It was a rainy Sunday evening late in the spring of their sixth year. James and Peter were in the common room – James undoubtedly making himself a general nuisance to Lily Evans, and Peter under strict orders to keep her best friend Mary Macdonald well and truly distracted (a task that often involved endless games of Exploding Snap and, in times of extreme desperation, setting off a dungbomb or two) – leaving Remus and Sirius alone in the dormitory, sitting side-by-side on Remus' bed as they pored over the latest version of the map.
Remus absently scratched at his chin with his quill, deep in thought. "The proportions still look a bit off," he said at last. "The Hospital Wing isn't that large, and the lake isn't that far from the castle."
Sirius squinted at the parchment. "We'd better extend this outer wall," he said at last. He reached for his quill and accidentally tipped over the bottle of ink, which immediately seeped through the blanket and onto the sheet. "Sorry, Moony," he said, quickly righting the bottle and muttering a cleaning spell.
"I think that's enough for today," Remus said, rubbing his eyes tiredly. They had been working on the map for hours, with very little to show for their efforts aside from a few minor adjustments. "Let's go and see what the others are doing. Do you think James is still stalking Lily?"
Sirius snorted as he carefully moved their map-making supplies to the floor. "He hasn't come back bruised and hexed, so maybe he's making some progress today." He yawned and stretched his arms over his head before falling backwards against the pillows, pulling Remus with him. "We'd better give Prongs enough time to make a complete fool of himself. Besides, I'm too tired to move just yet." He shifted closer to Remus and shut his eyes, looking thoroughly content.
"You know," Remus said after a moment, "you've been very affectionate lately. Cuddly, even. I blame it on Padfoot."
Sirius drew back in surprise and fixed Remus with a steely gaze. "Cuddly?" he repeated in a tone of mock outrage. "Cuddly? Take it back, Moony. You'll ruin my reputation."
"That of the young, carefree, careless, rebel outcast, of course," Sirius said. Both eyes closed once more, and he wrapped his arms snugly around Remus' waist. "Padfoot even looks like a Grim. There's nothing cuddly about that, is there, Moony? Is there? Is there?" He jabbed Remus repeatedly in the side with insistent, tickling fingers.
"All right, all right," Remus laughed, trying to wriggle away from Sirius' secure grasp and failing. "You win. A Grim, honestly. Ridiculous mutt. I don't know why I put up with you." He looked at Sirius, smiling fondly, and imagined reaching over and touching the strands of black hair falling across Sirius' forehead, or running his fingertips across the dark fluttering eyelashes.
Remus had felt this way before in recent months – this inexplicable desire to be closer to Sirius, to show his affection in ways that he was not accustomed to – but never as strongly as he did at this moment. His hand actually moved, of its own volition, and hovered beside Sirius' face before Remus, with a sudden horror, wrenched it back with a jerk.
The movement caught Sirius' attention, and one grey eye cracked open, followed by another when he saw the troubled expression on Remus' face.
"Hey," Sirius said quietly. Sitting up, he reached out and pressed his thumb between Remus' brows, as if trying to smooth away the tiny line that had formed there. "What's wrong, Moony?"
Remus felt a blush creep rapidly across his face. There was a strange look in Sirius' eyes that Remus had never seen before – concern and confusion and something else Remus could not identify because he was suddenly feeling very confused himself. "Nothing," he said quickly, and ducked his head so that Sirius' hand fell away. "It's nothing, really."
"Right," Sirius replied, and by the tone of his voice Remus could tell that he was unconvinced.
Still not meeting Sirius' eyes, Remus turned away and swung his legs over the side of the bed. His face was still a bright shade of red. "I think I'll head down to the common room," he said as he stood. "Coming, Padfoot?"
"All right," Sirius said after a moment and followed Remus out of the room, giving him odd looks all the while.
They reached the common room just in time to see Lily, with a thunderous look on her face, leap up from her seat and grab a small book from James.
"You wouldn't know a sonnet if it bit off your nose, Potter," she snapped, brushing past him as she stalked to the staircase leading to the girls' dormitory. With an apologetic glance at Peter, with whom she had been engaged in a vigorous game of Exploding Snap, Mary stood and followed her friend out of the common room.
"Prongs, what have you been doing to the girl?" Sirius asked as he flopped onto the sofa where Lily had been sitting. Remus perched on the arm beside him.
"Nothing!" James exclaimed. "I just asked Evans what she was reading and she went completely mental. Tell them, Pete."
"Well," Peter said, looking uncomfortable as he gathered up the scorched and scattered cards. "You did snatch the book out of her hands-"
"Only to get her attention!"
"And then you read from it in that squeaky voice," Peter continued, undeterred. "I don't think she liked that very much."
"I only did it because it sounded so ridiculous," James said sullenly. "Complete rubbish."
"What was it?" Sirius asked.
"Some girly stuff about love and beauty and roses," James said with a shrug. "What's a sonnet, anyway?"
"A type of poem," Remus replied. "You know, like Shakespeare. 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day,' and all that rot."
He was met by three blank gazes. "Who?" Peter said at last.
Remus sighed. "Muggle Studies should be a requirement at Hogwarts," he said with some disapproval.
"Never mind that," James said impatiently. "Men, we have important work to do."
The others exchanged a glance. "We do?" Peter asked reluctantly.
"Yes," James replied shortly. He fell silent, clearly planning something. A slow, pleased smile spread across his face.
"Well, what is it?" Sirius demanded at last. "And stop smiling like that. You look like McGonagall when we have haggis for dinner. It's disturbing."
"I," declared James, "am going to write a sonnet for Evans. And Moony is going to help me with it."
"What?" Remus cried. "I don't know anything about sonnets!"
"You knew what they were," James pointed out.
"That doesn't make me an expert," Remus said. "I have only a passing acquaintance with sonnets. My mum has a book of poems, that's all."
"I didn't know you liked reading poetry, Moony," Sirius asked, seeming surprised and quite interested at the thought.
"Maybe a little," Remus admitted grudgingly, averting his eyes from Sirius' intense, curious gaze. "But not sonnets!"
"So you're the perfect person to help," James said coaxingly. "Come on, Moony. I can't write this sonnet alone."
"That's just it, Prongs," Remus said, sounding desperate. "You can't write a poem as a group. It's personal, like a letter, or a diary. You're supposed to talk about your thoughts and feelings."
James blanched. "Thoughts and feelings?" he echoed doubtfully. With a groan he slumped against the back of the sofa. Sirius patted his shoulder sympathetically.
"Yes," Remus said, nodding sagely. "It's a messy business all around."
* * *
The dormitory was uncharacteristically quiet as they readied themselves for bed. They had abandoned all further discussion of poetry in the common room, and Sirius thought Remus would have been glad of that, but whatever had been troubling Moony earlier was still bothering him now. Sirius tried to catch his eye from across the room, but Remus was examining the scuffed toes of his shoes with a frustratingly fervent intensity, and he never looked up.
Sirius fared no better when he tried to catch James' attention. Instead of sulking, as he usually did after one of Evans' rejections, James was deep in thought, and there was a determined set to his shoulders. Sirius hoped that it was the makings of an epic prank, and not another foolhardy attempt to win over Evans, that was causing James to look so serious. There were only so many rejections a person could take, after all.
Across the room Peter approached Remus. "So, how far did you and Sirius get today?"
"What?" Remus yelped, dropping his shoes on the floor with a startled thump. "What do you mean?"
"On the map," Peter clarified, giving him an odd look. "Did you make any progress?"
"Oh, right," Remus mumbled. He kicked his shoes under the bed, turning aside to do so, but not before Sirius noticed the faint blush staining his cheeks.
"We need to do some more work on the outer walls and the Hospital Wing," Sirius added, when it became clear that Remus had no intention of answering Peter's question. "But it's all pointless if we don't have the right tracking charm. Any ideas?"
The room fell silent once more. They had checked the library numerous times but had not found any charms advanced enough to keep track of the locations of every person in the castle. They had even considered visiting Diagon Alley in the summer and looking for a book there, but no one wanted to wait until then. Everyone wanted the map finished as soon as possible.
"We could take a look around Flitwick's office," James said at last.
Sirius grinned, already imagining their triumphant discovery of the perfect tracking spell.
"After I finish the sonnet for Evans," James added.
Sirius' face fell. "I thought you weren't going to bother," he said. "Thoughts and feelings, remember?"
"I have to prove to Evans that I can do it," James reasoned. "And maybe she'll like me better if she thinks I'm cultured."
He smiled dreamily as he buttoned his pyjamas. The other boys nearly gagged at the sight.
Remus rolled his eyes. "I want to think about poetry even less than I want to think about breaking into Flitwick's office," he said.
"Come on, Moony, where's your sense of fun and adventure?" Sirius prodded.
But Remus didn't even look at him. "Prefect, remember?" he grumbled as he climbed into bed and drew the curtains. "Good night," he said, almost as an afterthought.
The other three shared a glance. "What's with Moony tonight?" Peter asked after a moment.
Sirius looked bleakly at the tightly drawn curtains of Remus' bed. "No idea, Wormtail," he said unhappily. "No idea."
* * *
"Right," said James. He glanced at the desk before him. A neat stack of parchment, two new quills, and a full bottle of black ink awaited him. Remus had reluctantly informed him that there were fourteen lines in a sonnet, and James had even braved the Muggle Studies section of the library to glance at the mouldy poetry books. It was, admittedly, a very brief glance, but let no one accuse James Potter of failing to do his research.
Now all he had to do was write a sonnet for Evans – which shouldn't be too difficult. James was a good writer; he even managed to make his History of Magic essays sound interesting. The dormitory was empty – he had left Sirius and Peter in the common room, and since it was a Monday, Remus had a prefects' meeting – so there would be no distractions. James reached for a sheet of parchment, dipped his quill in the ink, and began to write.
When Peter wandered into the dormitory half an hour later, he discovered James slumped over his desk. He was surrounded by a mound of crumpled sheets of parchment, his fingers were stained with ink, and he was moaning.
Peter approached him cautiously. "Prongs? Are you all right?"
Peter reached for one of the discarded pieces of parchment and unfolded it. He skimmed it, pulled a face, and picked up another. That one made him shudder.
"Ah," he said, discreetly dropping the parchment into the bin. "I see."
"It's hopeless, Wormtail," James said, his voice muffled by the fact that his face was still pressed into the desk. "Completely hopeless. I can't write all that soppy stuff about Evans. I just can't."
"Yes," Peter agreed quickly. "You really, really can't."
James looked up at last, glaring at Peter with bleary eyes. "You're supposed to offer me encouragement, Peter. Not scorn."
"Sorry," Peter replied sheepishly. "I'm sure all you need is a bit of practise. Why don't you try writing some more? And maybe, er, tone down the soppy language? I don't know if Lily would want her eyes compared to 'limpid pools of frogspawn.'"
"Hmmm." James tapped at his chin with his quill. "How about 'limpid pools of moss'?"
Peter winced. "Well," he said gently. "Moss doesn't exactly come in pools."
James' brow creased in thought. "That is true."
It suddenly occurred to Peter that this might be a good time to make himself scarce, or else he would end up spending the entire evening helping James. He might even end up having to write the poem for him. Peter trembled at the thought.
"I'll just be going then," he said, backing away. "Give you some, er, space to think." He had nearly made his escape when James spoke again.
"Mind if I borrow some parchment? I've run out."
"Not at all," Peter said quickly. "Help yourself."
"Cheers, Wormtail," James said, already rifling through Peter's trunk. Peter turned to go, but at the last minute hesitated in the doorway.
"You also might want to start calling her 'Lily,' not 'Evans.'"
* * *
James was no closer to writing a sonnet three days later. After exhausting Peter's supply of parchment, he had moved on to Sirius'. The only Marauder turning in any homework was Remus, and that was because he had rather sternly informed his friends that no one was to mention poetry again in his presence, ever, or else they would suffer some very painful consequences involving shoelaces and marmalade. No one was brave enough to ask for the specifics, and James was too terrified to pilfer his parchment.
So whilst James spent every moment he wasn't in a classroom or at the Quidditch pitch in the dormitory, trying to write his sonnet, the other Marauders made themselves scarce. At the moment, in fact, Sirius had no idea where they were. Peter had scurried away after supper, and Remus – well, things had been awkward between them since Sunday evening when they had been working on the map in the dormitory, and Sirius had no idea why. One moment they had been resting together very nicely, and Sirius had been about to fall asleep, and the next Remus was hopping out of the bed as if the pillows were on fire and racing away to the common room. It was all very baffling, especially because as the week progressed Remus had taken to avoiding him more and more. Sirius was determined to find out the reason why – if he ever managed to get Remus alone.
He had checked all of Remus' usual haunts. He wasn't in the common room, he wasn't in the library, and there was no prefects' meeting scheduled. He couldn't be hidden under the cloak, because that was still safely tucked away in James' trunk (Sirius had made sure of that). That left the kitchens, and Sirius was on his way to look there when he was cornered by Lily Evans.
"And where are you off to, Black?" she asked, planting herself squarely in front of him.
"Why, Evans," Sirius said, placing his hand over his heart and batting his eyelashes. "Did you have plans for us? A moonlit stroll across the grounds, perhaps? A clandestine swim in the lake involving very little clothing?"
Lily rolled her eyes. "Not quite," she said. "Actually, I'm glad I found you. What's going on with you and Potter?"
"Do you mean," Sirius said in mock surprise, "that you want to ask James on our date? He'd be thrilled."
"I mean," Lily said, looking quite severe, "what is going on with you and Potter? What are you plotting? Another prank? Are you going to explode more toilets? Are you going to cover Severus in boils again?"
"You've given me an idea, Evans. What if we put Snivellus in a toilet, cover both in boils, and then explode them together?"
"Very funny," Lily snapped. "I'm being serious. What's going on? Here you are, skulking through the hallways alone and Potter is nowhere to be found. In fact, I've hardly seen him all week. It's obvious that you two are planning something."
"Evans," Sirius said, "we're not planning anything. I am, as you say, skulking through the hallways on a noble quest to find the ever-elusive Remus Lupin, and James is back in the dormitory writing poetry."
Lily stared at him for a long moment before bursting into laughter. Sirius had never seen her laugh so much before. Tears rolled down Lily's face and she had to lean against the wall to support herself.
"Potter – poetry?" she gasped, wiping her eyes. "I could understand the bit about you pining for Remus, but Potter and poetry – you're asking me to believe the impossible, Black."
"Wait, what do you mean by 'pining'?" Sirius demanded. "I'm not pining for anyone. I don't pine ever. I'm physically unable to pine. And why would I pine for Remus anyway?"
Still grinning, Lily straightened up and patted Sirius on the arm. "I have one word for you, Black," she said, turning to go. "Denial."
Sirius watched Lily disappear down the corridor in silence, too perplexed to offer one of his usual retorts. Long moments passed as he stood there, racking his brain in an effort to make sense of what Lily had said. What had she meant by "denial?" Sirius wasn't denying anything. Only…
At last, comprehension struck him like a bolt of lightning. All other thoughts fled from his mind as he finally understood what Lily had been hinting at during their conversation.
The kitchens were entirely forgotten as Sirius slumped against the wall, stunned. He fancied Remus – had fancied him for months, if he was truly honest with himself – and now that he finally realised it everything seemed to click into place in his mind, even though he felt more confused than ever. What was he going to do now?
* * *
Inside the kitchens, Remus sat huddled at a table by the hearth, moodily picking at a plate of biscuits. He knew it was only a matter of time before one of his friends discovered him there; kitchen raids were a night-time ritual for the Marauders, and scarcely an evening passed without at least one attempt to forage for food. He only hoped that it would be Peter or James who found him, and not Sirius.
It wasn't that he was angry at Sirius – far from it. Sirius had done nothing wrong (for a change). Remus was angry at himself. He was absolutely terrified that he would do something foolish enough to reveal his feelings to Sirius, just as he had nearly done earlier in the week when he lost some of his natural reserve that evening they had been working on the map.
Ever since then, Remus had avoided being alone with Sirius. He didn't want to risk giving Sirius an opportunity to notice that anything had changed, and so far Sirius hadn't – although, from the hurt and confused looks he had been sending in Remus' direction over the past few days, his attempts at avoidance had not gone unnoticed. Remus wondered which would be worse – having Sirius find out that he fancied him, or avoiding him like this for the rest of the year. Either way, it seemed that Remus risked causing irreparable harm to their friendship. Remus sighed heavily, feeling more miserable than ever.
Suddenly the door opened and in swept Dumbledore. Remus was on his feet in an instant, his words tripping over each other as he tried to explain.
"Professor, I'm so sorry, I just-"
But Dumbledore held up a hand, smiling serenely. "It is no trouble at all, Remus. I have often felt that the prefects should include the kitchens in their rounds. Please return to your biscuits. Although," he said, peering shrewdly at Remus through his half-moon spectacles, "I have always thought that chocolate is best for raising one's spirits." He turned to one of the house-elves clamouring for his attention. "Topsy, do you have any more of that splendid chocolate cake? Yes? And perhaps a bit of coffee? Wonderful."
Dumbledore settled himself across from Remus as two generous slices of chocolate cake and two steaming mugs of coffee appeared on the table before them. "Ah, excellent," he said, trying a bit of the cake. "You have outdone yourself once again, Topsy."
The house-elf blushed and stammered her thanks. Dumbledore took a sip of coffee before turning his attention back to Remus.
"I am reading a most charming book," he said. "You may be familiar with it. It's called Mary Poppins."
"Yes, I've read it," Remus said, smiling in spite of himself. "There's also a film of it, sir."
"Indeed? How fascinating."
Remus nodded; his mouth was full of chocolate cake and he found himself agreeing wholeheartedly with the headmaster. The cake was much more satisfying than the biscuits, and the coffee was excellent, though Remus had never considered himself much of a coffee drinker. It was certainly better than his mother's coffee, but of course she used her favourite Muggle brand, and Remus supposed that, like sweets, coffee in the wizarding world was simply better.
"I do enjoy it when Muggles write about magic," Dumbledore said, chuckling a little. "It is very amusing. More coffee, Remus?" he asked as Topsy approached and re-filled their mugs.
Several moments passed in companionable silence, other than the occasional chuckle from Dumbledore as he presumably remembered some entertaining episode in Mary Poppins. At last he set aside his fork and spoke again.
"I usually find," he said, his eyes twinkling merrily, "that sometimes the biggest dilemma may be solved with a bit of spontaneity."
Remus glanced up, perplexed. "Sir?"
"I might spend countless hours worrying, weighing all my possible options, before deciding to do something completely outrageous to solve the problem once and for all," Dumbledore mused thoughtfully. "I realised this as a very young man when I purchased my first set of dress robes. Ought I to buy the sedate grey, or the practical brown? I opted instead for the bright blue with the silver trim. A bold choice, I daresay."
Remus smiled. Then he hid a yawn. His eyes suddenly felt heavy, and his mind a bit muddled. The anxiety of the week had clearly worn him out, and he must be more tired than he had realised.
"I suppose we ought to leave the house elves to finish their work," Dumbledore said, standing. Remus followed, but wobbled unexpectedly on his feet. The room seemed to tilt oddly, and Remus had to hold on to the back of his chair to steady himself.
"Professor," he said, feeling somewhat shaky and rather suspicious as the room straightened itself out, "was there something in the coffee?"
"Just a touch of firewhiskey," Dumbledore replied. His eyes, Remus noticed, were twinkling more than ever. "Hardly worth mentioning, I thought. It is one of Topsy's specialities. She really is a marvel of an elf." And with a wink and a smile he was gone.
* * *
This, Sirius thought as he wandered back to the dormitory, is a catastrophe of epic proportions. Stupid Evans and her stupid perceptiveness. How had she figured it out before he did? Who else knew? Did Prongs know? Did Moony know? And most of all, what was he supposed to do now?
Still lost in thought, Sirius trudged through the common room and up the stairs. Reality returned with a jolt when he pushed open the door to the dormitory and was immediately tackled to the floor by James.
"Success!" James crowed, right in Sirius' ear. "Victory!"
"What are you going on about?" Sirius said, unsuccessfully trying to wriggle away.
James dangled a sheet of parchment close to Sirius' face. "Guess who finished the poem for Evans?"
Sirius snatched it from James and sat up, skimming the parchment. "Not bad," he said, handing it back. "For poetry, I suppose. Not as soppy as I expected."
James looked smug as he folded the parchment and tucked it in the pocket of his robes. "I think I have a knack for writing poetry," he said. He jumped to his feet and offered Sirius a hand, pulling him up beside him. "I don't see what all the fuss is about. It wasn't that hard to write after all."
Sirius thought of his and Peter's decimated supply of parchment and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Right…"
"Now I just need to find Evans," James said, heading to the door. "You haven't seen her, have you?"
The memory of his conversation with Lily came rushing back and Sirius suddenly sat heavily on the nearest bed, feeling utterly terrified once more.
"Padfoot?" James said uncertainly. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Sirius muttered, staring hard at the ground and feeling distinctly uncomfortable as he considered the direction in which their conversation may turn. He heard the rustle of James' robes as he shuffled closer, and a moment later the mattress dipped as he sat down beside him.
"Did something happen with Regulus?"
"No," Sirius replied, finally looking up. "I haven't spoken to him in weeks."
Sirius shook his head. "No, it's…." He trailed off with a shrug.
James bumped Sirius' shoulder with his own. "Yeah?" he prompted.
Sirius wavered for a long moment, trying to decide if he actually wanted to have this conversation with James. "It's Moony," he said at last, miserably.
"Moony?" James echoed in surprise. "You two argue or something?"
"No, I didn't even talk to him. I mean, I'm talking to him, I just-" Sirius shook his head as if to clear it and turned to face James. "Prongs, I- well, I- that is, I think-"
"Is this about you fancying Moony?" James interrupted, blunt as ever.
Sirius' jaw dropped. "Does everyone already know?" he cried.
"I don't think Wormtail knows," James replied. "But you can never tell with him, the cagey bastard. I only figured it out for myself a few months ago."
James rolled his eyes. "Do you think I'm thick or something?" he demanded.
"Yeah, sometimes. Ow!" Sirius rubbed his shoulder where James punched him.
"You're my brother, Pads. I notice things."
Sirius cast him a sidelong glance. "And do you mind?" he asked after a brief hesitation.
"I thought it was a bit weird at first," James admitted, studying his shoes. "More than a bit, actually. But I've had some time to get used to the idea. And… like I said, you're my brother. I don't care."
Sirius smiled, silent and grateful. Neither boy spoke for a long moment.
"What are you going to do now?" James asked eventually. "Are you going to talk to Moony about it?"
"Maybe. Eventually. I think." Sirius shrugged. "I don't know. Probably."
"It's great that you have such a brilliant plan," James said, a teasing grin on his face. "It must have taken you a really long time to work it out."
"Shut it, you," Sirius replied, though he couldn't help grinning as well. "At least I won't write him a poem like some people. You really are a girl, Prongs."
"You're one to talk," James said, smirking as he slid off the bed. "Speaking of which, I'd better go and deliver this poem to Evans. If you want my advice, you'll go and find Moony and tell him right away."
"Right, of course I'd want your advice. You've had such success with Evans," Sirius laughed, ducking away from James' half-hearted shove.
After a few more moments of their usual horseplay and insults, the door slammed shut behind James and the sound of his footsteps racing down the stairs soon faded away. Sirius breathed a sigh of relief. Things had gone extremely well with James, much better than Sirius ever would have expected. Now he just needed to decide what to do about Remus. Should he just tell Remus straightaway, or hint around the topic and try to gauge Moony's reaction? With Remus acting so skittishly around him all week, Sirius wondered if this might be the worst possible time to have such a discussion with him.
Sirius paced up and down the dormitory, deep in thought. Suddenly the sound of footsteps clomping up the stairs caught his attention. Thinking it was James, sulking because Lily had once again turned him down, Sirius flung open the door and poked out his head, a good-natured taunt already on his lips as he peered down the stairs.
"Moony?" he said in surprise.
Half-walking, half-stumbling up the stairs was Remus. He glanced up, blinking owlishly in the light of the torches on the walls. "Oh – hi, Pads," he murmured, half to himself. He swayed for a moment, clinging to the railing to remain upright before continuing his unsteady climb. Sirius hurried to his side and helped him ascend the last few steps.
"What's happened to you?" he demanded. He looked Remus over for any signs of injury as he pulled him into the room and kicked the door shut behind them. "Have you been hexed?"
"No," Remus laughed. And laughed and laughed. Then he wobbled and nearly sank down to his knees. Sirius caught him just in time.
"Moony!" he exclaimed. "You're drunk!"
"No, I'm not," Remus replied. "I'm topsy."
"You've been drinking without me," Sirius said, his tone a mixture of outrage and delight. "And I think you're more than tipsy, mate. You can barely stand up."
"Can too. Walked here, didn't I?" Remus snapped rather peevishly. "And I'm not tipsy. Topsy. I'm topsy because of Tipsy." A small crease formed between Remus' brows as he reconsidered this sentence. "No. I'm tipsy because of Topsy."
"House-elf. Wears a purple tea cosy."
"Ah. Wait, so a house-elf got you drunk?"
"No, Dumbledore did."
Remus nodded, but then the room shook along with his head, and he found himself clutching at Sirius' shirt so that he could remain on his feet. Sirius carefully guided Remus to his bed and gently sat him down before sitting beside him. When the room stopped spinning, Remus spoke again.
"He gave me coffee. With firewhiskey mixed in. More firewhiskey than coffee, though, I think. Must be why his eyes are always twinkling."
Sirius snickered. "What happened to the famous werewolf metabolism? I thought you couldn't get drunk."
"That's a myth."
"No wonder you never drink anything stronger than butterbeer."
Remus rolled his eyes. Mid-eye-roll, however, he found his attention drawn to Sirius. To his lips in particular, especially as they were now, smirking and looking very inviting. They made him want to say something. Or do something.
Sirius' lips, however, were now drawn into a thin, worried line as he watched his friend in concern. "All right, Remus?"
Remus did not answer. Spontaneity, he thought, recalling Dumbledore's words. I can be spontaneous, too.
"Moony?" Sirius said, the confusion evident in his voice.
Things suddenly moved very quickly. Still watching Sirius' lips, Remus leaned forward, misjudged the distance entirely, and sent his forehead crashing into Sirius' chin, which in turn sent Sirius flying off the bed with a shout.
Remus peeked over the edge of the bed and glimpsed Sirius sprawled on the floor, tenderly rubbing his chin and staring at Remus with wide, hopeful eyes.
"Sorry," Remus said, and promptly blacked out.
* * *
A thin beam of sunlight was shining directly in his eyes when Remus awoke. His head was pounding. It felt as if an army of goblins were digging another Gringotts tunnel inside his skull. His mouth tasted awful and he wondered vaguely if something had lodged itself in his oesophagus and died there.
Instantly a dark shape appeared in his line of vision, blocking the sunlight from falling on his face. Remus blinked his bleary eyes, trying to make them focus. After a moment they did, and he could see Sirius leaning over him, holding a goblet containing a foul-smelling substance.
"Hi," said Sirius, smiling brightly. "Hangover potion?"
"Where did you get it?" Remus croaked. His stomach churned uneasily.
Sirius shrugged. "Nipped down to the dungeons earlier and made a batch. I figured you'd need it. Come on, drink up. Cheers."
Remus forced the potion down and, after a few moments of discomfort during which it seemed as if his eyes would shoot out of his head and his brain would ooze through his nose, he felt much improved. "Thanks," he said, smiling gratefully as he set aside the empty goblet.
Sirius shrugged again, but looked pleased nonetheless. "Feeling better?"
"Much," Remus replied. He rubbed at his eyes and glanced around the empty dormitory. "Where are the others?"
"At breakfast. Don't worry, you're not late. I wasn't going to wake you for another ten minutes." He perched on the edge of Remus' bed and looked at him expectantly.
"Sorry for causing so much trouble last night," Remus said. His memories were still a little fuzzy, but he remembered the long, stumbling walk from the kitchens and how he had needed Sirius' help to keep from falling to the floor once he'd reached the dormitory. "I'll never accept food or drink from Dumbledore again, not even a lemon sherbet. Or from Topsy, for that matter."
Sirius grinned. "I didn't mind. Prongs and Peter are furious though, for missing all the fun." His smiled faded slightly, and he inched closer to Remus. "Moony. Do you want to go to Hogsmeade tomorrow? Together?"
Remus' forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Don't the four of us always go together?"
The smile slipped off Sirius' face entirely. "Right. Yeah. Of course we do." He looked away suddenly, and Remus noticed a bit of bruising on Sirius' chin that he was certain had not been there yesterday.
"What happened to your chin?" he asked, squinting at the bruise.
Sirius stared at him for a moment, his expression unreadable, before he spoke. "Nothing. It's not important." He stood quickly, shoving his hands in his pockets with an air of forced indifference. "There's some more of the hangover potion in the cauldron, if you need it. I'll see you downstairs." Without waiting for a response, he bolted from the room.
It wasn't until long after the door had slammed behind him and the sound of Sirius' feet thundering down the stairs had faded away that Remus remembered what else had happened last night – namely, his failed attempt to kiss Sirius. Gingerly, he touched his forehead and felt the tiny, tender bump that had formed there, matching the bruise on Sirius' chin. Remus recalled the odd, unreadable look in Sirius' eyes just before he left the dormitory and now realised that it had been a look of betrayal.
This, he thought, falling back against the pillows and pulling the blanket over his head, is a catastrophe.
* * *
Breakfast was an awkward affair. Sirius glared moodily at his toast, radiating anger and refusing to meet Remus' eyes. James seemed to realise that something had happened and kept glancing between Sirius and Remus in concern. Remus, still reeling from the effects of his hangover and the disastrous state of things with Sirius, hardly touched his food. It fell to Peter to keep up the conversation, which he struggled to do before at last turning to a topic that was sure to interest everyone.
"Wormtail took a look around Flitwick's office last night," he said in a hushed voice.
The others instantly perked up. "And?" James prompted eagerly.
"Found this," Peter said, withdrawing a small, battered volume on advanced plotting and tracking charms from his bag. "It might help with the… you know."
James and Sirius immediately began flipping through the pages, as Remus leaned across the table and tilted his head to the side in an attempt to read the book upside down. Sirius glanced up and met Remus' eyes for a brief, tense moment before looking away, his expression stony.
Suddenly James pounded the table with his fist in glee. The plates and silverware rattled, and Lily shot him a look of disgust from further down the table, but for once James paid her no attention.
"This is it! This is exactly what we needed!" he hissed triumphantly, finger jabbing at a particular spell. Four heads bent over the book, their excitement growing as they quickly read through the instructions.
"It looks right," Remus said, taking the book from James to examine the incantations more closely. "A little complicated, but it shouldn't be too much trouble. It'll work well with the charms we already have in place, too. Nice work, Wormtail."
"Thanks, Moony," Peter said, grinning a little at his praise.
"We can take it in turns," Sirius suggested, his bad mood vanishing for the moment. "There are four main steps, yeah? We can focus on one part each."
They agreed to meet in the dormitory that afternoon after James' Quidditch practice to work on the map. Breakfast soon ended and the students reluctantly filed out of the Great Hall and headed to their first lessons of the day. Remus tried to pull Sirius aside to explain and apologise for what had happened in the dormitory, but Sirius pointedly ignored him and disappeared into the crowd as they passed through the door.
* * *
The day passed slowly for the four boys eager to work on their map. Morning lessons dragged on, and the afternoon slowed to a crawl. Remus was even more distracted and agitated than the others. Throughout the day he tried to get Sirius alone, but Sirius stubbornly stuck to James like glue in an obvious effort to avoid him. Remus supposed he deserved it for avoiding Sirius all week, but that didn't make it hurt any less.
But he was determined that they would have their much-needed discussion before the day was over, despite Sirius' attempts to avoid him. Remus could be just as stubborn as Sirius, and just as sneaky. He wasn't a Marauder for nothing, after all.
When their final class of the day ended, Remus saw his chance. He briefly remarked to Peter about the difficulty of the spell that had been the topic of that day's lesson, and casually mentioned that James had seemed to master it immediately. In an instant Peter was at James' side, peppering the other boy with questions and asking him for assistance.
James rarely let a chance to show off pass him by, and as Remus had expected, immediately took the bait and launched into a detailed explanation of the theory behind the spell. He and Peter disappeared through the door and down the corridor, talking all the while, but when Sirius went to follow, Remus grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back into the now-empty classroom. A quick flick of his wand closed and locked the door against the muffled shouts and laughter of the students in the corridor celebrating the start of the weekend.
Sirius wrenched his arm from Remus' grasp and stood with his arms folded against his chest, glaring. "What?" he snapped.
Remus calmly replaced his wand in the pocket of his robes.
"We need to talk," he said.
* * *
From the moment he finished his poem James had been waiting for a chance to talk to Lily, but it was impossible to get her alone. She always seemed to be surrounded by her friends, and on the few occasions James glimpsed her by herself, Lily always managed to disappear before he could approach her. Times like these made James wish even more fervently that the map was finished.
But luck appeared to be on his side on Friday afternoon. James' heart leapt when he saw Lily climbing the stairs just one flight above of him as he headed back to Gryffindor Tower after Quidditch practice.
"Hey, Evans!" he called. Lily halted and turned around. At the sight of James her eyes narrowed.
"Go away, Potter," she said coldly, before she turned and continued marching up the stairs.
James scrambled after her, taking the steps two at a time. He was catching up, but Lily continued to ignore him. They reached the landing together, right as the staircase they had just climbed began to move. Seeing his chance, James grabbed Lily by the hand and tugged her down one step and onto the moving staircase.
"What are you doing, Potter?" Lily shrieked. She snatched her hand away and whirled around, her wand already out and pointed at James.
"Evans – Lily – please, I just want to talk to you," James said. "Alone."
"Yeah?" Lily said, glancing around. Their staircase was still moving, and all the others around them were empty. "You want to talk to me without an audience for a change? Without anyone to watch you embarrass me? Or are your friends hiding around here somewhere?"
"No, of course not," James said. "Look, I didn't plan this, all right? Well, I mean, I've been trying to get you alone, to talk to you, but I didn't plan this exact moment. But I have been planning what I was going to say. So I guess you could say that I was planning this. In a way. Er." James winced and ran his hand through his hair nervously. He was suddenly aware of how messy he must look, still dressed in his sweaty, muddy Quidditch robes. And he was babbling. He never babbled.
Sometime during James' desperate speech the staircase stopped moving and Lily lowered her wand. "All right, Potter," she said at last, folding her arms tightly across her chest. "I'm listening. What do you have to say?"
"Er." James rummaged through the pockets of his robes until he retrieved a crumpled scrap of parchment. Lily eyed it warily, as if she expected it to explode. Clearing his throat, James began to read:
I wanted to write you a sonnet,
So I found a sheet of parchment,
But I didn't know what to write on it.
I did plenty of research, and read poems many and old,
I knew I should praise your beauty and your cleverness,
And that one time you hexed Mulciber out cold.
But most of all I wanted to say,
Will you come with me to Hogsmeade on Saturday?"
When James was finished, he looked up hesitantly. Lily still stood before him with her arms folded, but her expression had softened somewhat.
"That's not a sonnet, you know," she pointed out.
"I know," said James. "I'm sorry. I did try, though."
"Did you really write it all by yourself, Potter?"
"And you've been carrying it around – even to Quidditch practice?"
James nodded again. "Listen, Lily, I'm sorry that I always embarrass you. I don't mean to, honestly, I just want to get your attention but I never know how. I promise I won't do anything stupid tomorrow, if you come to Hogsmeade with me. Will you?" he asked hopefully.
Lily was silent for a long moment, considering. "Well," she said at last. "I suppose I wouldn't mind going with you tomorrow. As – as friends, of course. Just this once."
"Really?" James cried. "I mean, great. That's great."
"I'll meet you in the common room tomorrow morning," Lily said. She turned to go, but hesitated. "Oh, and Potter?"
"May I have your poem? To keep?" The tips of her ears turned red. "Strictly for blackmail purposes, of course. In case you embarrass me tomorrow."
"Oh, right," James said, fumbling with the parchment in his surprise as he handed it over. "Here."
Lily folded it neatly and slipped it into the pocket of her robes. "Thank you, James," she said, smiling at last as she turned to go. "See you at dinner."
James watched in stunned silence as Lily climbed the last flight of stairs. It was only after she disappeared down a corridor that he roused himself enough to speak.
"She called me James!"
* * *
Peter hunched over the map, making a few final adjustments. Before James had to leave for Quidditch practice, they had both looked over the map and decided upon the last structural changes necessary before they applied the tracking and plotting charm later that afternoon. Remus and Sirius had not been there; Peter and James had somehow lost them between their last lesson of the day and Gryffindor Tower, and they had still not returned. Peter wondered absently if they had hexed each other unconscious or something. They had been acting oddly all week.
Peter gave the map one last look. It was perfect – now all they had to do was work on the charm. With a yawn and a stretch, Peter set the parchment aside and left the dormitory, heading to the common room.
There he discovered Mary Macdonald sitting by the window, without Lily for once. She appeared to be writing a letter and Peter dithered for a few moments, unsure if he should interrupt. At last he approached her. "Hi, Mary."
"Hello, Peter," Mary said, glancing up with a friendly smile.
They looked at each other for long moment, still smiling at each other awkwardly, before Peter spoke again, saying the first thing that came to mind. "Do you fancy a game of Exploding Snap?"
Mary's face fell. "Is James coming downstairs, then? Lily isn't here, you know."
"What do you mean?" Peter said, his forehead furrowing in confusion.
"She had to go and see Professor Slughorn about something," Mary said. "I'm not sure when she'll be back."
"What do James and Lily have to do with us playing Exploding Snap?"
Now it was Mary's turn to look puzzled. "Well, I thought – that is, it seems that you always ask me to play whenever James wants to talk to Lily," she replied. "So I'm not entirely sure why you'd want to play now, when neither of them is here."
Peter blushed. "I'm sorry, it's just – James – Lily – you know–"
Mary nodded. "I understand. I don't mind." Her smile was brief and, to Peter, seemed rather sad.
"I hate Exploding Snap," he blurted.
"I hate it," Peter said, still blushing. "I never liked it. I only suggest playing it because I don't know what to say to you."
Mary tilted her head, and studied Peter closely. Peter wilted slightly under her gaze, but bravely went on.
"I don't just do it for James' sake, you know. Talk to you, I mean." Peter ducked his head. He had a sudden desire to turn into Wormtail and hide underneath one of the armchairs by the fire. "I, well, I like talking to you. Or I would, if I knew what to say," he mumbled.
This time Mary's smile wasn't sad at all. "Peter, are you going to Hogsmeade tomorrow?"
Peter blinked at the abrupt change in subject. "Yes."
"We could walk there together, if you want," Mary offered. "We'll find something to talk about, I'm sure."
"Really?" Peter's head jerked up in surprise. "I mean, yeah. Of course. Definitely."
"On one condition," Mary said, suddenly looking stern. "Promise you'll never mention Exploding Snap again."
Peter raised an eyebrow. "Do you mean…?"
Mary nodded. "I never cared much for the game either," she admitted with a grin.
* * *
Back in the classroom, Sirius and Remus had not hexed each other into oblivion. Rather, Sirius stood, tense and glaring, as Remus fidgeted with the sleeves of his robes and shuffled his feet awkwardly, trying to figure out what to say now that he had Sirius' undivided attention.
Just when the tension in the room became almost unbearable, Sirius exhaled deeply. All the physical manifestations of his hurt and anger seemed to leave his body at once, and his shoulders drooped heavily, making him look very young and vulnerable. The sight seemed to shake Remus from his thoughts, and both boys tried to speak at once.
They fell silent once more, looking at each other closely as each tried to guess what the other was thinking. The emotions of the past week, all of the hope and the confusion and the awkwardness – and underneath it all the feelings of friendship and love and affection that had always been there between them – flitted across their faces in an instant.
Later, no one remembered who had moved first. One moment there was a desk between them, and the next it was being shoved aside, crashing into another desk with a tremendous clatter. Then Remus was clutching Sirius' shoulders – and Sirius had a firm grip of Remus' waist – and they were kissing.
The kiss was slow and almost tentative at first. Then Sirius shifted a little closer, and Remus shifted a little closer, and suddenly they were pressed against each other quite snugly. And then the kiss deepened, and Sirius managed to untuck Remus' shirt and his fingertips grazed against the soft skin at the small of Remus' back. Then Remus suddenly couldn't breathe at all and broke the kiss with a gasp, his forehead falling forward to rest against Sirius' shoulder.
"Well," Remus said when he had nearly caught his breath. "That was surprising." He straightened up but they continued to hold each other, both unwilling to end the embrace.
Sirius smiled and pressed a kiss to the top of Remus' head, "Actually," he replied, looking and sounding amused and, much to Remus' annoyance, far more composed than he felt. "I rather expected it."
"Of course. Did you think I was so oblivious that I'd not notice how strange you've been acting lately? Or that you nearly kissed me last night?"
"Yes," said Remus. "In fact, I was depending on your natural obliviousness."
"Although," Remus continued. "I suppose I was sort of expecting it as well, after all of your cuddling lately."
"I don't cuddle, Moony," Sirius replied somewhat tersely. His insistence on the matter, however, was thwarted by the fact that he was still clinging to Remus. "Anyway," he said briskly, clearly wanting to change the subject. "The question is: what do we do now?"
"There's the usual course of action," Remus said. "Avoidance, awkward silences, and promises never to mention this again."
"There is that," Sirius agreed, grinning. He brought one hand up to tangle in Remus' hair where it curled slightly against the collar of his shirt.
"Or," Remus continued, smirking in a way that made Sirius blush unexpectedly. "I could kiss you again."
"Moony," Sirius said, inching closer. "I always knew you were a genius."
* * *
That afternoon, after Remus and Sirius finally returned to the dormitory (unashamedly late and ignoring James' knowingly raised eyebrow), and after James regaled them with the lengthy story of how he finally got a date with Lily, the boys turned to the map.
They clustered around the desk, the parchment unfurled between them, and passed around the book of charms as they each took a turn in saying the incantations. When the final words of the spell were uttered, the thin lines of ink that made up the outline of Hogwarts castle glowed brightly for a moment, showing the dormitories and the dungeons, the kitchens and the secret passages. Then the lines faded, leaving the parchment blank.
There was only one way to know for certain if the charm had worked. The boys grinned at each other, hardly able to contain their excitement.
"Together?" Sirius said eagerly.
"I think so," Remus replied.
"All right, men," said James. "Wands at the ready."
Sirius reached for Remus' hand under the desk. With a smile Remus linked their fingers together and gave Sirius' hand a tight squeeze.
"On three," said Peter. "One – two – three!"
Four wands lightly tapped the parchment and four voices said as one, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good..."