Day One: Blue Paint
The Easter break of their sixth year, the fortnight that included Remus’ birthday, it was only the two of them in the dormitory, Sirius having refused the Potter’s hospitality after he learned that James’ parents were hosting the holiday at their home, and, as the full moon actually fell on Easter, Remus disliked to trouble his mother in that way. They said their good-byes in the Great Hall over breakfast and waved them off, James to home and Peter to extended family and a sunny vacation. They went directly back to sleep afterward, it having taken most of the night to lay the hex that would spew noxious blue paint when their friend’s opened their trunks.
Day Two: Flood
It was raining the next morning, a constant cold drizzle broken by sporadic bursts of earnest storms, and seeing it out the window after having been woken by the crash of thunder, Remus pulled the blanket up over his head and resolved not to get up until noon. It was only perhaps nine when his plans were interrupted. “Remus,” a familiar voice hissed in his ear.
“Sleeping. Go away,” he said, as distinctly as he could.
“Won’t,” came the obstinate reply. “Besides, you should see this.”
It was then that Remus became aware of an uncomfortable truth: though certainly it had smelt of rain earlier, the smell had grown. It was as if a window had been opened, which, as he could not feel the wind that howled outside, was unlikely. There was also a sound, much quieter than the lash of rain, that resembled nothing so much as a leaky tap. “Sirius?” he kept his eyes shut.
“Please tell me that what I think is happening has not happened.”
He could hear his friend’s grin, “Bad luck, mate. We’re being rained on.”
Remus opened his eyes. Sirius was crouched beside his bed, soaked through, his pale skin even paler and nearly blue from cold, his hair plastered to his face. It was raining in their dormitory: the roof was intact, the windows were closed, but rain poured down steadily from the ceiling nonetheless.
“I’m going to kill James,” Sirius said, his teeth beginning to chatter. “Budge up, will you? Everything else is drenched.”
Dazedly, he replied, “I put Impervius charms on my bed last month, after you and Prongs and Wormtail threw flobberworms through the curtains.” He was feeling more awake by the second, unfortunately.
“Target practice,” Sirius smiled, unrepentant. “Good thing, too, or we’d both be soaked.”
Remus drew up his knees and made room. Sirius stood and stripped, pulling his shirt over his head and stepping out of his trousers—both garments fell wetly to the floor. Wearing only pants, and those rather wet as well, Sirius fell beside Remus, pulling the curtains closed behind him and dragging at the blankets. Remus had scrunched his eyes closed, wondering if this counted as good or bad luck. Both, probably.
“You’re not going back to sleep?” Sirius shook out his hair, causing water to land cold and wet across the previously warm and dry bedding. He opened his eyes in time to see Sirius push his marginally less wet hair back with both hands—Remus did not mention that with his hair slicked back he looked like his brother. Sirius grinned at him, erasing the resemblance to dour, serious Regulus. “We’ve revenge to plot!”
“It’s too early for revenge,” a token protest, as he was sure he couldn’t get back to sleep.
“Poppycock!” his friend shouted, causing Remus to start. “It’s never too early for revenge.”
Remus scrubbed the sleep from his eyes, “Shouldn’t we see about stopping the monsoon first? Besides, it could have been anyone—you can’t accuse James when he’s not even here to defend himself.”
Sirius held out his right arm, on the forearm was written, in familiar capitals: ‘ENJOY THE WEATHER!’ It was signed ‘J.’ and ‘P.’ “Can’t I?”
“Well,” Remus considered, “we did charm their trunks to spray them with paint.”
“But they didn’t know about that, yet. The must have done this days ago.”
“Alright,” he conceded. “Do you have a plan?”
“Not as such,” Sirius admitted. “Not yet.”
Remus yawned, considering the options, “Alright, this might work: write a letter to James, don’t mention the rain. Say everything is normal, boring. He’ll be suspicious, but he might think the spell didn’t work. He might not expect anything, then.”
“Devious Moony,” Sirius grinned. “Do I mention the paint?”
“Yes,” he decided, after a moment’s thought. “Be annoying about it, he might think you’ve written to rub it in.”
“What about Peter?”
“Later,” he shook his head. “Separate plans, so they can’t compare notes.”
Sirius was smiling, “What would I ever do without you?”
He curled up on himself, lying on his side, knees nearly to his chin. “Probably,” he agreed and yawned. “What next?”
“I’m sure you can think of something appropriately nasty.”
“They’ll suspect any package we send. Prongs might not even open a letter.”
Remus tilted his head to one side, “Use a school owl, someone else’s name. He’ll open anything if it has Lily’s name on it, even if he does suspect us; he won’t be able to resist. In fact,” his eyebrows drew together in a slight frown, “she might help us. Write a him a letter we can send.”
“You are devious. She’s here?”
“Prefect duties, two from each house—I think she volunteered.”
“Good,” Sirius pronounced. “Excellent. Now, summon my wand for me and we’ll get rid of this rain.”
It took forty minutes to kill the spells on the ceiling and another twenty to dry out the room. “Any ideas?” Remus asked, when they were back on his bed, chilled but dry.
“Hmm?” Sirius’ eyes were closed, his hands laced over his stomach.
“For James—your revenge. Any ideas?”
A slow smile crept across his face. Eyes still closed he answered, “A field of them.” He rolled off the bed suddenly, catching himself at the last second with his arms and pushing back up against the floor to his feet in one fluid movement. “I’ll write that letter now, post it.”
“You’ll want to put some trousers on—you know what McGonagall will do if she catches you naked in the corridors. Again.”
Sirius’ grin grew lascivious, his eyes laughing, “The saucy kitten.” He laughed, “Right then, Moony, letter and trousers. A shirt, too, do you think?”
Remus failed utterly at maintaining any sort of serious expression. “And drive McGonagall into a frenzy of passion? She might never recover.”
“Too right, Moony.” Sirius winked at him, snatching one of Remus’ own shirts off the top of his trunk and pulling it on.
They had missed breakfast, but it didn’t take much to coax a bacon sandwich and a quick cup of tea from the kitchens. It was past eleven when he left, a pear in one pocket and a small, slightly soggy bundle wrapped in a napkin in the other. He found Lily in the common room, studying at one of the small tables by the windows.
“Runes?” he asked, taking the seat next to her. “I could help.”
“You could,” she agreed, marking her place with a finger, its nail painted bright blue. She barely glanced at him before her expression grew suspicious. “What do you want?”
“Hardly anything,” he smiled. “Just a small favour.” He dug the bundle from his pocket and folded back the napkin, revealing several dozen olives. Lily insisted that friends didn’t need to bargain, but Remus liked to keep things even, and olives were her favourite.
She took the napkin from him, expression resigned. “What is it?” He explained about the morning’s flood and their plans for James. “And you think he won’t open anything from you two?” She considered it, twining a string of hair around her finger. “Sure, I’ll write him something. Does it matter what I say?” Her grin was sharp and toothy.
Remus smiled back, “It depends on what Sirius decides. If it’s package then we need him to open it, but if it can fit in an envelope….”
“Alright, when do you need it?”
“Day or two—I’ll tell you when.”
“Fair enough,” she shrugged and popped an olive into her mouth.
"Lily’s in,” he told Sirius when he set across from him at lunch.
“Excellent,” he looked distracted. “Could you get some lionfish spine from the potion stores?”
“It’s in the open cupboard; I can get it after lunch. We’re making a potion?”
“I’m making a potion,” Sirius corrected, his hazy expression retreating. “No offense, Moony.”
“None taken. Where will you be, that you can’t make it to the dungeons?”
“Forest,” he replied, “following my nose. The potion needs flutterbush stamen—Sprout will notice if I take them from the greenhouses, and they need to be fresh.”
Remus couldn’t think of a potion that required fresh flutterbush stamen off the top of his head, but that wasn’t surprising. “What’s the potion?”
Sirius shook his head, glancing about the –sparsely populated—Great Hall. “Later.” He pushed his plate away, food barely touched. “I won’t be long—an hour, maybe.”
“I’ll follow you on the Map,” there was less possibility of being caught if only one of them entered the forest and, as a dog, Sirius attracted less attention.
“After you get the powdered spine,” he protested, and then left before Remus could argue with him.
“Pillock,” he finished his meal and descended to the dungeons.
Sirius having not specified the amount of powdered lionfish spine he would need, Remus took an entire vial of it and went back up to the dormitory to wait. Sirius was already out of range by the time he unfolded the Map and without much else to do Remus lay back on his bed and fell into sleep. He dreamed: A woman with pale blue skin was leading him through a labyrinth, a spool of string unraveling behind them. There were horns poking up from her violently curly brown hair, antelope horns, and her feet clip-clopped on the paved floor like hooves. She wore a full skirted dress of some yellow-green material that floated as she moved, tissue-like. When she turned to face him her eyes proved to be black—or perhaps merely very dark blue—and without white sclera. Her face was elongated, almost snout like; when she spoke it was not in a language Remus recognized.
“Are you Ariadne?” he asked. “Or the Minotaur?” She didn’t respond, but handed him the skein of thread. “A clue,” he said, then corrected himself, “clew. The string that led Theseus through the labyrinth.” The blue antelope woman walked away, then began running. Remus ran after, trailing string behind him, never quite catching her up, arriving just in time to see her turn another corner, hair flying out behind her, hooves clacking on the stone floor. When they finally came to a dead end the woman turned, smiled, and disappeared.
“Wait—“ Remus began, then woke up. The dream swirled mist-like through his thoughts, refusing to resolve itself, then disappeared entirely, leaving behind only the sense of dissatisfaction.
Sirius was back, having brought the smell of the Forest with him. It, too, tickled at Remus’ memory: the scent of magic and green growing things, leaf litter and animal musk. “Find what you need?” he asked, stretching.
“You got too much lionfish spine,” Sirius informed him from his perch on the windowsill, “I won’t use even use a quarter of it.”
“Whose fault is that? Give me an amount next time. Did you get the stamen?”
“Easy.” Sirius kicked his feet, “I’ve been back an hour—you looked like you needed the sleep.”
Sirius grinned, “Not really. It’s useless sneaking into Slughorn’s secure cupboard if he’s not distracted. Dinner’s not for twenty minutes.”
Remus was resigned, “What are we stealing?”
His friend appeared scandalized, “Liberating, Lupin. Liberating, for a just and noble purpose.”
Remus persisted, “What are we stealing?”
Sirius shook his head, smiling, “We need Erumpet liver.”
“A whole one? Slughorn will notice that.”
“Just a part, and he won’t notice if we’re careful about it.”
“He might,” Remus insisted.
Sirius made a dismissive hand gesture, “A small chance—very small. Are you backing out?” there was a mocking shimmer to his eyes.
“Of course not. I’d merely like to mention that there are barely forty students here, he’s bound to know it’s us.”
“But,” he snapped his fingers, “he’ll never be able to prove it, because the potion is for James and he’s not here.”
“Unless we’re found out while you’re making it.”
Sirius was dismissive, “That will never happen.”
“November, fourth year—I got three weeks in the trophy room; I smelt like metal polish for a month.”
“Count yourself lucky,” he said, “I was in the Infirmary— I don’t even want to think about what I came away smelling of.” He waved a hand, “But now we have the Map, and you can keep watch.”
Remus closed his eyes, suddenly wishing he had managed more sleep, “When?”
“Tonight, while the flutterbush is still fresh.”
Remus opened his eyes, “And what are you making?”
Sirius’ smile was sly, “In good time, Moony, all will be revealed.”
Remus leaned back into his bed and closed the hangings on Sirius’ laughter.
A check of the Map told him Lily was in her dormitory. He waited in the common room until a second year—he thought her name was Leocadia, but he didn’t care to risk it—came through the portrait hole and asked her to fetch Lily.
“Why?” she asked, instead of the more usual blushing and giggling that was his experience with girls her size.
He stared down at her. She had very pale green eyes and short, straight black hair and such a petulant expression that he wondered vaguely if she was some distant relation of Sirius’. “I need to ask her something. Prefect business,” he lied.
She frowned at him for a beat before going up the stairs. Nothing happened for such a long time that he thought the girl had simply gone to her room, but eventually Lily came down. “Cadi thought we were being exploited,” she said.
“Leocadia, the girl you sent? Her mother’s one of those women who chained themselves to the fountain in the Ministry last year. She had Ideas.”
“Good for her. Is that what took you so long? I thought she hadn’t told you.”
She shifted, a bit guiltily. “I was reading. Muggle fantasy,” she supplied at his inquiring look. “Dragons, knights, and helpless maidens,” she made a face at the last one.
“And evil sorcerers,” Remus added, with a rueful smile.
“You’ve read it,” she said, with a smile to match his own. “Now, did you need something or did you just want to comment on my choices in literature? Cadi said it was prefect business?”
“Oh, well, I had to tell her something, she looked like she might hex me.”
Lily chuckled, “The letter, then? Do you need it now?”
“Tomorrow. Sirius is going to dip it in the potion, so you can write whatever you like.”
“Well if that’s all,” she said, grinning, “I can get back to my book, then.”
He let her.
“Will you tell me now?” Remus asked, the Map in front of him, watching out of the corner of his eye as Sirius’ potion turned silver.
Sirius was measuring out something violently green with a dropper. “It causes insubstantiability—anything it touches.”
“Oh, Sirius,” he began to smile. “So he puts it on a desk—“
“It sinks through, touches something else, and so on.”
“Initially. Twelve hours before whatever the letter has touched is affected, after that it’s instantaneous.”
“How do you stop it?”
“The usual way—earth, fire, or salt water. And the effect wears off after a few days.” He added four drops of the green liquid and began stirring widdershins with his wand. Slowly, the potion thinned and darkened. When it was like obsidian—shiny and black and slightly opaque—Sirius ceased stirring and nodded in satisfaction. “What’s the moon tonight?”
“Full is on Sunday.”
“Excellent. Any stronger and it might fall through the envelope en route.” He frowned, “I suppose the Potter’s have wards on the house? I’d hate for it to collapse or something because the wrong beam went insubstantial.”
“It’s an old house,” he said, “they would have been laid when the structure went up.” Remus had learned a lot about magical architecture in the last few years.
“Good,” Sirius nodded, standing up and stretching—he had been at the cauldron for a little over an hour. “I’d like to think they would forgive me, but I’d prefer to avoid the Howler, all the same.” When Remus did not say anything he picked up the cauldron, hands protected from the hot metal by an insulating charm, extinguished the fire that had burned on the bare floor underneath it, and set the potion in the window. “How fared you with Evans?”
“Fine,” he shrugged. “We’ll have the letter tomorrow. Later today, rather,” he corrected himself, glancing at his watch. There was a long silence, and for the life of him Remus couldn’t put a finger on when things had taken such a turn towards uncomfortable.
“Do you like her?” Sirius asked, finally. The room was dim, lit only by a lamp and the starlight shining through the open window. Sirius’ pale eyes were bright, reflecting back the sparse illumination, and his hair was nearly lost to shadows.
“What?” The question had taken him by surprise.
Sirius’ voice was flat and quiet, barely a whisper in the sudden hush, “You heard me. Do you like her?”
Remus swallowed and resisted the urge to fidget by clasping his hands together, the fingers threading. “I would never do that to James.”
“That isn’t what I asked,” he enunciated the words very precisely, as if he wanted no confusion over them, and for the third time asked, “Do you like her?”
“No,” he said, and watched the tension go out of his friend’s body. “She’s very kind, but she’s only a friend.”
Sirius smiled at him, white teeth glinting in the dark.