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"This," Sirius said, "has got to stop."

Remus, curled up in an overstuffed armchair with A History of Magic balanced in his lap, followed the line of Sirius' glower across the common room. James was sprawled artfully on a couch, trying to engage Alice Broadmoor, Mary Macdonald, and Lily Evans in conversation. Alice seemed much preoccupied with snuggling Frank Longbottom, who in turn seemed more interested in her than in James. Mary was making a kind effort at answering James' conversation, but even without being able to hear them, Remus could tell that Lily's responses were very terse.

And James kept ruffling his hair.

"Oh dear," said Peter, who had looked over at this scene at the same time Remus had. "Doesn't he ever give up?"

"Not the Potter way," Sirius said grimly. "He'll just ram into a thing over and over as though eventually he'll get a different result."

"Well," Remus said in his mildest voice, "sometimes that does work with spells."

Sirius rounded on him. "Evans is a girl, Moony," he said with exaggerated patience, "not a spell. And she has bloody awful taste in men anyway, or she wouldn't keep defending Snivellus."

"She doesn't," Remus said. "Not anymore." He caught Peter's sympathetic, understanding eye for a moment before turning pointedly back to his book. Sirius and James, while often brilliant at spell work, were also astonishingly bad at the nuances of human interaction.

What they had here was a whole chain of events, laid out behind them like wreckage, that Sirius couldn't even see.

It had started, as these things often did, with Severus Snape. Though Remus only knew this part of the story secondhand, it went something like this: Snape, along with Avery and Mulciber, had been lurking in the entrance hall, waiting for stragglers to leave dinner. Mary Macdonald, eating by herself while Muggleborn, had made a good target for their -- game, practice, whatever it had been. Of what happened next, Remus had never had a proper account, since he'd heard it from a furious James who'd heard it from a blazingly angry Lily who had, of course, been sobbed on by the shaken Mary; whatever they'd done, the curses were nasty, Dark, and probably of Snapeish origin.

Why it had been Sirius, and not James, who completely lost his temper over this wasn't entirely clear -- except that they were of the same mind regarding Snape, and Sirius's temper tended towards the mad. So Sirius had told Snape how to get into the Whomping Willow on the night of the full moon, and James, because he wasn't barking, had gone after Snape and dragged him back out. Remus would have been perfectly happy if that was the end of it: Mary was fine, Snape was fine, James was fine, and Remus had his OWLs to study for. But it turned out that James was just as angry as Sirius, and so he kept at Snape in small, nasty ways, until the day of their last exam when he hung Snape upside down and Snape, unforgivably, called Lily Mudblood.

Then rolled on the long summer, which was, in nebulous ways, the worst of Remus' life. Part of the difficulty was that he was very angry too, at Snape and at Sirius, but the anger got pointed inwards because Remus was also, of all damnable things, sensible and self-aware. He could see exactly why everyone had done as they had done, including him: he should have yelled at Sirius like James did, and he should have stopped all of James' little torments, because he was a prefect -- but he was a werewolf, too, desperately grateful that one of his friends' harebrained schemes had turned them into Animagi, and desperately starved for their easy camaraderie. So when he tore himself up on the full moon in the shed behind his parents' house, and for the first time slashed his face badly enough that his dad's healing charms couldn't entirely erase the scar, he owled Sirius a chatty letter, entirely devoid of bitterness, asking if Sirius could think up any entertaining and probable alibis for the scar.

Say you fought off a cursed Muggle rake with your bare hands, was Sirius' flippant and rather uninspired reply, a day later than Remus expected it. Listen, Moony, your poor owl's had a time of it. She couldn't find me at Grimmauld Place and you know Prongs' people are way out in the country. The old hag finally went too far, and Reg won't shut up about his Death Eater rubbish, so I left, and I'm well shot of them too. The Potters are brilliant. They're letting me kip as long as I want. Look after yourself.

Which was all very well for him to say, having bounced from the moneyed pureblood family he hated to the moneyed pureblood family he loved. Godric's Hollow was probably very nice in the summertime. Remus swallowed bitterness and took to writing Peter, who was entirely safe; he actually worried about Remus' welfare, and angry half-formed thoughts of Peter didn't wake Remus up, panting and shivering into the sultry night.

All of which was by way of saying that the point they were at now, nearing the Christmas hols of their sixth year, with James trying and utterly failing to woo Lily yet again while across the common room Sirius glared at this display for reasons best known only to him, everything was really, head-splittingly complicated.

"Moony," Sirius said. Remus remained at his book. "Moony."

Remus looked up sharply. "What?"

"You and Evans, you're both prefects," Sirius said. "You must talk sometimes, right? About ... rules, and the new password to the prefects' bathroom, that sort of thing."

The truth was that Lily was impeccably, painfully polite to Remus, whenever necessity forced them into discussion. All of their interactions teetered on some sharp edge, and if either of them slipped, Remus might babble apologies, and Lily might tell him how reprehensible she found his inability to curb his friends. But neither of them did slip, because they both also knew exactly how the other felt. And Remus knew better than to explain this to Sirius, who would find the whole thing silly and unnecessarily complicated.

"Yes," Remus said cautiously, "we talk."

"Well then," Sirius said. "Tell her to give him a go."

Remus and Peter both stared at him. "Come again?" Remus said.

"Ask her to date him," Sirius repeated. "I can't watch the poor man suffer like this. He's making such a fool of himself, and if he can't see that she doesn't want him, and she can't see why she's making a big mistake to pass him up, the only thing to do is to make them get to know each other. Either way it'll stop his bloody pining."

Peter darted Remus another commiserating look. Remus pinched the bridge of his nose, more for effect than to stave off any coming headache. "Pads," he said, with great patience, "you really don't know the first thing about girls."

"I do so," Sirius said promptly. "I just don't know about Evans. She's got depths." The darkness with which he said this last implied that these depths probably had the giant squid in them. "And there's nothing wrong with my idea."

"I don't think Lily nor James would be very happy if I did his courting for him," Remus said. He saw that Sirius' face was fixed into blank patience, and had a flash of desire to snarl and go for Sirius' throat, because he might at least understand that. "Look. There are comical farces written around your idea, and I'm not terribly keen on having Lily fall for me instead --"

"Yeah, well, you're not pining after James, either," Sirius said sharply, which meant he was either more widely read than Remus gave him credit for or Twelfth Night had some wizarding equivalent Remus hadn't heard of. He recognized, with a sinking heart, that particular set to Sirius' chin. Sirius would not be knocked down with logic, and while he might be knocked down by a proper shouting match, Remus had no desire to make a scene in the common room. The thing to do was to cede the victory and take up the argument at a better time.

"Fine," Remus said. "I'll talk to her or something. Now leave me alone, I'm trying to read."

"Thanks, mate," Sirius told him with feeling; but with what feeling, Remus frankly didn't care. He went back to his book, and paid no attention to any further interruptions.

*

The problem, of course, was that Remus had said he would talk to Lily, and so he had to do it. There was honor among Marauders -- rather, Remus supposed, like honor among thieves -- besides which, deep down he was the stupidest sort of Gryffindor, and always kept his word in the end. He hoped that Sirius might forget their conversation in the chaos of the holidays, but it wasn't to be. They were all invited to the Potters' for Christmas, and they spent an enjoyable week throwing snowballs in the square and indulging Peter's interest in grave-rubbings at the churchyard. In the evenings Mrs. Potter plied them with cocoa, and James plied them with so many little stories and rambling speculations about Evans that even Remus was forced to admit that something did have to be done.

On the train back to school, James announced vaguely that he was going to look for the sweet trolley, and wandered out in a painfully obvious direction. Remus, Sirius, and Peter exchanged horrified glances.

"You really had better do something, hadn't you," Peter said finally. "We're losing him."

This seemed unnecessarily dramatic, but not necessarily inaccurate. "I think," Remus said, "that Padfoot's idea, however misguided, could work." He smiled at Sirius' raised brows. "The problem isn't that Prongs is after a girl, you see. The problem is that he's after a girl who wants nothing to do with us. I'm afraid this means it's group project time."

"You mean we all have to be the sort of people Evans wants to hang around?" Sirius asked. He sucked in his cheeks, thinking. "I suppose it's worth a try."

"And if we became friends with her friends --" Peter started, quite eagerly; when Sirius and Remus both looked at him, he went crimson but finished, in a determined sort of way, "That might help too. And Debbie Trimble's very nice." Sirius' face turned blank, and Peter gave Sirius something close to an exasperated look. "She's in Ravenclaw. She studies with Lily all the time."

Remus wished that James was in the compartment, because he was the one who would add something like, Which you would have known already if you could get your head out of your arse long enough to pay attention to anything around you. But Peter would never dare, and Remus thought before he spoke. "I think it's a brilliant idea," he said firmly.

"Maybe we could have a matched set," Sirius suggested. He was smiling, but it was the bright dangerous smile that Remus hated, because it meant Sirius' humor was about to turn nasty. "What d'you think, Moony? Which girl do you fancy?"

"I don't fancy any girl," Remus said, and realized with relief that he could derail this quickly, before Sirius could get ugly about whatever he found objectionable in the conversation. "And even if I did it wouldn't matter, because I wouldn't want to lead them on."

Sirius' dangerous smile was fading. "What, d'you mean --?"

"My furry little problem? Yes, rather." Remus scuffed a worn trainer against the floor. "I couldn't possibly ask anyone to put themselves in danger like that, not to mention --" and he stopped, trying to swallow the words slightly too late and choking on them. His friends didn't worry about the future. Or, really, they did, but it was a future concerned with the disappearances and death toll in the Prophet; none of them, especially not Sirius and James, were keeping themselves up at night worrying if they'd be able to find employment no matter what kind of references Professor Dumbledore wrote.

Remus smiled into the abrupt silence. "Anyway," he said brightly, "fancy Gryffindor's chances for the Quidditch Cup?"

Thank God Peter and Sirius were so set on James bringing them the championship. There were few things that Quidditch couldn't solve.

*

Which still left Lily.

She did study in the library with Debbie Trimble, Remus found. In the common room, she spent most of her time with Mary and Alice, and sometimes with Frank, though as term wore on he disappeared more and more often to study for his NEWTs. Sometimes she went to Professor Slughorn's weekend gatherings, although she invariably came back from these rather subdued. If she spent any time alone, she spent it somewhere Remus couldn't catch her and be friendly. It was probably just as well, since he had no idea what to say.

In early March the weather seemed to think of warming, and then went so abruptly freezing again that a number of students fell ill, Mary Macdonald and Debbie Trimble among their ranks. So, one afternoon while Remus was trying to find a quiet place in which to write Binns an essay on the factors and negotiations surrounding the instigation of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, he stumbled upon Lily Evans entirely on her own at a table in the library.

At a loss for anything better, he went up to her, laced his hands together, realized they looked stupid and he had no idea what to do with them, and said, "Spare a moment, Lily?"

She looked up, unfocused for a moment as though still absorbed in her book. When she did focus on him, her look was polite and not unfriendly. "Sure. What is it?"

"Started the essay for Binns yet?"

Lily's eyebrows went up. "Most of the way through it, actually."

"Well. Good." This was getting them nowhere fast. Remus took a deep breath. "Actually, never mind the essay. I just wanted to ask if you're all right. I mean. You did lose your best friend."

"Noticed, did you?" Lily said coolly. But the familiar stiffness wasn't there. She plucked idly at the sleeve of her robes and, after a moment, said, "He was bound to say it sooner or later. Potter just sped him up a bit."

"Yeah." Remus felt a wash of relief. He hadn't realized until that moment that he felt quite so squirmingly bad about it, nor that he had reasons of his own for a proper conversation with Lily, outside Sirius' ridiculous schemes. "Listen, I'm sorry my friends are prats."

"At least none of them fancy themselves Death Eaters," Lily returned, which was far more than Remus had expected by way of offered truce. She wouldn't quite look at him for a moment; then she did, and smiled a small but genuine smile. "Did you actually have a question about the essay?"

"Well, yes," Remus admitted, sliding into the seat next to hers. "I can't decide whether to stress international wizarding relations or the persecution and exploitation by Muggles."

"I went the Muggle route." Lily made a face. "Binns will probably mark me down. I may have become a little defensive about the Muggles' motivations in all that. Even the sympathetic histories treat them like bumbling children, which is absurd, I would have been lost inside a minute the first time I went to Diagon Alley if my Muggle parents hadn't been with me --" She broke off, cheeks tinged pink, but her eyes sparkled with passion, and she didn't look at all embarrassed at getting carried away.

Abruptly, for the first time, Remus realized exactly what James saw in her. Her hair and her face and her eyes were all lovely, but it was her fierce conviction that was the really attractive thing. This realization was one of the strangest things Remus had ever felt; he'd noticed that girls were pretty before, of course, but none of them had ever made his gut twist like this. It was very like what happened when he let his guard down around Sirius. And just as abruptly, Remus was furious with himself. Apparently there was nothing in the world that he couldn't make more stupidly complicated.

"But you should probably go for the wizarding relations," Lily was saying. "Binns would like that."

"You don't like him very much either," Remus observed, collecting himself.

Lily snorted. "No one does."

"Not because he makes you want to fall asleep in class, I mean," Remus said. "He's so very attached to historical fact, which really means a bias towards British wizards before anyone else, and --"

"-- wizards before Muggles, of course," said Lily, "and that awful condescending fair-sounding drivel about goblins and centaurs --"

"-- and never any more than one point of view." They stared at each other, both of them rather flushed, and entirely without meaning to Remus blurted, "God, I should have been properly friendly years ago."

Some of the color faded from Lily's cheeks. She shrugged. "You might've tried," she said, "but it wouldn't have worked. Sev would have been after me every waking moment, asking me what I thought I was doing." She scowled down at her hands. "Sometimes," she said, and broke off, and took a breath. "Sometimes it's a bit difficult to see how someone's treating you when you like them and want to defend them."

She still missed him. Remus couldn't really see the appeal, but then, from Lily's point of view, there probably wasn't much appeal to Remus' friends either. If she had been one of them, Remus would have given an her affectionate squeeze to the shoulder and left it at that, but Lily, who was pretty and passionate and nothing Remus should even hope for, was another story entirely. "I'm sorry," he offered.

Lily shrugged. "Never mind," she said; "Things probably work themselves out in the end. Let's figure out your essay."

*

Remus had never imagined having any good friends but James, Peter, and Sirius; he hadn't even tried. If three clever first years who knew his habits could figure out his secret, anyone else who paid decent attention to him could work it out as well, so it was best to not draw attention. Besides, between his three friends Remus had all he could ever hope to have: James had a razor-sharp mind and could be serious if the occasion really called for it; Peter was actually sane, and much cleverer than Remus when it came to knowing the right thing to say; Sirius had such an overflow of passion for everything that he made Remus feel properly alive.

But Lily, Remus found, had virtues he had never even considered. Lily was sensible. Lily was, of all wonders, kind, without expectation, and as thoughtlessly as Sirius could be thoughtlessly cruel. Remus began to feel as though he'd gone all his life without something necessary, like hot water or clear air, and now that he had it he was starving for more.

Lily's friends didn't mind Remus hanging about, nor did Remus mind them. Frank was serious and studious, Mary cheerful and talkative, Debbie only passingly good at her classes but quite enthusiastic about all of them, Alice quiet and thoughtful. Remus liked them very much, especially now that he was talking with them properly, but none of them seized at his mind and heart like Lily had. Remus rather thought that he should be feeling guilty about this, since James, and indeed Snape, had figured out Lily's brilliance before he had, and by rights there should be some sort of queue. But it wasn't as though Remus intended to do anything about this admiration and affection for Lily, any more than he intended to do anything about his tangled-up fury and fondness for Sirius. And he might have worried about what James would think, but James' reaction seemed to be chiefly admiring bewilderment.

"Teach me your ways, Moony!" he implored Remus over dinner one night. "I've seen you having real conversations with her! How've you done it?"

Remus looked around at his friends' inquiring faces, and he knew that he could never admit to expressing sympathies concerning her relationship with Snape. "I think it helps that I don't talk about me," he ventured, "and she has plenty of interesting things to say. Maybe if you let her start the conversation, she'll discover what a charming conversationalist you are."

James considered this. "But how could I get her alone to talk?"

"You couldn't," Remus said. "It's nearly impossible. But you might come study with us, or hang about. If I invite you along I don't think she'll be awful or ignore you."

"But then I'd have to talk with everyone else," James said with exaggerated patience. The problem with James was that, much more than Sirius, he thought himself the most important person in any room. Remus didn't want to blame his upbringing, as the Potters were very nice people, but they were a bit doting, and no one but Sirius could properly bring James down a peg. It was too much to hope for that James might behave himself for long in a group of Lily's friends.

"Perhaps if we all came," Remus suggested, because he was apparently willing to follow even terrible plans to their conclusions.

"I'll come," Peter said, glancing past Sirius' shoulder to where Debbie sat with her friends at the Ravenclaw table.

"Course you will," Sirius said, grinning, and to Remus' surprise, it was once again the bright grin that meant something awful. He couldn't figure it out. Surely Sirius didn't object to Peter's interest in Debbie, so it had to be something else. But Remus was doing exactly as Sirius had asked, so it couldn't be that. "You all go on and have fun; Prongs and I have better things to do anyway, don't we, Prongs?"

"Sure," James agreed, but it was with a slight frown. "We could touch up the Map a bit -- and Kettleburn's doing Nifflers with the third-years, reckon we should set one loose in the teachers' lounge?"

"As a prefect, I have to say don't you dare," Remus said. James grinned at him, but Remus could tell James was just as bewildered by Sirius' mood as he was.

*

In April, after a solid half hour of dithering at Remus, Peter asked Debbie Trimble out. After that he was sometimes gone at odd hours, and they both joined the others in the library slightly less often; by Peter's glowing report, they were having an excellent time of it. Debbie hadn't known how to sneak into the kitchens, and Peter was able to add extra details of Ravenclaw Tower to the Map. Remus was very happy for him, and so, it seemed, was Sirius, in a cheerful and genuine way that meant, whatever he was ruffled about, it didn't have to do with Peter getting a girl.

James, funnily enough, was ruffled about it. He probably could've had half the girls in the school, but since he was set on Lily, and she wouldn't even talk to him, he seemed to take Peter's success with Debbie as some kind of personal affront. He was good enough around Peter, but he was otherwise falling into a tendency to sulk, and Remus wasn't sure if he could take it. One moody and volatile friend was quite enough for him.

Eventually he went to Lily about it.

He hadn't been entirely truthful when he told James she was never alone. Now that he knew her schedule, he also knew that on Thursday evenings she could be found in the potions classroom, doing some independent study for Slughorn. Remus, who had only just scraped an Acceptable on his Potions OWL, hung respectfully back when he slipped into the room with a transfiguration text and asked if Lily would mind him studying here where it was quiet.

When Lily had finished and was packing her ingredients away, Remus closed his book and said, "I really need a favor."

Lily looked at him in surprise over her cauldron. "What is it?"

"James," Remus said. "He's been a misery. He really wants to be on good terms with you."

"Maybe he should start acting like it, then," Lily said, though not very heatedly. She caught Remus' beginning protest and shook her head. "He starts every conversation as though it's obvious you'd want to talk with him, he doesn't take no for an answer, and I don't expect he'll ever apologize for being awful to Severus."

This was all depressingly true, but there was something in Lily's tone that made Remus latch onto the middle complaint as the worst. "You mean he won't stop asking you out," he ventured.

"Yes," Lily said, rather more heatedly now. "And if he's been telling you that I'm just playing hard-to-get or something awful like that, I swear, I really will hex him this time."

"He hasn't," Remus reassured her hastily. "He isn't used to not getting what he wants, and he's awfully stubborn, but -- he'd never force you to do anything you didn't want to, I'd stake my life on it."

Lily sighed, stoppering the last vial of her potion and waving her wand over her cauldron to empty it. "I know. But it's still awful." She looked up with a wry smile. "Mind you, he hasn't done it much this term. Even so, I've spent too much time excusing stupid behavior."

James would really hate the implied similarity between himself and Snape. Remus did his best to smother a smile. "He can be brilliant, you know," he said. "And he's been a better friend to me than I ever could have dreamed."

"I know," Lily said, with such straightforwardness that Remus wondered, with a flash of panic, whether she'd been paying enough attention to figure out his secret too -- or, worse, that Snape had disobeyed Dumbledore's edict of silence, and told her. But all Lily said was, "Potter's wonderful to his friends. But he's an awful bully to everyone else." She heaved her cauldron onto her hip and carried it to a shelf. "I'll pay attention to him when he deflates his head enough to be worth paying attention to."

And that, Remus supposed, was the best he was going to get -- which was actually better than he'd suspected.

*

Remus bounded up the spiral staircase, flung open the dormitory door, and had already announced, "I think it's --" before working died on his lips as he took in the scene.

Sirius and James were standing about five feet apart; James had high color in his cheeks, and Sirius was very pale. Neither of them had their wands out, but the air had that thin awful feeling of a dozen malicious spells almost-said. Neither of them had looked away from the other when Remus burst in unannounced. "Er," he said.

"I'll just be going, then," James said without breaking his glare at Sirius, in a voice unsteady with fury. "And you'd do better to leave too, Moony, Sirius has finally cracked." Before either of them could say anything, he turned on his heel and shoved out of the room past Remus, who was still frozen in the doorway.

Sirius, whose gaze had followed James out of the room, now snapped it onto Remus. Remus' chest went tight. Sirius had a drawn and glitter-eyed look that Remus had only seen a handful of times before: in second year, after Regulus' Sorting into Slytherin and a conversation with his cousin Narcissa, the details of which Sirius had never divulged; in fourth year, the only time Snape had managed to hex James while his back was turned; and last year, when Paxton Parkinson had called Sirius a poof. A defensive growl rose in Remus' throat, but he choked it down and said, soft and a little hoarse, "All right, Pads?"

After a frozen moment, Sirius blinked and looked away. "No," he said, and folded down onto the nearest bed. Since it happened to be Remus's, it was easier than it might have been to follow and sit down next to him, some careful inches apart. Sirius' head was bowed. His hair, which he hadn't bothered to cut in going on a year, fell across his face in a dark slash. It wasn't often that Sirius looked this strangely fragile, and Remus therefore had no defense for the sudden fierce well of protectiveness he felt in the face of this.

"So," Sirius said finally, in an awful, remote sort of voice, "I expect you want me to talk about it."

"Only if you'd like."

Sirius looked up then, glaring at him. "Won't you ever fight back?" he snarled. "I know you hate the things we do sometimes, I'm not blind, but no, you'd rather pretend everything is all right! James has been an arse all year and God knows what I'm like, and you walk in on a row and you'd rather just walk right back out but instead you're sitting here being patient."

Remus blinked. He hadn't actually known that Sirius was capable of being this perceptive, or at least that he was capable of articulating it. "Well, at least one of us has to behave," he said tartly. "You and Prongs would probably blow up the whole castle if you didn't have me around to be patient at you."

"Hah," Sirius said, and dashed the back of his hand across his eyes. "You're too nice. You make me feel horrible."

"You are horrible," Remus said, and leaned over enough to bump his shoulder against Sirius's. After a moment Sirius leaned hard into the pressure and let out a long, shivery sigh.

"All right," he said. "I'll tell you, but swear on your life you won't repeat it to anyone."

"I swear," Remus said readily enough, puzzled.

"Well." Sirius sniffed and stared at his hands, but he didn't look half so drawn and awful anymore. "Last year, when Prongs was starting to really fancy Evans, he said he -- couldn't very well just have a go at her and have her realize he was a horrible snog because he hadn't practiced. But he didn't want to practice on any other girls since it was Evans he fancied."

Remus was starting to have a horrible, and entirely stupid, sinking feeling.

"So he practiced on me," Sirius said in a rush. "Which obviously was meaningless and he was a rubbish snog to begin with anyway, and when he had it down we were through, but he's still pining away for her and it's stupid, and when I said so he said that I -- I wanted --"

"Do you?" Remus forced himself to ask.

"I don't know!" Sirius snapped, glaring up at him. "Sod James anyway." His hair slid back down over his face, and he added, in a very subdued sort of voice, "But I don't see why anyone would bother with girls."

It was as though someone had just turned on a very bright light in Remus's brain. The whole chain of events this past year spooled out again, but they looked different now. Sirius' flashes of cruelty made perfect sense if he fancied James and if, plainly, James was too caught up in Lily to fancy him back. Plainly too, Sirius was feeling awful about fancying James in the first place; no matter that he'd run away from them this past summer, Sirius was still from an old pureblood family that certainly wouldn't tolerate that sort of queerness. The thing to do now, with Sirius so upset and James having stormed out, was to call James a tosser, thump Sirius on the back in commiseration, and sit down somewhere quietly to work out a solution that wouldn't have their friendship going up in flames.

Won't you ever fight back? the memory of Sirius' voice demanded in his head.

"Someone might bother with girls," Remus found himself saying, "because some of them are brilliant; which, by the way, I wouldn't have known if you hadn't shoved me at her in the first place." Sirius was staring at him now, startled. "Did you know," Remus said, "I came up here to tell you that the plan is working? Lily just told me she might give James a go if he deflated his head a bit. Which is perfect, really; perhaps next year we can watch them being a lovely happy couple, and hate ourselves a bit."

Sirius was beginning to go very pale again. "You fancy Evans?"

He was far too close. Remus rose from the bed and began to pace the room.

"Yeah, I fancy Lily," he said. "But I'm never going to do anything about it, because I've already figured out that it's people like James who get what they want, and because I would never put Lily in danger like that or hurt James like that. I might go commiserate with Snape, except, no, can't do that, because he knows I'm a werewolf. Anything else you'd like to ruin, Sirius?"

But Sirius, incredibly, didn't look hurt. He looked relieved. "Oh, thank God," he said. "I thought you were just going to be angry forever. Go on."

Remus turned, staring. "What?"

"You've been polite and awful for a year now," Sirius said. He was starting to smile, though it was still shaky. "I hate it. Go on, then. Tell me what an idiot I've been."

Remus mouthed at him in helpless astonishment. "You think it'll be better if I tell you what I think?"

"Well, yeah," Sirius said. "That's how it works, Moony. You tell me I'm awful, and I yell back, and you hex me or something, and tomorrow we're fine cos we've had it out, see?"

"No, that's how it works with James," Remus said, with icy patience. "Perhaps it's escaped your notice, but I'm not James. Funny you should be confused, as it's not me you've been snogging."

Sirius blinked. "Now you're talking nonsense."

His utter inability to take this seriously finally made something small and vital snap. "Don't you get it?" Remus howled at him. "You keep using me -- to get at Snape, to get Lily for James, even when it's awful and stupid and dangerous, even when it turns out you'd be miserable if I succeeded --" He was raising his voice far louder than he'd ever dared before. The smile had slipped from Sirius' face; he looked shocked. Remus found he didn't care about either of these things. "Merlin knows why I try to forgive you! I can't have Lily and I can't have you, so I hope you're just as miserable knowing James would never have you either!"

"Remus," Sirius said.

"What?" Remus shouted, but nevertheless he was brought up short. Sirius had to be taking this at least a bit seriously, or he'd still be saying Moony.

"You can't have me?" Sirius said.

"Oh God." Remus slumped down against one of the bedposts, covering his face with his hands. "I said that aloud, did I?" he asked, muffled.

"Yeah." The mattress dipped next to him: Sirius, who always rushed in, had evidently scooted closer. "Remus," he murmured. "You idiot. Why didn't you say?"

Remus moved his hands enough to peer at Sirius over his fingers. Sirius looked pale and puzzled and as stupidly beautiful as usual. "What," Remus said, and looked away, now twisting his hands in his lap, "you think I'd just jump into it? Who cares if I fancy you? You're reckless and impulsive and I'm angry with you all the time and we only really get on when I'm a wolf and I -- I'm --"

He broke off, because Sirius had caught his hands and was disentangling them, rubbing his thumbs over the knuckles. "Hey," Sirius said, in a gentling sort of voice, "I get it. I'm awful and you're completely barking and it would be a terrible idea."

Remus nodded, and looked up at Sirius miserably, wondering when exactly he'd allowed things to get so out of hand. Then his brain froze, because Sirius was leaning in with unmistakable intent, and all Remus could do was open his mouth a little in the opposite of a protest.

The kiss was gentle, just a careful exploratory slide of Sirius' lips over his, demanding nothing. Remus returned it helplessly, every nerve in his body suddenly lit, making him hyperaware of where their knees pressed together and their fingers were still intertwined. Sirius tasted of something indefinably wonderful, and Remus unthinkingly nudged Sirius' mouth open, chasing it. Sirius drew a surprised breath in through his nose, and then his arms were wrapped around Remus, pulling them flush together while the kiss went deep and desperate. Remus's spine seemed to be going liquid.

He was doomed.

Sirius made no protest when Remus pulled away, shaking. Instead he sat there, expectant, and with much more patience than Remus would have credited. "We are not," Remus said, a little hoarsely, "going to do this."

"Oh yeah, that makes sense," Sirius returned with heavy sarcasm, but he didn't seem particularly surprised. "Do you run about with this idea that you can never have anything you want?"

"No," Remus said, rather more steadily. "I'm just realistic."

Sirius heaved a sigh and settled a hand on Remus's knee. It was warm and extremely distracting. "Fine," he said. "Let's hear it, then. Give me all your sensible protests."

Remus scowled, but he also began lining up all his sensible protests, because there was no other way out. Sirius was very, well, dogged when he got his teeth into something, and what made it far worse was that the whole situation was very much on Sirius's side. Remus was dangerously overheated, a glow that was mostly in his belly but threatening to travel further south, particularly if he kept dwelling on the way he could still feel the phantom pressure of Sirius's mouth against his own. The problem was that, in addition to everything else he was, Remus was also a teenage boy, and Sirius knew it, damn him.

"Move your hand," Remus told him.

The warm hand left his knee, and Sirius made no comment, though his eyebrows did go up a little.

"We can't do this," Remus said, "because --" and he floundered. Sirius wouldn't care one bit about all the people who might treat them oddly if they found out, nor would he care about the stigma of romantic involvement with a werewolf. He wouldn't understand Remus's objection if Remus tried to explain he was afraid Sirius might do this simply because it wasn't done. He would shrug off any suggestion that their involvement would make things desperately complicated with James and Peter -- besides which, Sirius might have a point there: Remus had long since learned better than to underestimate his friends where matters of acceptance were concerned. In mild desperation, Remus simply lashed out.

"We can't do this," he said, "because I won't be the one you go for when James isn't an option."

Sirius's face went blank. For a moment Remus thought he'd scored a hit; but then Sirius started smiling, a weird, unhappy, trembling smile quite unlike anything Remus had ever seen on his face before. "Moony," Sirius said, "you bloody idiot. If you'd gone in before Prongs, I would've told him to sod off and practice on Wormtail."

Remus had the peculiar feeling that there was hardly any air in the room. "But you do fancy him," he said helplessly.

"And you fancy Evans," Sirius said, with great patience. "You weren't kissing me any less because of that, were you? This is bloody absurd."

"Fine," Remus said. He took a shuddery breath. "Reason doesn't work on you anyway." He made himself meet Sirius's eyes. "I won't do it because I feel trapped and awful and like I'll ruin everything, and nothing you say is going to change that."

The tremble of Sirius's mouth curved briefly into something like misery before he mastered it, shrugging and looking away. "Fine," Sirius said, flat. "If you like."

Sirius was never willing to give up a fight like that. Remus watched him warily. But Sirius merely sat there, hands clenching his knees through his robes, studiously avoiding eye contact with Remus. Remus ventured, "Well. Thanks," and Sirius shrugged, a quick movement doing its very best to be unwounded. For the second time in as many minutes, Remus felt as though there was no air; wonder of wonders, Pads was surrendering the field. Sirius was mercurial, but he was also, above all else, a decent friend, and so he was being now. "Thanks," Remus said again, a bare whisper, and fled.

*

Remus had the brief fear that Sirius had only been conceding the argument for the moment, but Sirius didn't bring the subject up again, in either word or action. By the weekend the tension between Sirius and James had blown over too; Remus couldn't tell whether he was living with very good actors or with boys who had the emotional attention span of gnats. In either case, Saturday's breakfast involved an elbow fight between Sirius and James over who would eat the last devilled egg, while Peter sat oblivious to the whole thing, staring dreamily at Debbie across the Hall, and Lily leaned around Alice to give Remus an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

He wondered what Lily would say if he told her the whole mess. It would probably need diagrams. Remus fancies Sirius fancies James fancies Lily, only Sirius fancies Remus too, and Remus wouldn't mind a go at Lily as well, and Lily's feelings should come into the equation somewhere. It was this last more than anything that kept Remus from going to her with it. Nothing in the world could be worse than hearing whether he might have a possibility with Lily himself, because really there was no possibility at all. He knew this, but still his mind kept circling the problem, searching for a miracle...

"Hey," Lily said.

Remus looked up from where he sat slumped over a table in the library, ostensibly studying for exams. June was coming on fast, and Remus hadn't learned one miserable thing in a whole month of study review, his mind filled instead with circular thoughts, panicked and useless. Lily was looking a bit worse for wear herself, with circles under her eyes and strands of brilliant red hair falling haphazardly around her face. She was still utterly stunning, and Remus blinked at her a couple of times before remembering his manners. "Hello."

"Mind if I sit?" Lily asked, and at Remus' cautious nod she collapsed into the chair next to him. "It's awful," she said. "Professor Slughorn's insisting that I don't have a thing to worry about, and he's being a dear about it, really he is, half the time I'm distracted thinking up silly little charms so I can give him a thank-you present, and meanwhile I can hardly stand to be in the potions classroom because Sev keeps coming by --" She broke off and gave Remus a trembling smile. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to go on like that."

"Well," Remus said. "You know how it is. Everything feels like life or death when you're seventeen."

Lily choked a laugh and nodded, so Remus carefully settled a hand on her shoulder. She quivered under his touch for a moment. Then, quite unexpectedly, she whirled on him and pressed up against his chest. Remus froze. She didn't seem to be crying, though, just holding on, as one might hang onto family when in need of comfort. She smelt of spiced tea and sun-warmed hair, and Remus hated himself, with sudden dizzy passion, because he had his answer right here in her easy physicality with him, and she was still broken up over Snape, and even though all of that was terribly important, all he could think about was how good she smelled and how much he wanted to kiss her. He petted her hair gently and felt miserable.

Lily sniffled and drew back, cheeks crimson. "I really -- shouldn't have --" She broke off and gave Remus a smile. "How are you doing, Remus? Goodness knows you must be just as nervous about exams as I am."

"Oh," Remus said. Lily's eyes were soft and understanding. For a moment he thought that nothing would have felt better than to do to her exactly as she had done to him: babble his litany of ridiculous horrors, and fall upon her for comfort. He wanted it even more strongly than he'd wanted to kiss her, a sudden sharp ache under his ribs. "No," Remus said. "I -- thanks for asking, but it's carrying on as usual, really."

The smile Lily gave him was so sympathetic that she must have known at least a little how things were usually, but she let the matter drop, and they went on to review their newest defensive spells. Carrying on.

*

That summer Remus went to Diagon Alley almost as soon as he'd left school, and bought the books he'd need for his NEWT-level classes, burning all the while with deep discomfort. His parents wouldn't hear of his protests, and he hadn't dared bring it up to Professor Dumbledore, but Remus felt a sort of wasteful futility at the whole endeavor. His parents had already spent far too much money on useless experimental cures when he was young, and the Ministry didn't pay his father half as much as they should; even buying his books secondhand couldn't erase that niggling awareness. Remus could memorize Scamander's bestiary backwards and produce a corporeal Patronus, but he was still a werewolf, unemployable, most of his options cut off by the Ministry, and he felt he had already asked far too much of his friends or Professor Dumbledore. Still Remus purchased his books, because he couldn't imagine what the alternative might be.

In early July, Remus unfolded the morning Prophet over breakfast and nearly choked on his toast: everything he'd been worried about seemed, quite suddenly, to be impossibly petty and juvenile because, the paper reported in luridly large print, the Broadmoors were dead.

Remus only knew Alice, and of her family secondhand; she had two cousins who had played Beaters for the Falcons through the '60s, and who in later years used their Quidditch-gained fame as a platform to speak up against the so-called Lord Voldemort. (You-Know-Who, the Prophet said, as though the paper had been infected by that same fear that caused the name to be said hush-voiced in corridors and on street corners.) Remus felt shaky and unmoored, because Voldemort's Dark Mark had been found hovering above not only the cousins' houses, but above a handful of other Broadmoor residences as well, and Remus didn't know what he would do if Alice had been found at one of them.

All that morning Remus's mother made pot after pot of tea that Remus didn't want, but mechanically drank anyway, because he'd long since learned that the worse misery was letting go of the pretense that she could help. He tried to think of the letters he should write, but the words were leaden on his quill. Then the owl from Lily arrived and saved him.

Alice is fine, she wrote. I got her letter first thing; she's somewhere safe but I won't say where, in case my owl's intercepted. I'm thinking of staying with her too, but don't worry, we won't do anything stupid.

Remus worried. His heart and then his whole body, down to his fingertips and the ends of his hair, filled up with love and fear for the miracle that was Lily Evans. But he sent his condolences and encouragements by return owl, and that was that.

There followed an owl from James, and it startled Remus utterly, although perhaps it shouldn't have. James was angry. Righteous fury poured from every word, and where he'd written We need to do something, he'd pressed his quill so hard that he'd torn the parchment.

Remus stared at the letter for a long time, feeling indefinably proud of James. Lily is doing something, he wrote back eventually. She's helping Alice, though I'm not sure how. Owl her. Politely, you dolt. Remus debated keeping this last, but in the end he left it there, because it reassured James when Remus was acerbic with his sincerity.

For Peter, Remus was gentle. Peter's letter, which arrived late in the afternoon, pretended to be of the chatty catching-up sort, but near the end he'd written I'm scared, and so Remus replied with Me too, Pete. But we look out for each other, the only honest comfort he had.

Sirius didn't write him, and Remus didn't feel hurt, because he had other correspondence to keep up with, and studying to do, and the tragedy of the Broadmoors overshadowed his petty teenage concerns. Then the following morning Sirius' owl did come, and Remus tore a scrap of parchment from the bird, hands shaking. If you don't stay safe I'll kill you myself, Sirius had scrawled, with that inimitable mix of inarticulate aggression and affection Remus knew inside out. Remus closed his eyes and took a breath and wanted to chase Sirius down and drag him to the ground and go for his throat while Sirius plead laughing mercy. Remus dug his hands hard into his thighs, and then he got to his feet and threw the parchment away, because at least he could pretend he wasn't mad.

Later he did write Sirius back. And the same to you. Look after Prongs for me. Nearly meaningless words, but they would have to do.

*

The Hogwarts Express was a bit emptier that September than was usual. The remaining students didn't look particularly frightened, but Remus knew well enough that it was the adults who were running scared: the murder of the Broadmoors was a politically charged warning. On his way to the prefects' carriage, Remus saw a number of older students with their heads together, looking concerned or excited. He had to hang on to his trunk very tightly and walk faster when he saw the excited ones, reminding himself that starting a fight would set all sorts of terrible examples.

He arrived at the prefects' carriage to discover James and Lily both already there, wearing the matching badges of Head Boy and Head Girl. James' owl of confession had actually been one of the least painful things that summer, in large part because James' letter had been in a tone of contrite bewilderment. Remus couldn't fault James for it, and had written back saying as much, adding that Professor Dumbledore could hardly have made a werewolf Head Boy, no matter how otherwise qualified the werewolf in question might be. Even so, James shot Remus a slightly guilty grin when Remus ducked in.

Lily carried off the speech on prefects' duties with the eloquence Remus expected, given that she'd heard said speech for two years already. As Remus had too, he listened with half an ear, paying rather more attention to the way in which James was leaning against Lily subtly but unmistakably; and if Lily wasn't leaning back, she wasn't trying to get away, either. Remus searched his tangled-up insides for some reaction, and found mainly exhausted relief. He had enough practice at being within reach of things he could never have. Any selfish hurt he might feel at his friends' happiness could be tucked away beside the dread of his future prospects and his discomfort over the stupid things Sirius did.

Dismissed to make rounds on the train, Remus stayed only long enough to give James and Lily proper hellos before fleeing. As he always had, he set off searching automatically for his friends, and near the back of the train discovered the compartment that Peter and Sirius had staked out. James, of course, was missing; instead, Debbie was sitting with Peter, a little less closely than she was wont to do in Remus's memory, and Alice sat near to Sirius, whose body was angled against hers in defense. Alice looked bruised, like the circles under her eyes had become permanent, and her smile trembled when she said hello to Remus. He rather helplessly offered her the chocolate bar in his pocket, and caught Sirius's eye. Sirius gave him a fleeting smile of gratitude.

How we all change, Remus thought, with an unfamiliar welling-up in his heart for Sirius. He was quite used to gratitude and exasperation and even a careless sort of love, but this fierce inarticulate affection for what Sirius was becoming knocked him breathless. "Well," Remus said, "see you at the station?" and left the compartment before he had a chance to say anything stupid.

Of course it was too much to hope for that things might stay the same, when James and Sirius had turned up different. When they arrived at Hogsmeade Station, Remus naturally ended up in a carriage with Peter, Sirius, and James, as they had always done, but was at an utter loss for what he might say to the Head Boy and a Sirius who would sit protectively next to Alice Broadmoor for a whole train ride.

Luckily Peter was more than equal to the task. "Head Boy, Prongs!" was his enthusiastic opener.

James grinned. "Dumbledore thinks I'm mature and exemplary and all that," he said, and added, in an excited rush, "So does Lily, you know. She didn't say exactly that, obviously, but --"

"But?" Peter prodded, leaning in with his eyes shining.

"Well," James said. He lifted a hand in that habitual hair-ruffling gesture, but instead he rubbed the back of his neck, looking a little shy. Remus realized, with a swoop in his stomach, that James really was head-over-heels for her. "It's Moony's doing, really," James said. "After what happened to the Broadmoors, he told me if I wanted something done I should talk to Lily about it, and when I did -- well, my parents have connections, we were able to set up somewhere safe for Alice, and we talked. About important things. All summer long, really." By this point he was beaming, an uncontrollable smile brimming with hope.

"That's brilliant," Remus said, because it was. When James shaped up he was more than decent, and he had much the same drive and thoughtfulness that Lily did. Life would probably be in many ways more bearable if they started dating.

"Yeah," James said blissfully.

The carriage jolted to a halt, and they all clambered out, Sirius somewhat behind the others. Remus hadn't failed to notice Sirius's total silence, but he'd thought it better not to draw attention to it in the carriage. Now, as they joined the crowd of students climbing the front steps to the castle, Remus fell back until he was walking even with Sirius. "All right, Pads?" he asked quietly.

"Sure," Sirius said, and gave Remus a sideways look. After a moment his mouth curved into a rueful smile. "You did warn me the plan might work. Listen, if he's happy I'm happy."

"Ah," said Remus, recognizing the tone. Even the words were familiar: Remus had lost count of the number of times he'd reminded himself that vicarious happiness, witnessing the joys and triumphs of the people he loved, was fulfillment enough. He didn't know if he could bear it if Sirius began doing the same. But saying I want you to be happy too seemed needlessly pathetic, so he just said, "Imagine you learning to be gracious after all these years," and smiled when Sirius made a horrible face at him, like he'd meant it to be funny at all.

*

Professor Dumbledore, perhaps unsurprisingly, hadn't been wrong about James. He didn't abuse his position as Head Boy, as Remus had been half-fearing he might, but instead took his responsibilities quite seriously. If he deducted more points from Slytherin than from the other houses, he did it with good reason: a sort of underground hexing war had broken out, though only a handful of students were ever hurt badly enough to be sent to the hospital wing. Poor Mary Macdonald didn't want to go to any of her classes by herself, though she brightened considerably when in mid-September the others pooled their resources and offered to teach her all the defensive jinxes they knew.

This was the most peculiar thing of all. For ages Remus's whole world had been Prongs and Wormtail and Padfoot, and in some ways it still was, but they were no longer alone in the universe. Frank was gone, of course, and Debbie came less frequently to the library study sessions, but Mary and Alice and Lily had come to a truce with James and Sirius, and there it was, the seventh-year Gryffindors in it together. The first full moon of the school year was approaching fast, and Remus was beginning to feel terror like a weight dragging at his bones.

"They'll notice," he said to James. "It only took you lot a few months to figure it out, and you were first years."

James, who was sprawled on his bed poring over the Map, looked up at Remus with raised brows. "But what you don't realize, Mr. Moony, is that they'll notice all four of us going off. I'll think up something clever in case they ask."

That, of course, was just the problem. "Perhaps," Remus said, and fumbled. "Maybe it'd be better if it was only one or two of you at a time. Think what would happen if they figured it out and it somehow got back to Professor Dumbledore." Just saying Dumbledore's name made him feel hot with shame. There were secrets and then there were secrets, and in making the transformation easier, his friends had set another lie of omission on Remus, this one more difficult than the others. "Please," Remus said. "We'd better swear them in right now or be much more careful."

There was a moment of silence in which James fought some brief internal struggle, and then he nodded. "I'd better take this month, then, and Padfoot can have October," he decided. "I'm taking Lily to Hogsmeade on Halloween weekend."

Remus felt suddenly winded. He ignored it. "Does she know that?"

James darted him a grin. "Actually she does. I don't mind telling you, I nearly dropped dead of shock. I think maybe she was hoping I would."

"Cheer up, Prongs, she still has plenty of time to regret it," Remus returned, and deflected the pillow James threw at him.

Sirius was less sanguine about it.

"No," he said flatly, when Remus brought it up in an undertone on their way to dinner. He grabbed Remus's sleeve and dragged Remus into an empty classroom. Remus shook him off indignantly, and gave Sirius a puzzled glare for Sirius' furious one.

"What would you rather?" Remus demanded. "That we all go at once and get found out?"

"No," said Sirius again, but he didn't stop scowling. "It's only --" and he deflated slightly. "It's the only thing we do together, just the four of us," he said. "And now we've got Evans and company around, we've got to stop that too?"

"Yes," Remus said. "Not altogether, but -- it can only be two or three of us at a time. Peter thinks it's a good idea. He says he'll stay out this month with you, and go with us in October --" He broke off, bewildered. Sirius had gone from sulky to darkly furious in a matter of moments.

"Sounds brilliant," Sirius said, soft and dangerous. "Really considerate."

Remus wanted to shake him, if only to rattle out something that made sense. "Fine," Remus said. "Care to tell me what's actually bothering you?"

"You are," Sirius snapped. "Going around acting like you think it's just brilliant that James and Lily are going to Hogsmeade together --"

"Pot calling the kettle black," Remus said dryly. Sirius remained stony-faced. Remus bit back an exasperated sigh. "We've been over this. What would you have me do?"

"What --" Sirius repeated, incredulous, and scrubbed at his forehead with the heel of a hand. "For God's sake, Moony, at least Prongs knows how weird I feel about it. Have you given either of them even a hint? No?" He looked up at Remus again, and if he was still angry, he was honestly bewildered too. "Why don't you fight back?"

Remus stared at him helplessly, at a loss to explain his hunger for continued acceptance and his fear of his own edges. "I don't want to hurt anyone," he said finally.

Sirius scrutinized him, weighing this. "Except me," he said.

In the corridors outside, the last rumble of students tramping down to dinner faded. Remus swallowed. "What?"

Puzzlement had entirely won out over anger in Sirius. "Except me," he repeated. "You tell me when I'm out of order."

"Well -- yes," Remus said, floundering, "as you seem to get put out when I don't," but he knew what Sirius meant. "You listen," he added helplessly. "It's -- it's not to hurt you. I don't, do I, Pads?"

Sirius huffed an unhappy laugh. "I don't really think it's me you should be worried about hurting."

Half the time, Remus couldn't follow the twisty absurd paths Sirius's thoughts took, so there was a stretching moment of puzzlement before understanding heated Remus's face. Sirius wasn't wrong: Remus's refusal to let on to James or Lily that anything might be amiss was very like his insistence that he and Sirius shouldn't kiss. But it was all tangled up together, and Remus's self-denial wasn't the only complication. "And if I -- I start looking after myself," Remus said, "everything will get fixed right off, is that it?"

"No," Sirius said sharply, and winced. "I don't know how to fix any of it. But Evans is a smart girl, and sooner or later she's going to notice every bloody thing you're keeping secret from her, so we might as well get it over with."

"Ah," said Remus, and quivered. This was, suddenly and unexpectedly, nearly too much. Perhaps it was that Sirius was right, or that he'd said we rather than you; perhaps it was that Remus hadn't yet had any dinner, on top of which it would be the full moon in a matter of days; above all it was that Remus was unhappy, hollow-chested and dreading the future. "Padfoot," he said. It came out thin and awful. "Can we not right now? Please?"

"Yeah, all right," Sirius agreed, looking at Remus closely. Then in the space of a heartbeat he was no longer there, and a large black dog was padding across the floor towards Remus. The dog looked up with liquid eyes and made a wuffling sound.

"You know better than to change in here," Remus murmured, but he slid down the wall to sit next to Padfoot. Padfoot shuffled closer and leaned against Remus, who wrapped his fingers in the thick fur and whispered, "Thanks."

They sat together for some time in the lowering dark, Remus content to listen to their breathing. Eventually he would have to get up, and pull himself together, and be the sensible one, but sometimes Sirius did exactly the right thing.

*

October that year was grey and dismal. It rained for a solid week, great freezing gusts sheeting across the grounds and pounding insistently at the windows of Gryffindor Tower. James, who had Quidditch practice, and Lily, who was taking NEWT-level Herbology, often arrived at dinner or the common room dripping wet and soaked to the skin. Lily at least remained very cheerful about it and, when she began to sneeze on the fourth day of endless rain, simply took some Pepperup Potion and did that evening's homework with steam pouring out her ears.

For his own part, Remus didn't catch cold, but he did feel strange and unsettled, like his skin was trying to shift into some new shape. It probably had something to do with how he'd had only Prongs for company on the last full moon. As always, Remus could remember only the barest fragments, but what he did remember was a deep, miserable disappointment at this reduction of his pack. Remus might have worried that James would notice something amiss, but Debbie Trimble had broken it off with Peter, and Peter was so dejected that Remus was entirely overlooked. Remus felt quite grateful for this, and then so awful for feeling grateful that he gave Peter the end of a premium slab of Honeydukes chocolate he'd been saving for himself, and stayed up until two in the morning one night helping Peter finish an essay when Peter was too unhappy to focus properly.

The next morning he awoke blearily to discover that Padfoot was lying, black and shaggy and absurdly heavy, across the foot of Remus's bed and across Remus's feet as well. For a sleepy moment Remus felt genuinely happy, and for another, less sleepy moment, quite angry indeed. But Padfoot was still asleep, his side rising and falling in slow even rhythm, and suddenly Remus wanted nothing more than to stay in bed all day and pretend that Sirius really was a dog who loved him uncomplicatedly and unconditionally and was quite safe.

When Remus crept out of bed, he did it very gently, and Padfoot didn't wake. Sirius didn't have class until that afternoon, anyway.

Remus did have the vague fear that Sirius might make a habit of it, but it didn't happen again, and by the full moon a few days before Halloween weekend, he was no longer braced for it. That moon was much less awful than September's had been: when Remus woke in the hospital wing the following day, he smiled a tired but genuine smile when Madam Pomfrey asked him how he felt.

He was well enough by Halloween itself to come down to the feast. Sirius and Peter, who had gone into Hogsmeade together, waved him over to the table. "They haven't come back yet," Sirius reported as Remus slid into a seat next to him. "Do you suppose she's murdered him, or is Prongs actually lucky for once?"

"Don't," Peter said, quite vehemently for Peter. Sirius looked over in surprise. "They're probably having a brilliant time, but it doesn't really matter, because one of them is bound to get sick of the other by the time we leave." He stared unhappily down at his plate.

"Oh," said Sirius, quite taken aback. "Look -- I'm sorry, mate. I forgot."

"'S all right," Peter returned, with the ghost of a smile. "I'm trying to, anyway."

Luckily at that point the food appeared, and all three of them busied themselves eating. Remus was halfway through a rare steak, and feeling considerably cheered by it, when James and Lily appeared, arm-in-arm. Lily was laughing, so hard that for a moment she had to lean on James for support, although she composed herself by the time they arrived at the Gryffindor table. Remus had never seen her look so unguardedly happy.

"Nice time, then?" Sirius asked.

"Oh yes," Lily said. "Here, we got Sugar Quills for you," and handed three across the table, still in their Honeydukes wrapping. "Did you know, there might be hope for you yet, Sirius. Potter here isn't a total loss."

"We went to the Three Broomsticks, and Zonko's, and then we went on a walk and lost track of time," James reported blissfully. Lily grinned and blushed, and Sirius, because he was evidently a better friend than Remus could hope to be, laughed and began prodding for details.

For his own part Remus felt as though he'd been placed on the other side of a glass wall, able to look in but cut off from what happened there. Of course there was a way to get through, but it would mean breaking something important, and Remus had spent far too much of his life being very careful of himself to stop now. He made his excuses as soon as he politely could, and slipped off while most of the school was still in the Great Hall, talking loudly and filling up the corners with dessert.

Severus Snape was in the front hall.

Remus froze. He'd just made precisely the same mistake Mary had made two years before: he'd left dinner entirely on his own. That Avery and Mulciber had graduated was small comfort. Furthermore, Remus had made a special point of avoiding Snape as entirely as he could -- which wasn't very much at all, with the way Sirius and James liked to hound him, but Remus had done his best. He and Snape hadn't exchanged a single word from the time Snape had followed him on that night of the full moon, and Remus was perfectly happy to keep it that way.

After a moment he realized that Snape hadn't yet noticed him. Far from lying in wait, it looked as though Snape had gone to ground: he was standing in a corner, hunched up with his hair in his face, staring at his shoes, with none of the half-malicious, half-defensive alertness Remus would have expected. Still, just to be safe, Remus took hold of his wand before edging out, as quietly as possible, towards the staircase.

Snape jerked upright and fixed Remus with a cold, furious stare. Remus flinched a little under it and kept walking. Don't engage.

"Have somewhere important to be, do you?" Snape demanded.

"My common room," Remus said evenly. "I'll just be going."

He was nearly at the stairs and out of danger when Snape said, with deep vicious bitterness, "He doesn't deserve her."

Remus hesitated. It was hardly worth pointing out that Snape owed James his life. That alone had to be nearly as bad as the rest of it put together, and James certainly didn't need defending. But a sense-memory came to Remus, of Lily flinging herself on him and holding tight because she couldn't bear having to see Snape in the Potions classroom. It settled like a weight on Remus, and he felt terribly brittle under it. He turned.

"You deserve her even less," Remus said. "You had her, you see, and you managed to botch it." Snape was going very pale, and Remus swallowed hard. "You made her feel completely miserable." His hand tightened convulsively on his wand. "If you hadn't pushed her away she wouldn't even be with James right now --"

He drew his wand at the same time Snape did; Snape shouted something at the same moment Remus yelled, "Relashio!" The force of it knocked Snape backwards hard into the wall, the jet of light from his curse going off-course. The edge of it caught on Remus's shoulder, slicing through the sleeve of his robe. Blood welled up from a small cut on Remus's arm, stinging slightly.

Remus went over to where Snape lay crumpled, and looked down at him. Snape looked up blearily, wincing. "That slicing curse again?" Remus murmured. "I hope you're happy with what you've decided to be."

He left Snape there and went up to the common room, feeling lightheaded. He hadn't realized ... hadn't known ... He'd always been so careful, for fear of what might happen if he wasn't, and it turned out that his instinctive reflex was to perform a defensive jinx and walk away.

Sitting on his bed, patching up his shoulder as he had a thousand other small cuts over the years, Remus Lupin discovered that he wasn't afraid.

*

James' successful courtship of Lily wasn't a fraction as awful as Remus had been fearing. Though he saw slightly less of them, the fact that they all shared friends smoothed things over considerably. That both of them spent quite a bit of time obviously glowing did not, as Remus had worried it would, make him feel jealous or unhappy. On the contrary, their delight was strangely infectious, even if he wasn't the cause. Best of all, Sirius seemed to be of the same mind -- or, at the very least, he wasn't sulking.

But, as November drew on, Remus began to feel uneasy about this last.

There was no telling what Sirius might be up to once he had an idea, and all the signs were there: Sirius was cheerful, distracted, and entirely evasive when Remus made gentle inquiries into his extracurriculars. Sirius in a sulk was no picnic, of course, but he was infinitely less alarming than Sirius on a mission. Often the end result was delightful -- in second year, Sirius had disappeared into the library for two weeks, called secret meetings to which Remus was not privy, and in the end come up with the announcement of a harebrained scheme to become Animagi; in fifth year, Sirius kept being gone at odd hours over the course of a month before emerging with a prototype for the Marauder's Map -- but the process itself made Remus quite nervy. And this time, Remus had the sinking feeling that Sirius might be dragging James and Lily into whatever mad scheme he'd concocted.

"Mad scheme?" Lily echoed, laughing, when Remus brought it up. James was at Quidditch practice, Peter was off with Mary in what Remus hoped wasn't a misguided attempt to court her, Alice had said something frantic and muddled about an essay, and Sirius was elsewhere, concocting mad schemes, so Remus and Lily had a table in the library to themselves.

"Yes," Remus said. "He -- gets like this sometimes. Shut up at all hours, doesn't tell me anything --" He caught Lily's skeptical look and subsided. "I'd give examples, but I've been sworn to secrecy on all counts."

"I'm sure you have," Lily said, with the twist of a smile, and turned back to the book she was reading. Remus sighed. Either Lily had, of all horrors, been sworn to secrecy too -- or she really had no idea what Remus was going on about, and didn't care to pursue it.

Lily glanced up again and relented, with a real smile now. "All right," she said. "What are you doing for Christmas?"

The full moon that December would fall exactly on Christmas day. Remus tried to smile back. "I'll be with my parents, I expect," he said. "I wasn't planning to sign up to stay."

"Weren't you?" Lily looked dreadfully disappointed. "I nearly always stay, and, well, this is our last chance to have Christmas at Hogwarts. Alice is staying with Frank, and Mary's going on holiday, and Peter is going home, and honestly it'd be awful if I had only James and Sirius for company."

Remus certainly sympathized, but it didn't hold a candle to how terrible it might be if the four of them were stuck in close quarters with no one else around to act as a buffer. Peter was being an awful traitor by going home, and Remus intended to have strong words with him. "I really can't," he said.

"Look." Lily leaned forward, lowering her voice to a murmur. "If it comes to it, I'm sure we'd all be happy to bring your presents to the hospital wing Christmas morning."

A jolt of pure adrenal terror went through Remus, tearing his breath ragged. "W-what?"

Lily regarded him with patient calm. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought you'd be going home to be less obvious about what happens every month. If that's all, there's no reason you shouldn't stay."

"You know," Remus whispered.

"I've known since fifth year," Lily said gently. "But it isn't my business, is it? So I decided not to say, unless you started getting silly about it. And now you have." She set her hand on his arm. It felt very warm, even through the sleeve of his robe. "Please stay for Christmas."

Remus wondered, a touch dazedly, whether he could at least sneak Sirius away to keep him company on December's full moon, or whether it would be safer to leave them both behind, and resign himself to giving Hogsmeade a Christmas full of ghastly screaming from the Shack on the hill. He thought of his parents' kind, tired faces: they would be so happy to see him, and so very sorry, their sympathy and guilt settling over him in a familiar smothering weight. It seemed suddenly too much to bear, especially with Lily sitting right there, hand on his arm, as completely accepting of him as Sirius and Peter and James had ever been.

"Yes," Remus said, surrendering. "All right, I'll stay."

*

Despite his feeling of vague foreboding, Remus couldn't help but fall into the holiday spirit. It snowed gently for the entire week leading up to the end of term. The Gryffindor common room was festooned with holly and lights, but it was nothing to the decorations in the Great Hall, where the usual twelve towering trees glittered with candles and baubles and enchanted icicles. In the evenings James and Peter snuck down to the kitchens to fetch them all hot cocoa with whipped cream and cinnamon on top, and Remus allowed himself to sink into warm happiness. This was, as Lily said, their last Christmas at Hogwarts.

On the weekend the school emptied. In Gryffindor Tower, a couple of excited first years remained, and a fourth year girl who had taken out a great number of library books and sat reading them in a corner of the common room; and then there was James, Sirius, Lily, Remus, and a week stretching ahead of them, with the slowly waxing moon, until Christmas on Sunday.

James and Sirius were all for going out into the snow ("We could cut a hole in the ice on the lake," Sirius suggested, "and go fishing for the squid,") but Lily said it was much too cold for that. Instead they played a great deal of chess and Exploding Snap, the latter of which Lily was astonishingly good at. Eventually Sirius became too restless, and Remus, rolling his eyes, offered to take Sirius out for walkies.

It wasn't snowing on the afternoon they chose to venture outside, but the snow on the ground was blindingly bright, and deep enough that they were wading more than walking. Sirius and Remus set off around the edge of the lake, away from the castle. When they'd rounded a bend on the shore, Hogwarts behind them totally obscured by trees, Sirius looked over his shoulder at Remus with a bright wicked grin, and changed.

"Padfoot," Remus protested, laughing, "we'll be caught," but he didn't believe it for a moment. Padfoot gamboled around him, snow flying every-which-way in his wake, before turning and tearing off down the bank. Still laughing, Remus gave chase.

Sirius led him on a merry runaround, until Remus's human lungs began burning with protest to so much effort in the freezing air. "Pads," he called, "come back, truce, please!" and collapsed dramatically against a tree as Padfoot turned and bounded back to him, tail waving. Rather than changing back, he sat down next to Remus, panting happily.

"Stupid mutt," Remus said, petting the top of Padfoot's head. "Not fair, is it, you getting to be like this whenever you want." Padfoot tilted his head, whining softly. Remus scratched behind his ears. "I don't mind, you know," he murmured. "Goodness knows it's easier to talk this way sometimes." Padfoot gave a wuffle Remus chose to interpret as a laugh, and Remus smiled ruefully. "I know you mean well," he said, "but I think -- sometimes, at least, I think we can't possibly understand one another, not really. Because, you see, I'd rather keep what I have than risk losing anything to get what I want, and you risk everything, and it scares the hell out of me."

Under his touch Padfoot shifted, fur giving way to skin, so that Remus's mittened hand was curled at the nape of Sirius's neck. Their eyes were level now. Sirius's hair was as mussed as Padfoot's fur had been, and his face was solemn. "Yeah," he said. "I got all that. I've been properly thinking ahead this time."

So Sirius had been plotting something after all. Remus swallowed. "Thinking ahead about what?"

"The real reason you won't let yourself fancy me," Sirius said, and waited. But Remus had expected something of the kind, so he nodded shortly. Sirius smiled, that funny soft smile Remus was still wholly unused to. "I don't --" He took a shivery breath, which hung in the cold air for a moment before vanishing. "I don't expect I'll change your mind, but I've been going half-mad not saying anything and thinking about what I might want to say whenever I think of you, which is nearly every bloody moment." He laughed ruefully, matching Remus's embarrassed involuntary chuckle, and said, "You see, I'm not trying to do this for any reason but that I fancy you too. It's not to prove anything to anyone, and it's not because I can't have James. It's about you, Moony."

He reached out, quite slowly enough that Remus could have moved away, and cupped Remus's face gently with a hand. Remus leaned into it, quite helpless to do otherwise. Sirius had fumbled his way through the things Remus hadn't even realized he wanted to hear, and something strange, like fearful joy, was welling up in Remus. "Sneak," he said, leaning forward. "Wretch. You complete --" and fell into the kiss, Sirius's mouth hot and wonderful on his.

His back was digging into the tree, but it was a distant annoyance, much less important than the wet slide of Sirius's lips and the push of his tongue, hungry but strangely tentative. Sirius's whole body was bracketing Remus's now, warming his front, sheltering. Remus gripped at Sirius's hair, and the lack of purchase afforded by his mittened hands
was disproportionately frustrating. He held onto Sirius's head as best he could, deepening the kiss to get a taste of him, and Sirius made a soft strangled desperate noise that set Remus's blood pounding. He would have torn at Sirius's clothes right there, out of doors before God and the giant squid and everyone, but snow was beginning to soak through Remus's heavy winter cloak, and his backside was going numb.

Remus pulled back reluctantly. "See?" he panted. "Snogging in the snow. Shows a definite lack of forethought."

Sirius laughed dazedly. "Good thing I know about this castle we can go to," he said. "Called Hogwarts, about five minutes' walk from here --" and dissolved back into happy laughter when Remus cuffed the side of his head.

They shook off the snow and tramped back up towards the castle. Remus was grateful of the reprieve, and for the blessed cold, which cooled him down somewhat and allowed him to think straight. He was in it far enough to give this thing with Sirius a go, that much was clear. Lily and James would probably be quite happy for them. The rest could be dealt with as it came.

The problem was, the rest was already giving Remus a terrible attack of nerves. In the time it took to get back from the lake, Remus went from giddy and slightly turned on to completely panicked. In the corridor outside Gryffindor Tower, Sirius reached out and took Remus' hand, the touch of bare skin racing a thrill up Remus' arm. All Sirius did, though, was rub his thumb over Remus' knuckles and give him the crooked flash of a smile. He let go before waking the drowsing Fat Lady to give the password.

In the common room, James and Lily were sitting by the fire, chatting over yet more pilfered cocoa and a half-completed game of wizard chess. "Good walk?" James asked, spotting them.

"Very," said Sirius, starting in their direction. Remus stayed near the portrait hole, frozen with indecision. Sirius glanced back over at him. "Think I might've tired Moony out, though," he said, "all that running around," with such affectionate understanding in his eyes that it shook Remus to the core.

"Yeah," Remus managed, "I think I might have a bit of a lie-down before supper."

He made it halfway up the spiral staircase to the dormitory before his legs decided to give out. Remus sank down onto the stone steps, head bowed over his knees, and did his best to simply breathe. He'd snogged Sirius in a snow bank. He wanted to do it again. He wanted to do nothing else for at least a week but memorize Sirius' mouth and hands and pale throat, and mark it up, and get Sirius naked, and --

And this was why he shouldn't be allowed this sort of thing, Remus reminded himself, wrapping his hands in his hair. It didn't matter that this was a perfectly normal teenage train of thought; he, Remus, couldn't afford to go around losing control like that, not when he could choose to do otherwise.

"I'm in so much trouble," Remus muttered.

"Really?" asked a gentle voice somewhere on the stairs below him. Remus jerked upright. Lily was standing there, a polite distance away. She gave him a small smile. "Would you like to talk about it?"

"No," Remus said, and shuddered. "Yes. Please."

She came and sat down next to him on the step, regarding him closely. Her eyes were very green, which was still startling after all this time. Remus was reminded, somewhat uncomfortably, of that ability Lily had of seeming to look straight into your head, in a way that bypassed Legilimency and went for pure truth. "So," she said. "Sirius has been dropping pleading looks for the last five minutes. Well, no, for the last two months."

"Ah," Remus said. "Wants you to talk me round, does he?"

"Yes," Lily admitted. "I hope you aren't too angry with us."

"At my very worst I produce a chilly silence," Remus said, but his heart wasn't in it. "He does that. He set me on you hoping that I'd get you to go after James."

"Yes, I know," Lily said, setting a hand over Remus's and squeezing, brief and gentle. It didn't drive electricity through him as it had when Sirius had done the same, but Remus' stomach still did an absurd swoop. She knew that he'd been sent after her, and she wasn't upset. That was something. It was indeed more than he'd hoped for: that she could know so many of his secrets, and still sit quietly on these stairs with Remus, holding his hand. He couldn't bring himself to draw away. After a moment he gave in and leaned against her. Lily smelled familiar now, of cocoa and sun-warmed hair.

"I don't need talking round," Remus confessed. "I've -- for ages I've -- it's just that it always seemed like such a terrible idea, as it's Sirius."

Lily laughed, leaning back into Remus with equal pressure. "They've become loads better, though, haven't they? There's hope yet. And --" She drew back enough to meet Remus' eyes again, quite seriously. "He can be much better at talking about important things than you are, you know. You come at everything sideways."

"I know," Remus said. "But how can I do otherwise? Considering."

"Yes, considering," Lily murmured, and Remus realized that perhaps she'd read something else into that word besides the obvious circumspection that came with being a werewolf. They sat in silence for a moment.

Remus was just beginning to relax when he saw the way Lily was still looking at him: there was a stubborn tilt to her chin, but her eyes were pleading. Remus realized that she was actually scared, although for a moment he couldn't think of what. Then it clicked, and he knew it had only taken so long for him to recognize it because he'd never had a mirror handy when he had that look himself. Lily was terrified that she was about to ruin something.

He squeezed Lily's hands in encouragement. Her fingers tightened convulsively, but she smiled. Remus's pulse was lodged somewhere in his throat, but, "What is it?" he asked gently.

Lily looked wide-eyed at him for another long anxious moment. "No, it's all right," she said, "I shouldn't do this now," but when Remus shook his head, protesting this, she went on, stumbling a little over the words, "You and Sirius -- that's not all that's going on, is it?"

Remus's vision went briefly grey-edged with panic. But he didn't pull away, because he'd asked, and because she was just as scared of ruining this as he was, and because somewhere below them in the common room, Sirius and James were drinking the last of the pilfered cocoa, giving Remus and Lily space to talk.

"No," Remus whispered, the word sticking for a moment. "That's not all."

"Sirius didn't just ask me to talk you round to him," Lily said, voice small but steady. "You shouldn't blame him; I don't think he ever meant to say anything at first. It was James, actually." She managed a smile, crooked and fond enough to make Remus's heart hurt. "The way James goes on about Sirius -- Sirius did this, Sirius did that, Sirius did this other thing, have I mentioned lately how brilliant Sirius is, and after a while it seemed like the most obvious thing in the world that James adored him, but when I asked whether he fancied Sirius, he went this awful red colour and blustered."

Remus tried to picture this and had to swallow a half-horrified laugh. Poor James, who probably thought he had everything worked out, having his girlfriend turn to him one day and demand to know why he wasn't with his best friend instead. Of course James had to fall for the one girl in the world who would call him out like Sirius did. Evidently Prongs had a type.

Evidently Remus had a type, too.

"It isn't really my place," Remus ventured, "to say whether James fancies Sirius. Sirius did like James --"

"And he said as much." Lily was still holding Remus's hands. She squeezed them again, a steady pressure that felt like a lifeline through one of the most absurd conversations Remus had ever had. "He called James all sorts of names when I asked him what in the world was going on with the two of them --"

"He does that, too," Remus said, more fondly than he'd meant. "We're all disastrous, Lily, I'm so sorry."

"I did actually decide to date James," Lily pointed out. "And, well, you shouldn't leave me out of it, as it turns out I'm a bit of a disaster too." She took a deep breath. "I don't think I mind if Sirius and James fancy each other, they've been best mates for years anyway and no matter what I do I'm not likely to change it, nor do I want to, and we had half a talk about that, the three of us -- but Sirius was set on you by then, and I'm sorry too, I should have let you have half a moment before I decided to bring this up ..."

She trailed off, smiling a crooked unhappy smile, and Remus realized several things at once. First: as he could recognize in her expression his own, he could also recognize something like his own thoughts, mirrored: Lily fancies James fancies Sirius fancies Remus, only James fancies Lily as well, and Sirius wouldn't mind a go at James, and while Lily probably had some better idea what Remus's feelings were than Remus had of Lily's last year, he was still the question mark in the equation. Second: there was very little need for Lily to bring this to Remus with so much nervousness if she wasn't hoping Remus fancied her as well.

Third: even if Remus was wrong, it didn't matter. Somehow Lily had become as much a part of the bedrock of Remus's life as Sirius and Peter and James were, and something as small as a misdirected confession of attraction wasn't going to destroy that.

So Remus did the most frightening thing he'd ever done in his life.

"If you wait for the right moment before bringing this up, you'll be waiting until we're all dead," he said. "I don't know what to do about any of this, and James did get in first, and -- and Sirius got in first too, I suppose, for me, and I think I actually like that, but I also like you."

"Oh," Lily said.

"A lot," Remus clarified. His head seemed to be buzzing from background terror. "I fancy you so much and I don't even want to kill you like I do half the time with Sirius, which is a new feeling for me, and I realize that you can't move two feet without some awful boy you're just trying to be friends with deciding he'd like to snog you, so please disregard --"

He stopped abruptly in a sort of horrified mumble: Lily had placed a gentle finger against his lips to shush him, and with all the new interesting sensations his mouth was experiencing today, Remus suspected he was about to go a bit mad.

"I'm not going to disregard that, you moron," Lily told him, her eyes shining. Her smile had become brilliant. "And I have an idea. I showed it to Sirius -- actually I showed it to James too -- but I wanted to talk with you before I went shoving diagrams in your face." She took her finger from Remus's lips in order to rummage in the small bag slung over her shoulder, while Remus watched, nonplussed.

Lily produced quill and parchment. On it she drew a square and, in steady lettering, labeled each corner:

 photo sedoretu_zpsamgced8q.png

It was very neat: the geometry of the impossible, solved just like that. James with Lily and Sirius, Lily with James and Remus, Remus with Lily and Sirius, Sirius with Remus and James. For a mad moment Remus actually entertained it, the idea of spending a lazy weekend studying with James, both of them knowing they were in love with the same people and somehow still being all right. There was no bloody way it could work in the real world, except --

"You've talked to them already," Remus said faintly. "They think it'll work."

"We think it's worth trying," Lily corrected. He looked back up at her. She was watching him closely for his reaction. "I know you only just worked out anything with Sirius at all. We don't -- anything, we don't have to do anything, I only wanted to know if you would give it a go."

She was so very different from Sirius that Remus felt a moment of pure bafflement, tipping over into slightly panicked delight. He'd been a lost cause from the moment he had promised Sirius to get Lily to go out with James. He was actually going to try this, Remus realized, and it came to him too that he was actually far less nervous than he'd been when Lily had found him on the stairs.

Sharing the secret of being a werewolf with his friends had made the fact of it much better. Perhaps this was like that. But with more kissing, Remus thought, and gave a little huff of laughter. Lily looked at him enquiringly.

"I," Remus said, "I really do want to give it a go."

"Good," Lily murmured, curling in close at Remus's side. Her hair still smelled wonderful, and Remus, enjoying it without guilt, realized how terrible he had felt about it. He slid a careful arm around her and was rewarded by the way Lily leaned happily against him.

"Er," Remus said, "shall we -- that is, we should tell James and Sirius, shouldn't we?"

"In a moment," Lily said, smiling up at him. Her smile had a wicked edge to it now, and Remus's stomach dropped all the way to his toes and then kept going, probably into the depths of the castle dungeons and out of all knowledge, because Lily was leaning towards him, and then she was kissing him.

Her mouth was very soft, yielding under his. She made a pleased noise, her hands sliding into his hair, and Remus was very glad indeed he was already sitting down, because he could feel his knees turning to water. Lily just kissed him like that, not trying to push into his mouth as Sirius did, but exploring his lips with gentle curiosity until Remus was quite dizzy.

"So," Lily whispered, leaning her forehead against his, "I think that went well."

"I'm going to die," Remus said, because his brain-to-mouth filter seemed to be broken even harder by Lily than it was by Sirius; but she made it all right by laughing softly, like he'd paid her the best sort of compliment. "Yes," Remus added, gathering himself enough to try again, "I think that went very well."

Lily hummed happily, settling back against him and lacing her fingers with his again. They sat like that for a long while, and Remus was happy, quietly, wildly, so happy he was a little afraid of how much it didn't hurt.

*

Sirius and James were both doing very excellent impressions of being totally casual when Remus and Lily came back downstairs. Remus briefly considered drawing things out, just to get back at Sirius for going behind his back, but he knew very well why Sirius had done it, and he was too happy to want either of them to suffer.

Besides, he and Lily had come into the common room holding hands.

When Sirius took this in, his face lit. He turned in his armchair, legs sprawled over the arm, and leaned forward across his knees, beaming. "See?" he said. "I told you, Moony can have some sense talked into him."

"Lily is very good at that sort of thing," James agreed. He met Remus' eyes and grinned, looking like he'd just won top tickets to the next Quidditch World Cup and a lifetime supply of firewhiskey. Remus wasn't sure what he'd been expecting -- a look of rueful commiseration for one of Sirius's absurd schemes, maybe -- but of course James was just as helpless when facing down both Sirius and Lily as it turned out Remus was.

"Er," Remus said, belatedly glancing around the common room. When he'd determined no one was lurking in a dark corner eavesdropping, he turned to James. "And how'd you get some sense talked into you?"

James shrugged, looking happy and supremely unconcerned at being interrogated. "Well, once Lily said she didn't mind, that sorted things with Sirius, didn't it?" Behind James, Sirius gave Remus an exaggerated roll of his eyes. Remus bit the inside of his cheek, very carefully, to keep from smiling too hard. Oblivious, James explained, "I mean, the whole problem was that -- quite reasonably, might I add -- I thought if I was going to be with Lily I couldn't be with anyone else."

"Which is why you practiced on Sirius in the first place," Remus said slowly. "He said. You didn't want to go kissing other girls."

"Which I actually do think is sweet," Lily put in. "Weird, but sweet."

"Anyway," James said, flapping a hand at Lily, "full marks, Mr. Moony, that's exactly what happened. And when Lily pointed out that she didn't actually mind if I kept on kissing Sirius too ..." He made an expansive inarticulate gesture that seemed to indicate the benevolence of the universe at large. "And the rest fell out of that. Honestly, Lily, you're a genius. A genius."

"So you don't mind," Remus said. His mind was willing to believe it, but his heart didn't seem to be quite there yet. "Lily and I -- you really don't mind?"

At this James actually sobered, his grin giving way to something more serious. He pushed his glasses a little up the bridge of his nose to level Remus an intense look. "I solemnly swear," he said quietly, "that I don't mind in the least." He leaned forward. "Do you mind if me and Sirius --?"

Remus opened his mouth on Of course I don't, and stopped the reflex. Did he mind? It was all very well for Sirius and Lily to kiss him in the same afternoon and for everyone in the room to be happy for him. Somehow it was still another thing entirely for James to ask if he minded. No one was asking Remus to defer his own happiness. Everyone knew, and they were asking.

The fire in the hearth behind Sirius' and James's armchairs began to swim and smear alarmingly. "I don't mind," Remus managed, "Prongs, it's brilliant," which was all he could get out before he had to disengage from Lily's hand to press the heels of his palms to his eyes and weep with relief.

He was aware of Lily touching his back gently, and of James saying, "Er, I believe you, mate, but that's --" and of Sirius explaining, "No, he was just holding that in for a few years, Moony will be fine."

"More than fine," Remus gasped, dashing away enough tears that he could see again. "Please don't fuss." He smiled shakily around at them. "And one of you please get me a cocoa."

*

That was December twenty-third.

The twenty-fourth was, for Remus, something of a daze. He woke up more than half-convinced he'd dreamt the whole absurd previous day, and was disabused of this notion the moment he rolled out of bed and discovered James and Sirius in a happy tangle in the next bed, kissing messily. Do I mind? Remus thought, carefully, but his chief emotion seemed to be a full-body flush of confused want, which didn't feel much like minding, especially when Sirius noticed Remus watching and disengaged from James enough to drawl, "Good morning, Moony."

"Good morning," Remus managed, quite unable to look away from Sirius's mouth. This apparently struck both Sirius and James as incredibly funny. They laughed at Remus until he fled downstairs -- which was, snogging aside, entirely like any other Christmas Eve morning Remus had experienced at Hogwarts.

The rest of the day followed like this. James and Sirius fought cheerfully over the condiments at breakfast. Lily, turning up a little later than the boys, drank her tea while snuggled up against James, and kept smiling at Remus across the table in a way that made his knees feel wonderfully weak. They spent the morning as they had for the past week, playing cards and chess, arguing idly over what to pilfer from the kitchens for lunch and whether Gryffindor actually had a prayer at the Quidditch Cup. James recruited Remus to smuggle cocoa upstairs with him, as Remus was polite to the house elves and good at obtaining extra whipped cream. Remus had the brief irrational fear that being alone with James was going to be terribly awkward. Instead James, ever at ease, had a story ready about something Professor McGonagall had done during Transfiguration class on a morning Remus had been in the hospital wing, and listening to it Remus was laughing all the way down to the kitchen.

"Prongs," Remus said, on their way back up to Gryffindor Tower, both he and James carefully carrying a near-overflowing mug of cocoa in each hand, "I -- thank you."

"What for?" James asked, in genuine surprise. They stopped at the bottom of a staircase, waiting patiently for it to swing around to the direction they wanted to go. Remus found that James was looking at him closely. "Remus, you do know we do all these daft things because we love you."

Coming from Lily or Sirius, such a sentiment would have been definitely overwhelming and possibly mortifying. James said it the way he said We're going to win the Cup this year or We've decided to become Animagi, the way he said everything, with cheerful confidence that the world was going to bend around his whim. James Potter here declares that the last week of Remus's life wasn't a fever dream or a favor, but something natural, and Remus's due. Remus blushed fiercely and stared down at the froth of whipped cream in one of the mugs. "That's why I'm thanking you," he managed.

"Come on," James said softly. "The stairs are ready."

By the time they reached the Tower, Remus felt mostly composed again. Climbing through the portrait hole, he and James discovered Lily had drawn up charts of player statistics and was explaining to a rapt Sirius that, given the number of goals James had scored as Chaser, in combination with Lucinda Talkalot's inexperience with captaincy and her much less impressive score as Slytherin Beater, Gryffindor had at least a chance.

"James," Sirius announced, when Lily paused for breath, "Remus, I understand now."

"You still don't like girls," Remus pointed out, handing Sirius a mug of cocoa and perching on the arm of Sirius's overstuffed chair.

"I am reconsidering my position," Sirius said, toasting Lily with his mug. Lily rolled her eyes but raised hers in return, grinning.

None of it felt quite real. Everything was just as it had been, familiar and warm and easy, except that they all kept kissing one another -- James kissed the corner of Lily's mouth with easy affection, and Sirius kissed Remus behind the ear when he wasn't looking, giving him wonderful shivers, and Remus kissed the inside of Lily's wrist as she went by just because he could, and in the early afternoon James dipped Sirius over a table and kissed him in a very dashing and heroic way until Lily cried with laughter, and Sirius kissed the back of Lily's hand at the end of a game of chess, and James kissed the crown of Remus's head with idle affection. Whatever it was in Remus that was usually so good at feeling dread appeared to be broken. Not even the tug of the impending full moon in his bones could dampen his spirits.

As James had taken his turn as Prongs during November's full moon, it fell to Sirius to do it now. When dusk began to settle in around the Tower, Sirius said (quietly; the fourth year girl and her stack of books were across the Common Room, though she seemed absorbed in her reading), "I'll go with Remus tonight, shall I?"

James nodded, and Lily looked over at Remus with concern. "Do you want all of us to walk you to the hospital wing?" she asked. "Or, no, sorry, I'm sure you don't want to be crowded."

"Not this month," Remus said, rising. He went over to Lily's armchair and kissed her forehead. "Enjoy your Christmas Eve." On impulse he added, "But come with me in January. I'd like that."

"All right," Lily said, smiling up at him. "See you in the morning."

He loved that she didn't say anything stupid, like Good luck, nor anything awful, like I hope you're all right. "See you in the morning," Remus echoed, and went together with Sirius out into the corridor and towards the hospital wing. When he knew they were out of earshot, he found himself saying, "We should tell her."

"Moony," Sirius said, but as a protest it was half-hearted; and after a thoughtful silence he added, "Give it a month or two, all right? I'd rather not tell her all our secrets if this doesn't work out."

This was so forward-thinking and reasonable of Sirius that Remus, who was beginning to feel anxious and guilty on top of the day's happiness, suddenly felt much more settled. He reached out and twined his fingers with Sirius's. "All right," he said. "A few months, then." Sirius settled his grip more comfortably, and warmth expanded inside Remus, quiet joy even in the face of the rising moon and all the secrets he still kept.

*

When Remus awoke in the morning, to the vague memory of racing Padfoot through a forest of black shadow-trees and moonlight-white snow, he discovered that Sirius, James, and Lily were all sitting around his bed, talking quietly.

"...enough NEWTs to be -- ah!" James was the first to notice Remus stirring. "Good morning, Mr. Moony."

"Morning," Remus said blearily, sitting up. "What's all this?"

"This is Christmas," Lily said, beaming. She was wearing a fuzzy yellow jumper over her nightdress and a sprig of holly tucked behind one ear, and did look very festive. "We brought you presents."

"Oh," said Remus, as a number of packages were spilled into his lap. "Er. I didn't bring mine for all of you."

"House elves delivered them this morning," Sirius said, waving this away. "But all these were at the foot of your bed, as usual, can't really expect the elves to know to deliver yours to the hospital wing instead. So you get us! Thanks for the Zonko's assortment, by the way, it's brilliant, I'm going to set the Hiccough Sweets in a bowl near the Slytherin common room and see if any first years eat them." Sirius nudged Remus gently. "Now open yours."

Remus did so. As usual there was the large box of assorted Honeydukes chocolate, which James, Peter, and Sirius pooled to give to Remus every year -- Remus ate one promptly, and then offered the box round, so the others each took a chocolate as well. From James, The Illustrated Atlas of Magical Creatures, which Remus spent several fascinated minutes paging through; from Sirius, a small crocheted black dog enchanted to wag its tail and dance about on the coverlet; from his parents, a long and tender letter, and a new hat and mittens in midnight blue; and from Lily, a small dark orb which glowed softly with a thousand pinpricks of starlight when Remus held it in his hand. Remus stared down at the pile of presents in his lap and felt desperately lucky. "Thanks," he murmured.

"Stop thanking us for everything," James told him cheerfully, "eventually you'll sprain something from all that gratitude."

"Stop being so great, then," Remus said, knowing that James was going to hold onto that one for at least a month and quote it whenever possible. He and James beamed at each other. "Come on, then," Remus added, "no one wants to be stuck in hospital on Christmas morning, let's drag me back to my own bed." He did still feel tender, in his jaw and joints where all his bones had so recently shifted and realigned, but Remus had been dragging himself through the day after a transformation for nearly thirteen years now, and between Lily and James carrying his presents, and Sirius's shoulder to lean against when he needed it, they were all able to get back to Gryffindor Tower without trouble.

Remus expected he would be packed off to bed, to lay about quietly reading his new book and recovering until it was time for the Christmas feast. The others came upstairs to the dormitory with him, stacking his presents by his bedside. But Sirius, helping Remus sit down on the bed, sat down with him, curling up behind him with his legs bracketing Remus's.

"Er, Pads --?" Remus started, and choked on it: Sirius had pressed his lips to the back of Remus's neck, and was kissing his nape gently. Remus was already feeling a little weak from the full moon; now he went limp and shivery, and when he felt the edge of Sirius's teeth he was visited with the desire to do the same to Sirius but harder, latch onto the back of Sirius's neck and bite down until Sirius whined. Instead Remus sat very still, his breathing picking up. Lily and James were both standing by the pile of presents, watching, James looking approving and a small smile starting on Lily's face, and quite without his permission, Remus's body flushed all over. He felt his face heat until he must have been quite crimson. "Another Christmas present, is this?" Remus managed.

"If you want," Lily said, starting towards him. She sank to her knees in front of the bed so their faces were level, still smiling at him, fond and intent. Behind her James appeared to be having a silent conversation with Sirius, and after a moment a crooked grin crossed his face and he nodded.

"May I?" Sirius murmured in Remus's ear, and Remus didn't know what exactly he was asking for but it didn't really matter because the answer was yes, yes with the way both Lily and James were watching them, yes with Sirius's warm breath on the nape of his neck driving delicious shivers up his spine. "Yes," Remus said, tilting his head back to rest it against Sirius's shoulder, and then he had to squeeze his eyes shut, because Sirius was efficiently undoing the strings on his pajamas and sliding his hand inside.

"Oh," Remus said. He hadn't realized what he was missing; having someone else's hand on him, having Sirius's, was desperately good, and his hips twitched upwards, pushing into it. He was half-hard already, and Sirius thumbed the head of his cock with an appreciative noise, biting down on Remus's shoulder. Remus clutched at the bedclothes.

There were gentle hands on his face: Lily, running her thumbs across his cheekbones. Remus blinked his eyes open to the smattering of freckles across her nose and the bright affection in her face. "Hello, you," she murmured. "Still good?"

Sirius's teeth were in the meat of his shoulder, and Sirius's hand was touching him in ways Remus hadn't ever tried himself, and James was settling down behind Lily, still looking as though this was the best thing that had ever happened to anyone, and Lily was asking him if things were good. The world had gone mad. "Yes," Remus said. It seemed to be the only word left to him.

Lily beamed and leaned in to kiss him. This wasn't at all like the kiss on the stairs two nights before; this time Lily's tongue was in his mouth, the kiss deeper though no less thorough, and it really should have occurred to Remus that Lily kissing him while Sirius had a hand down his trousers would be the best thing in the world. Remus found he was spreading his legs to give Sirius more room, and leaning into the kiss, giving himself up to it.

Lily clutched at Remus's shoulders, moaning softly; after a long wonderful moment her kiss became a little sloppier, more urgent. Remus had never heard anyone whimper like that before, except that he seemed to be doing it too: both of Sirius's hands were around him now, getting slick and moving faster, covering the length of his cock. Remus gathered his slow scattered thoughts and drew back from the kiss: Lily swayed a little, blinking at him, her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed; James had come in close next to her on the floor, his hand up her nightdress.

He looked quite casual about it. James had his fingers inside Lily and he looked as though this was something a person could do. Remus must have been staring, because James caught his eye, and grinned, and with his free hand he pried one of Remus's from the bedclothes. "Go on, then."

"Lily --" Remus managed to say, more dazed breath than word. She laughed at him before the laugh turned into a gasping, "Oh my god," which was exactly what Remus would have said if he could still speak: his hand and James's were both between her legs, James' below his pressing slickly on his knuckles while Remus's fingers slid up into wet tight heat and Lily shuddered happily. It was the single most intimate thing Remus had ever done except for what Sirius was doing: he had one hand simply holding Remus's cock gentle and firm at the base while the other slid over him too lightly for relief.

Remus hadn't even realized how close he was to coming, just from touching Lily with his fingers sliding against James's, until this moment when Sirius was stopping it from happening, heat building in his belly, his heart racing. In some desperation he pulled Lily closer with his free hand and kissed her again. She made a noise of delight into the kiss and somehow -- maybe she'd been practicing with James, Remus thought a little hysterically, that seemed likely -- she managed to keep kissing Remus and slide his pajama bottoms down his thighs at the same time, even though Remus was still moving hungry fingers inside her. Then her hands were touching his cock too, her fingers brushing Sirius's the way James' and Remus's were.

"Fuck," Remus gasped against Lily's mouth; "Remus, language," James said, laughing with delight. He could talk, Remus thought. Aside from the habitual messy hair, James still looked entirely composed.

"Here," Sirius was saying to Lily, whose hand was now wrapped around the base of Remus's cock, "keep holding there. Don't let Moony come yet, I have an idea."

"Okay," Lily said breathlessly, and moved a little to the side as Sirius slid off the bed to kneel on her other side. All three of them were in front of Remus now, James grinning behind Lily, Lily and Sirius close together with Remus's spread legs bracketing them. Remus's fingers were still inside Lily -- three of them now, with her tight around them -- and his free hand again clutched at the bedclothes for support, because Sirius was leaning forward and sliding his entire fucking wicked mouth down around Remus's cock. Again the only thing that kept Remus from coming right then was Lily's evil, evil hand still on the base, keeping Remus on the edge.

"Hard luck," James murmured, laughter in his voice, because he was just as much of a bastard as the rest of them. But Remus forgave him almost at once, because he gave Remus's wrist an encouraging squeeze, steadying Lily for a moment as his fingers slid out from under Remus's. Remus realized, with half-coherent joy, that he was able to get some small revenge on Lily: he seemed to be getting the hang of how to curl his fingers so that she clenched up deliciously around him. James meanwhile knelt up behind Sirius, bracketing Sirius's body and getting a hand in Sirius's pants.

Sirius's whole body jerked in surprise; he pulled off Remus's cock for a moment, panting, and then slid his mouth down again, more carefully this time, his tongue doing delicate obscene things to the head. Remus's vision went a little grey.

"Hey," Lily said. Her eyes were glazed; she looked stunningly happy. "All right, Remus?"

Remus took a moment to find his voice. He was no longer just on the edge of orgasm, but Remus still felt more aroused than he ever had; the edges of his vision were funny, his skin was afire, and his limbs weren't working properly. "It's perfect," he managed, the words coming out slow and dazed, and he twisted his fingers in Lily, deeper.

"Oh," Lily said, smiling, and "oh;" she ground down on his fingers, clenching up impossibly tight. Remus did his best to keep moving his hand even as she wailed softly and came in small clipping spasms, feeling so wonderful that Remus briefly forgot even about what Sirius was doing with his mouth. "Oh," Lily repeated, on a laugh, and allowed her legs to give out, sliding down to lean dazedly against the bed.

She pressed her forehead to the outside of Remus's thigh, sweaty and lovely and still with her hand on him, keeping him from coming. Remus shuddered, grabbing her shoulder, sticky fingers on the soft fabric of her jumper. He couldn't bring himself to care, not when he could see the way she was smiling, one hand laced with James' while James used his other on Sirius.

James caught Remus's eye, giving him a look that was happy, and amazed, and a little desperate -- though this last might have been a projection of Remus's own urgency, because Sirius was coming, moaning around Remus's cock. Obscene, Remus thought, with dizzy joy: a useful word for how gorgeous Sirius looked, his lips shining as he lazily slid his mouth off Remus and rolled over, sprawled against the foot of the bed with his pajamas around his thighs, looking debauched and lovely with his hair in tangles. Remus choked on the noise of protest he felt rising in his throat at losing Sirius's mouth, and the soft consolatory way Lily lightly stroked his cock only made it worse.

Sirius gave James a dazed smile. "Come on, Prongs," he said, sounding hoarse and pleased with himself, "I'll suck you off now."

James looked momentarily stunned. Then he staggered to his feet and just walked up to Sirius, as casual and pleased as he had been sliding his fingers into Lily, except this time he was tugging down his pajama bottoms and Sirius was leaning forward eagerly to take James' cock in his mouth.

Someone was keening, a high thin desperate noise. At first Remus couldn't place it; then he realized it was coming from him. His hips were twitching upwards now, quite involuntarily, as Lily still held the base of his cock with firm gentleness, and pressed small reassuring kisses to his hip. Remus didn't feel reassured; he felt fantastic, half-mad with want, though what he wanted was beginning to feel blurred -- for this to keep on forever, perhaps.

James had fistfuls of Sirius's hair in his hands, thrusting into Sirius's willing mouth carefully, and then less carefully; quite suddenly James' legs half gave out, his head falling forward, and Remus watched in fascination as Sirius's throat worked around his cock.

For once James seemed to have nothing to say. Instead he collapsed, with surprising grace, upon Sirius, and began to snog him again in an indolent, replete sort of way. Remus thought, through the haze of heat surrounding him, that he should probably protest this, but all he could manage was another low sound of desperate longing.

This was still enough to get Sirius's attention. He turned to look up at Remus, took things in with a long rake of his eyes: the way Remus was nearly tearing at the bedclothes with his clenched fists, the tears starting at the corners of his eyes. Sirius exchanged a glance with Lily. "See?" he said, his voice wrecked. "I told you he'd fucking love being denied."

"Padfoot," Remus managed, half a snarl, all pleading. He felt drunk and delirious and wonderful, his skin nearly on fire from the flush of being known, when he hadn't even know this thing about himself until now.

Lily laughed and finally, finally let go of his cock, which was some small relief. She climbed up onto the bed behind him, and said, half a question, "I'm going to --" as she took firm hold of both Remus's wrists.

"Yes," Remus said. He'd never been more grateful for anything in his life, ever, ever. He felt grounded, and held; he met James's eyes again to see James giving him a fond grin, so transparently happy for him that Remus might have really started crying then, except that Sirius's hands were back on his cock, distracting him at once, careful and perfect and not enough. Remus squirmed, thinking how much he wanted to take Sirius by the scruff and pin him down, but this wasn't the time --

Instead he met Sirius's eyes, and from the center of all the hot frantic desperation Remus pulled something perfectly calm. He said to Sirius, low and steady, "You're going to make me come now."

Sirius's cheeks went crimson, and his eyes went bright, and he took Remus's entire cock down his throat, choking on it and still sucking hard. James gave an impressed laugh. Lily's hands on Remus's wrists went encouragingly tight, and between that steady pressure and Sirius's magnificent mouth, Remus came, so hard his vision went up in sparks.

It felt like the last moment of transformation, the terrifying heady release of it; except that this was exactly when and how Remus wanted it to happen. It felt like the opposite of a loss of control.

*

Somehow -- Remus was vague on this part -- they all made it onto the bed. Sirius wound up at the foot, as Remus had once found Padfoot. Sirius had a hand on James' ankle, and James was spooned up beside Lily, whose hands were now laced with Remus's. Remus examined himself for anything besides sleepy contentment, but he seemed to have been quite hollowed out. So he pressed his face to Lily's hair, breathing her in, and for a time he dozed there, entirely happy.

Later they rose, one by one: James was already gone by the time Remus revived, and the thing that had woken him was Lily gently disentangling herself and climbing out of bed. Sirius crawled up so that he was face-to-face with Remus, and gave him a serious look. "All right, mate?"

"You know I am," Remus said, and smiled, a slow sleepy smile that made Sirius's face turn to astonishment for a moment before he smiled in return. "That was --" It was too many things to name. Remus had never really expected anything, much less to have shagged some of his best friends in the world and come out the other side feeling as though it hadn't been any kind of mistake. "I loved it," he settled for. "I want to keep it."

"Me too," Sirius confessed, in a smaller voice than Remus had expected. He was grinning in a surprisingly shy way. Remus felt desperately, wreckingly in love with him, and it didn't feel like that was a mistake either. Sirius laughed and buried his head for a moment against Remus's shoulder. "Merlin, this is going to be complicated. You ready?"

Complicated; yes, just as much -- more so -- than it had been a year ago when Sirius first asked Remus to go after Lily for him. But complicated didn't have to mean tangled, or messy, or uncontrollable; sometimes it meant complex, and amazing, and better than Remus could ever expect.

"Padfoot, don't get your knickers in a twist," Remus said. "It's just the Christmas feast. Of course I'm ready."

Sirius yelped with laughter, and smacked his shoulder, and kissed him. Together they went down to the feast.