”
Lily looked at James. “Is he always like this when he’s ill?”
James wouldn’t meet her eye. “No.”
“Or we would have killed him years ago,” Remus muttered. “What do you mean, take him away?”
Lily perched on the end of the bed. “The Potters are here. They want to take him home to recuperate.”
“The beach!” Sirius said. “We’re all going to the beach! Oh, Evans, Prongs never told you but he really likes your bikini.”
James buried his head in the blankets, muttering, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“It’s alright,” Lily said sweetly. “I noticed.”
“Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck.”
“Especially when you were taking it off.” Sirius sank back against his pillows. “Dirty bugger with a cloak.”
“Really?” Lily asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Don’t believe a word he says! He’s delirious!”
“The beach! We’re all going on a summer-”
Remus put his hand firmly over Sirius’ mouth and said, “No singing. Prongs, bugger off. Pomfrey’s spotted you and she’s spitting.”
He was still blushing, Lily noticed gleefully.
“It’s autumn,” Remus said firmly. “And I am never letting you watch television again.”
James had vanished under the bed. Lily patted Sirius on the shoulder and said, “We can’t come, Sirius. It would just be you. Lots of peace and quiet.”
Sirius looked appalled. Remus looked suspicious. Lily ghosted a wink at him. “Very restful,” she said. “Just what you need. Bit of time to think things through and catch up with all the work you’ve missed.”
Sirius’ eyes were getting wider and wider as she spoke.
“Good place for convalescents, the south coast. You see the old boys all over the place, in their bathchairs, tucked in with their blankets. The poor things look so happy, sitting on the prom all day.”
Sirius pulled Remus’ hand away from his mouth. “Moony?”
Remus gave Lily a hard look. She smiled blandly.
“You’ll have a lovely time with the Potters, Sirius. I’m sure.” Remus was trying to sound reassuring.
“Not going without you.”
“Time for us to be going, Potter,” Lily said brightly. Sirius was clutching Remus’ hand.
James was still under the bed. “Going to stay here and die.”
“You’ll get caught. And I’ll get all your jam.”
He crawled out and bolted for the door without looking at her. She strolled after him, feeling rather pleased with herself. Let nobody say Lily Evans stood in the way of true love.
James was waiting in the corridor, arms crossed. “What the hell was all that about?”
She grinned at him and strolled past. “Obvious. Isn’t it? What does Sirius do when he’s on his own and bored?”
“Brood,” James said irritably.
“Which never has happy consequences. Keep him here and he’ll just be crotchety. Send him home and he’ll be miserable, Remus will be miserable, you’ll get sick of them both and poor Peter will be frantic about you all.”
“Hmph,” James said and gave her one of those slow, assessing looks which always warned her he wasn’t the idiot he often pretended to be.
To head him off she poked him in the chest and said, “And now, Potter, I think we need to have a little talk about the appropriate usage of an Invisibility Cloak.”
Chapter 26: A Bouquet of Bedsprings
It isn't that Remus doesn't like watching Quidditch. He'd just rather not play it in the rain.
Remus was hiding under his bed.
Sirius didn’t have a problem with that. It would have been better if Remus was hiding in his bed, of course, but certain things would have become rather obvious rather quickly and it could get embarrassing.
That was yet another thing that was wrong with the fucking Hospital Wing. No bloody privacy to stick a Silencing Charm up and have a wank. He wanted out.
That really wasn’t a good line of thought when Remus was under his bed. He shifted uncomfortably.
“Ow! You just stuck a spring in my back.”
“Then come out and talk to me. You’re invisible.”
“Prongs will know.”
“Tell him Pomfrey ordered you to stay here.”
“Can’t. She’ll order me out if she sees me. After Prongs’ performance yesterday.”
“Precisely. Tell him that. Tell him it matters so much that he can’t risk having me play because – because.”
“That’s not a proper answer, Remus. Be logical.”
There was a snort which shook the bed. “The match is only three days before the full moon. I might be feeling sick.”
“He only wants you as a reserve.”
“No point in having a reserve who can’t play. Do I look like the sort of idiot who hovers in a ring and gets things hit at him?”
“Well,” Sirius said thoughtfully, “you’re the right build for a Keeper. Gangly.”
Sirius smirked. “Alright. Lithe and lovely.”
“Slim and sexy?”
There was a heavy silence. Then Remus said, his voice pained, “Sirius, far be it from me to query the strange machinations of your brain that pass for reasoned thought but are you actively trying to convince the entire school that we’re a couple? I appreciate that there isn’t much potential for pranking in here but it could get a little awkward.”
Sirius, content that Remus couldn’t see him, smirked. He had made his mind up. Remus was his. It was inevitable. So it wouldn’t hurt to wind him up a bit in the meantime.
“Would you rather I tried to find you a boyfriend?” he asked.
“No!” Remus yelped, jumping. “Ow.”
“Shush,” Sirius said. “Here comes Prongs.”
James burst into the ward, trailing mud and rain. His Quidditch robes were splattered with black sludge and his hair was so wet it actually sat flat.
“Alright!” he demanded, waving his broom. “Where is he?”
“Who?” Sirius asked.
“You know who.”
“Him? As far away from here as possible, I hope.”
James’ eyes narrowed. “You know who I mean. Moony. Remus Lupin. Gryffindor’s Third Reserve Keeper.”
“Since when?” Sirius demanded.
“Since half my team have the flu, the other half are likely to get it and we actually have a chance of beating Slytherin because their captain’s sick as a dog.”
“Narcissa?” Sirius said loftily. “They only made her captain because it’s a family tradition.”
“And because she can fucking well outfly every crappy Seeker Gryffindor can produce! Where’s Remus?”
“How should I know?” Sirius said belligerently. “I’m not allowed visitors any more because some crazy git came in and made a scene yesterday.”
James jabbed his broom towards the bed. “I want Remus.”
Sirius bit down the urge to snarl, Mine!. “I don’t know why. He’d be shite at it.”
The mattress bucked indignantly.
“I don’t care how shite he is. I need bodies in the air.”
“Raid a graveyard,” Sirius suggested and shut his eyes. “Now piss off. I’m an invalid. I need sleep.”
James snarled and stormed away.
“You’re feeling better, aren’t you?”
“Hate this place,” Sirius muttered. “Don’t come out yet. Prat thinks he’s cunning.”
Remus sighed. “I don’t want to play Quidditch. I like watching it. Not flying around in the dark. When it’s raining. And windy.”
“Best flying weather,” Sirius said wistfully. “Swap. I’ll play Keeper and you can stay here and be an invalid.”
“I’m not ill.”
“Whereas you are very ill.”
“My temperature’s stayed down for fifteen hours. I’m bored.”
“Only boring people get bored,” Remus said primly.
“Fuck! Cut it out, Padfoot!”
Sirius snickered. “Boring place. Full of boring people. Are you really wearing his cloak? Is it sticky?”
“I’m trying not to touch it with my bare skin.”
“Wise move. You don’t want to end up giving birth to loads of baby Pronglets.”
There was a pained silence. “Sirius. Please tell me I don’t have to explain the birds and the bees to you.”
“Nah.” Sirius said. “Though if you want to tell about the bees and the bees, I’m listening. Intently. You can have some points for Gryffindor every time you use the words throbbing, rod and thrust.”
“Have you been playing in the Restricted Section again?”
“If you do anything inappropriate while I’m under this bed, I will be extremely unhappy.”
“Can I do something inappropriate with you in the bed?”
Remus gasped and Sirius thought, Shit. Went too far.
At that moment the door creaked open and James peered in.
“He’s still not here!” Sirius roared. “Fuck off!”
James slammed away and Sirius leant over the side of the bed. Remus had gone very quiet.
“Moony?” he said, peering into the shadows.
“Yes?” Remus said coolly.
Sirius rolled off the bed. The floor was pleasantly cool and he peered in nervously. “Sorry.”
“There’s nothing to apologise for.”
“Can I come in, then?”
Half of Remus’ face appeared. “In here?”
Remus shuffled over. Sirius slid in beside him. There wasn’t much space under here and he had to lie flat on his back. Even so he could feel Remus’ warmth all down his side. He stared at the bedsprings and said, “I’m a git.”
“We love you anyway, you prat.”
Sirius felt the blood rise in his cheeks and something sharp and warm rolled through him. Nobody loved him. He knew Remus didn’t mean it like that but it was just – oh.
He blinked at the bedsprings and felt himself grin like an idiot. Of course. He didn’t just fancy Remus. He was in love with him. That explained everything.
“Sirius? You’ve gone quiet.”
“These are the most beautiful bedsprings in the world,” Sirius said stupidly.
There was a little pause and then Remus said, “Have you done a comparative study?”
If there had been room to turn over down here he would have hugged him. Instead he said, “Clean. Shiny. No dust. There’s loads of dust under my bed.”
“That’s because you charmed your trunk to shout abuse at the house elves.”
“I don’t want them in my stuff. Kreacher used to steal my mum’s knickers.”
“Yeah,” Sirius said happily and felt about until he found Remus’ hand.
Remus curled his fingers around his in return and they lay there quietly for a while. Then Remus said, “Sirius?”
“If Prongs isn’t looking for me anymore, there’s no reason to hide under the bed.”
“Suppose not,” Sirius said sleepily. He was feeling grey again.
“So we could get out.”
“Can’t. My legs have gone fuzzy.”
“Oh,” Remus said. “Should I get Pomfrey?”
“Probably,” Sirius said wistfully.
Remus squeezed his hand and then crawled out from under the bed.
Sirius beamed at the bedsprings and went to sleep.
Chapter 27: A Superfluity of Scarves
Remus Lupin had a mission.
He’d been performing it for several days now, though he was sure none of his friends knew.
He crouched below the windows of the hospital wing and wrapped his long scarf more securely around his neck. It was freezing out here, though the rain had stopped overnight. He’d needed his hat as well and now he tugged it down over his ears. They were already stinging with cold.
Wand ready, he scanned the sky.
“Lupin, while I’m sure my brother finds this ridiculous display touching in some fashion, I would rather like to get my own post one of these days.”
Regulus Black leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. His scarf, green and silver, wasn’t full of holes. His hat didn’t have a bobble on it (Remus’ mother had charmed it on after he’d cut the last three off). His boots were fur-lined and his thick wool coat had round brass buttons rather than toggles. All in all, he looked both elegant and warm.
Not that Remus was jealous. Or cold.
He stood up and crossed his own arms. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Black.”
Regulus raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so someone else with no taste in knitwear has been chasing off the family owl every day?”
“It’s not my problem if your owl’s unreliable, Black.”
“Jormungardr is not unreliable!” Regulus snapped.
“You do know that’s a bloody stupid name for an owl?”
“Oh, hearken to the expert. Where’s your owl, Lupin? Oh, I forgot. You’re the only boy in the school who couldn’t afford a toad, aren’t you?”
“Better not affording a toad,” Remus said sweetly, “than not even being able to buy some friends.”
Regulus flushed. “I have friends. Without having to spread my legs for them.”
“I beg your pardon,” Remus said. He didn’t know how someone could look so like Sirius and yet be such a snotty little shit.
“Oh, please, Lupin. Everyone knows that Potter only puts up with you because you’re my brother’s catamite and Pettigrew because he’ll do anything Potter tells him too.”
Remus fought back the flush of rage and said mildly, “Catamite? Who on earth still uses the word catamite?”
Regulus flushed again, a splash of red along his high cheekbones. “Are you laughing at me, Lupin?”
“Only when you’re amusing, Black, which isn’t all that often.”
A low hoot distracted them both and Remus went for his wand. Regulus flung his arm up first and shouted, “Jormungardr! Here!”
The owl plummeted out of the sky. It landed on Regulus’ wrist with its wings flared. Remus could have sworn it sneered at him.
Regulus pulled his other glove off with his teeth and undid the letters from their bundle. He shoved three into his pocket and cast the other one of Remus’ feet. Then he threw his arm up and Jormungardr soared away. Regulus put his gloves back on with meticulous care and said, “Happy, Lupin? Do what you like with my brother’s correspondence.”
“He doesn’t want it,” Remus said.
“Neither do I. Reading my own letters will satisfy me.”
“Have you been getting Sirius’ post?”
Regulus paused as he turned away. “Not recently.”
“Really, Lupin, I don’t see what-”
Regulus shrugged. “Earlier in the month. It happens when the same owl carries them all. Most of them went straight to him. I don’t merit daily correspondence.”
Oh, yes, Gryffindor had been the best thing to ever happen to Sirius. Quietly, Remus asked, “Did you open them?”
Another flush of anger. “I don’t read other people’s post.” Then grudgingly. “The first one. I didn’t check the address.”
“What did it say?”
“That’s none of your fucking business, Lupin. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I actually intend to eat breakfast today.”
Remus nodded absently. Regulus had opened one of the letters. He wondered if Sirius knew. He watched him stalk away and absently ground the letter by his feet into the mud.
“Oy!” It was a hoarse whisper and it came from above.
Remus looked up. Sirius was hanging over the edge of the balcony, so swathed in scarves only his eyes were visible.
“Morning,” Remus said and couldn’t keep the daft grin off his face.
“You coming up?”
“Give me five minutes.”
“Nah,” Sirius said, eyes narrowed. “Up the wall.”
Remus looked at the wall and then looked at Sirius.
Sirius grinned and unwound one of his scarves.
“You’ll have a relapse,” Remus said sternly. “How long is that thing?”
“Good fifteen foot. House elves got confused. I’ve got six of them on, anyway, governess dear.” He knotted the end around one of the balusters and chucked the scarf over the edge. “Coming? Or are you scared?”
Remus sighed. “The problem with you is not just that you’re insane but that your insanity is infectious.” He picked up the end of the scarf and wrapped it loosely around his waist. “If this thing breaks, you’re paying for my funeral.”
“Least I can do, Moony, mate.”
He grasped the wool firmly, leant back and started up the wall. “I want white horses.”
“Six of them.”
“And choirs of Veela singing dirges.”
“Not sure who’d listen to the sermon, then, mate, but if you want.”
The fucking wall was slippery. “I want it at night. On a full moon.”
“No problem. I’ll howl at the moon on your behalf.”
He was almost there and Sirius reached out to drag him over the balustrade. Then he said promptly, “Legs!” and sat down, pulling Remus with him.
Remus managed to catch himself before he landed full on Sirius’ chest. Propping himself on his hands, he said, “What are you doing up?”
Beneath him Sirius was laughing, his belly vibrating against Remus’ thighs. “Legs,” he said again. “Jelly-legs without the curse.”
“You’re ill,” Remus said sternly and pushed himself up. He retrieved the scarf and tugged Sirius to his feet. Sirius stumbled and grabbed at him for balance and Remus steered him back to the chair further down the balcony. Sirius tried to pull him over again, smirking, and Remus batted him away.
“Put the scarf back on,” he said firmly.
“It’s ridiculous,” Sirius said, crossing his arms.
“Not as ridiculous as making yourself ill again because you’re embarrassed to wear a scarf. What are you doing outside?”
“Madam Pomfrey said I could get some fresh air for an hour. If it doesn’t make me worse and I behave all afternoon she might let me sleep in my own bed tonight.”
“Please,” Remus said urgently. “I like Lily. I really do. I just want to talk about something else when I’m trying to go to sleep.” He began to wind the scarf around Sirius’ neck again.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Any word from Pete?”
“I’ve got a letter,” Remus said and fished into his pocket. Sirius started unravelling the scarf again.
Remus glared at him. “Do you want me to tie you to the chair with it?”
“Kinky,” Sirius said and smirked.
Remus handed him the letter. “Funeral’s today. He thinks he’ll be back on Saturday.”
“Halloween Sunday,” Sirius said. “Gryffindor party?”
“Pete might not be in the mood.”
“Or he might appreciate the distraction. Firewhiskey always helps.”
Remus rolled his eyes, wrapped the scarf around him and the back of the chair and sat by his feet. “And they wonder why the wizarding world has an alcohol problem.”
“Yeah,” Sirius said. “They never brew enough. Now shut up. I’m reading.”
Remus snorted but leant quietly against his knee. He didn’t know what this new almost-something was between them. It felt good and frightening and it didn’t really matter whether he thought it was a good idea or not because he couldn’t resist it. He had been longing for Sirius to touch him for so long. He had never really let himself hope it might happen. He knew his Sirius, after all.
Sirius didn’t love easily. He didn’t make friends easily. He would fight to the death for his friends. He would die for them. Remus suspected, rather uneasily, that he would kill for them. It was easy for him to be blithe about other people’s misfortunes because only a handful of people mattered to him. Remus knew perfectly well that he was one of those people. It was faintly frightening. Which meant that Sirius didn’t flirt. He might have dallied with someone who hadn’t earnt their place in his life and not cared if he hurt them. Within the circle, though, he was all seriousness. Remus had seen him reduced to self-hate before and every time it had been because he thought he had let down or betrayed one of his people.
Which meant if Sirius followed through with this, if he really, truly wanted him, it was forever.
Or until they destroyed each other and all their friendships with them.
Which was terrifying. Wonderful but terrifying. It might be easier to stay in this not-quite state, pretending nothing was happening but with every casual touch pregnant with meaning.
He wasn’t sure he could do that. He wanted to touch him openly, to put his hands on him and keep them there. The little touches just made him hungrier. He wanted to hold and he wanted the right to do so.
He wondered if James would understand this, with his unswerving devotion to Lily. He wondered if Lily, uneasy recipient of that steady love, would understand more.
Sirius put his hand on Remus’ head, burrowing his fingers into his hair. Remus leant against his knee and wrapped his hand around Sirius’ ankle.
The leaves were thin now and the bones of the trees were showing through, true and stark. Could he stand with Sirius, stripped of all his disguises, against the wind and the snow and the inevitable, rising storm?
“Poor bastard,” Sirius said. “I hate those fuckers.”
“I know,” Remus said.
“They were trying to kill me, y’know. With the flu.”
“What?” Remus didn’t realise he’d tightened his grip on Sirius’ ankle until the bones bruised his palm.
“Ted told me. Look, listen, because I’m missing something and you’re the one who understands plans. This is all top-secret and everything but I reckon you don’t count.”
“Thanks,” Remus said dryly.
“No,” Sirius said fiercely. “Listen.”
By the time he’d finished Remus was on his feet.
“I need to go to the library,” he said.
“The library. I think – I’ve got an idea but I don’t even know if it’s possible.”
“We thought it was Bella’s wedding, Ted and me. The point when we all got cursed, that is.”
“No,” Remus said. “Not if I’m right. Get inside. Get warm. If it is possible I’ll come back and tell you.” He headed for the door.
“Remus!” Sirius called.
“I’m still tied to the chair.”
Remus dashed back and unravelled him. As he dropped the scarf in Sirius’ lap, the other boy caught his hand.
“It’s killing people, Moony. Do you really think you’ve worked it out?”
“I don’t know,” Remus said, squeezing his hand. “I need to read.”
“That’s my Moony,” Sirius said and, though he grinned, his eyes were solemn.
Remus, reckless on inspiration, said, “Absolutely,” and brushed a kiss against his cheek.
Then, before he could panic, he ran. He could manage forever with Sirius Black.
Chapter 28: A Switch of Scenery
Sirius has a busy day.
Sirius was sprawled on the beach, the sun warm on his bare skin. There were round stones pressing against his back but he didn’t care. What fool would care about something like that when they were naked with an equally naked Remus kneeling between their thighs? Especially when he had that look on his face – the one he used for particularly challenging essays and the most complicated pranks. Especially when he had a feather, which he was resting against his lips as he thought.
Sirius sighed and inched closer, gasping at the feel of Remus’ warm legs. Remus frowned at him and tapped the feather against his shoulder.
He was stroking the feather down his chest now, tracing little circles around his nipples and only Remus would frown when he was doing something like that.
“Sirius! Wake up! I’ve worked it all out!”
And it wasn’t fair, just wasn’t fucking fair, because it tickled and that was good but why wouldn’t he just touch him? The feather just wasn’t warm enough.
“C’mon, Padfoot. What would you do if the school burnt down? Burn in your sleep?”
That wasn’t very romantic. No, Sirius thought decidedly, this was a waste of time. Remus should just drop the feather and kiss him.
There were warm hands on his shoulders, shaking firmly. That wasn’t romantic, either, but it was an improvement. He reached up and wrapped his arms around Remus, pulling him down.
Remus squeaked and Sirius chuckled and nuzzled into the crook of his neck.
“Sirius? Sirius, you really need to wake up now because this is going to be embarrassing very soon and you’re quite obviously asleep and it must be a very good dream but it’s only a dream and I’m real and it isn’t that this isn’t-”
Remus should really take a breath, Sirius thought, and slid his hand up to cover his mouth. His lips were ticklish against his palm and he chuckled again and curled his legs round Remus.
“Sirius Orion Alphard Quercus Black, wake up!”
Bugger, Full name. He hadn’t done anything to merit that. Unimpressed, he muttered, “What?”
“I said, I’ve worked it all out. Where the flu is coming from. It’s so simple. So, wake up!”
Sirius lifted his head and blinked at him. When had he changed into pyjamas? Stupid thing to wear on the beach.
Except – no beach.
“Finally,” Remus said irritably and Sirius was feeling fairly aggrieved that he didn’t have the right to kiss him. He was blushing and his eyes were all wide and dark beneath the frown and his mouth was curved backwards in the way which meant he was trying too hard not to smile.
“Morning,” Sirius said carefully.
“Morning,” Remus said gravely and then leant forward again. “Did you hear what I said? I’ve worked it all out. It’s the letters. The flu curse is in the letters.”
“The letters?” Sirius repeated because he couldn’t think. This was not how he was meant to wake up from that sort of dream. He really, really needed to get reacquaintanced with his hand soon and he couldn’t because – because Remus was on top of him. How could he just lie there and snuggle and still form complete sentences? It wasn’t fair. It was some creepy werewolf metabolism thing.
“The letters!” Remus said. “The letters you’ve been getting all month. The letters Andromeda’s been getting. The others must have had them too.”
“I didn’t open any,” Sirius said. The letters?
“That little shit read my post?”
He was trying to. Trying really hard. Really, really hard. Fuck. “Letters. Written curse or potion in the paper?”
“Could be either. I’ve been in the library all night. We need to intercept one. Which means you need to wake up. Then we need to tell someone.”
“Ted,” Sirius said, in an attempt to sound intelligent and aware. “Floo.”
“From McGonagall’s office once we’ve explained. Keep up.”
He was bouncing. He was actually bouncing and trust bloody Moony to get off on problem-solving.
“I’m up,” Sirius said and Remus made a little choking sound.
Remus raised an eyebrow. “Get up – out of bed then.”
“You’re lying on top of me.”
“You’re holding me down.”
“Um,” Sirius said. That wasn’t a bad thing, surely?
“And your hands are inside my pyjamas.”
“So they are,” Sirius said and squeezed gently. Remus gasped. So he wasn’t unaffected. Sirius smirked. He knew he was irresistible.
“Padfoot,” Remus said breathlessly. “Focus. Save the world. Remember.”
Sirius buried his face in Remus’ neck again and rocked his hips. Remus moaned, a little breathy oh. That was it. He had a new purpose in life. Bugger being an auror. He had to hear that again.
“Sirius. Oh. Fuck. Sirius! Stop it. Before we wake Prongs up. This is not a good time.”
“I like it,” Sirius muttered but pulled his hands away.
“We need to talk about it. Soon. As soon as we’ve told someone about the bloody letters.”
The letters. Right, the letters. Good point.
“I’m going to get up,” Remus said. “Then I’m going to have a shower and then we’re going to breakfast to catch a letter.”
“Okay,” Sirius murmured, though his brain had stuck on Remus, shower.
“And then we’re somehow going to regain our collective sanity. Or rather I’m going to get my sanity back and you can stay crazy. Might look suspicious otherwise.”
“You’re crazy, too,” Sirius said affectionately and nibbled his collarbone.
Remus made a little squeaky noise and bolted. Sirius waited until he was sure he was gone and settled back against his pillows. How the hell was he ever going to sit through a class again?
It was the work of moments to drag his curtains closed and mutter a silencing spell and then he could finally slide his hand down. He’d never been so hard in his life and bloody Remus had run away to have a shower. Which was sensible and reasonable and utterly Moony-ish but, oh, really didn’t help. He was probably wanking in there right now, all tense and shivering and that was an image to dwell on, oh, yes, and why the fuck wasn’t he in there with him?
The thought was enough to send him over the edge and he sagged back, his brain a fractured muddle of beach and bare skin and water.
Someone was tapping their foot outside his bed. “Padfoot, when you’ve finished, we have to get to breakfast on time.”
The bloke obviously had no human weaknesses. Sirius shoved himself up and said, “You could come and get me.”
A bundle of robes appeared through his curtains, hitting him in the knees. Sirius sighed and got dressed in seconds. By the time he crawled out of bed, Remus was sitting on his own bed, lacing up his shoes. Sirius crept closer.
“If you’re trying to be stealthy, you’re failing.”
Fine. Sirius pounced.
Remus wriggling under him felt just as good as Remus wriggling on top of him.
“Moony,” Sirius said happily. “My Moony.”
Remus stopped wriggling and smiled. He was still blushing and his hair was wet and all over the place and he had a stupid daft smile on his face and he was still the best thing Sirius had ever seen.
“We need to talk,” he said firmly. “But first, prioritise.”
Priorities. Right. Okay. Save the world. Then seduce Remus.
Sirius pushed himself off and looked around blinking. “Where’s my shoes?”
“On Peter’s bed,” the lump that was James said.
“Hey, Prongs is awake.”
“No, I’m not. I’m not awake and I haven’t heard anything and will you two please go away before you traumatise me for life.”
“Says the man who isn’t ashamed to share every detail of his fantasies about Lily Evans,” Remus snapped as Sirius retrieved his shoes. There was quite a lot of stuff on Peter’s bed. They probably ought to stop using it as an extension of the floor before he got back.
“I’m not listening!”
Sirius grinned and pulled his shoes on. As soon as he stood up Remus grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the room.
“Do you think he minds?” he asked as they crashed down into the common room.
“Prongs?” Sirius said, surprised. “Nah. If he was worried, he’d take us both away for serious conversations. He’s whining – he’s fine.”
“Is this one of those secret James and Sirius codes?”
“Nah,” Sirius said, swinging his arm around his shoulders. “It just is. So, tell me about the letters.”
“I think it must be a contact curse,” Remus said, his face lighting up. “I found several possibilities when I was reading last night.”
Five hours later they were in London. The letter had been whipped away for tests and now they were in the Leaky Cauldron, explaining to Ted yet again.
Remus was waving his hands in the air, spluttering about curses and reinforcement charms. Ted was nodding seriously and taking notes.
Sirius took another sip of his drink. It was cider, definitely, warm and spiced and with little bits of fruit floating in it. It also had a punch like Thor’s hammer.
Remus was drinking it like fruit juice.
Sirius sipped again and studied the other man at the table. He was a little disappointed. Mad-Eye Moody, the bane of the pureblood revolution, had been one of his heroes for years. He’d expected him to look dashing rather than as if he’d been sewn back together by a hag who built model planes for a hobby. Moody wasn’t even listening to what Remus had to say. He was gazing out over the smoky pub as if dancing pumpkins and gnomes with cat ears were more interesting than the flu.
Then Sirius realised the false eye was looking at him. He put his drink down, crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.
“Too late,” Moody said softly. “You’re dead. Your friend’s incapable. He’s captured. Not good enough. Never trust a drink you haven’t prepared yourself.”
Sirius blinked. Then, because it had taken him too long to notice, he said, “If you’re a threat poly-juiced into aurors, I’ve worse things to worry about than why you’re deliberately trying to get us drunk.”
“What?” Remus said muzzily and Ted swung round to stare at him, sharp and assessing.
“Not good enough,” Moody said, his eye swivelling. “Detail! It’s all in the detail! Constant Vigilance!”
“Moody,” Ted said irritably. “They’re not trainees.”
“Hah,” Moody said and leant forward to glare at Sirius. “So, tell me why I should believe you?”
“Because we’re telling the truth!” Sirius flared.
“But he can’t know that,” Remus said. “We could be wrong. Somebody could have deliberately set us up to believe this as a false trail. We could be trying to get revenge on your family. We could be pranking. We could even be on the other side which is why you’ve brought us somewhere warm enough to make us take our jumpers off.”
Sirius blinked. He’d missed that one.
“So why should we trust you?” Moody asked again.
“Because you can’t afford not to.”
“Because if we’re right it’s over.”
Sirius grinned at Remus who smiled back, looking startled.
“Great minds think alike,” Remus said and winked.
Moody snorted and levered himself up. “Get the rest of their statements, Tonks, and stash them somewhere safe. Report to me when you’re done.”
“Right-o,” Ted said and nodded to Remus. “Go back to the ways you’ve disposed of the various letters. Sirius, mate, finish your drink and listen.”
“What are we drinking?” Remus asked.
“Apple cider. Goodfellow’s Finest, I suspect. Also known as the poor man’s veritaserum.” Ted rolled his eyes. “And never ask that question where Moody might hear you.”
“In vino veritas.”
“That’s right,” Sirius said, patting him on the arm. “Now drink up like a good little lightweight.”
“Fuck off, Pads.”
“The charm of young love,” Ted said and laughed when they both jumped. “Right, on the seventh?”
“Buried it in the forest,” Sirius said and didn’t meet Remus’ eyes. It had been a moon night.
“Had to get creative, didn’t you?” Ted muttered and made a note. “The eighth?”
By the time they were done the cider was hitting. Sirius was feeling warm and cheerful and Remus was somehow sitting at a slant. Sirius leant over and tried to push him upright again. Remus beamed at him and said, “I like you, Padfoot.”
“Right,” Ted said sharply. “Home.”
“Is it time to go back to school?” Remus asked. “I think we’ve missed Charms.”
“Floo network’s down,” Ted said. “You’ll have to go back tomorrow. Find your coats.”
Sirius had to put Remus’ scarf on for him because he kept missing his neck. Ted hurried them out of the Leaky Cauldron onto Charing Cross Road. He turned north and Sirius had time to murmur, “You alright, Moony?”
“I’m drunk,” Remus said confidingly.
“Try not to show it. Remus? What’s wrong?”
He had stopped dead and was staring around with wide eyes. “Books. Books.”
There were quite a few bookshops. In fact, the whole road seemed to be lined with them.
“Books,” Remus whimpered.
Sirius dragged his sleeve and pulled him to the side of the pavement. It might only be mid-afternoon but the streets were packed with shoppers. “They’re very nice books, Moony. I agree. We’ll come back and look at them again. I promise.”
“Soon,” Sirius promised and dragged him after Ted.
“Country boy?” Ted asked with a grin.
“He’s fine in Chichester. Remus, keep walking.”
He nodded vaguely and kept moving. Sirius could feel him twitch every time they passed an open doorway. He was beginning to feel tired himself. He didn’t think the fuzzy feeling in his legs was just the cider.
“Can we get the tube?”
“I usually walk,” Ted said and then looked at him. “When did you get out of the hospital wing?”
“Less than a day ago,” Remus said. “He should still be there but he was so disruptive she let him out for the sake of her other patients. He’s a terrible patient, did you know? Oh. Old books.”
“Keep walking!” Ted and Sirius said at once.
Remus pouted. Sirius really wished he wouldn’t. Even when he was muzzy he didn’t think it would be a good idea to push him up against a wall in Muggle London and snog him senseless and it was going to happen if he pouted again.
“If we can get him past the books, we’ll pick up the bus in Oxford Street,” Ted said.
“Okay,” Sirius said. He didn’t feel well enough to chat. Ted must have noticed because he began to weave through the crowds more efficiently. Remus hurried to keep up and Sirius concentrated on staying with them.
They fought through the crowds going into Tottenham Court Road tube station and crossed Oxford Street. Ted bundled them onto a bus which lumbered off up Tottenham Court Road. Remus stared out the window, wide-eyed, and Sirius slumped in the seat beside him. He hadn’t been back to London since August. It was as grey and grimy as ever and he hadn’t even realised he missed the place so bloody much.
“I know where we are,” Remus said. “We’re near the British Museum. Can we go to the museum?”
“Not today, mate,” Ted said, hanging onto the strap above their heads. Sirius glared at him. He was laughing.
“Oh,” Remus said wistfully. “No books and no museum.”
Sirius sighed. “We can go to the museum during the holidays. If you really want to.”
“Okay,” Remus said and went back to staring out of the windows.
The bus emptied at Euston and then crawled down towards King’s Cross. Sirius felt his shoulders tense. They were only twenty minutes walk from that place. He knew these streets – he’d spent enough angry days pacing them.
“Off we get,” Ted said. Sirius stumbled after him, coughing at the traffic fumes as they paused on Euston Road.
“Where are we?” Remus asked.
“British Library. We need to head down Judd Street.”
“The British Library?”
“No libraries,” Sirius said and dragged him across the road. “Watch the traffic.”
Remus sulked all the way down Judd Street, muttering about, “No books, no museum, no library.”
They turned off Judd Street into Handel Street. Ted took them almost as far as the gate into the gardens before turning up a flight of steps to one of the houses. Sirius followed him gratefully.
Remus paused. “Is that a graveyard or a park?”
“St Georges? Both. It’s an old graveyard the local authorities turned into public gardens years ago. They don’t know how many wizards are buried in there.”
“Lots of Blacks,” Sirius said gloomily. “I used to go and litter their tombs once a week.”
“Ah, the much maligned local youth. Come on, Lupin, it’s cold.”
The building itself was warm and noisy, full of interesting cooking smells and loud voices sounding through the walls. Ted took them up to the third floor and ushered them into a flat, calling out, “Twelfth of November, nineteen-seventy-one.”
“You turned Bella’s hair into snakes.” Andromeda appeared out of the kitchen. “You’re early. Hello, Sirius.”
“Just passing through,” Ted said. “These two have cracked it. I’ve got to run.”
“It was the letters,” Sirius said.
“I worked it out,” Remus said. “And now I’m drunk. So’s Sirius.”
Andromeda’s eyes narrowed. “Edward Arthur Tonks, get back here right now!”
But he was gone.
“Moody got us drunk to check if we were baby Death Eaters,” Sirius said. “And my legs are fluey.”
“Sit down, then,” Andromeda said. “And then I want the whole story.”
“Sirrus! Sirrus! Remus!” A small green whirlwind hit Remus in the legs and clung. “Remus came! Sirrus, Remus came!”
“Help,” Remus squeaked.
“Do you want to watch my programme, Remus?”
Sirius stumbled after them and grabbed half the sofa before Nym could. She darted across the room to a square box and pressed a button. The front of the box filled with black-and-white images.
“You’ve got a tellyvisual?” Sirius gasped.
“Ted’s idea,” Andromeda said. “Sirius, which letters? Not the ones from-”
“A tellyvisual!” He’d wanted one for years.
“It’s called a television,” Remus said sleepily and put his head on Sirius’ shoulder. Nym climbed up and settled on their laps.
Andromeda said something but he wasn’t listening. He’d had enough of today. What better way to end it than with a drunken werewolf and a shape-shifting toddler, watching a giant bear and a hippo zip someone’s mouth shut?
Remus curled into the curve of his shoulder, murmuring, “Sirius.”
Life was good.
Chapter 29: A Time to Talk
Sirius and Remus babysit, explore London and finally have a chance to talk. Oh, and Remus finds out about Sirius' favourite hobby.
Thavie's Inn, where Andromeda works, is one of the old Inns of Chancery which ceased to exist in the 19th century. I took the liberty of upgrading it to a full Inn of Court, albeit a wizarding one. Anyone who's spent any time in the Inns will understand why I felt I could incorporate them into the HP-universe.
His head was pounding.
Remus opened his eyes cautiously and blinked. He had absolutely no idea where he was. He was on an old brown sofa, covered with a blanket. The morning light streamed through a window into a narrow room. There was a television and a rag rug before a gas fire. Wizarding pictures covered the walls and there was a heap of headless dolls and toy cars beside the telly.
“Sirius?” he whispered.
Someone snored and he peered over the edge of the sofa to see Sirius asleep on the floor, tangled in a brown and yellow sleeping bag.
He needed the loo.
He sat up and looked around, blinking. Ow. There were two closed doors behind him and a little hallway in front. He thought there might be a bathroom there. To his right a door stood open and he could just see a tiled floor. Kitchen? Where was he?
Andromeda Tonks appeared in the kitchen door. She beckoned him. He swung his legs off the sofa and winced again. Ow. He almost tripped over Sirius but made it into the kitchen.
Andromeda laid a finger across her lips and whispered, “Don’t wake Nym. The longer she sleeps the better.”
He nodded and regretted it.
“Bad head?” Andromeda whispered, smirking slightly.
“Yes. Um, do you have a toilet?”
“No, we go out the window. By the front door.”
He stumbled off. His stomach was distinctly uneasy. The bathroom had turquoise tiles and a chewed rubber duck sitting by the taps. He leant his head against the cool tiles. What was he doing in the Tonkses’ flat with a hangover?
It took a moment to sort through the previous day. The letters. Moody. Cider. The bookshops, yeah, he remembered the bookshops. And Sirius. Sirius. He really needed to talk to Sirius.
Andromeda had a potion waiting for him when he made it back to the kitchen. He gulped it down gratefully and then looked around. He always felt awkward in other people’s houses.
“Is there anything I can do?”
Andromeda grinned. “Didn’t anyone teach you never to ask a Slytherin that? Firstly, sit down and drink some tea.”
He could do that.
Andromeda began to move around the kitchen. The table set itself behind her and the kettle began to whistle. She muttered a silencing charm at it and said, still whispering, “The Floo network is still down. The Ministry are saying it’s a malfunction but it’s for the Aurors. Ted got in about four this morning – they’ve got the main suspects in custody but there’s still a lot of tidying up to do.”
“The Blacks?” Remus whispered, staring at his tea.
“Claim their seal was stolen. Their lawyer’s dealing with it.” She stilled by the window for a moment. “They’ll still be embarrassed by it.”
“Embarrassed isn’t enough,” Remus said coolly.
“You take what you can get. What this means for you two is you’re going to have to get the train up. We’ve got you tickets on today’s service but I’m afraid you won’t be back at school until late.”
“Sirius will be delighted. What do we do until then?”
She came and sat down, nursing her own cup of tea. “I have a meeting I can’t reschedule. Ted usually looks after Nymphadora on Fridays but he’s needed in this morning. I’m afraid I need you two to babysit.”
Remus really wished he knew more about children. Still, it would be ungrateful to say no. “Okay. What do we do?”
Andromeda laughed at him softly. “Take her out. If you’re going somewhere Muggle make sure she keeps her hood up. People seem to notice the hair more than anything.”
There was a creak of floorboards and Ted stumbled in, hair on end. “Coffee? Coffee?”
“By the window,” Andromeda said. “Don’t wake the baby.”
“Coffee!” Ted said and gulped it down. Then he straightened up and said, “Wife!”
“Nice to know your priorities,” Andromeda said but turned towards him. Ted pounced, dragging her into a kiss.
Remus fled, embarrassed. In the living room, Sirius was just kicking out of the sleeping bag. His eyes lit up when he saw Remus.
“Moony! You got drunk!”
“Shush,” Remus said. “You’ll wake the baby.” He picked up the blanket from the sofa and folded it neatly. Then he realised he didn’t know where to put it and so dropped it on the arm of the sofa and sat down. Sirius left the sleeping bag on the floor and crawled up beside him. “Moony.”
He really needed to talk to Sirius. Just not when he was curled around him, with his head on his shoulder and his eyes serious.
“Moony. Need to talk, don’t we?”
“On the train, perhaps.”
“We getting the train? I like the train.”
“Wake up, Sirius.”
“Wake me up,” Sirius said and grinned.
“Hah,” Andromeda said from the doorway. “You owe me thirty galleons, Ted. Now stop being such a Neanderthal.”
“Four hours sleep,” Ted muttered and glared at Sirius. “I told you I was poor, mate.”
“Mum-mum! Need wee-wee!”
“Go to the toilet, then, darling. And what did we say about telling people?”
“Quietly!” Remus managed to catch sight of Nym shooting across the room, dragging some sort of blanket behind her, but Sirius was laughing and his hair was in Remus’ eyes.
“You wait,” Andromeda said ominously. “Breakfast, Sirius?”
“Please,” Sirius said and untangled himself from Remus.
By the end of breakfast Remus had cornflakes in his hair and considerably more respect for both Andromeda and his own mother. Sirius, who applauded every hit, was not helping.
“Right,” Ted said. “I’m off.”
“And my taxi should be here any minute,” Andromeda said and went to pick up her bag. “My meeting’s in Thavie’s Inn so I’ll meet you in Gray’s Inn Gardens at noon. Your train’s at one. Sirius, the spare key is under the sink, the spell on the door is supplemora and Nymphadora’s reins are hanging by the front door. Have fun.”
Sirius and Remus were left facing Nymphadora across the table. She waved her spoon at them and said, “Remus! Can we go to the parkswingstrainscarsbusesroundabout?”
Remus looked at Sirius. He shrugged and said, “Whatever you want, Nym.”
She beamed and hugged the ragged cloth she’d been carrying. The very familiar ragged cloth.
“That’s my jumper!”
Nym pouted dangerously. “Mine!”
“You’re not getting that back, mate.”
“Remus,” Sirius said in mock-horror. “How could you propose depriving my baby cousin of her favourite toy? Shame on you. Nymmie, girl, you’re a woman of excellent taste.”
“Excellent taste,” Nym crowed.
Remus sighed and resigned himself to a day spent in the company of amorous Blacks.
“And why haven’t I got one of your jumpers?”
They took Nym to King’s Cross first, to watch the trains. She almost lost her hat when Sirius held her too far over the edge of the bridge. Remus grabbed it in time and hissed, “We can’t do magic outside school, you prat. No summoning charms. And, for God’s sake, don’t drop her!”
“Would I drop you, Nym? Would I drop my favourite girl?”
“No!” Nym squealed. “More! Choo-choo-choo! I’m a train! Look at me!”
As her skin was beginning to show Great Northern colours Remus said firmly, “No changing, Nymphadora. Shall we go and watch the train leave?”
Sirius had enough Muggle change to get them platform tickets and they walked up the far end of the platform. Sirius was grinning almost as widely as Nymphadora. The train had ‘Route of the Flying Scotsman’ written on the side.
“That train’s going all the way to Edinburgh,” Remus said to Nym. “Do you know where Edinburgh is?”
“Never mind that,” Sirius broke in. “That’s a HST! They’re the fastest trains anywhere. They even go faster than the Hogwarts’ Express!”
“HST!” Nym echoed and Remus blinked. Sirius Black, train-spotter extraordinaire. You learnt something new everyday.
“I love Muggle stuff,” Sirius said happily. “You should hear these go. They out-scream my mother. Did you know they hold the world record for diesel traction?”
Remus hadn’t the faintest idea what diesel traction was so he shook his head and said, “You’re amazing, Padfoot.”
“I want one of these. I want to take the engine apart.”
The train’s engine began to charge and he couldn’t hear Sirius anymore. He was still talking though and Nym was shrieking in excitement, bouncing on the end of her reins. Remus hung onto her for dear life as she waved both arms. “Bye-bye, train! Bye-bye!”
She was still waving when the train vanished into the tunnel. Remus shook his head to clear his ears. He looked at Sirius. “Where now?”
“Park!” Nym shrieked in his ear.
Sirius was staring wistfully after the train. “It’s got a Napier turbocharger,” he said longingly. “Imagine one of them on a bike.”
“Park,” Remus said firmly.
Sirius took the lead, though he talked about trains all the way down Judd Street. As Nym was babbling away about cars and birds and lorries, Remus just kept nodding at both of them.
“Coram Fields,” Sirius said as they turned into the park. “Not allowed in without a kid. Meda used to kidnap me and Reggie and bring us here just to see Mum have a fit when she couldn’t get in the gate. No dogs allowed, though.”
“Shame,” Remus said. It wasn’t a huge park but it was packed to the brim. “Is that a zoo?”
“Sheep and stuff,” Sirius said, grabbing Nym. “Keep her away. She likes to practice her faces.”
“Right,” Remus said and steered them towards the playground.
“Swings!” Nym said and grabbed Remus’ knee. “Give me a push.”
He’d rather hoped he would have a chance to talk to Sirius but Nym kept him running. She also managed to make several new friends who also needed swing-pushing, roundabout-turning and seesaw-activating help. Sirius, he saw from the corner of his eye, had found himself a bench and was chatting to a pregnant woman he thought was the mother of one of Nym’s new friends.
He was surprised when he heard Sirius shout, “Remus! Nym! Half-eleven. Time to go.”
Nym launched herself off the swing and he lunged forward and caught her and then managed to grab the swing before it took out any bystanders.
“Don’t do that,” he said to her.
“Don’t you like me anymore?”
“Not if you’re going to be naughty,” he said and immediately knew it was the wrong thing to say. Nym’s face crumpled and she began to howl.
Sirius took her from him, glaring. “Really, Remus, did you have to get her over-excited?”
“Me?” Remus protested. “Me? I didn’t-”
Sirius had hurried off and he raced to keep up with him. “Sirius!”
Nym snuffled into Sirius’ shoulder and then stuck her tongue out. Remus was feeling slightly out-manoeuvred.
Sirius got bored of carrying her halfway down Lamb’s Conduit Street. He wrapped her reins around his hand and squeezed Remus’ hand quickly. “Relax. Pretend this is us, living here.”
“We’d have jobs,” Remus said.
“Moony. We’re too good for jobs. We could sit in that café and while the day away, looking at the people going by.”
“And the funeral parlour opposite? Sorry – I’m trying.”
“Very trying,” Sirius said and squeezed his hand again.
Remus caught his hand and kept it even though he could see people staring at them. Sirius grinned sideways at him, slightly flushed.
He had to let go so they could both hold Nym’s hands to get across Theobald’s Road, busy and bus-packed. Remus found himself grinning at the red buses and the taxis going past. He was in London, with Sirius, and it was great.
“Yucky,” Nym said to the butchers and the carcass hanging outside the door. “Smelly meat.” Then she swung between their hands. “Up!”
“Not here,” Remus said. “It’s too busy.”
They turned down Bedford Row, past the grand Victorian buildings. Long lists of names were mounted beside each door and the fallen leaves from the plane trees heaped against the railings. They followed a barrister in wig and gown into Gray’s Inn, down the steps and past the dry stems of the roses. There were still a few hips on the briars that climbed up the old lamp-post.
Andromeda was waiting for them by the gates of the garden, reading through her notes.
“Mum-Mum!” Nym cried.
Andromeda looked up with a smile and Sirius passed Nym’s reins to Remus and said, “What did you do when Bella and I tied Reggie up in the oak tree?”
“I sharpened all Bella’s hairpins and put itching charms on all your underwear. Then I made Narcissa cry for not telling me what you were doing. What did you do when I ran off with Ted?”
“Sent you a card congratulating you. With naked goblins on it.”
Andromeda nodded. “Dancing, naked goblins. Well done.”
“You can let Nym go now,” Sirius said and Remus dropped the reins, shocked. He didn’t think he’d ever learn to be that paranoid.
“Constant vigilance,” Sirius murmured and grinned.
Nym was recounting their morning at high speed. Andromeda laughed and looked at Remus. “Did you have fun too?”
“Yes,” he said and realised it was true. “How was your meeting?”
She rolled her eyes. “Tedious. The Ministry’s lawyers have been consulting with the Council of Legal Education for months about standardising our qualifications for the Bar.”
“Boring,” Sirius said. “Any word from Ted?”
“No,” Andromeda said and sighed. “I’m assuming it’s all wrapped up now. We just have to wait to see what they plan next.”
They passed through into Gray’s Inn Square, past the chapel. The square was lined with expensive cars. Sirius kept pausing to stare enviously.
“You wouldn’t let me stop for books,” Remus said.
“And you don’t want to miss the train,” Andromeda said firmly. “Keep up.”
They caught a bus up Gray’s Inn Road to King’s Cross. Remus watched London go by, grey and entangled. He’d never spent so much time in the city and yet he’d seen so little of it. They would have to come back. For the British Museum if nothing else.
Andromeda whisked them through King’s Cross, buying them sandwiches and papers for the train. Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters was crowded. Remus stared about curiously. He’d never seen normal wizards catch the train.
“It will be busy today,” Andromeda said. “With the Floo down. It’s usually used by those who can’t afford the commercial Floos. Keep going. You’re in first class.”
“First class?” Remus said, startled. He didn’t think Ted and Andromeda were that well off.
“Courtesy of the Ministry of Magic, my dears, who couldn’t spot a flu epidemic if it stuck it’s head up their collective arses.”
“Nice,” Sirius said. “I want the window seat.”
“Only if I get the papers,” Remus said quickly.
“You don’t need the papers. You always fall asleep by Stevenage.”
Andromeda found them their seats and then stood outside the window, talking to them. “Remember to send me an owl when you get back.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Don’t fuss, Meda. Did I tell you Remus drove off Jormungardr?”
“Good for him. Send me an owl.”
Then the whistle blew. Andromeda kissed them both on the cheek and stood back. The whistle blew again and they were off. Nym waved, shrieking their names. Sirius hung out the window waving to her until Remus remembered there was a tunnel and dragged him in just in time.
Their compartment was half-full, even though it was first-class. Sirius set about charming the old lady sitting opposite. Remus was drawn into helping an elderly wizard with the Prophet’s crossword. Everyone complained about the unreliability of the Floo. Remus tried not to catch Sirius’ eye.
Sirius’ old lady got out at Peterborough but the old man with the Prophet stayed all the way to Durham, to Remus’ frustration. It was getting dark by the time they stopped there and he could see the lights glowing in the buffet on the platform. Sirius waited until the train had pulled out and then got up. He pulled the blinds closed on the door and windows and then turned to look at Remus across the empty compartment.
“So?” Remus said and had to force himself not to wring his hands.
“So,” Sirius said and took a breath. He leant against the door, all tension. “The thing is, honestly and not pissing about any more, I fancy you. I more than fancy you. If you don’t want me to, you’re going to have to tell me now because every time I touch you I want it more. But, if you don’t want me to, fine. I need you and if it’s friends, it’s friends. I would very much like it to be more.”
Remus looked up and met his gaze. He might sound resolute but his eyes were wide and panicky. He bit his lip and tried to find the words. “I can’t imagine my life without you. I can imagine James living somewhere else. I can imagine Pete living somewhere else. But every time I think about the future, whether I expect to be poor and lost or happy ever after, you’re with me. And, yes, you idiot, I want it to be more. I’ve wanted more for so long.”
Sirius crossed the compartment in three steps and kissed him.
It was a messy, clumsy kiss but it was Sirius and so Remus clutched at him blindly and kissed him back with all the force he could. Sirius sighed and his mouth fell open beneath Remus’ and their tongues brushed tentatively. He tasted like cheap tea and ham sandwiches and his hair was soft between Remus’ fingers and suddenly it was perfect.
The train swayed round a bend and they went stumbling into the seat. Remus sat down too quickly and Sirius came with him, still wrapped in his arms.
“Remus,” Sirius whispered, his face so close Remus could feel his breath on his cheek.
“Sirius,” he said gravely and leant forward to brush his lips against Sirius’
“Yours,” Remus said with a warm rush of relief and kissed him again. He could feel everything now: the wet heat of Sirius’ mouth and the brush of his hair against his cheek, the heat of their bodies pressed together and the reassuring warmth of Sirius’ arms banded across his back.
They had slid down the seat somehow and Sirius was pressing into him. He slid his hands into Remus’ coat, murmuring, “Remus, Remus, Remus,” into his mouth.
Remus arched into his touch and managed, “Sirius, we’re on a train.”
“Blinds are down.”
“Okay,” Remus said and slipped his hands up Sirius’ back. He was so warm and so right, even when he squeaked and said, “Moony, your hands are like icebergs.”
“Warm them up,” Remus demanded, quashing the little voice in his mind that shrieked, On a train! A public train! McGonagall will kill you if you get arrested!
It wasn’t until the train began to slow that he managed to pull back and say, “Next station. Got to stop.”
“Where is it?” Sirius muttered, kissing his jaw, little touches that made Remus want to sink back into the seat.
“Newcastle. City. Big. People getting on.”
“Okay.” Sirius sat up and pulled Remus against his shoulder. “You look thoroughly snogged.”
“Funny that,” Remus said, gazing out of the window in time to see the bridges across the Tyne, glowing with trails of traffic lights. Sirius was playing with his fingers. “Padfoot, you’re being obvious.”
“Don’t want to stop.”
“I don’t want to, either, but we have to be sensible.”
Sirius snorted but sat quietly as they drew into Newcastle. He managed to wait until the whistle blew before he pounced again.
Remus was just aware enough to think, shit when he heard the compartment door slide open.
“Aargh! My eyes!”
“Peter?” Sirius said, pulling away.
Remus stopped cringing and stared over Sirius’ shoulder to the new arrival. “Pete? What are you doing here?”
“Going back to school. Can I look yet?”
Remus pushed at Sirius’ shoulder until he sat up and said, “Yes.”
Peter dropped his arm from in front of his eyes and flopped into the seat opposite. “Bloody Potter. All he wrote was Sirius and Remus are in a bit of a state. I’ll kill him later.”
Remus was still trying to catch up. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s the only Hogsmeade train today,” Peter said, looking long-suffering. “I’ve come up from Wolverhampton this morning. McGonagall owled me to say you’d be on the train and to travel with you. I assume she doesn’t know?”
“You’re the first, Pete,” Sirius said casually. “Do you have a problem with it?”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Are you going to stop moping now? It’s been obvious for months, you twats. Can’t believe it took you this long.”
Sirius relaxed at Remus’ side and said, “How are you, mate? Did everything, y’know.”
“It was a bit shit, really,” Peter said, staring at his hands. “Funerals are meant to be for old people. I hate this fucking war.”
“Me, too,” Remus said.
“And me,” Sirius added and they were quiet for a while, watching the suburbs of Newcastle blur past.
“So what the hell were you doing in London?” Peter said at last.
Sirius grinned and leant back into Remus’ lap. “You are looking, Mr Pettigrew, at a man who saved the world single-handedly.”
Remus poked his shoulder.
“With a little, ow, significant amount of help from the luscious Mr Lupin there. Don’t hit me!”
“Tell it properly, then,” Remus said and left his hand on Sirius’ shoulder. Outside the windows, dark countryside was rushing past. Sooner or later, he knew they would come to the sea and then turn inland, towards the safe fastnesses where Hogwarts stood. For the moment, they were safe.
Chapter 30: A Final Flight
Here, as an epilogue, let Peter Pettigrew have the last word.
“So,” James said through a mouthful of toast, “it’s up to you. Halloween party?”
Peter thought about it. He didn’t really know how he was meant to be feeling right now. There was an emptiness within him where his family should have been. Already he was thinking of them in the past tense, as part of a blurred and merry time when the war was someone else’s pain. He couldn’t help wondering if he could become an empty space that easily.
A party, full of life and laughter, might make it worse. Or it might help.
James was watching him, patient and thoughtful. James wasn’t meant to look at him solemnly. James was meant to be laughing. It was his job to keep them all laughing when James despaired and Sirius raged and Remus brooded.
“Party,” he said.
“That’s my man,” James said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Let’s plan. Oy, Padfoot, stop being a girl.”
Sirius swung round indignantly. “I am not a girl!”
“He definitely isn’t,” Remus added thoughtfully and buttered another slice of toast.
James spluttered at that and Peter sniggered and gave Remus a quick thumbs-up.
“What do you want?” Sirius demanded, his cheeks slightly pink.
“You are a girl. You’re blushing.”
“Potter,” Lily said threateningly.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with being a girl. Splendid things, girls. Pretty.”
“Keep digging that hole,” Remus murmured. “What’s up, Pete?”
“Halloween party,” Peter said. “Gryffindor piss-up.”
“You okay with that?” Sirius said sharply. “You can tell Prongs to piss off, y’know.”
“I think it would be good,” Peter said. “Tell Remus to take his prefect face off.”
“He wouldn’t be such a spoilsport,” Sirius said and flung his arm around Remus’ shoulders. “Besides we’re all prefects, now, aren’t we, Moony?”
Remus was failing miserably to look disapproving. James pretended to throw up his pumpkin juice.
Peter left them to bicker and looked out over the Great Hall. It was strange to be back. It had been so quiet at home, with his mother too shocked to cry and his father suddenly old. It seemed that the train had not carried him from home but out of a nightmare. Perhaps if he could find enough noise and laughter Paul and Jenny would not be dead and his nieces would not be sleeping in the cold earth, in too small coffins. If he could surround himself with life and mischief the war would go away and no one else would die.
But as he looked around he knew it could never be that easy. The faces around him would be soldiers soon.
Narcissa and Regulus Black sat at the Slytherin table, surrounded by the rest of the Quidditch team, heads close together. Would one of them hold the wand that killed James or Sirius? Would they think of Quidditch as they spoke the killing curse?
One of the Ravenclaw prefects had turned round to flirt with the Head Girl where she sat at the Hufflepuff table. Lorelei was blushing and laughing. Would they both survive? Would their children sit in this hall one day, talking about the war their parents had seen? Or would there only be one table, only Slytherin to eat in cowed silence?
“Oy! Pete!” James said. “You’re on food duty. Can you nick toffee apples from the kitchen so we can use the ones my mum sent for apple-bobbing? I’ll write you a list of the other stuff we need.”
“Righto,” Peter said and turned back to his own table. Lily was laughing with her friends and occasionally glancing at James. He wasn’t even sure she realised she was doing it. There was no way she would survive the war. She was too clever, too poweful and too Muggleborn.
James was grinning madly, as he always did when gripped by inspiration. His hair was on end again and his eyes were gleaming behind his glasses. He would die to defend Lily, Peter knew, and if he couldn’t save her he would avenge her.
Sirius was whispering in Remus’ ear, something Peter was almost certain was lewd, by the expression on Remus’ face. Would they make it? Or had they decided to grasp happiness while they could?
Was he the only one who knew enough to be afraid?
Then there was the flutter and beat of wings as the owls swooped into the Great Hall. Peter looked up briefly and then noticed that Sirius was staring up as well, his face fierce. His fingers were clenched around the table’s edge and Remus quietly covered his hand with his own. Sirius turned his hand so their fingers entwined, knuckles white, but did not look down.
Letters and parcels came thumping down around them. Someone at the Ravenclaw table shrieked as something exploded.
Then the owls were swooping away again.
Sirius was still looking up. No letter had come for him. As he brought his head down he began to smile. Remus was grinning beside him, a wide, heedless smirk of delight. James was whooping with laughter, his hands in fists. Peter felt their joy touch him and began to smile, clapping his hands together.
The war wasn’t over but they’d won a battle.
These were his friends and he was with them.
For now, these were the best of times.