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For Want of a... (the You Know It's Hard Out There for a Prankster Remix)

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"Oi, Padfoot," James said, nudging Sirius' side. "You still with me?"

That was a trick question, Sirius was pretty sure. Last he'd heard, James had been in the middle of an earnest and fairly breathless lecture about Shuntbumps, of all bloody things; Sirius hadn't really been listening, because... well, Shuntbumps. He'd spent the last five or ten minutes nodding in the right places and staring at Octavia MacMillan's arse. It was a rather nice arse -- nice enough that James' voice had just blended in with the early-morning din of the Transfiguration corridor.

"Yeah, I'm here," Sirius muttered, grumbling as someone hurrying the opposite direction banged into his elbow. He felt that deserved a Trip Jinx, but his wand was in his pocket and his aim wasn't the best at half eight. "What is it, then?"

"Well," James said slowly, in the mischief managed tone that always made Peter nervous, "I've been thinking--"

"I thought I smelled smoke," Sirius said, tapping the back of James' head. His hair was more of a riot than usual, sticking up at the top and tufting out behind his ears. "Careful with that. I'm pants at water spells."

"Remus does all right. He'd get the fire out," James said, narrowing his eyes. "He's a good friend, our Moony. Not like some wankers I know." He grabbed Sirius' arm, a little tighter than Sirius thought was strictly necessary, and herded him past a knot of Hufflepuff girls chatting in the centre of the corridor. "Do you want to hear my idea or not?"

That was definitely a trick question. "I guess, yeah. It'll give me something to laugh at until Potions."

"Cor, do you think Fenwick can outdo yesterday's explosion?" James asked, shaking his head. "Old Sluggy had fluxweed in his moustache."

"Gudgeon had it in his teeth," Sirius said, wrinkling his nose. He was fairly certain Gudgeon had got the worst of it; fluxweed tasted like cabbage left to rot inside a dirty shoe. "I thought he was going to sick up in Fenwick's cauldron."

The corridor was thick with students this close to the start of class, mostly Gryffindors and Ravenclaws headed for Transfiguration. James hexed a second-year who trod on his foot, and a big, burly fellow from the Ravenclaw Quidditch team lumbered between Sirius and his view of Octavia MacMillan. They passed Filch, who was having an angry row with a portrait of greenish-skinned hag, a mop tucked under his arm and his cat waiting at his feet. That reminded Sirius of the prank they'd pulled last night -- Stinkpellets in the greenhouses, Filch had nearly taken Remus alive -- which reminded Sirius that James had started to tell him something.

He pinched James' arm as they approached the classroom door. "Well, what's this idea of yours, then?"

"Oh, right." James tugged Sirius a bit further down the corridor, stopping beside a statue of Brunhilde the Belligerent. Sirius offered her a polite nod, since she was nine feet tall and armed like a Viking. "Remember that time, with the sneezworts?"

"Which time with the sneezeworts?" Sirius asked. "When Remus, um," he turned to watch Mary MacDonald walk by -- no tits, fabulous legs -- and James' huffed loudly and smacked him in the shoulder. "Sorry. When Remus lost his eyebrows, or when Peter walked backward and spoke Gaelic for a week?"

"Welsh, wasn't it?"

"Does it matter?"

"Not really, no," James said, letting his rucksack sag to the floor. He leaned his shoulder against Brunhilde's thigh; happily, she didn't seem to mind. "I didn't mean those times with the sneezeworts, anyway. I meant the time we gave all of Slytherin hayfever."

"Oh, go on," Sirius muttered, frowning slightly. That hayfever stunt hadn't been their cleverest moment, mostly because much of the end result had been an accident, although Snape's drippy, bright red conk had at least made it feel like a partial victory. "You want to give everyone giant bogeys again?"

James raked his fingers through his hair, not that it needed it. "Not the bogeys, you knob. The wings. We put wings on all those sneezeworts, remember?" he asked, flapping his hands in front of Sirius' face. "I want to try that again, but with something larger." He paused for a moment, cocking his head to the side; Sirius fancied he could hear the rusty gears turning. "Suits of armour, maybe."

"Suits of armour," Sirius repeated, sighing under his breath. "Suits of armour with bloody wings." James' fondness for singing, dancing, and flying artefacts bordered on ridiculous. Sirius preferred the classics, himself -- knickers, funny smells, people coming over in spots or boils. "That's daft, is what that is. Those wings were titchy before. You'll never get suits of armour off the ground that way."

"Of course not," James said, with the kind of evil grin common to Ministry wanted posters. "We'd need bigger wings."

 

--

 

"Any luck?" Sirius asked, a Sugar Quill hanging from the corner of his mouth.

James was sprawled out alongside Sirius' bed, grumbling under his breath as he sorted through a large pile of parchments, scrolls, and other random bits of rubbish -- including a Gringott's deposit form and a postcard of Liverpool inclined to fold in half and snap at James' hands. He sighed frequently, tapping an irritated rhythm on the floor with the toe of his shoe, and his hair was an absolute fright.

"Not yet," he said glumly. "I figured it would be here... everything else is. These are from the singing statues, and this one," he waved what looked like a pub napkin in Sirius' general direction, "is from the bubotuber pus in the fountain, and these are from when we did the squid."

Sirius rolled onto his side, his bed squeaking as he reached out and poked James' shoulder with his wand. "It's not the one you accidentally gave Flitwick, is it?"

"No, that was the tinned fish and Fanged Geraniums," James said, rubbing his hand over his face. The postcard hissed at him, and he stuffed it under his Herbology book. "Flitwick never did return it."

"How you wrote a Charms essay on the back of a prank plan, I'll never understand," Sirius said, poking him again.

"It was very dark," James said tartly, batting Sirius' wand away with a sigh, "and I rather wasn't paying attention at the time. You try writing an essay in a broom cupboard, while you're waiting for some gormless git," he wagged an accusing finger at Sirius, "to not show up with the Dungbombs."

"Tosspot."

"Wanker."

"Did you check the stuff under Remus' bed?" Peter asked, combing his hair in front of a mirror he'd Transfigured from his bed hangings. It had nine uneven sides and a greyish-brown splotch near the bottom Sirius didn't wish to examine too closely. "He's been putting all the older pranks into a book."

James shook his head. "We did this one just a couple months ago. I remember because -- oh, here it is!" He waved a rather worn scrap of parchment triumphantly. "It was stuck to the one about the Flobberworms." He peered at it for a moment, chewing his lip and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "That's right, we used a potion for those wings.

"Oh, brilliant. I love it when we muck about with potions," Sirius muttered. He flopped onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, wrinkling his nose at a pumpkin juice stain that quite favoured a pair of Crups trying to mate. "The last time you pulled a potion out of your arse, I ended up with blue hair."

"It was more violet, really," Peter observed.

"Stop being such a girl's blouse," James said, tossing a balled-up sock at Sirius' head. "We've already got a potion that does the trick. I just need to work out a formula that makes it stronger."

"I looked like an effing blueberry," Sirius snapped.

James dismissed this with a shrug and a dirty look, which Sirius thought was rather unfair. That potion had been meant to grow moustaches on all the portraits; what it had done instead was reek like the Slytherin Quidditch lockers and give a noxious, terrifying warning belch right before it leapt out of the cauldron and slapped Sirius in the face. It had taken them three days to get that mess sorted, and Sirius often thought his hair still seemed a bit purple around the edges.

"That was all Remus' fault," James insisted, mostly to the parchment. "I'll never know how he confused knotgrass with wheatgrass."

"Where is Moony, anyway?" Sirius asked. He floated the sock over to James and Charmed it to spin over his head like a top. "I haven't seen him since supper."

"He's off prefecting, I think," Peter said, dusting lint from the front of his robe. The mirror now had eight sides, and the greyish-brown splotch was spreading quickly, crawling upward like a vine. "Something about a meeting."

"Useless sod," James grumbled, Summoning a quill and a clean sheet of parchment. "He's been no fun at all since he got that shiny badge."

Peter snorted quietly. "You're just sore because he does his rounds with Evans."

James hunched closer to his parchment, aiming a lazy Tarantallegra over his shoulder. Peter dodged it just in time; it whipped past his ear and crashed into the mirror, and the mirror shuddered and twitched as it tried to dance with the bed poster. It lost yet another side, and Peter steadied it with his hand.

"Are you heading out, Peter?" Sirius asked.

"Finite Incantatem," Peter replied, buttoning his robe as the mirror stilled and shifted back into its original shape. "I have a date."

"All right, I think I've got it," James said suddenly, nodding to himself and counting something out on his fingers. "If four equals zed, then I need... yes, that works."

"Once you hit ten, you'll need to take your shoes off," Sirius advised.

"Sod you."

James made a few more notations; Sirius sat up and reached for his Sugar Quills. Peter tied his shoes with a Charm and headed for the door, but he paused with his hand on the knob and cleared his throat nervously.

"Prongs, do you want me to take a look at that before I go?"

"No, I've got it," James said, waving Peter off. "I'm fifth in our class for Arithmancy."

"Peter's second," Sirius countered, biting into a Sugar Quill. The sock was still spinning over James' head; Sirius switched the Charm so it would bounce off the top of his head like a ball. Repeatedly. "Let him look at it, will you?"

"I said I've got it." James glared at Sirius, swiping at the sock with his wand, then rounded on Peter with narrowed eyes. "Well, what about your date, then?"

"Oh," Peter mumbled, looking suddenly sheepish. "It's Lucretia Bones."

James made a face like he'd been slapped in the face with a Shrake. "You've seen her, haven't you? In the light, I mean."

"Oh, she's all right, I guess," Sirius said, shrugging slightly. "From behind, at least."

"Hey, you can't talk about ugly birds," James said, pointing at Sirius. The sock was now sitting on his shoulder, wobbling as he moved and refusing to be dislodged. "You snogged Hortence Ploughshot."

"Hortence Ploughshot," Sirius said slowly, "was an accident."

Peter tilted his head, his mouth twitching at the corners. "How do you accidentally snog someone?"

"Remember that time Remus fell down the North Tower stairs?" Sirius asked, folding his arms across his chest. He threw a pillow at James; the stupid prat was laughing like an rabid Erkling. "When he crashed into Mahit Patil and broke his arm?"

"Yeah, all right."

"It was just like that," Sirius muttered, flashing James the two-fingered salute. He was practically crying with it now, he was laughing so hard. "Only there weren't any Chizpurfles, and I landed on my mouth.

 

--

 

"Is this going to work?"

"Of course this is going to work."

"You always say that."

"I'm usually right."

"Usually won't keep my hair from turning blue."

"..."

"Go on, then. Let's see these bloody giant wings of yours."

"All right, here goes."

"Prongs?"

"Balls."

 

--

 

"This is all your fault," Sirius said.

"Yeah, I know," James agreed sourly, his shoulders slumping a little.

The wings were actually quite brilliant. They were large and graceful, and they were obviously strong enough to get a suit of armour off the ground. Sirius, however, would be a lot more impressed if they weren't growing out of his back. He also didn't appreciate the fact that he was pinned halfway up to the wall. He'd never wondered about the top of Greta the Great's head; he rather didn't want to look down and see it now.

"It'll be all right," James said, adopting the falsely cheerful tone he favoured when he thought McGonagall was onto him. "We've been in worse spots."

Sirius really couldn't argue with that. They'd nearly set the Shrieking Shack on fire once, which had been bloody terrifying as well as a bad show all around, and while that business with the bubotuber pus in the fountain had started out all right, they hadn't taken things like viscosity into account, and they'd left behind an evidence trail so large a blind man could've followed it. Looking back, a solid month of detention had been inevitable.

"At least yours aren't pink," James offered.

"I guess, yeah," Sirius said grudgingly. From what he could tell, his wings were a shiny bluish-green and shaped like something that belonged on an insect. James, on the other hand, looked like a character from a Muggle fairy tale. "There is that."

"I wouldn't mind so much, if they weren't pink."

"I wouldn't mind so much, if they weren't stuck to the wall."

James frowned slightly. "If Remus and Peter come along, they can get us down."

The hallway was small and dark, and it didn't do much of anything, except connect the Arithmancy corridor with a cluster of music rooms only used on alternate Saturdays. Portraits cluttered the walls from floor to ceiling, and a matched pair of goblin statuettes guarded the entrance to an even smaller, darker hallway that sloped back toward the Astronomy Tower, for anyone who felt like going the long way around. The only window was a stained glass monstrosity of Salazar Slytherin on a Diricawl hunt; it was directly above Sirius' head and had a terrible draught.

"Not bloody likely," Sirius said, scratching his nose. The house-elves hadn't dusted this high up in ages. "We haven't seen Remus in hours, and Peter has a date. He could be out all night."

"Not with Lucretia Bones, he won't," James said, snorting under his breath. "It's not like she -- hang on, I think someone's coming. Maybe they would -- oh, bugger!"

Sirius leaned forward as far as he could; James' fat head was blocking his view of just about everything. "Who is it?"

"It's Evans."

"Could be worse, you know," Sirius noted quietly, spotting Evans as she came through the mouth of the corridor. She had a book tucked under her arm and the heavy shadows rusted her hair to brown. "Could be McGonagall. I'm pretty sure she's still naffed off about those Doxies."

"All right, all right," James grumbled, taking a deep breath. "Oi, Evans!"

Evans stopped walking, pausing directly below them, but she didn't turn around or look up. "No, Potter. For the last time, I will not go to Hogsmeade with you."

James grunted like he'd been punched in the gut, which probably shouldn't have been funny, all things considered, but Sirius couldn't help snickering a little. He managed to swallow most of it at first, but the murderous look on James' face only made things worse; Sirius burst out laughing, shaking his head helplessly when James' elbowed him in the side.

"Tosspot," James hissed, digging his fingers into the ticklish spot under Sirius' ribs. "Some best mate you are, I can't believe you -- wait, Evans!" he shouted, as Evans started to walk away. "Please?"

Evans slowly looked up, her eyes growing wide and her mouth twitching in a way Sirius rather didn't appreciate. "What -- what on earth happened to you two?"

"Nothing to worry about," Sirius offered quickly, because James -- the gormless git -- was opening and closing his mouth like a Flobberworm. He suspected James was a bit confused; this was as close to a real conversation as James and Evans had ever come. "Just a little experiment gone awry. Now, be a love and help us down, would you?"

"Why in the world would I want to do that?" Evans asked, sounding almost cheerful. Her tone suggested she bloody well knew Sirius had been the one who put those baby Acromantulas in her potions kit. "I suppose it wouldn't be very sporting of me to sell admissions tickets to see this, but at the very least," she slowly arched an eyebrow, "I should go inform Professor McGonagall. Or perhaps Professor Flitwick. I am a prefect, after all."

Sirius groaned loudly, his head falling back against the wall. Of all the people who could've found them, it had to have been Evans; she probably would rat them out, just to repay James for his constant (and pathetic) attempts to get a leg over. Sirius figured he could talk Flitwick around if it came right down to it, but he was fairly certain they were rapidly reaching the point of no return with McGonagall. It was only a matter of time before she truly went spare and murdered them all in their beds.

"Please, Evans. For the love of Merlin, don't tell any of the professors," James said desperately. Sirius bit the inside of his cheek; he was glad James had finally remembered how to talk, even if he sounded like a love-sick swot. "Look, if you won't help us down yourself, would you at least let Remus and Peter know where we are?"

Evans cocked her head to the side. "Again, why should I?"

"Because Prichard will skin us alive if we lose the House Cup on his watch as Head Boy, and... and I," James made a face like he had a mouthful of fluxweed, "I promise I won't ask you out again for the rest of term."

"Let me get this straight, Potter. You want me not to tell Prichard or any of the professors, but you do want me to tell Remus and Peter," Evans said slowly, a smug smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "In return, you'll leave me alone for the rest of term."

James nodded, his shoulders slumping and his glasses slipping to the end of his nose.

"What about you, Black?" she continued. "What do you want out of this?"

"About the same, really," Sirius said, shrugging like she didn't already have them by the bollocks. Bloody-minded bird. James would be better off trying to date the squid. "And I'll make sure James keeps his end of the bargain."

"Done. I'll go find Remus and Peter." Evans said, coughing like she was trying not to laugh. "I'm giving you two until curfew to get out of this... sticky situation you're in. If I don't see you in the common room, I'm going to McGonagall. Is that clear?"

Sirius nodded, rubbing his hand over his face as she walked away.

"Bloody hell," James complained, nudging his glasses back where they belonged. "I'll never get a date with her now."

"Don't worry about it, mate." Sirius patted James on the shoulder. "It's not like you were ever going to."

"Sod you."

"Oh, and Potter?" Evans called out, her voice loud as it echoed down the corridor. "Pink really is not your colour."

 

--

 

"I'll remember this, Moony," James said savagely, his cheeks flushing pinker than his wings. "See what happens the next time you need a favour."

Remus blinked up at James, his lip caught between his teeth. There was a short, tight silence, and then Remus burst out laughing again, loud and throaty and completely unnecessary, doubling over against Peter's side with his hand fisted in Peter's sleeve. They made a strange, mismatched pair; Peter was still dressed for his date, his robe buttoned and his hair neatly combed, and Remus was wearing his common room clothes, a soft jumper and faded trousers in dire need of a Lengthening Charm.

"Asshat," James muttered.

"I don't quite understand," Peter said, cocking his head to the side. Remus made a disturbing wheezing sound, his face buried in Peter's shoulder, and Peter absently patted him on the back. "How did this even happen?"

"We don't know, do we?" Sirius snapped. A dull ache had settled in his neck and shoulders, and he had a strong desire to hex someone -- anyone -- right between the eyes. "We put the potion on the suit of armour, and there was some smoke--"

"More of a fog, really."

"--and then after that," Sirius continued sharply, smacking James in the arm, "there was a bloody loud noise."

"It was a bang, actually." James waved his hands over his head, dislodging the dust on the portrait above his head; it clouded around his face, catching in his hair. "An explosion, like."

"Shut it, will you? There wasn't any explosion," Sirius said. If he could move his foot that far, he'd kick James square in the arse. "It was a thump, really."

"Was this the same potion we used on the sneezeworts?" Remus asked, his mouth still twitching slightly.

James nodded; his glasses were askew again, smudged with dirty fingerprints. "It is, yeah. I adjusted it to make it stronger, but the ingredients are the same."

"Did it have any gillyweed in it?" Peter asked, darting a nervous glance at the suit of armour. "Gillyweed doesn't like metal objects, I don't think."

"No, that's lovage that hates metal," Remus said, frowning thoughtfully. "Gillyweed does all right... well, unless it's liquefied, and then you--"

"We didn't use gillyweed or lovage," James said. "Just daisy roots, knotgrass, beetle eyes, and... I don't know what else. I left the plan on my bed."

The portrait above James' head sneezed loudly; it showed an elderly chap in a powdered wig and an unfortunate cravat, and he muttered under his breath as he wiped his potato-shaped nose on his lacy, ruffled sleeve. James sighed and removed his glasses, cleaning the lenses with the tail of his shirt.

"Well," Peter said, nudging Remus' side. "What do you think?"

Remus considered James and Sirius for a moment, tapping his wand against his thigh. "I guess we just start with a Vanishing Charm and go from there."

 

--

 

Sirius was silently compiling a list of ways to kill James without getting caught -- number thirteen, a shallow grave deep in the forbidden forest; number fourteen, body Transfigured into a coin and tossed in a Muggle wishing well; number fifteen, body packed in a suit of armour down in Slytherin, since a suit of armour started this nonsense, and funny smells often went uninvestigated on that side of the castle, because... well, dungeons -- when James sighed heavily and poked Sirius in the side.

"What's taking so long, then?" he asked irritably, batting his fringe from his eyes. "They've been gone hours."

"They've been gone twenty minutes."

James huffed under his breath. "They probably faffed off to the kitchens. Left us to rot while they gorge themselves on cucumber sandwiches."

"It was egg sandwiches, if you really must know," Remus said, smirking as he walked up the corridor. Peter was right behind him, and they both looked incredibly smug. "Sorry we didn't save any for you lot. Sorting out botched potions is hungry work."

"Botched?" Sirius asked sharply.

"Here, now. This was some kind of freak accident," James said, waving his hands. "There was nothing wrong with that potion."

Remus snorted like a dying Graphorn. "There was everything wrong with that potion. Too much beetle eyes, not enough billywig stings. I don't think you stirred it as long as it needed, either."

"I don't -- what? How?"

"You buggered the maths," Peter said simply, a sheet of parchment clutched in his hands. "Five and seven does not make fourteen."

"I told you to take off your bloody shoes," Sirius muttered.

"You also didn't carry the one," Peter continued, his mouth twitching suspiciously. "That undervalued the zed, which is why you thought you needed four full handfuls of daisy roots."

James sighed, the tips of his wings drooping sadly. "Balls."

"Never mind his effing maths," Sirius snapped. Number sixteen, cramming James' body under one of the loose floorboards in the Shrieking Shack. With any luck, they'd accidentally set the place on fire again. "Can you fix it?"

The funny thing about empty corridors was, they had a habit of turning short pauses into awkward, obvious silences; Sirius thought four people shouldn't make that much noise just breathing and shuffling their feet and plotting their best mate's messy demise. The portrait above James' head sneezed again, louder than before, muttering a few imprecations about James' intelligence that Sirius felt were fairly accurate, then a few more about the length of Sirius' wingspan that Sirius felt were extremely uncalled for. He resisted the urge to hex the sour old fart with laryngitis; the last time they'd got the portraits naffed off, the Fat Lady had spent three long weeks changing the password every thirty-seven minutes.

"Yeah, we can fix it," Remus said finally. "Only, it's going to -- um," he scratched the side of his neck, frowning at something over Sirius' shoulder, "it's going to take another thirty minutes."

"Thirty minutes?" James repeated, his voice a bit shrill around the edges. He rather sounded like Evans when she started working herself into a strop. "We need to be back upstairs by curfew."

"That's over an hour from now," Peter said calmly. "The potion we're brewing... it's just a modified Shrinking Solution, but it needs an ingredient we didn't have. We got that all sorted, and we've also worked out a way to apply it to your wings, so. It'll be all right."

James made a flat, defeated noise in the back of his throat. "Just, if we're not back upstairs in time, I really think Evans would tell McGonagall."

"Of course she would," Sirius said. "She's still sore about last Hogsmeade weekend, when you had that Flitterbloom ask her for a date."

"It was supposed to be romantic," James mumbled, spots of colour blooming on his cheeks.

"Well, it might've been," Remus said mildly, a smile tugging the corners of his mouth, "if it hadn't told her how you wanted to--"

Peter cleared his throat. "I'm quite sure she knew that already."

"Oh, it's likely she did," Remus agreed. "I just don't think she wanted the whole common room to hear every sordid detail."

James groaned and buried his face in his hands.

"I still can't believe you told her you'd leave off the rest of the term," Remus said, choking back a laugh. "I mean, since your love is writ in the stars, and all that."

"It is writ in the stars," James insisted, the tips of his ears flushing red. "She just doesn't realize it yet, is all." The rest of his face had turned a startling shade of purple. "It's not her fault. Astronomy was never her best subject."

"Oi, you lot," Sirius cut in loudly, pointing at Remus and Peter. "Aren't you meant to be brewing a potion?"

"Oh, right." Peter ducked his head a little, then tugged on Remus' sleeve. "We should see how those lacewing flies are coming along."

"Hang on," Remus said, hefting what -- to Sirius' horror -- proved to be a camera. "This cock up is clearly one for the book. Everyone say Kneazle."

James said something terribly crude, even for him. Sirius said Hardening Hex, which was a crucial part of number seventeen -- turning James' body to stone and dumping in the lake.

 

--

 

"Well, I'd marry Evans, of course."

"Of course."

"Then... oh, I guess I'd shag Bagshot and put McKinnon over the cliff."

"Really? McKinnon?"

"Nothing personal."

"Have you seen her? With the lights on, I mean."

"Why, have you?"

"Last month, after our match against Hufflepuff. I ran into her coming out of the lockers."

"You ran into her. An accident, like?"

"No, I did this one on purpose."

 

--

 

It took a bit more running than Sirius thought was good and healthy, and a couple of quick hexes -- Peeves in the Charms corridor, a fussed goblin statuette on the third floor, Brunhilde the Belligerent thinking James should stop for a chat -- but they got back upstairs with six minutes to spare.

"Bundimun," Peter wheezed, hunching over as he tried to catch his breath. Behind him, Remus made a noise like a dying Augurey. "Bundimun, bundimun!"

"You needn't shout," the Fat Lady said in tart, sniffy voice. She had a wine glass in her hand; Sirius suspected Violet was on her way up from the stuffy, Victorian still-life she lived in. "I heard you the first time."

The Fat Lady's frame swung open with a soft creak; the common room was full, the fire blazing brightly and the curtains pulled back to show a quickly purpling sky. Evans was waiting in front of the portrait hole, her arms folded across her chest.

"Oh," she said flatly, eyeing them like she couldn't quite believe what she was seeing. "I rather didn't think you'd make it."

"Sorry to disappoint," Sirius muttered.

Someone snickered. Evans slowly arched an eyebrow.

"Hey, Evans," James said suddenly, grunting as Sirius kicked him in the shin. He took a hesitant step toward her; Remus groaned, and Peter made a face like he was biting the inside of his cheek. "Evans."

Sirius grabbed a handful of James' shirt. "Come along, now. There's a good lad." He hooked James' arm, yanking James a couple steps backward. "You promised the nice lady you wouldn't bother her with your sales pitches any more."

"No, I'm not -- oh, bugger off, will you?" James twisted his arm from Sirius' grasp and turned back to Evans. "I just wanted to say thanks. You know, for letting us get ourselves sorted."

"Well," she said, giving James a curious look, "I really didn't want Gryffindor to lose any more points."

"Neither did we," James said, chewing his lip. He opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. "Look, about Hogsmeade... I--"

"James," Remus warned.

"--hope you have a nice time. With, you know. Whoever is taking you."

Someone else snickered. Peter made a noise like he was in danger of swallowing his tongue.

"I, um -- thank you, Potter," she said stiffly, frowning and pushing her hair over her shoulder. "As it turns out, no one has asked me yet."

Sirius suspected this was because the last person who took her to Hogsmeade had come down with a mysterious case of throbbing boils, but he also suspected now was not the time to mention it.

"Oh," James said, cocking his head to the side. "I'm sure you'll have a nice time, anyway."

He turned and headed for the dormitory stairs.

"What was that all about?" Sirius asked, stopping him halfway between the fifth and sixth floor.

"Nothing."

"Balls."

"I just wanted to know if she had a date, is all," James said quietly. "When she has a date, she ends up at Puddifoots. When she doesn't, she hangs around Scrivenshafts with McKinnon and MacDonald."

"And?"

"And," James said slowly, waving his hand, "if I hang around Scrivenshafts, I might run into her."

"What? An accident, like?"

James smiled. "Exactly."