"So how does it feel not to be the biggest scandal in the Black family anymore?" Remus asked, spooning buttery boiled potatoes onto his plate next to a thick slice of steak and onion pie.
The Leaving Feast was in full swing, and Remus was feeling good about life in general. He had made it through the exams, Snape had not so much as looked at him in more than a week, Slytherin had lost the Quidditch cup, and best of all, his friendship with Lily was back on firm ground. She was even sitting with him and the other boys, though at the moment, she was discussing different interpretations of a question from the Transfiguration exam with Dorcas Meadowes, seated to her right.
"Bloody marvelous," beamed Sirius around a mouthful of thickly buttered crusty bread. "With that many witnesses, and most of them Slytherins, Uncle Cygnus and Aunt Druella can't pretend it didn't happen. With any luck, my parents will be so busy with this that they'll forget all about me."
Remus thought it was a shame that Sirius's family forgetting about him was the best that he could hope for from the coming holidays, but from everything he had heard about Sirius's parents, he thought it likely that his friend had the right of it.
"Did you notice they haven't even showed up for the feast?" asked Gideon Prewett, who had been sitting with his brother and Amelia Bones in the Hufflepuff stands during the match earlier that day.
Remus glanced over at the Slytherin table, searching for the blond heads of Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Black, but Gideon was correct. He wondered if they were hiding, or if they had landed in so much trouble that they had not been allowed to come to the feast. Probably the former, he decided. While their actions had been shockingly indiscreet, both of them were of age, after all.
"Bagman's livid," confided Fabian in a low voice. "We doubled back after the match and hid out in the changing rooms. He says Malfoy cost him the match, and now he might not be able to get as good a salary from the Wasps next year. So now he's going around making sure everyone in the school knows exactly what happened."
Sirius sighed rapturously. "Narcissa's ruined for sure. I might start supporting the Wimbourne Wasps just for that."
"Remind me never to get on your bad side," said Remus with a wry smile.
"Remind me never to get on yours," grinned Sirius, elbowing him familiarly. "I saw what happened to Snivellus."
Remus had all but given up trying to get Sirius to stop using the name. "At least don't call him that to his face."
"We heard about that," said Gideon. "Good show, Lupin. That little shite is bad news."
Fabian sat back and patted his belly. "A good meal, a little drama, a little scandal. An excellent end to the year, if you ask me."
"Shame we never found out about Pomfrey and Tynedale, though," said Peter regretfully, looking up at the staff table.
"What about Pomfrey and Tynedale?" asked Lily, glancing across the table at him.
"That they're --" Peter blushed and went a bit tongue-tied.
"That they're lovers," Fabian teased out the word with a grin, as if hoping to provoke a reaction from the girl.
Lily only snorted. "Pomfrey and Tynedale aren't lesbians. At least, Tynedale's not."
James scowled at her. "What makes you so sure, Evans? Know your own kind, do you?"
"Well, if you're going to be like that, Potter, you'll get nothing from me," she said tartly.
James immediately changed his posture. He batted his eyelashes and pouted absurdly. "I most humbly beg your pardon, Milady Evans. I meant no offence. Please, reveal to us your secrets."
She snorted again. "Clown. Serve you right if I didn't tell you anything. All right, then. Did you know Tynedale's resigning?"
The boys leaned closer, interested. They had all heard the rumours that the Defence post was cursed and that no one had lasted more than a year in it for ages, but they had heard no word of Tynedale leaving.
"Why?" asked Sirius suspiciously.
Lily looked smug. "Because she's having a baby."
There was a stunned silence, and then Gideon and Fabian both slapped their foreheads and cried in unison, "Madam Pomfrey!"
"That's why she's been seeing the matron regularly," said Gideon.
"And looking really pleased about it," Fabian reminded him.
"No wonder Pomfrey's tickled," added Gideon.
"She doesn't usually get more than head colds, broken bones and hexes to deal with," Fabian agreed.
"Tynedale must've found out over Christmas."
"She's been all happy and distracted since then."
"Wonder who the father is?"
"Maybe it's Kettleburn."
"Maybe it's Flitwick."
"Maybe it's Dumbledore."
"It's not Dumbledore, you idiot."
"No, you're right. Too old."
"And too gay."
"How did you find out about it, anyway?" Fabian asked, turning back to Lily at last.
"The girls have been talking about it for ages," she told them. "We thought everyone knew. Cecy Hathersage says Tynedale's been seeing some bloke in the village. She saw them together last Hogsmeade weekend."
Sirius groaned. "That's what she was doing in the village on New Years Eve. She was visiting her boyfriend!"
"It all sort of makes sense now," Peter said thoughtfully, glancing up at the staff table again. "She does look a bit bigger around the middle, doesn't she?"
"The robes tend to hide it," Lily informed him acerbically.
"Speaking of people being preggers," said Gideon brightly, "have we mentioned we're going to be uncles again?"
"Congratulations," said Remus. "How's your sister?"
"Oh, she's pleased as punch," said Fabian, shaking Remus's proffered hand. "Always wanted a big family, did Molly."
"I thought you said -- about pure-bloods not having many kids," said James, frowning.
Gideon shrugged. "There are exceptions to every rule."
"And Arthur's practically a Muggle in spirit," Fabian smirked.
"Only bloke we know who would probably be over the moon if one of his kids ended up a Squib," laughed Gideon. "Molly's hoping it'll be a girl this time."
Sirius shook his head. "Weasleys never have girls."
Gideon grinned. "Well, our Molly's a special kind of lass," he said. "She's never been much of one for following the rules when they conflict with her own plans and ideas of how things ought to be."
"Sounds like a few people I know," Remus mumbled into his pumpkin juice.
Sirius laughed and slung an arm around his shoulders. "Admit it, Lupin; you'd hate it if we were all quiet and boring like you. Tell me you haven't had fun this year. I won't believe you."
"Then I won't say it," said Remus. "I might even miss you lot this summer. Who's going to keep me entertained with tales of mad adventures and marauding?"
Sirius blinked at him. "Marauding?"
"You know," Remus waved a hand airily and helped himself to a slice of gateau. "What you lot get up to all the time."
"Marauding," Sirius repeated thoughtfully, captivated by the unfamiliar word. "Does that makes us marauders, then?"
"I suppose so," said Remus, amused.
There was something to be said for long, lazy, sunny, summery days with nothing to do, in Sirius's opinion. At least, there was when said days were spent lounging around Hogwarts castle and grounds with one's friends. Long, lazy, sunny, summery days spent in the gloomy confines of the Black family home with his parents were a different matter entirely. Those days, Sirius suspected, would be spent counting down to September. But that fate was still a glorious week away, and until it was upon him, Sirius was determined to enjoy himself and not think about it.
At the moment, Sirius was specifically enjoying reclining in the lush summer grass beside the Hogwarts lake with James and Peter, eyes closed, waiting for Remus to finish his last detention with McGonagall, by which time the exam results should be posted, and they could all go and check them together.
Remus in detention. Sirius savoured the thought with a private grin, mentally congratulating himself once more for his part in drawing out the quiet boy.
He was also still savouring the news the Prewett twins had brought with them to the breakfast table that morning. The Prewetts had heard it from a seventh year Ravenclaw, who had it from his Slytherin girlfriend: Sirius's cousin Narcissa would not be returning to Hogwarts for her seventh year. Neither she nor Lucius Malfoy had been seen since the Quidditch final almost a week before, and the rumour was that they had already been quietly married in a small, private ceremony.
I bet Aunt Druella didn't even let her wear white robes, he thought smugly. His aunt and uncle had probably saved themselves a tidy fortune on the dowry as well as the wedding.
A shadow moved between Sirius's face and the sun. "Busy afternoon?" asked an amused voice.
Sirius smiled and opened his eyes, squinting up at Remus, whose head was haloed by the sun streaming through his shaggy, dark-gold hair.
"Exhausting," Sirius said, stretching. "Have you come to lend a hand? I saved you a spot." He patted the grass beside him.
"Not that I don't appreciate all the trouble you went to," said Remus, returning Sirius's smile, "but McGonagall's posting the exam results right now. I thought you three would want to know."
Peter squeaked in alarm as he, James and Sirius staggered to their feet. Together the four of them hurried back up to the castle, James taking last-minute wagers on who had got the best marks, and in which subjects.
"You can't bet on yourself for everything," James said, exasperated.
Sirius pouted. "That's not fair. What if I was best in every subject?"
"You know what I like about Sirius?" Remus said conversationally to Peter. "He's just so modest."
"It's one of my very best qualities," said Sirius smugly, "aside from being bloody brilliant at everything."
Peter giggled and Remus and James snorted.
"I'm betting on me for Transfiguration and Charms, you for Potions and Astronomy, and Remus for History and Defence," James declared. Then added, "Oh, and Pete for Herbology. I want one Sickle from you for every one I get right."
Sirius knew James was just being nice, of course. Peter wasn't terrible at Herbology, or Astronomy, come to that, but the odds of him coming top in any subject were almost nil.
"Done," Sirius replied. "But I'm still betting on me for everything."
"You can't bet on yourself for the same ones James picked you for," Remus pointed out.
Sirius grimaced. "Oh, all right. James for Potions, then, and -- er -- Pete for Astronomy." Never let it be said that Sirius Black couldn't be as nice as his best mate when he put his mind to it.
Peter looked grateful but not terribly optimistic.
"Any bets, Remus? Pete?" asked James.
Remus shook his head. "I think you're probably right about most of yours, and I haven't got enough stashed away to risk losing."
Peter looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'm betting James for Defence and Astronomy, Remus for Transfiguration and Herbology --" A sudden wicked grin flashed across his round face. "-- Evans for History and Charms, and Snape for Potions."
"Traitor!" gasped Sirius.
"Not on!" cried James. "Snape's not even a Gryffindor!"
Peter blinked innocently. "You never said we had to bet on Gryffindors."
"It was meant to be whoever comes top of the four of us," said Sirius.
"But James never said it," Remus told him. "Since I'm impartial, I declare Pete's choices valid."
"All right then," James grumbled as they climbed the stone steps up to the main doors of the castle. "Are all bets in?"
Peter nodded. Sirius shot him a poisonous glance, and then did the same.
"Well, then," said Remus. "Let's go have a look, shall we?"
The entrance hall was crowded with students, all vying for a look at the examination results posted on the doors to the Great Hall. The four young Gryffindors ducked and dodged around older, taller students, James and Sirius once or twice employing their sharp elbows to good advantage. It was several minutes before they made it to the front of the throng, and once there, they bunched together, defending their place through the strength of their numbers.
"What've we got?" asked Sirius, keeping one eye on the impatiently milling crowd.
Remus quickly scanned the list. "Well, the good news is that we all passed everything."
Peter let out a sigh and sagged against Sirius, who shoved him upright again, laughing.
"Yes, but am I tops at everything?" he asked.
"Not quite," said James, barely suppressing a grin.
"What d'you mean?" Sirius narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his best friend.
"See for yourself, mate," laughed James.
Sirius quickly scanned the list of names, his dismay growing every second. "Nothing?!" he cried. "I didn't manage to get the top mark in a single class? Not even Astronomy?"
But the top spot in his best subject had been usurped by some Ravenclaw wench named Aurora Sinistra.
"If it's any consolation," said James in tones of mock sympathy, "I owe you and Pete half a Sickle each. You tied with Evans for the top spot in Charms."
"Uppity bint," Sirius muttered.
"Well, perhaps if you'd actually studied --" Remus suggested mildly.
Sirius scowled at the listed results until the four of them were unceremoniously shunted aside by a herd of third year Hufflepuffs, at which point they subsided into a corner of the entrance hall, there to lurk and hash over their varied results.
James was counting silently on his fingers. At last, he grinned brightly. "I win," he said. "Sirius owes me two and a half Sickles, and Pete owes me one and a half."
"What about my winnings?" complained Peter. "I was right about Snape getting Potions, and half right about Evans getting Charms."
"Hard luck, mate," James shrugged. "Once you subtract what I owe you from what you owe me, you get nothing. You do get a Sickle from Sirius, though."
Sirius scowled and rummaged in the pocket of his robes for a silver coin for Peter, which Peter reluctantly handed over to James.
"Dunno how you expect me to come up with half a Sickle, mate," he grumbled.
"I'll cover it," Sirius sighed, dropping three more silver coins into his best friend's outstretched hand. "But you owe me, Pete."
Remus shook his head reprovingly. "You see why I don't gamble? I only would've lost, and I doubt you lot would want the robes off my back. What?"
Sirius was staring at Remus. His words, coupled with the exam results, had suddenly caused Sirius to remember something. Something brilliant. Something guaranteed to assuage his disappointment over his own results. A sly smile uncurled itself on his lips.
"Uh-oh," said Peter, shuffling away from him.
Sirius turned his head to regard James. "You passed History of Magic."
"I know," said James, puzzled. "Why does that --? Oh!" His hazel eyes went wide with comprehension.
"You said you'd do it," Sirius reminded him.
James looked thoughtful. "I did say so, didn't I?"
"I'd hate to see you go back on your sworn word as a Gryffindor." Sirius was grinning in earnest now.
"That would never do, would it?" James shook his head gravely.
Peter and Remus were looking back and forth between the two of them, bemused.
"What're you --?" Remus began.
"Back in a minute, lads," said James, turning towards the great staircase.
Sirius watched him vanish around a corner on the first landing, and then turned his bright smile back to Remus and Peter.
"What's he got up his sleeve this time?" Remus asked suspiciously.
Sirius attempted an innocent look, but it was not one of the most convincing expressions in his repertoire. "Oh, not much. You'll see in a moment."
A sudden shriek of feminine laughter turned every head in the hall to look at a fifth year Ravenclaw girl standing near the foot of the staircase, looking up.
"Oh, here we go," said Sirius, pleased.
The entrance hall erupted in laughter as James Potter danced down the great staircase in nothing but his pants -- worn jauntily over his disorderly black hair -- singing the Hogwarts school song loudly and more than a little off-key.
"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something, please!
Whether we be old and bald
Or young with scabby knees!"
When James does a thing, he does it properly, Sirius thought with approval.
The Prewetts were roaring. Peter fell into a suit of armour, which grasped him by the collar and held him upright. Even Lily Evans was laughing. Several students, including Matilda Hathersage, tried to slap James on his comically-jiggling buttocks as he skipped past, but he dodged nimbly from side to side, and very few succeeded.
"Cheeky beggars!" he called out, waving merrily to a giggling Professor Flitwick.
Sirius was undone. He whooped and gasped and clung to Remus's shoulder for support, and Remus -- Remus was doubled over, red-faced, laughing so hard that tears ran down his cheeks.
"Just do your best, we'll do the rest, And learn until our brains all rot!" James finished the song, bowing with flourish to the looming figure of Professor McGonagall, who seemed to have developed a spontaneous facial tic that wasn't quite a smile.
"Ten points from Gryffindor for butchering the school song, Mr Potter," she said, voice prim.
"Worth it," declared James.
"I daresay," said the Transfiguration mistress drily. "Now, put that garment back where it belongs, and be off with you, before you create a public spectacle."
Sirius shouted with laughter. Beside him, Remus slid down the wall to sit on the floor, still fizzing with glee. And somehow, that was even better than his best mate parading naked through the most crowded and most public area of the school. Sirius took in the rare sight of Remus gasping helplessly for air, a warm glow of enjoyment burning in the pit of his stomach.
Everyone else in the hall was too busy watching James's slow and dignified departure, which was why Sirius was the only one who saw Snape sneaking up on Remus, wand in hand.
"Oi!" roared Sirius.
Remus looked startled, but his other two friends, recognising his voice, responded instantly to his cry of alarm. Quick as a thought, three wands were out and pointing at the skulking Slytherin, and three shouted jinxes rang out in the confused tumult of the entrance hall.
Snape collapsed bonelessly onto the floor, unable even to put out an arm to save himself from falling flat on his face. McGonagall and Evans hurried over to the fallen boy, neither of them looking pleased.
"What did you do to him?" Remus asked as Sirius gave him a hand up.
"Noodle-Arms Jinx," Sirius said tersely. He wished he had done something worse. Remus had been laughing -- really laughing -- for the first time since Sirius had known him, and that complete bastard Snape had gone and spoiled it.
"Goes nicely with my Jelly-Legs Jinx, doesn't it?" James materialised at his side, now at least wearing his pants in the right place.
"Pete?" Remus said, raising his eyebrows at the blond boy.
"Oh." Peter turned pink and looked pleased with himself. "I sealed his mouth. At least, I think I did."
Sure enough, when McGonagall and Evans managed to manoeuvre Snape into a wobbly kneeling position, his lips were pressed tightly together, and though muffled sounds of protest and distress could be heard, not one word escaped his mouth.
"Well done, Pete," said James, impressed, shaking Peter's hand.
Sirius slung an arm around Remus's shoulders. "That's what he gets for messing with the Marauders."
Remus smiled as the gargoyle shifted aside and the wall behind it opened to reveal a moving staircase. It seemed that Dumbledore had as much of a sweet tooth as Remus himself did. He hesitated only a moment before taking his first nervous steps up to the headmaster's office.
He had received the message that afternoon, oddly enough, from Peter.
"He told me to give this to you," the awestruck boy had said.
James and Sirius had had similar reactions.
"You're going to his office?" asked James. "Why?"
Remus shook his head. "Dunno," he only half-lied. He guessed that the headmaster wanted a word with him about how the year had gone. He swallowed nervously.
"You'll tell us all about it?" Sirius had insisted. "I've never heard of anyone who's been in there."
Remus grinned, thinking again of his odd and wonderful friends as he climbed the spiral stone staircase, and about the small pile of silver coins still sitting on his bedspread. Sirius had declared Remus the default winner of the wager on the Astronomy and Herbology exams, since all three of his roommates had lost on those subjects. Somehow, Remus had managed to "win" even more money than James had, but he had yet to figure out how to deal with the coins. The others refused to take them back -- though Remus strongly suspected Sirius of extorting Peter's money from him -- and he couldn't very well pick them up himself.
Reaching the door at the top of the steps, Remus knocked.
"Come in," called a warm voice.
Remus paused in the act of closing the heavy wooden door behind him to stare around the room, openmouthed. It was quite a beautiful room, in Remus's opinion; circular, with four tall windows facing in the cardinal directions. The walls between the windows were lined with portraits of important-looking people and shelves containing odd, whirring gadgets, a few old but beautifully-kept books, and the Sorting Hat. Remus blinked at this last item. He could almost swear that it had winked at him. But that wasn't possible; the Hat might have a mouth of sorts, but it had no eyes to speak of.
On a perch next to the headmaster's desk roosted a large, golden bird with long, elegant tail feathers.
"You may pet Fawkes if you like, Mr Lupin," Dumbledore said kindly.
"Oh," said Remus, startled. "But -- won't he --? I mean --" He flushed and looked down at his trainers.
"Fawkes won't mind you at all, I assure you."
Hesitantly, Remus approached the desk and held out a trembling hand to the bird. Somehow, from its appearance, he had expected it to have an aloof, haughty demeanour, but when Remus's fingers came close, it tucked its head forwards, making a soft cooing sound and offering its neck to be petted.
Dumbledore permitted Remus a few moments to stroke the soft feathers before inviting him to sit down. Remus obediently perched on the heavy chair across the desk from the headmaster.
"It's been quite an eventful year, hasn't it, Mr Lupin?" Dumbledore smiled benignly and regarded him over his half-moon spectacles. "Yes, Sir," Remus said, feeling rather small.
"Professor McGonagall informed me of the -- rather unique way in which one of your roommates chose to celebrate the exam results earlier today." His blue eyes sparkled, and Remus couldn't entirely suppress a smile.
"James gets a bit carried away sometimes."
Dumbledore's smile widened. "Well, there's no harm in it, so long as he doesn't take a chill. He's very like his father, our Mr Potter. And his grandfather. Josephus Potter and I roomed together when I was at school."
Remus tried to picture the headmaster as a schoolboy, and failed. The beard was so much a part of him, in Remus's mind, that he could not form an image of the man that did not include it.
Dumbledore tapped a stack of parchment with long, thin fingers. "I have here a progress report from each of your professors. They all inform me that you work hard in class, that your assignments are always handed in in a timely manner, and that your marks range from satisfactory to excellent. A few of them even speak of personal joy at having you as a student."
Remus blushed. "Do they -- all know?"
"A few may have guessed," said Dumbledore kindly. "Professor McGonagall was informed in September. As the head of your House, and as Deputy Headmistress, I felt it necessary. I trust in the rest of the staff's discretion; they know me well enough not to make a fuss, even should any of them harbour unfortunate prejudices."
"Thank you, Sir," Remus said quietly, wondering who might have guessed his secret.
"I have met with Madam Pomfrey as well," Dumbledore continued. "She reports you to be in excellent health, and believes that our little experiment this year has been an unqualified success. However, if there are any changes to the current arrangements you wish to suggest, you have only to mention them to me or the matron." He raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"No, Sir," said Remus, ducking his head in embarrassment. "It's all just fine. Madam Pomfrey's been great."
Dumbledore's smile returned. "No doubt having friends has been a help, as well. I understand you are getting on well with your roommates, and with several other members of your House."
Remus hesitated a moment. He wasn't sure it was relevant, but he felt the headmaster had a right to know. "I told Lily Evans about -- things."
"I see." Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully. "It is your secret, Mr Lupin, and therefore it is your right to tell it. I know I do not need to caution you on the possible consequences of certain facts becoming generally known."
"No, Sir. Lily won't tell. She's been -- really great about everything."
"I am pleased to hear it," Dumbledore smiled. "A man should have friends. But a man should also stand on his own two feet. I understand there has been some friction between you and Mr Snape?"
"We don't get on," Remus mumbled. "I don't mean to cause any trouble."
The headmaster pursed his lips. "Please understand, Mr Lupin, rules exist to enforce order. Fighting and rule-breaking will not be tolerated at this school, and when they occur, they must be punished accordingly."
Remus bowed his head. "I understand, Sir."
"However," continued Dumbledore, "there are occasions when the right course of action may be in conflict with the rules. Our students are being trained, among other things, to defend themselves, and I expect them to do so when necessary. I trust that, in such circumstances, they will make appropriate choices. Do we have an understanding?"
Remus looked up into the headmaster's twinkling blue eyes. "I think so, Sir. You mean that sometimes fighting is necessary, but even when it is, we still have to take our punishment for the sake of the rules."
"Keenly put, Mr Lupin," Dumbledore beamed. "And how do you feel the year went?"
Remus just grinned. Gryffindor may not have won the House cup or the Quidditch cup, but Remus felt like he had won something much more important: a place for himself in the Wizarding world.
~ END of YEAR ONE ~