It’s coming up to Sirius’s eighteenth birthday and Remus has been agonising over what you get the disowned heir of a noble house who already has everything. He has always been a terrible present-giver. Usually, he ends up just throwing a nice bar of chocolate at the recipient and apologising profusely for being so utterly crap at picking presents. But this is Sirius’s eighteenth birthday, the last birthday he’ll have in Hogwarts before The Real World kicks in, and Remus more than anyone wants it to be perfect. He’s quite aware than he’s too sentimental for his own good.
“So we’ve got the Butterbeer hidden in the passageway to Honeydukes, and Peter, you’re going to get the wine, yes?” James asks, writing something down on A List – clearly either Lily or being Head Boy’s having a worrying impact on James’s maturity. Then again, birthdays are Very Important Things for the Marauders, and James plans birthday parties the same way Remus plans essays and revision timetables – carefully, and with great detail. And colour coding.
“As Head Boy, you of all people really shouldn’t be encouraging underage drinking,” Remus remarks mildly, turning a page in his book. James pauses for a second in thought then clicks his fingers.
“Special dispensation,” he concludes.
“Ah,” Remus answers, nodding sagely. “Handy to have the Head eating out of the palm of your hand, isn’t it?” James winks, laughs, and runs a hand through his permanently-dishevelled hair. Remus shakes his head and smiles as James consults the piece of parchment again. “What are you two getting him for his birthday, anyway?” Remus asks. James frowns in confusion.
“Well, this. The party is his present from all of us.” Peter nods in agreement.
“Oh, right. I just thought it might be nice if we gave him something else, something that he could keep.”
James frowns even deeper still. “Why, what did you have –“ But his sentence is interrupted by Sirius suddenly appearing in the common room and bounding over towards the sofa where James and Peter are frantically trying to hide away James’s list. Watching the nearly-eighteen year old lolloping in, with all the enthusiasm of a Labrador puppy and half its co-ordination, Remus finds himself wondering, not for the first time, just how much boy is left in Sirius.
“Well," he says with a triumphant air. He looks at the other three expectantly.
“Aren’t you going to ask how the date went?” Sirius presses, waggling his eyebrows.
“Can’t have been that good, you’re back here before curfew and you didn’t even have to sneak past Filch,” Remus mutters from behind his book. Sirius leans over and clips him behind the ear. Remus shakes his head and returns to his novel.
“So, how was the date, Padfoot?” James asks, just to humour Sirius.
“Shit,” Sirius beams to the utter confusion of the other boys.
“And this is good,” Peter concludes. “Er, why is it good?”
“Because, my dear Wormy, it means I have utter and absolute proof that my heart can only belong to Gryffindors,” Sirius elucidates, catching the eye of a fourth year and winking lasciviously, sending her flying into a stray bookshelf. “Oh, the Ravenclaws give them a run for their money, sure – but knowledge alone isn’t enough to satisfy me. I need someone who’s bold enough to put their money where their mouth is, who’s not all mouth and trousers, who…”
“Who isn’t afraid to punch you when you’re objectifying her?” Lily Evans is standing right behind them, managing to look simultaneously completely serene and yet murderous as she stares at Sirius, who is perfectly nonchalant. James, on the other hand, is going a beautiful shade of Gryffindor scarlet.
“Exactly, Miss Evans,” Sirius continues without a second’s hesitation. “And might I add how beautiful you are looking toda- ow!” James’s foot has suddenly and inexplicably made contact with Sirius’s shin.
“Mm, thanks a lot,” Lily says unconvinced. “James, Dumbledore wants to see us, check how things are going and that we haven't corrupted the younger students yet. I said I thought you were free now, is that alright? It shouldn’t take too long.” James nods and follows Lily out of the common room.
“I don’t know what nerve he has taking the form of a stag, when by all accounts he should be a bloody lapdog,” Sirius says, collapsing into the space James has left on the sofa. Remus squeezes his eyes shut, pinches the bridge of his nose, and exhales slowly.
“For the last time, you don’t choose your form –“
“Your form chooses you,” Peter and Sirius chorus. “We know, mate, I just say it because it winds you up. It’s not as fun now, it’s almost too easy,” Sirius laughs, tousling Remus’s hair affectionately. Remus brushes it back into place and opens his book again. Sirius reclines on the sofa with his hands behind his head, plonking his feet on top of the coffee table. “So, what are you gentlemen planning for my birthday?” Peter squeaks and goes purple with the exertion of trying to come up with a plausible lie.
Remus replies smoothly, “Oh, was that soon? I wouldn’t have guessed, you never said.” Sirius’s eyebrows appear to be trying to join his hair.
“Moony, don’t tell me you’d forgotten that the day of my birth, the day that the world was blessed by such a stunning, handsome –“
“Big headed, egotistical…”
“Honourable and courageous young man,” Sirius corrects, scowling at Lupin, “because then my heart truly would break.”
“I couldn’t forget your birthday, Padfoot,” Remus says consolingly, patting Sirius on the knee. Sirius smiles. “You’ve been going on about it for the past fortnight.” Sirius lazily hits Remus and yawns widely.
“Well, I’m going to go to bed so that you can plan my Amazingly Fantastic Birthday Surprise properly. See you in the morning. Goodnight, chaps.” He salutes and swings his legs around then jumps over the back of the sofa. Remus wonders idly if Sirius has ever done things the easy way. Probably not.
For the next hour or so, Peter and Remus sit in silence, Remus reading his book, Peter working frantically on his already overdue Charms essay on the benefits and drawbacks of Cheering Charms on people who have suffered trauma. If it were Sirius and not Peter, Remus thinks, he would have read the same sentence sixteen times while trying to stop his best friend and part-time pet dog from placing Sticking Charms to various objects in the room and cackling as unsuspecting first years tried to pick them up. Just when Remus is thinking about heading to bed, James and Lily walk back in to the common room from their meeting with Dumbledore.
“How’d it go?” Remus asks, making a mental note of which page he’d reached, and closes his book.
“Fine,” James replies, dragging an armchair from the fireplace to their circle so that Lily can sit with them. She takes the seat and smiles at James by way of thanks. James, to Remus’s immense surprise, manages to not go bright purple. “But the man doesn’t half go on, and whether he doesn’t take hints or just decides he’s going to ignore them we’re still trying to work out. I lost count of how many times I checked my watch and I think Lily cracked her jaw pretending to yawn. Got plenty of sweets though – he’s definitely on a strawberry bonbon kick at the moment.” James takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “He just wanted to check that we can still stand each other and that we’re not abusing our position of power.”
“I think it helps when the Head Girl is in on the plan for an illicit birthday party. Means she can pretend she has absolutely no idea what the younger students are getting all worked up about and can take the Head Boy’s side and feign ignorance when the Headmaster asks us precisely why the second year Hufflepuffs are excited about Scaramouch Rack’s party.” She turns to Remus. “You wouldn’t happen to know what that’s about, would you, Remus?”
“I haven’t the foggiest,” Remus says calmly. “But can I make a suggestion?” he continues, knowing it will fall on deaf ears. “Can we not get quite as much alcohol this time? Only we don’t want a repeat of the end of last term’s party, do we?” he asks James very pointedly. James goes quite pink.
“We don’t talk about that,” he says, giving Remus A Look.
Lily looks between Remus and James, bemused. “Yes we do. Please enlighten me.”
“James got so rat-arsed at the party last year that he was... indisposed, let’s say -”
“It was coming out of both ends!”
“Yes, thanks Peter, that’s precisely the image the Head Girl wants of the Head Boy…” James mutters.
“Anyway, so he was sat on the toilet with a bucket on his lap and making these really rather unpleasant groaning noises. Well, presumably McGonagall could hear something from her room, and, full of compassion for her student who was so clearly suffering from food poisoning, she came barging in and used Alohamora on the locked cubicle door. Obviously James was leaning on the door handle because when the door came flying open, he fell off the toilet and nearly into the bowl of sick; looked up, saw McGonagall standing there in shock, said very weakly, ‘oh, hello Professor’ then vomited quite spectacularly on his trousers.”
“Oh god, maybe I could just kill myself…”
Lily stares. “How on earth were you made Head Boy?”
“It’s a question I ask myself daily,” James says, wishing he was anywhere but here at this moment. “And now I need to go drown myself in said toilet, so if you’ll excuse me.” Peter laughs, gives Lily and Remus a jaunty wave and follows James upstairs to the boy’s dormitory. Lily sighs heavily and turns to face the last remaining Marauder.
“Tell me honestly Remus, do you think James will get really very drunk at this party you’re definitely not planning?”
“Do you really want me to be honest?” Remus asks her. Lily hesitates.
“Yes. No. Make it quick.”
“I think that this is his last chance to celebrate Sirius’s birthday in Hogwarts and he will act as such.” Lily sighs.
“And I was starting to warm to him, too.” Remus raises his eyebrow slightly and she blushes. “Shut up.”Remus smiles innocently at her, holding his hands up in defence, which only serves to make her blush even more furiously.
He hesitates for a moment. “Just… give the bloke a chance, will you? I know he can be an enormous prat, but his heart’s in the right place, and he’s been a lot better this year.”
“I have yet to be tackled by any singing flowers, and Merlin knows he’s had the chance,” Lily agrees, then sighs as if thinking well of James Potter goes against her better instincts. “I know he’s a good person, I just can’t forget how much of a vile toerag he can be, too.”
“Yes, I believe you made your feelings pretty clear on the matter,” Remus says, delicately. “But, Lily, there are – there are things that he’s done that honestly would change your mind about him.” She raises an eyebrow. “No, really. He can be a total lunatic and some of his pranks are downright dangerous, but he would do anything for the people he cares about. When Sirius ran away from home, James's family took him in with absolutely no questions - and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. He didn’t make Sirius talk about why he’d left, but he left it open so that if he did want to say, he could. When he found out about me being – what I am, he made it pretty clear that he didn’t think any less of me and he certainly wouldn’t stop being friends with me which, for a terrified twelve year old not used to being liked, particularly by the popular people, meant the world. And he’s helped me during my ‘time of the month’ like you wouldn’t believe.” Remus can see that Lily’s trying to marry up the James Potter, Vile Desperate Scumbag Of The Earth she thought she knew with the Prongs Remus is telling her about. “He’s still a twat sometimes though,” Remus adds, just to ensure Lily doesn’t think he’s been put up to this by James himself. Lily laughs.
“Oh, I know that,” she says smiling. There’s a long pause. “I have seen the side you’re talking about before though,” she continues. “He accidentally walked in on me crying in the common room when it was quiet last week because of a letter I’d been sent by my sister. I thought he’d make a joke of it but he just sat there with a seemingly endless supply of Honeydukes chocolate and said that if I didn’t want to talk at all that was fine, if I wanted to talk about it that was fine, and if I wanted to talk about anything other than it, that was fine too – but he didn’t want to leave me on my own when I was upset unless I actually hexed him out of the room. I think -” she hesitates. “I think he’s wising up.”
“We are in our final year,” Remus says, reasonably. “I’ve always been the old man and Sirius the child, James had to pick one of us to follow.”
“I’m glad he seems to have chosen you,” she says, smiling. “You always were one of my favourites.”
“Don’t let James hear you saying that,” he warns her, only half-joking. “I’d best go to bed, Lily.”
“Me too,” she says, looking at her watch. “And I will. Think about giving James a chance, I mean. If you’re still sticking with him he can’t be all that bad,” she adds, eyes twinkling. “Night.” She hugs him and heads up to the girl’s dormitory.
Remus remains in his seat, somewhat flummoxed. Has he just helped James in his endless quest to Woo Lily Evans? And, what’s more – without actually meaning to?
“Bugger,” he says, surprised.
Several days later, Sirius, Peter and Remus are quite peacefully sitting in the common room. Remus is reading another book, Peter is attempting to write another overdue essay and Sirius is drafting a letter to send to his parents asking them to “kindly fuck off” and is struggling to find a way of expressing this without saying it outright. Suddenly, James comes bursting in through the portrait hole and marches over to where the other three are sitting.
“Right. Which one of you spoke to Lily?”
Peter actually cowers. Sirius looks up, quill in his mouth and Remus hesitantly looks up from his book. “Erm, me?” He phrases it as a question and mentally berates himself for doing so. “Is there a problem?” Remus asks, utterly lost.
“Um.” James runs his hand through his hair in that maddening way that makes him look like he’s got nits. “Well, um, thanks.” The quill drops from Sirius’s mouth and Remus snaps his book shut.
“Thanks.” James takes the empty armchair next to Sirius and looks over his shoulder. “Dear Mum and Dad, cheers, now kindly fuck off. Don’t you think you should be a little -”
“Prongs, you berk, what in the name of arse is going on?” Sirius hits him over the head with his rolled-up parchment.
“Oh, well, Lily and I were just leaving Dumbledore’s office after our meeting and I said something that wasn’t actually a joke and she laughed and not in a nasty oh-god-Potter’s-so-pathetic way, in a genuine way -” The other three are stunned and James nods, eyes wide. “I know. Anyway then she said ‘Oh, I’d best go, I’ve got to return this book to the library’ and I just sort of asked her if she fancied coming to Hogsmede with me, and she said ‘Well we always go together don’t we, as Head Boy and Girl’ but she looked different when she said it, not like the other times I’ve asked -”
“Of which there are many…” Sirius adds sotto voce which earns a dig in the ribs from Remus.
“So I said, ‘No, I meant with me with me’ and she, well… She said yes.” Remus, Sirius and Peter stare incredulously at James, who mirrors their expression. “I know,” he repeats. He looks helplessly at Remus. “Well?” Remus looks incredulously back at him.
“Well what in the name of Merlin’s left bollock did you say to her?” Remus shrugs.
“The truth. I told her what you’re really like when you’re not acting like a total prat to impress her - so if you want her to like you, you’d best be yourself.” James stares at him, agog.
“What an appalling piece of advice!”
“It obviously worked well enough to win her over when she was upset last week,” Remus adds.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Moony, I wasn’t even trying to be myself then, she was upset and I wasn’t thinking of –oh.” James’s eyes widen as the penny drops and Remus nods in that infuriating way he has when he’s right, which is always.
“So, wait, Moony managed to get Lily Evans, Ice Princess Extraordinaire, to look at Prongs in a way that didn’t resemble the look usually reserved for shit on your shoe?” Sirius sits back, appropriately stunned. “Fuck me.” The expletive hangs in the air for a moment as the four Marauders consider this bizarre turn of events, then Sirius leans forward. “But how, Moony? How? How did you manage to convince Lily Evans to see Prongs for anything other than what he is, i.e. a humongous tosser – ow!” Once again James’s foot has of its own accord made contact with Sirius’s shin. He rubs the dirt off of his trouser leg. “Why would she listen to you over me?”
“Just because I don’t get off with girls doesn’t mean I don’t know how to talk to them,” Remus replies, a little sharper than he’d intended. “I don’t know why you’re so surprised she wouldn’t listen to your words of wisdom.” Sirius has that expression which usually makes Remus give up, but today he’s just annoyed enough that it encourages him to carry on. “You’re good at charming the girls into seeing you but once you’ve got what you want from them, you’re not interested. You keep getting away with it because there’s a queue out the door of girls who are willing to put their reputation on hold if you so much as glance at them – but none of the girls in our year respect you or would listen to anything you say because you showed your hand far too soon and you’ve made a reputation for yourself and – and now you’ve got to lie in it.” He’s pretty certain he’s lost the thread somewhere so compensates by standing up abruptly and heading towards the boys’ dormitory. He turns back to face Sirius, who looks astonished and, Remus is surprised to notice, a little ashamed. “If you want to know why Lily would listen to my advice over yours...” Remus falters as he realises he doesn't really know where he's going with this. Instead, he turns back and heads upstairs to his dormitory, collapses into bed and pulls the curtains around him. He closes his eyes and suddenly the implications of what he’s just done hit him.
Several minutes later, he hears the quiet footfalls of one of the boys coming creeping in. “Moony? You asleep?”
“Yes.” Sirius opens the curtains of the four-poster and Remus guiltily sits up. “Sirius, I’m really sorry.”
“Because it was out of order, and it’s almost your birthday and -”
“Don’t apologise, Moony, you were right.” Remus barely has time to let the fact that Sirius Black, He Who Must Always Be Right has just admitted that he was wrong, before Sirius falls back onto Remus’s bed, with a huff of exhaled air. His legs are dangling off the side of Remus’s bed, and his feet don’t quite touch the floor. Remus often forgets that Sirius is actually shorter than him – all his bravado and confidence make up for the few inches he lacks when he stands next to James and Remus. He brushes Sirius’s hair away from where it fell on his face when he lay back. This isn’t weird, he reasons, because we’re both still in our uniforms. Sirius rubs at his face.
“What am I going to do, Moony?” he asks. It’s quiet, and Remus knows from six years with Sirius Black that this means he is feeling particularly vulnerable. If he’s quiet, it means the usually extroverted, attention-loving Padfoot has started internalising. Remus also knows that while on the surface James and Sirius are better, closer friends, he is the only one that Sirius will talk to when he’s feeling like this.
“You can’t go back to them because it would just show that you need them,” Remus says, leaning back against his headboard. He often thinks that the reason Sirius always comes to him when he’s feeling like this is because It goes against Sirius’s nature to admit that he’s unhappy, and Remus always knows instinctively what’s upsetting or worrying him without it needing to be said. Sirius’s head is resting against Remus’s legs, and he frowns as he worries away at a frayed cuff of his school jumper.
“What if we looked into living together after we leave school?” He tilts his head so he’s looking, upside down, at Remus. Remus hesitates. “Just us.” Sirius is looking at him in the bizarre way that he sometimes does, grey eyes soft and ever-so-slightly pleading. Remus knows as well as Sirius that this look ensures that he gets his way. Remus puts it down to the centuries of in-breeding and an inherent persuasive ability encoded within the genes of the Black family.
“Wouldn’t you rather live with James?” he asks, cautiously. Sirius scoffs.
“What, and deal with another six years of him mooning over Lily? It’d be even worse now that you’ve managed to get her to look at him like he’s a human, not a Flobberworm, so cheers for that.” Remus laughs and knocks his knee against Sirius’s shoulder. “So, seriously, would you want to look into it? Provided you don’t manage to get a girl to fall for you instead of your dashing flatmate, obviously.”
There is a long pause. “Not really my thing,” Remus says, hesitantly.
“Oh right, yeah, what with your ‘furry little problem’, must be tough to get a girl to settle for longer than a month.” Sirius replies. “Actually, that ‘little problem’ might be the best defence from commitment ever, do you mind if I borrow it as a line?”
“Well, actually…” Remus is interrupted as two elephants, disguised as Peter Pettigrew and James Potter, come galumphing into the room.
“Have you two kissed and made up yet?” James calls to Remus’s bed.
Sirius makes some alarming smacking noises right by Remus’s ear. He’s pretty sure he’s been deafened. “Now we have, but you two might want to clear off for the night.” Sirius gives Remus’s leg a squeeze and leaps out to rugby tackle an unsuspecting James, who appears to have succeeded in getting stuck in his own trousers. “You and trousers just don’t get along, do you mate?” Sirius asks, shaking his head disapprovingly.
And just like that, Sirius has gone back to his boisterous, extroverted self – and Remus isn’t sure when he’ll have the opportunity to talk to him properly again.
He lies on top of his bed, still in his uniform, book lying open on his stomach. As the noise of Sirius chasing James around the dormitory gets louder and louder, Remus sighs.
The weekend arrives and brings with it the trip to Hogsmede – and Remus’s last chance to get Sirius anything more than a party he won’t remember for his birthday. He heads off to Hogsmede with Sirius and Peter – James and Lily are hanging back so they can’t be followed by Sirius – but once they get into the village, Peter and Sirius are chatting about Quidditch and it isn’t hard for Remus to slip away unnoticed. He’s wandering around the streets of Hogsmede, desperately looking for inspiration that isn’t from Zonko’s or Honeydukes when he spots a shop he’d never noticed before. It’s tiny, and looks like it’s about to fall down any minute, but he just knows that he’ll find something in here. He steps in, taking in the name on the peeling sign hanging over the door – Sherston and Son’s Antiquarian Emporium – and nods politely to the wizard behind the counter.
As far as he can see, all the shop stocks is odds and ends: an incomplete tea set, a basket of costume jewellery, a very outdated map. I’ll just take a cursory look around, he thinks to himself, then head to Zonko’s and get him the standard Marauder’s Mix. He’s turning to walk past the shop owner to feign interest in the bric-a-brac under the counter, nod a thanks and head out when he spots a gold pocket watch. Against his better judgement, Remus steps closer to the counter and takes a good look at it. It’s a beautiful piece, clearly an item treasured by its previous owner.
“Used to belong to a Muggle fellow,” the shopkeeper says, noticing what Remus is looking at. “Want a closer look?” No, Remus thinks, but for some reason he’s nodding and the man has unlocked the cabinet and is gently withdrawing the pocket watch from under the glass counter. He places it on top of the counter and carefully removes it from its velvet-lined box. “Original box,” he comments, and Remus nods. He flicks the watch open to display its face. “As I say, it used to be Muggle but then it was left to the bloke’s godson in his will, and his godson turned out to be a wizard. Quite a talented one from the looks of things, if he managed to change a normal Muggle pocket watch into this. It’s got the usual features of a magical watch – star chart, tracks the phases of the moon, obviously tells the time – but here’s where it gets interesting.” He taps the watch face two times with his wand and the display changes. “You know them big clocks they have in wizarding homes where you can see how the family’s doing?” Remus nods. He’s certain he’s seen one in James’s house, crowded with names of cousins and second cousins and second cousins twice-removed. “You can do that with this one – and there’s no limit to how many people it can keep track of. All you need is their full name and date of birth, you tap it twice to get it onto this feature, then tap it to change the person you’re looking at, then twice again to go back to the normal face. You can put an alarm on people too, so if they get to “mortal peril” or whatever you fancy calling it, you’ll know straight away.” Remus’s eyes have grown wide. It’s perfect. He knows instinctively that Sirius would absolutely love it. Something Muggle that’s been repurposed but still subtle, beautifully made and obviously someone’s prized possession – plus it’s practical, which Remus appreciates, is a traditional present and will last an awful lot longer than a massive party in the common room.
“How much is it?” he asks, warily.
The shopkeeper looks at Remus, at the watch, and then back to Remus again. “Fifteen Galleons.” Remus feels his throat tighten. Fifteen Galleons. It’s a lot.
“If you don’t see me in half an hour just assume that I don’t want it,” he says, and rushes out of the shop before he just hands over the money. Fifteen Galleons. That’s 250 Sickles. Remus feels dizzy. Unhelpfully, his brain provides him with the thought that that’s also 7,250 Knuts. He thinks he needs to sit down.
Instead of giving into histrionics unheard of since Lucius Malfoy left the school and threw an almighty strop because he only got “Exceeds Expectations” in his Defence Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T., Remus goes into Zonko’s. He listlessly rifles through the products on display, all the while his mind, the one thing he thought he could rely on, cheerfully informs him that fifteen Galleons would get Sirius a year’s supply of Dungbombs and Nose-Biting Teacups. Honeydukes is similarly ruined for him as he works out that fifteen Galleons’ worth of chocolate and sweets would probably make Sirius very, very ill – but would only last him about a week.
He checks his own watch – which is neither gold nor engraved in a beautiful Art Deco fashion – and sighs heavily.
Sirius and Peter are lounging in the common room, sprawled over sofas and armchairs they’ve unceremoniously booted second years out of and dragged towards the fireplace, which is crackling merrily. Peter’s face is pink from the cold, Sirius’s hair windswept, his grey eyes sparkling. Remus returns from the dormitory with his half-finished book. The remaining Gryffindors who’d gone into the village come traipsing in, discarding gloves, scarves and coats as they walk further into the warmth of the common room. James and Lily still haven’t returned – a fact noticed but not remarked upon by the three. Sirius and Peter start up a game of Wizard’s Chess and Remus settles down with his book, taking a moment to smell the pages.
“You are a surprisingly depraved individual, Moony,” Sirius comments as his knight smashes one of Peter’s pawns.
“It’s old book smell and it’s a hundred times better than whatever that cologne you bathe in every day smells like,” Remus replies. Sirius looks offended.
“That is ambergris, Lupin. It’s a precious commodity.”
“It stinks to high hell and makes my eyes water.” Sirius shakes his head.
“It’s crystallised whale vomit.”
“Yeah. Manly crystallised whale vomit.” Remus shakes his head and goes back to his book. “Where are Evans and Potter? Surely they should be back by now?”
“Maybe it’s been a very good date,” Remus comments, doing a fair impression of Sirius’s trademark eyebrow-waggle. “Speak of the devil…”
James and Lily walk in through the portrait hole, looking like they’re trying not to look like they’ve just been holding hands.
“Alright, Evans? Did Prongs show you a good time? Or was it all over too fast?” Sirius asks, feigning innocence.
“Great, thanks,” she replies calmly, unwinding her scarf and unbuttoning her coat.
“That woman is unflappable,” Remus comments, impressed.
“Challenge accepted,” Sirius mutters.
“I heard that,” she calls over her shoulder as she heads up to the girls’ dormitory.
Sirius manages to wait all of three seconds after she’s out of earshot before hissing, “Well?”
James shrugs, trying to appear nonchalant. “Yeah, it was fine,” he answers. “Nice.” Sirius is looking at him, his expression clearly unconvinced. “It was amazing,” James gabbles, flinging his coat off. “We went for a walk around the village and then popped into the Three Broomsticks and I bought her a drink, and we just sat there for ages talking. And I managed not to say anything stupid, like I was only staring at her legs because one of mine’s wooden, or that I collect buckets of ears.”
“Ah, the old ‘bucket of ears’ line,” Sirius says, fondly. “Word of warning: that does actually work on a small handful of the more disturbing Slytherins.” The three stare at him, unsure whether Sirius is speaking from experience or just talking out of his arse. Remus is, worryingly, inclined to believe the former, rather than the latter. James shakes his head and continues.
“Anyway, we were sat next to each other in one of the booths and then she sort of… slipped her hand into mine and I panicked and started apologising because I thought my hand had suddenly developed a mind of its own and had reached for hers, and she laughed and had to reassure me that she was the one who reached for my hand. And then… well, then there was a lot of hand-holding when we walked back through the village, and when we went into Honeydukes, and when I looked at my watch and realised we were almost half an hour late, and then some slightly more complicated hand-holding when we were running back to school.”
“But did you kiss her?” Sirius wants to know.
“A lady doesn’t kiss and tell, Padfoot,” James admonishes. “But I’m not a lady so yeah, we did. Just a peck on the steps outside the portrait, but then we sort of… didn’t stop doing it.”
“For half an hour, I presume?” Remus says, innocently. James sighs happily.
“Yeah…” The two exchange glances. Remus stifles a laugh and Sirius actually giggles. Remus thinks they might be hysterical.
“So, hand-holding and kissing,” Remus continues, trying to regain a modicum of dignity.
“And in front of the Fat Lady too,” Sirius says, knowingly. “That woman’s quite the voyeur. Bet she loved it, the saucy minx.” Remus bites his lip to stop himself from laughing.
“You two are just jealous.” James’s position as only child reveals itself most wonderfully when he’s sulking.
“You’ve hit the nail on the head there, Prongs. I’m horrifically jealous that I can’t hold hands with anyone. But – wait a moment, what’s this!” Sirius grabs Remus’s hand and holds it up triumphantly. Remus feels himself grow scarlet as the people around them in the common room turn to look at them. His desire to let go is almost as strong as his desire to carry on. “We’re… we’re holding hands! Hold the front page everyone, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black are holding hands! Who knows,” he says, lowering their hands and adopting a tone usually reserved for gossiping neighbours, “we might even hug in public.” He gasps in faux-shock and throws his free hand over his forehead dramatically. “But now, Mr. Lupin, you will have to marry me, or I shall be known as a ruined woman! I will be quite destroyed! Soiled goods!”
“Why are you talking like Scarlett O’Hara?” Remus asks under his breath. Sirius shrugs.
“Oh, you two can just fuck off,” James says, the tips of his ears going pink, and storms upstairs to the dormitory to collect a textbook. Sirius and Remus’s shoulders are shaking with the effort of not laughing out loud.
“We really shouldn’t be so cruel,” Remus says, offering Sirius a square of chocolate, which Sirius gratefully accepts.
“Of course we should,” Sirius says, cramming the chocolate into his mouth. “Otherwise he’ll start thinking that we actually have his best interests at heart,” he adds, thickly. “Speaking of which, how is the planning for my birthday going?”
“And how is that related to Prongs’s apparent success in charming Lily?” Remus asks, bemused. “It would be going a lot faster if some of us would bugger off so we can plan it.” Sirius raises his hands in submission.
“Okay, okay, point taken Moody. I’ll absent myself – those delightful House Elves downstairs haven’t been graced with my presence for quite a while. Gentlemen.” Sirius nods to Peter and Remus and sweeps Lily a deep bow as she comes down from the girls’ dormitory, book in hand. “Milady.” Lily gives him a bemused look and shakes her head.
“Is he always so utterly insane?” she asks, taking the armchair Sirius has left free and opening her book.
“Only on days ending in ‘y’,” Remus replies, sighing heavily. “What’s that you’re reading?”
“The Woman in White,” Lily says, holding the cover up for Remus to see. “Have you read it?” He nods.
“Over the summer, it’s really good, you’ll enjoy it.” Lily smiles.
“I have utmost faith in you, and now I’ll have someone to blame if I hate it.” She laughs and tucks her feet up in the chair and settles in. Remus recognises the pose of the Determined Reader. Come hell or high water – or James Potter, for that matter - Lily won’t be distracted from reading until she’s ready to stop.
“Right, have you two stopped taking the piss out of me for – oh, hi, Lily.” James has come back down with his unfinished Transfiguration essay. Lily looks up from her book at James. “Erm, sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“No, no, don’t worry about it, when I read I sort of tune the rest of the world out,” she says, smiling.
“You sound like Remus,” James says, taking the spot next to Peter on the sofa. “You two would be very good together,” he adds, trying to keep his tone light. To Remus’s immense relief, Lily laughs at this.
“Oh no, James, I don’t think I’d be right for Remus at all,” she says, her green eyes wicked and flashing Remus a very knowing look. He can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable and clears his throat.
“Seeing as it’s Sirius’s birthday next weekend, shouldn’t we start making some more plans?” he suggests.
“Oh, thank god,” James says, withdrawing The List. “If you hadn’t suggested it I would’ve had to actually work.” He moves the chess set from the table between the sofa and armchairs. “Er,” he says, turning to Lily.
“Don’t worry, I am reading, I am oblivious to everything around me, including the Head Boy planning a party that will doubtlessly include illicitly-obtained alcohol.” She turns a page in her book, not even looking up. James looks at her for a moment as if all the angels in Heaven had conspired to create her. Remus rolls his eyes and coughs.
“The party, Prongs?”
“Wha- oh, yes. Of course. So. We’ve got the alcohol sorted, thanks Peter,” Peter nods and takes an Every-Flavour Bean from the open box on the coffee table. “I’m going to pop down to the kitchens later and have a word with the House Elves. Once they know who the party’s for, they’ll be falling over themselves to make the food. Do we have any preferences?”
“Nothing that stains,” Lily answers from behind her book. “I refuse to spend the next day on my knees.” Instinctively, Remus turns to hit Sirius to stop him from making an inappropriate comment before he remembers that Sirius isn’t there.
“I reckon food that doesn’t need plates, and nothing too heavy if this is happening after dinner. Cheese and pineapple sticks, Twiglets, that sort of thing,” Remus suggests. James nods and dutifully makes a note of it on his list.
“What about a cake?”
“Chocolate,” Remus, Peter and Lily answer in unison. The three boys turn to Lily in astonishment. “What, do you think I hadn’t noticed the alarming speed at which you four eat chocolate? You’d think you were a group of hormonal girls at the rate you get through it.”
“Chocolate cake it is, then,” James says, writing it down. “How many layers?”
“Four,” Lily adds, having put her book aside. “With chocolate buttercream between them. One for each of the Marauders.” James beams at her, and Lily smiles back, green eyes soft. Remus’s gaze darts between them and he feels the ache of not knowing what that must be like. He hastily breaks off a square of chocolate to distract himself and moves on to the next consideration.
“Who are we inviting?” James produces another, unfeasibly long roll of parchment with a list of names from his pocket.
“That… James, that’s everyone in the school!” Remus exclaims. James shrugs.
“Well, yeah. I thought it would probably be easier to decide who wouldn’t be coming than who would,” he argues. Remus has to admit – begrudgingly – that this is actually quite sensible. “It’s divided into the years, and then within each year the Houses. I’m fairly certain we can rule out all of the Slytherins-“
“Not all of them,” Lily says, her voice soft but slightly dangerous.
“I don’t really think it’s the best idea to invite Severus Snape, do you?” James asks. “Or… Would you want him to-“
“Not him,” Lily says, spitting out him with a venom previously reserved only for conversations with James. “I meant Regulus.” James and Remus exchange wary glances. Anything related to Sirius and Regulus is by its very nature a delicate matter.
“The thing is, Lily,” Remus starts, trying to find the best way of handling one of the few aspects of Sirius’s life that he keeps quiet, “Sirius and Regulus haven’t exactly been on the best terms since Sirius was Sorted into Gryffindor and Regulus into Slytherin, with all the stereotypes those two Houses entail.”
“Kind of like you and your sister, only with mental pureblood ideas and an alarming fondness for the Dark Arts,” James adds. He bites his lip, judging Lily’s response to this comparison. To his relief, it appears to have been successful.
“Okay, so no student under sixth year and no Slytherins at all,” Lily concludes, grabbing James’s quill and drawing a line through the relevant columns. “Now. Where are we having it, here?”
“Well, yeah,” James says. “Unless you know of a room that can suddenly be conjured up and remain invisible to the staff,” he teases.
“Alright, smartarse, just because we’ve had our first date doesn’t mean you get to take the mickey out of me,” Lily says, green eyes flashing.
“Sorry, first date? Does that mean there might be another?” James is pushing his luck, Remus thinks, but Lily doesn’t even bat an eyelid.
“Anyway,” she continues. “The one thing we have to be careful about is that if we’re getting the sixth and seventh years from Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw in here, we’ve got to watch out for security. I know they’re our allies everywhere other than on the Quidditch pitch and in exams, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw caution to the wind.”
“Already taken care of,” Remus replies, smiling. “I’ve had words with the Fat Lady and she’s agreed that for that night only the password’s going to be changed. Changes at 10pm on the Saturday night and back again at 3am on the Sunday morning. That way if people from other houses leave at 3am they can’t come back in, and I imagine that the majority would be ready to leave not long after it switches back to the usual password.”
“Which will be…?”
“Decided on the Friday night and those invited will be given it on Saturday morning,” Remus finishes. “I’ve told the other prefects what’s going on just so they’re prepared. The majority are fine with it – particularly as they’ve been invited – but there were a few who were less than pleased.” Remus turns to James. “I had to tell the Slytherin prefects, I mean, they’ll know about it anyway. Sorry, Prongs.”
James pauses for thought. “No, mate, you had to tell them, you’d only be asking for trouble if you didn’t. Even if you invited them along it’s not as if they’d go or let any of their lot go. The only thing I’m worried about is them snitching to Dumbledore,” James says, frowning.
“Er, I’ve sort of… Taken care of that,” Lily adds, hesitantly. “Sorry to have done this behind your back – when you were at Quidditch practice I scheduled a meeting with Dumbledore, James. So he knew what you were planning. He’s prepared to look the other way just as long as the party stops on Sunday morning and nobody ends up in any serious harm.”
“No, that’s perfect. Now, if the Slytherins do decide to take it to him then he’s already been told so he’s essentially given us his blessing. That’s ideal, thanks Lily,” James says, relieved.
“What about the other Gryffindors who aren’t invited?” Peter pipes up. “The first to fifth years? If we’re not letting the younger years from other Houses come, it’s not fair to let the younger kids from ours come.” The four sit in contemplation for a while.
“Well, McGonagall already knows about it, if the party’s starting at 10, it’s not unreasonable for us to get them to go up to their dormitories then – I highly doubt that the others will be turning up at 10 on the dot so if there are a few who are more reluctant we’ve probably got about an hour to convince them to bugger off,” James muses.
“They won’t like it,” Remus warns.
“Yeah, but what choice do we have?” James says, sighing. “They’re going to know what we’re doing, it’s not like we can pretend we’re not having a massive party. I just don’t know what else we can do to get them out of here in time for the party to start.”
“I could speak to the Hufflepuff Quidditch Captain,” Peter adds. “We were working on our Charms essay last week and he mentioned something about wanting to organise a friendly for the younger students. That’d knacker the younger lot out and would give you time to get the stuff sorted without them constantly wandering in and getting in the way.”
“It’s a good idea, Pete, but it’s a bit late in the game as we’ve only got a week. Cheers though – I’ll remember it for the next party,” James says, patting Peter on the shoulder. “So what can we do to get the toerags out for the evening?”
“Why not just go for the more direct approach: I’m older than you, I’m Head Boy and you’ll do as I say or I’ll make the lot of you do a detention with Filch.” Lily suggests, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “I think we’ve just got to tell them that they have to go up earlier because if they don’t, we’ll get in trouble and then we definitely won’t be able to do the much bigger and better end-of-year Gryffindor party. Four out of the five year groups have already been to at least one of them, and they’ll all know how huge those parties are. Telling them that coming to this one could mean that we can’t have the one at the end of the year might be enough of a deterrent,” she reasons. “I can put an Imperturbable Charm around the common room so they won’t be able to hear us. That way it won’t disturb them. Granted, they’ll still know we’re having a party that they’re not invited to but at least the noise of us having fun without them won’t be keeping them awake.” Lily shrugs. “Just my thoughts.”
“No, definitely makes sense,” James agrees, and makes a note of it. “Let the prefects of the other Houses decide how they’re going to handle their own students, it’s not really our concern.”
“Well,” Lily says, “technically it is our concern as we’re Head Boy and Girl – but speaking from a selfish Gryffindor perspective, fuck ‘em.” Remus, James and Peter stare at her in shock.
“I –er, what?” James says weakly.
“Lily said ‘fuck’,” Peter says, horrified.
“Bugger,” Remus says, equal parts astonished and impressed