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A Conspiracy of Cartographers: Year Two [fic + podfic]

Chapter Text

By the first weekend of term, James was completely over his excitement at being taught Defence by an Auror. Of course, having an Auror for a father, he had not been quite as eager about the prospect as Sirius had been, nor as nervous as Peter, but he had been looking forwards to Gandolfsson's classes with keen interest. After Tuesday's double lesson with Slytherin, and an hour with the Gryffindors alone on Thursday, however, the shine had worn off.

Gandolfsson was every bit as no-nonsense as James's father had warned them he would be. He was nearly impossible to please, had a low opinion of the intelligence and abilities of every one of his students -- with the occasional exceptions of Remus and Snape -- was rude, abrasive, and had yet to award a single House point to anyone.

It had amused James at first, watching Sirius out of the corner of his eye as his friend squirmed and turned bright red with rage and bit his tongue to avoid bringing the Defence master's baleful glare to bear on him, but by Friday night, as he examined a large bruise on his hip, earned when an unexpected hex had knocked him from his seat and sent him sprawling onto the floor, James had decided that the only good thing to be said for Defence class was that at least it wasn't boring.

Herbology was also less boring than it had been the previous year. Professor Beery, the old Herbology master, had been a kindly man, on friendly terms with most of the students, but his dry teaching style had been little better than that of ghostly Professor Binns, who taught History of Magic. Young Professor Sprout, on the other hand, had grabbed their attention in the very first lesson by introducing them to the rather dangerously-named Devil's Snare.

When the plant assigned to them had grabbed Sirius around the middle and refused to let go, his best friend had sworn loudly, then clapped a hand over his mouth, shooting a wary look at the new Herbology mistress. James had expected her to take House points at the very least, or maybe assign Sirius an evening's detention, but she had surprised them both by giggling as she hurried over to release the struggling boy from the plant's clutches.

"Yes, I expect we'll be hearing rather a lot of that sort of language in this class, Mr Black, magical plants being what they are," she laughed. "Don't worry; there's nothing you can say that I haven't heard plenty of times before."

"She's sort of brilliant, isn't she?" Peter had ventured as the four of them left the greenhouses.

James had laughed. "A bit old for you, mate, don't you think?"

Peter had gone pink, but grinned. "A man can dream."

James wasn't prepared to give him too hard a time for fancying their new professor, since Peter had been so eager to help him practise for his Quidditch tryout. Every afternoon for the past week, for at least an hour between their last class and supper, the two of them had taken James's Nimbus 1000 and a pocketful of Muggle golf balls down to the castle grounds, Peter throwing, and James zooming after to catch. If the weather was fine, Sirius and Remus would accompany them, though Sirius grew bored and restive when he wasn't allowed a turn on the broom, and Remus always brought homework with him, claiming not to have a good throwing arm.

James privately thought Remus couldn't be any worse than Peter, whose throws traveled neither as fast nor as far as a proper Snitch, but he was loathe to say anything, since Peter never seemed to tire of the exercise, and didn't mind running after the throws James missed. He told himself that it didn't really matter, since a real Snitch didn't fly in a straight line, either. Practise would only help so much.

Breakfast on Saturday morning found James tossing a scone into the air and catching it repeatedly, trying to ignore the butterflies fluttering in his stomach. In an hour, he would be down on the pitch. And with any kind of luck, another hour after that, he would be a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

Seeker. It sounded good. His mother had played Seeker for Gryffindor during her own schooldays. It was only right that James should follow in her footsteps. Perhaps he should ask his parents for a new broom for Christmas. His Nimbus was brilliant, but it was a few years old now, and there were better models on the market. So engrossed was he in his thoughts that it took him a moment to realise that the scone had not returned from its last flight.

Glancing up in confusion, he found Matilda Hathersage standing at his shoulder, grinning, the errant scone in her outstretched hand.

"Morning, Hathersage," he said, answering her grin with one of his own as he reclaimed the pastry. "Come to wish me luck?"

"What else?" She wedged herself onto the bench between him and a disgruntled Sirius, who had so far managed to pry only one eye open, and was shovelling eggs into his mouth automatically.

James scooted down a few inches to give her more room. "Are you coming to watch the tryouts?"

"Oh, I'll be there." Her blue eyes sparkled. "I've been watching you fly, James. You're pretty good."

He preened. "Yeah. I did a lot of flying over the holidays."

"Would you mind if I kiss you?" she asked. "For luck, I mean."

The corners of his mouth stretched even wider. "I wouldn't mind."

He held his breath as she leaned in close and pressed her lips against his cheek with a soft smacking sound. "Good luck, James."

She rose and hurried away, giggling. Halfway down the table, she turned to call back over her shoulder, "You're gonna need it!"

His brows drew together, and he turned to see his three friends goggling at him. He raised a hand to touch his cheek. "What d'you suppose she meant by that?"

Remus looked after the departing girl. "I think it means you've got some competition," he said, before turning back to his breakfast.

The Quidditch trials were set for ten o'clock, so the four of them hurried back up to Gryffindor tower straight after breakfast to fetch James's broom. He was hailed in the common room by the Prewett twins, who wished him the best of luck, and promised to actually come out for the matches this year if he made the team. Since it was usually their habit to take advantage of the empty castle on match days for their investigations and explorations, James took it as a mark of particular favour.

Waving the twins a cheery farewell, they exited the portrait hole, and headed down through the castle and grounds to the Quidditch pitch beside the lake. There, the other three wished him well and went to find a place in the stands.

As he entered the stadium, James realised that Remus had been right; he had rather a lot of competition. Over a dozen hopefuls had turned out to fill the vacant Seeker position, and while Gertrude Brown, the short black girl who was Captain of the Gryffindor team, claimed that she was keeping an eye out for potential new talent for all positions, James would have been surprised if she had broken up the previous year's team. They had all been decent, and had worked well together, apart from Bilius Weasley, whose nervous disposition had made him the worst Seeker James had ever seen.

When Brown asked them to mount their brooms in groups of four so that she could see how well they flew, James looked upon the progress of his fellows with pity, privately feeling that many of them would be little improvement over Weasley. His only real competition was Nicholas Beke, a third year whose build was better suited to the position of Beater, and -- Matilda Hathersage.

James blinked. Hadn't she just wished him luck? Hadn't she kissed him and told him he flew really well not an hour before? What in Merlin's name was she playing at?

"All right," Brown bawled at the milling Gryffindors. "Good effort. Everyone can go except Hathersage, Potter and Beke. I want to see how you three do with a real live Snitch."

The other contenders moved off towards the stands with greater or lesser displays of good grace. James was pleased to still be in the running, but he couldn't help feeling betrayed, and did not return the conspiratorial grin the red-haired girl flashed in his direction.

Beke went first. James had been right; he didn't have the agility necessary for the position. His bulk and the mid-range quality of his broom made it difficult for him to get up to speed and change direction quickly, and even when he spotted the Snitch at last, he could not seem to get to where it was before it zoomed off to another part of the stadium.

"Potter," barked Brown, when Beke returned to the ground, looking defeated.

Mouth set in a grim line, James mounted his broom and kicked off, swooping and dodging between the goal posts. He knew very well that his flying was miles better than Beke's, and he wanted to make sure that Brown and anyone else watching knew it, too. He was James Potter. Quidditch was in his blood. No girl was going to steal his place on the team.

He shot up into the air, performing a complicated roll that had elicited a gasp from Peter the first time he had executed it correctly, then dove to skim along bare inches above the ground. It was several moments before he caught sight of the Snitch, hovering near the far goal posts, but once he had seen it, it was less than a minute's exhilarating chase before he held the tiny golden ball triumphantly in his fist.

Returning to the ground, James presented the Snitch to Brown with a flourish.

"Nice work, Potter." She nodded approvingly. "Hathersage, let's see what you can do."

Showoff, thought James grumpily as Matilda Hathersage closed her eyes and counted to ten while Gertrude Brown released the little winged ball into the air. Blinking in the sunlight, she mounted her broom and rose up high above the pitch. She didn't try any fancy broomwork, though James had seen her fly the previous year, and knew her to have some talent, loathe though he was to admit it just now. Instead, she hovered at about the level of the goal hoops, turning slowly, eyes darting about for the elusive flash of gold. James caught himself holding his breath, waiting for her to make her move, and released it in an annoyed huff.

When she moved, he could have blinked and missed it. All of a sudden, she was streaking towards the right-hand goal hoop, a look of fierce determination on her face. Her arm shot out, and her fingers closed around the darting Snitch.

Brown was positively beaming. "Very good!" she declared as Hathersage touched down. "Sharp eyes, patience, excellent reflexes. Your sister was absolutely right. Welcome to the team." The two smiling girls shook hands.

"So that's it, is it?" James scowled.

"Afraid so, Potter," Brown told him regretfully. "You flew really well, though. I'll keep you in mind if we come up short for any matches. You should definitely try out again next year."

"Fine." James shouldered his broom and turned away without another word, heading towards the exit where three figures stood waiting for him.

"James!" called a voice from behind him. "Hey, James!"

He whirled around, and Matilda Hathersage, running after him, was brought up short by the look on his face.

"What?" he barked.

"I -- just wanted to say you did really great today," she said a little uncertainly. "I'd still like to meet up sometime, if you don't mind."

"I don't think so, Hathersage," he told her gruffly, turning his back on her. "You're going to be awfully busy with Quidditch practise from now on, aren't you? Better stick to. I want to see Gryffindor's name on the cup this year."

"What was that all about?" asked Sirius when James reached his waiting friends.

James glanced back across the pitch to see the red-haired girl still standing where he had left her, shoulders slumped. "She got Seeker," he said shortly.

"You'd think she'd be happier about it," observed Peter.

"Yeah," said James irritably. "You'd think so, wouldn't you? C'mon. Let's see if we can get lunch yet. I'm starved."

"D'you think he's awake?"

"Probably. All that banging around you and Pete were doing earlier."

"How long d'you think it'll take him to notice?"

Remus tried to ignore the loud whispers coming from just beyond the borders of his bed. It was Sunday. He shouldn't have to be awake just yet. Turning over, he tried to burrow deeper into his pillow, which thwarted him by being flat and sort of -- papery?

"Ugh?" He pried an eye open in befuddlement.

Three obnoxiously cheerful faces were grinning down at him.

"G'morning, Sleepyhead," said Sirius.

"What're you lot up to?" Remus slurred, sitting up and looking around in confusion at the giftwrapped packages he had put his head on by accident. "What's all this?"

Sirius frowned. "It's your birthday, you idiot."

"It is?" said Remus feeling more confused than ever. "No it's not."

"Course it is," said Sirius, flouncing onto the bed in a huff. "Tenth of September. I heard you tell Evans."

James and Peter laughed. "Merlin's pants! Imagine forgetting your own birthday!"

Remus stared at his friends in openmouthed surprise. Now that Sirius mentioned it, he did remember the conversation he'd had with Lily the previous winter, but he had never thought -- "You got me presents?"

"Open them!" said Peter excitedly, bouncing onto the bed beside Sirius.

Remus looked down at the two flat, square objects wrapped in shiny purple paper, and felt a lump form in his throat. Forcing down the wave of emotion, he tore open the first one, and found himself looking at the record Sirius had bought over the summer.

"You didn't like it?" he asked.

Sirius shrugged. "It was all right. I just thought you'd probably like it more."

James laughed. "More like it didn't annoy his parents enough."

"I need to find something louder," grinned Sirius. "Open the other."

The second record was Ziggy Stardust.

"I know you said it was a silly name," said Sirius, "but I thought you might like it anyway. I know you've got no way to play them here, but --"

"Sirius picked it out, and James and I paid for it," Peter broke in proudly. "Do you like it?"

Remus swallowed, forcing the troublesome lump back down again, and blinked a couple of times before looking up at his smiling friends. "These are brilliant," he said. "You're -- their great. Thank you."

"Didn't your family get you anything?" asked James, looking around.

"Um," said Remus, thinking as quickly as his sluggish brain would permit. He felt like a fraud, but how could he tell them that it wasn't really his birthday when they had gone to so much trouble? "They -- er -- got me something over the summer. A book. I forgot it at home, though."

The word "book" seemed to blunt the edge of his friends' curiosity. "Oh. Well, that's nice, isn't it?" James said, sliding off the bed. "We should get dressed. We've missed breakfast, but lunch will be on soon."

Remus scrambled out of bed and carefully stowed his new treasures in his trunk before bundling his robes into his arms and heading for the shower. He was feeling a bit overwhelmed, and was glad of a few moments to himself. The gifts had been a shock. With his father still out of work, Remus had not expected to have anything new of his very own anytime before next summer. That his friends cared enough to lavish such attention on him had caught him up short.

"They're brilliant," he whispered, giving his reflection in the bathroom mirror a crooked smile, and he didn't mean the LPs. Even years from now, long after Sirius, James and Peter had learned his secret and turned their backs on him, Remus would still have these gifts. He would still be able to listen to the music and remember the time when he had had such wonderful, generous friends.

In the common room on the way down to lunch, Remus was waylaid by Lily, who dropped a small but surprisingly heavy and lumpy package into his hands.

"Happy birthday, Remus."

"So, not a book, then," teased James, peering over Remus's shoulder.

Nestled in the paper was a black stone about the size of Remus's fist.

"You got him a rock?" asked Sirius incredulously.

Lily gave him a cold look before turning back to Remus. "It's a fossil. I found it on the beach in Brighton this summer. I thought you'd like it."

"It's really neat," said Remus, tracing the delicate spiral outline of a shell with his finger. "I'll show it to Dad. I bet he'll know what it is. Thanks, Lils." He ignored the rolling eyes of his friends and hugged her, tucking the stone into the pocket of his robes for safekeeping.

"So what d'you want to do today?" James asked him over lunch.

Remus shrugged. "Hadn't really thought about it. Study, I guess. We've got that essay for Charms --"

"No way!" declared Sirius. "It's practically illegal to study on your birthday. Think of something fun."

"It's your birthday, Lupin?" said Gideon, leaning across the table. "I didn't know. Happy birthday."

Remus blushed into his pumpkin juice as Fabian echoed the good wishes. When he had told Lily his birthday was in September, Remus had only meant to dodge the question, avoiding his true birthdate -- the date he had been bitten by the werewolf -- at all cost, and now here he was, having to lie to everyone about something so stupid. Why hadn't he picked a summer birthday? He had never meant for them to make a fuss over him like this.

Peter was proudly explaining to the Prewetts about the gifts he and the others had given Remus. "Muggle music, you know. Whadayacallums? Records. Two of those. They're supposed to be really good."

Gideon and Fabian nodded knowledgeably, opining that studying on one's birthday was bad for one's health and character, before being called away by Amelia Bones, who wanted to discuss the date of the next Advanced Defence Club meeting.

"What about Quidditch?" said James.

"What about it?" asked Remus warily.

Quidditch was rather a sore subject following James's disappointing tryout the previous day. He had spent all of that afternoon and evening in a rare sulk, until Remus had commented that if he wasn't careful, he'd turn into Sirius. Sirius's mouth had dropped open in outrage, and then he had laughed and thrown a pillow at James, saying that he'd better shape up, because the world wasn't ready for more than one Sirius Black. The mood had lightened considerably thereafter, and there had been no further mention of Quidditch. Until now.

"It's a nice day," James elaborated. "We could borrow brooms from the shed and play two-a-side. You can use mine, as it's your birthday."

There was a determined look in his friend's hazel eyes that told Remus that James was more interested in proving himself than in lighthearted play, and while Remus was not terribly keen on the idea of Quidditch himself, he did want to do something to repay at least one of his friends' generosity.

"Yeah, all right," he said. "Sounds like fun."

Hastily finishing their lunch, they retrieved James's broom from Gryffindor tower and hurried down to the broom shed to rummage for the rest of the equipment they would need, coming up with three more or less decent brooms, two practise hoops, and a slightly under-inflated Quaffle. They set up on a level patch of ground, pacing out the proper distance between the hoops, and James handed over his Nimbus 1000 to Remus.

"You and Sirius against me and Pete, yeah?" said James.

Remus nodded. "Sounds good to me."

Remus mounted the broom warily. Flying lessons the previous year had been a bit of a disaster, but Remus knew he could not avoid flying forever. He was among friends here, and the hoops had been set comfortingly low to the ground, so while he might embarrass himself, he probably would not do himself serious injury. Peter, too, seemed happy to skim along just above the grass.

They let Remus throw out the Quaffle, and then they were off. James was the superior flier, even on his borrowed broom, banking and swerving with a natural ease, as if this were the way his body was meant to move. Sirius, however, had got rather good at flying, himself, over the summer, and was able to give James a run for his money, dodging from side to side, and only throwing the Quaffle to Remus when James's block coincided with Peter flying in front of Sirius by accident. Remus caught the red ball on the tips of his fingers, and, squeezing the broom handle nervously between his knees, threw it through the goal hoop.

Sirius cheered. "Ten points for us!"

Once James got his hands on the ball, it proved almost impossible to get it back from him. As Sirius chased after his best friend, attempting to wrest the Quaffle from him by force, Remus hovered near the goal hoop, hoping to block it if James got too close.

The next minutes were a jumble of confused to-ing and fro-ing, and at one point, Peter forgot which goal hoop he was meant to be aiming for, and almost scored an own goal.

"You said you didn't have a good throwing arm!" James accused, when Remus put the Quaffle through his and Sirius's hoop for the fifth time.

Remus just grinned and swooped down to retrieve the ball. James's Nimbus did not wobble quite so much as the school brooms he had learned on, and he was slowly gaining confidence in his flying ability. It was actually sort of fun. He soared down to the centre of their makeshift pitch and threw the ball to Sirius, but Peter unexpectedly intercepted it.

"Throw it, Pete!" yelled James, racing Remus towards their goal.

With a shout, Sirius was after them, accelerating down the pitch. The Nimbus was the faster broom, and Remus reached the goal hoop well ahead of the other boys. His eyes darted between the two dark-haired shapes streaking towards him, then glanced at Peter, just as he threw the Quaffle.

The red ball sailed through the air. I can get this, Remus thought, and reached -- just as James and Sirius plowed heavily into him. Remus was knocked from his broom, and landed sprawling on the grass, Sirius on top of him.

"Oof!" gasped Remus.

"Ow." Sirius's voice was muffled in Remus's shirt. "Sorry."

James, who had somehow managed to keep his seat, quickly jumped off his broom and sprinted over, followed by Peter, to check on them. By the time he arrived, Sirius was already sitting up, rubbing his bruised knees.

"You OK, Remus?" asked James.

Remus nodded, massaging his chest, too winded to speak.

James reached down both hands, grinning, to help his friends to their feet. "Enough Quidditch for one day, maybe?" He seemed to be in considerably better spirits.

Remus took the offered hand and stood up shakily. Breathing hurt, but he didn't feel too badly damaged. He and Sirius limped along behind James and Peter as they returned the equipment to the broom shed.

"What now, d'you reckon?" asked Peter.

All Remus wanted was to sit down somewhere and have a quiet moment to catch his breath. Casting about for inspiration, his eye fell upon the hut that stood at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, smoke rising invitingly from its chimney.

"Hagrid's?" he wheezed.

The other three looked at one another and shrugged. Taking tea with the Hogwarts gamekeeper was a favourite pastime of the Prewetts, but was not something the four of them had ever done on their own.

Remus's knock on the heavy oak door was met with the sound of scrabbling claws and a deep, booming bark. Hagrid's huge elkhound, Fuzzball, was always eager to greet visitors, although Remus knew that the dog would change its mind as soon as it realised that those visitors included Remus.

"Down, Fuzzy!" shouted a gravely voice from within, and then the door was thrown wide, revealing the enormous figure of the gamekeeper.

Rubeus Hagrid was twice as tall as most men, and about three times as wide, and had more hair and beard than even Dumbledore. But what might have been an intimidating presence was tempered by the fact that Hagrid was also about five times as cheerful and friendly as most people. A broad smile split his bushy beard when he saw who stood on his doorstep.

"Oh, it's yeh lot," he said. "Come in, then. I'll put the kettle on."

Remus and the others filed in and hoisted themselves up onto the huge wooden chairs surrounding the kitchen table as Fuzzball retreated to the far corner of the hut, eyeing Remus with profound mistrust. Remus pretended not to notice. He was used to animals avoiding him. Unfortunately, the elkhound was not the only creature currently in residence.

"Whatcha lookin' at, Specky?" said a shrill voice as James peered curiously into a basket near the fire.

James gave an exclamation of surprise and nearly fell out of his seat. "It talks!"

"Ooh, aren't you the clever one?" said the voice. A furry, bright-eyed head popped out of the depths of the basket and glared around the room belligerently.

Remus shifted nervously in his seat, glad that he had chosen the chair farthest from the fire. A talking animal could be very bad news if it noticed him.

"Ar, don' pay it no mind," said Hagrid, beaming fondly at the creature. "It's only a Jarvey. He's got a bad leg, poor lad, so I'm nursin' 'im for a bit. Makes 'im techier than usual."

"Watch who you're callin' 'techy', you clumsy oaf!" the Jarvey chittered angrily.

Peter giggled. "I wish my Puffskein could talk. How cool would that be?"

The ferret-like creature eyed him balefully. "I been laughed at by better'n you, short-arse."

That set James and Sirius off. James pounded the table, and Sirius leaned back in his chair, roaring with laughter.

"Does it do that all the time?" fizzed Sirius. "Just have a go at people? That'd be a brilliant pet!"

"Oi, you nance!" squealed the outraged animal. "I ain't nobody's pet!"

"Settle down, you lot." There was an unaccustomed edge of irritation to Hagrid's voice as he placed a tray of mugs and a plate of biscuits on the table. "Don' get 'im worked up. Yeh'll set back 'is healing."

"Sorry," mumbled Peter, but Hagrid wasn't listening. He was kneeling over the Jarvey, crooning endearments and tipping a bowl full of what appeared to be dead mice into its basket. The squeaking insults subsided into the occasional mutter of "nance" or "oaf". Hagrid was smiling again by the time he pulled up a chair at the table to join them.

"They're clever little beasts," he told the boys. "Dunno why so many people call 'em pests. They're jus' bein' themselves. Don' mean any harm, do they?"

Remus smiled into his huge mug of tea. Hagrid's soft spot for creatures was legendary. It was said that he occasionally expressed a desire for a pet dragon.

I wonder what he'd think if he knew he had a werewolf over for tea? Remus thought. Hagrid might be one of those rare people who wouldn't care about his condition -- or more probably, would find it interesting, but not distressing. Even though he had no intention of sharing his secret, Remus felt a sudden surge of warmth towards the huge gamekeeper.

"What've you lads been up ter?" asked Hagrid, brushing biscuit crumbs from his beard. "Enjoyin' the new term?"

"It's Remus's birthday," Peter volunteered.

Remus blushed at the attention as Hagrid beamed at him. "Happy birthday, lad! Sorry there's nothin' more excitin' than biscuits in the house. Had a good day, have yeh?"

Remus nodded. "We played Quidditch. I'm not as good a flier as James and Sirius are, but it was fun."

"You're not bad," Peter told him, "and James can't've been that good, or he'd've been picked for the team."

"Oi, mate!" cried James. "I was bloody ace! It was just that girl Captain playing favourites, picking a girl for Seeker."

Hagrid raised his ample eyebrows. "That don' sound like Gertie Brown ter me. I always go down ter see Gryffindor play. My old House, yeah? An' apart from that Weasley, she's always put tergether a good team. If she didn' pick yeh, she must've thought someone else was better. Nothin' ter do with boys or girls."

James snorted his disbelief.

"I don't know much about Quidditch," said Remus carefully, "but it only took Hathersage about half as long to get the Snitch as it took you. Anyway, I thought her being sporty was one of the things you liked about her."

"Yeah, well that was before she took my spot on the team, wasn't it?" said James, but he had the grace to blush. "Trust you to take the girl's side, Lupin."

Sirius was shaking his head in disgust. "Dunno what tryout you were watching, Lupin. James flew a million times better than any girl."

"Yeah," agreed Peter, contradicting himself. "It's not fair, you not getting on the team. You were ace."

James looked slightly mollified by the loyalty of two thirds of his friends, but Hagrid frowned.

"Don' you lot be gettin' down on girls, or thinkin' they're not as clever or as good as yeh are at Quidditch or magic," he warned. "They jus' don' always think or do things the same way yeh would. If yer smart, yeh'll remember that."

Sirius grinned. "You and Lupin could start a 'We Love Girls' club."

"I like girls!" objected Peter. "And so does James. He let Hathersage kiss him."

James scowled. "Yeah. Right before she stabbed me in the back."

"I guess the wedding's off," laughed Sirius.

"You could apologise to her," suggested Remus. "She didn't yell at you when you were acting like a prat, so maybe she still likes you."

"Yeah," frowned James. "The least she could've done was told me to sod off."

They left Hagrid's hut not long after that. The Jarvey in the basket gave Remus a wary look as they departed, but much to his relief, said nothing. After supper, they returned to Gryffindor tower, and were surprised to find the Prewett twins grinning over a heap of Chocolate Frogs and butterbeers, while on the table beside them --

"Where did you find it?" breathed Remus, admiring the ancient hand-cranked gramophone.

"Borrowed it," Fabian said smugly. "Being Head Boy has its advantages, at least where old Sluggy is concerned."

"Didn't you say you got music for your birthday?" asked Gideon. "Go and get it."

Remus took the stairs up to the boys' dormitory two at a time to fetch down his birthday presents, and soon the magically amplified voice of David Bowie filled the Gryffindor common room. A few students looked annoyed, and departed for either the library or their dormitories, muttering about "too noisy to study", but more people seemed to enjoy the music than not.

James and Sirius invented a wild new dance, which they named "the Ziggy", jumping about and flailing their arms and spinning one another in circles, and soon half the common room was rolling with laughter at their antics. Lily only rolled her eyes, but Remus laughed so hard that he choked on his butterbeer, and had to be thumped on the back by Peter, who was also rather red in the face and having difficulty catching his breath.

"Come dance with us!" called Sirius, but Remus shook his head, still laughing.

Most of the remaining Gryffindors accepted Sirius's invitation, and before long, more than a dozen people were joyfully doing the Ziggy. The dance, however, proved to be physically demanding, and it was not too many minutes later that Sirius collapsed, exhausted, onto the sofa next to Remus.

"Good birthday?" asked Sirius, eyeing the still-flailing dancers with pride.

"The best," grinned Remus. "Thanks."

Sirius tilted his head and fixed him with a piercing grey look. "You don't smile enough. It's not good for you, you know. You'll end up looking like McGonagall if you're not careful."

Remus chuckled. "And you have a bad habit of making personal remarks, Mr Black."

"And you definitely don't laugh enough," Sirius went on, ignoring him.

I never had much to laugh about before I met you, Remus wanted to say. Instead, he just said, "You and James laugh enough for all four of us."

"Not good enough," Sirius said firmly, shaking his head. "I'm not picking up your slack anymore. I'm declaring it my mission in life to make Remus Lupin laugh as much as possible, even if it kills me."

That dragged another smile out of Remus. "If not you, then no one."

Sirius grinned. "I like a challenge."

The smile didn't leave Remus's lips as he took a last swig of butterbeer and settled back to watch his dancing Housemates. He decided that he liked having a September birthday. It had been a good one. And without knowing it, his friends had given him the best gift of all: at that moment, Remus Lupin felt just like a normal boy.