Over the summer, Sirius had stayed with James, but for Christmas, he wanted to give Remus's house a try.
That was the official explanation, at least—he had been "struck with the urge to experience the exquisite cultural amalgam that is the Halfy Life" for himself.
Remus suspected that this sudden decision had more to do with the fact that James had recently entered a sonnet phase, in the throes of which he was inclined to turn to his wingman for consultation and critique at least twice a day.
One might have thought that Remus had had a hand in such a thing—but that would have required a meticulous calculation of the ratio of the fortitude of Sirius's patience versus that of his platonic bonds, followed by a perfectly-timed remark to James about Sirius's deeply-rooted love of amateur poetry, a passion nearly stamped out of him by the ruthless anti-creative sentiments of his fulminous family.
The fulminousness of Sirius's family was a favorite topic of conversation.
In any case, there wasn't a sliver of a chance that Remus had committed such a heinous act as subtle manipulation of one friend to inflict agony upon another, because the only way a paradigmatic saint like Remus Lupin could be driven to such a crime would be if Sirius had done something unnecessary and unconscionable first.
Such as dyeing all of Remus's white socks a vibrant violet, "to see what would happen, mate."
Since Sirius would clearly never embark upon a path of such ill-advised wickedness, Remus couldn't possibly have been involved.
He wasn't sure how he felt about the contagious side effects of James's lovesickness, however, given that he was now trapped in his own home with Sirius Black.
To be more precise, he was trapped on a neighbor's lawn, the first wispy snowflakes scattered amongst blades of withered grass.
Sirius was making a few adjustments to the mailbox.
Project Christmas Cheer, as Sirius had termed it, was to install spring-loaded green and red streamers in mailboxes all over town, such that their owners would receive a faceful of Christmas Cheer during their next unsuspecting attempt to retrieve their bills.
Or, more likely, the mailman would receive a series of increasingly frustrating facefuls of Christmas Cheer, start carrying a gun, and establish an elaborate vendetta against the mysterious perpetrator.
Remus leaned against the oak tree, crossed his legs at the purple-sock-clad ankles, and glanced up and down the street again to make sure that no one would notice Sirius peering into a mailbox, fiddling with his mechanism.
"You do realize," Remus remarked, "that you're substantiating countless stereotypes about our age group being needlessly destructive."
Sirius paused, flicking his bangs out of his eyes—for, of course, his bangs didn't quite reach to the elastic band securing the rest of his hair at the base of his neck, mandating a great deal of melodramatic head-tossing and half-curtained gazes—and blinked at Remus as if the other boy was the one doing something utterly and irretrievably insane.
"Of course I am," he replied. "I'm never going to have an excuse to propagate needless destruction ever again. Pretty soon—" He was back to the mailbox, and his voice echoed inside of it. "—we'll turn twenty, and then we'll have to pretend to be responsible adults."
Remus had to admit that he didn't like the sound of that.
Even as he shook his head, however, he detected a distant crunching rumble.
"Car!" he called, and Sirius snapped the mailbox shut and darted across the lawn to join Remus in loitering against the tree.
Sirius grinned as an old pickup rattled by, its driver not deigning to give them a second glance.
"I love this town," he decided. "Full of children and lame cars and mailboxes."
"You're crazy," Remus responded.
"Then why are you willing to be my sentry?" Sirius inquired.
"Because," Remus answered, "aiding and abetting is easier than jail-breaking. And I have more practice."
"I concede the point," Sirius announced, the epitome of munificence.
Remus wondered if all of this was a fair price to pay for having watched Sirius dive for cover every time James emerged from the bedroom with a new rose-petal-scented piece of parchment.
…okay, it totally was.
The next morning, Remus's mother made them pancakes, over which Sirius and his bright, easy grin charmed her like the smoothest siren's most polished aria. Thus prepared, they embarked on the latest scouting mission.
"Scouting missions" generally entailed Remus strolling through town accompanied by his big, beautiful black dog, who trotted around indexing mailboxes and sniffing everything in the universe for further reference.
Speaking of tails, Sirius's was whipping like a fencer's foil as he broke away from Remus and galloped after a mortified squirrel.
Grinding his teeth, Remus raced after, boots crushing the ice crystals dotting the street, shouting, "No, Sirius! Bad dog!" repeatedly to no avail.
He found the cur on someone's lawn, where Sirius had treed the squirrel and was settled down to growl up at it in the most menacing manner possible. Remus, breathless from the run and quite exasperated with all of this interrelated nonsense, stormed over and took the dog's face in both hands, gripping the velvety ears to pry its attention away from the unlucky rodent.
"Sirius," he said, slowly, angrily, and distinctly, "listen to me. If we're going to play your little boredom game, you're going to have to quit it with this untrained puppy shit. Squirrels are your friends. Are we painstakingly clear?"
Sirius gazed at him solemnly for a long, long moment.
Then his bottom jaw dropped, his huge pink tongue lolled out, and he commenced panting happily.
"You are terrible," Remus informed him, wagging a reprimanding finger. "But if you're good from now on—"
Sirius ducked out from under his hand and bolted.
"You son of a bitch!" Remus howled after him.
Fortunately, no one would have found anything suspicious about the phrase.
Sirius bounded off and down the street.
Muttering further unprintables, Remus scrambled up and chased after him.
Hedges, hydrants, and low fences were no match for Sirius, though one member of the lattermost category did threaten to buckle under his weight as he pushed off of it for maximum airtime.
Just a few seconds behind, Remus huffed, puffed, and vaulted, breathing lightly, in hot pursuit until… the shaggy black tail was gone.
Remus gritted his teeth and shoved a hand through his hair—which was slightly damp with sweat and ended up sticking that way—as he spun in an uncertain circle, his good boots creaking softly as their treads scraped on the pavement.
Stymied, Remus kicked a piece of gravel and watched it skitter away through the thin layer of patchy snow.
…through which there cut a line of paw-prints leading to a narrow alleyway between the back of one house and another.
Rolling his eyes did not suffice, though not for lack of trying.
Cautiously, Remus moved forward to the mouth of the alley, where he discovered Sirius, as he had vaguely hoped and resignedly predicted.
As he had neither hoped nor predicted, Sirius was human again—stark naked and leaning against the wall of the alley, arms folded across his chest, grinning like a lunatic.
The simile was unsound—lunatics did not grin like lunatics; they grinned like themselves.
"What the hell are you doing?" Remus hissed, shucking off his jacket and striding forward to push it at Sirius insistently. "You're going to freeze to d—"
Sirius grabbed his shoulders and dragged him in for a crushing kiss, disheveled black hair prickling gently at his neck and chin, firm fingers curled in his jumper, the coat pressed between them as Remus fumbled for a handhold that wasn't bare, goosebump-ridden skin.
Sirius released him just an inch, enough to blow a contented misty breath in his face, still grinning like—grinning as—a madman.
"What the hell was that?" Remus managed.
"Those damn teenage hormones," Sirius purred. "Is that your wand, or are you just happy to see me?"
"It's my wand," Remus said.
Sirius threw his head back and laughed.
"No," Remus protested, face heating up enough to warm the both of them, "it is. Here, look—"
Sirius hauled him in and claimed his lips again before Remus could rustle up the evidence.
Not that he was complaining.
Then Sirius drew back, shoved the coat at him, ruffled his already hopeless hair, and winked.
A huge black dog streaked down the alley and swerved around the corner where it met the street.
Remus sighed, fluffed uselessly at his stupid hair, and jogged off to give chase.
Sirius hit everything at a run, but he did make it worth your while to catch him.
If he wasn't careful, Remus would be mastering the maniac grin himself.