Chapter 1: December 1
It’s snowing in the Slytherin common room.
Or, at least, that’s the impression Remus is getting, as Slytherin after Slytherin file into the Great Hall, each dusted with snow and glaring at the Gryffindor table.
“You know,” says James, his tone a tad too loud to be purely conversational, “I’ve always thought the Slytherin common room must get cold in the winter, but I never realized it got that cold. That’s downright inhumane, it is.”
“Sod off Potter!” hisses a Slytherin sixth-year passing by the table. “We all know you’re the ones behind this! Now how do we get this bloody awful stuff off?”
The Slytherin attempts to brush the inch of snow off her shoulders, but it remains firmly attached, as white and sparkling as new fallen snow should be. Remus watches with interest; they hadn’t had enough time to properly test the sticking mechanism, so he’s glad – on the level of craftsmanship – to see that it worked.
“Meadowes,” says Sirius, leaning across Remus to grin at the Slytherin. His elbow nearly winds up in Remus’s eggs, but Remus saves his plate just in time. “Even if we were the devilishly intelligent and no doubt maddeningly handsome masterminds behind this plan, do you really think we’d tell you? That would be a trade secret.”
Meadowes rolls up one of her sleeves, and Remus remembers belatedly that as well as being intimidatingly tall, Dorcas Meadowes is also one of the beaters for the Slytherin quidditch team. A bludger she’d sent crashing towards Sirius last March had ended up with Sirius in the hospital wing for two days.
Remus wriggles backwards, making sure that Sirius is fully between him and Meadowes.
Meadowes clenches her fist and advances.
“Miss Meadowes,” snaps McGonagall, coming up from behind the girl. Meadowes starts and twirls around. “That’s quite enough! Violence is no way to solve a dispute.”
“They’ve started a blizzard in the Slytherin common room!”
“That’s a blatant falsehood and an unfounded accusation!” cries James.
“Oh, you bloody goddamn wanker!” bawls Meadowes, whirling around to face them again.
“Language, Miss Meadowes!” says McGonagall sharply. She grips Meadowes’ shoulder and frowns at the four of them. “As much as it dismays to me say it, Mr. Potter is correct in saying there’s no proof that they’re the ones responsible for the current situation in the Slytherin common room.”
“However,” continues McGonagall, turning her stony gaze directly onto Remus, “Mr. Lupin, as a prefect, I’m sure you were well aware of what your friends were up to last night?”
Remus makes his face as bland as possible, and feels a familiar, though now well-dulled, stab of guilt.
“We were all in our room all night,” says Remus. “Peter and James event went to sleep before I did.”
Both parts our technically true. The actual enchantment of the Slytherin common room didn’t occur until past midnight, and therefore in the morning. And, after the enchantment had been placed, Peter and James had gone to bed first, while Remus had stayed up late to study.
McGonagall arches an eyebrow. “And Mr. Black?”
“Working on my transfiguration essay,” says Sirius with the face of a cherub. He’s still hanging off Remus, and his hair tickles Remus’s nose. “I’ve even got it right here.”
Sirius twists around to get his bag. He ends up half in Remus’s lap in the process, making Remus’s heart stutter awkwardly. A vein pulses in McGongall’s forehead.
Sirius produces the essay with a flourish. Remus is pretty sure he wrote it that morning in the bathroom.
“Thirteen inches, just as asked,” says Sirius proudly. “It’s brilliant stuff, if I do say so myself.”
McGonagall’s lips thin dangerously.
“In the future, Mr. Black, you would do well to finish your essays a little earlier than the night before.”
“Duly noted, Professor,” says Sirius, and he manages a sweeping bow even while half-perched in Remus’s lap.
McGonagall spares them one more cool look before gliding imperiously away. The look Meadowes gives them is a little more threateningly, but she trudges away as well. Remus doubts it’s the last of her though, and if he were Sirius or James, he’d be very nervous about their next game against Slytherin.
James breaks out into a huge smile and clasps Peter on the back.
“Well done, men. Well done.”
Even Remus has to grin a little. The prank isn’t just validation of their general mischief-making skills, it was also the first time they got the tracking spell on the map to work flawlessly. They’d known where everyone in the castle was last night and so been completely fearless of interruption or discovery. It’s a warm moment of pride.
The owls swoop in then to deliver mail, and Sirius shifts off Remus to lean across the table and snatch the Daily Prophet from James. Remus feels a weird pang when Sirius moves away from him, but it at least gives him the space to actually eat his breakfast.
"You could just ask for the crossword," James tells Sirius reproachfully, in the strange, pompous voice he's started to adopt. He grabs the front page back from Sirius. "You're the only one who cares about that."
"That's not true," says Sirius, rolling his eyes at James' tone as he digs through his bag for a quill. "Moony cares too." He elbows Remus in the side and his eyes gleam dangerously. "Isn't that right, Moony?"
"Of course. I love being used as a walking dictionary. It really feels like a great use of my talents," says Remus dryly. But he does get a secret pleasure from the way Sirius smiles at him after they've successfully untwisted a particularly tangled clue. Which makes him, Remus knows, both laughable and tragic.
"Not just a dictionary," says Sirius cheerfully, dark head already bent over the day's puzzle. "Encylopedia too. What's a five letter word for – "
James makes a distressed noise.
"You all right mate?" asks Peter, the first to respond.
Sirius just looks vaguely disdainful as he says, "Forgot you couldn't breathe tea again, Prongsies?"
James ignores both of them and looks at Remus instead.
"Did you know about this?" he demands, slapping the paper down in front of Remus. He jabs at a short article tucked away on the bottom left corner on the second page of the paper, tucked away beneath an equally short article about a Muggleborn gone missing in Cardiff. Remus reads the title and feels a knot form in his stomach: New Werewolf Regulations to Be Discussed Today.
"Yes," he says, more calmly than he feels. Sirius looks over his shoulder and he can feel Sirius's face heat up with anger. "I'd been notified that these were likely to go into effect soon."
"They’re going to make you – " Sirius's voice rises dangerously but he thankfully stops before Remus has to make him. He has no desire for Sirius to start yelling about this loud enough for the entire Great Hall to hear.
"If the Ministry decides to adopt these regulations, yes," says Remus, much more calmly than he feels. His ears are ringing and he feels like he's talking from very far away. It doesn’t really matter how Sirius was going to finish the sentence. There’s nothing new in the proposed regulations that Remus has been able to tell; it’s all just worse – less services and harsher punishments and if werewolves can’t police themselves out of a sense of duty to society, than they shouldn’t be allowed to continue to participate in society.
“How are you feeling Moony?” asks Peter anxiously. “About all this?”
“Fine,” says Remus automatically. He’s treated to three equally withering looks of skepticism.
“What are you thinking about then?” asks James.
Remus takes a sip of his tea, and when he puts his mug down says, with his last reservoir of calm, “I’m thinking about what to get you wankers for Christmas.”
There’s a long silence, then Sirius curses and stands, slamming his fist against the table in the process.
“I’ll see you lot later,” he says, brisk and cold.
Remus stares. It is, of course, just like Sirius to throw a fit over this, like it’s his right and responsibility to be an intolerable arse when Remus is
James lunges across the table – knocking over Peter’s tea in the process – and grabs Sirius’s sleeve.
“Oi! Wait a minute. Moony has a point. We haven’t discussed Christmas gifts at all.”
“Are you out of your bloody – ”
“I was thinking this year,” says James loudly – calmly and firmly speaking over Sirius’s snarling outburst, “that we do something different where we’re creative and don’t spend any money on each other’s gifts.”
They all three stare at James. Remus has no doubt James came up with the idea this very second, in an attempt to calm Sirius down and divert the direction of the conversation. But it’s obvious what the idea was sparked by. Remus is always broke and Sirius has been cut off from his family fortune and Peter’s pocket money is insignificant compared to the Potters’ seemingly endless wealth. It’s quintessential James – quick-thinking and generous and still fantastically, mind-blowingly thoughtless.
Sirius seems to be of a similar mind to Remus, because he sneers coldly.
“Noblesse oblige, eh Potter?”
James lets go of Sirius’s sleeve and smiles with deep sweetness.
“You know I can’t understand a fucking word of French, Padfoot.”
Chapter 2: December 2
“Really?” says Remus with biting chill. “You think writing a letter to the Prophet is going to do something? Honestly Padfoot, that sounds like a plan I’d come up with.”
Sirius reddens and Peter, hunched next to Sirius and looking pained, gives James a pathetic look. James approaches warily. Remus and Sirius are fighting. It’s rare to see Remus and Sirius fight, but when they do, it’s always a proper row. They didn’t speak to each other for a week in fourth year because Sirius kept insisting on helping Remus with potions. They both have too much pride for their own good, in James’s opinion. Sirius because he was poisoned with it from childhood, and Remus because he has so little else.
The Potters, notable eccentrics that they are, have no pride. Only ego.
“What are you two getting your panties in a twist about?” asks James, sliding into the seat next to Remus. Sirius’s eyes are bulging faintly, which only happens when he’s really angry and trying to stuff it back. Which is notably unusual. Sirius always submitted too easily to his anger, and the fact that he isn’t now warns James to tread lightly.
“Sirius intends to write a letter to the Prophet about the new werewolf regulations,” says Remus savagely. He’s not looking at Sirius but at his silverware. James, who knows Remus’s prowess with unspoken spells, half-expects the poor fork to melt. “My grandfather writes letters to the Prophet. About the excessive gnome population and the high cost of firewhisky.”
“Both very important topics,” attempts James weakly, but he’s shouted over by Sirius.
“Well what am I supposed to do!”
There’s a hush as half the table turns to look at them. Remus turns very pink and Sirius grimaces, lowering his voice to a heated whisper. “It’s not like the Ministry is going to listen to a bloody teenager about what fucking wankers they all are!”
There’s a hint of helplessness to Sirius that James hasn’t seen since he showed up at the Potters’ doorstep this summer, with just a bag and a smile so obviously fake that it still gives James a pang when he thinks about it. This isn’t a fight James thinks Remus will win.
“Well the Prophet’s not going to publish from a bloody teenager either,” hisses Remus. But he too seems a little struck by the bit of despair in Sirius’s face.
Sirius smirks and draws himself up and something of the Ancient and Noble House of Black flashes across his face. He looks proud and cold and fierce. The hint of helplessness evaporates.
“They’ll publish it when they see my last name.” Sirius has an innate sense of drama, and he holds himself there, shoulders squared and high, for a long moment, and lets what he said sink in. Then he draws back into himself, becomes a surly teenager again, his hair falling in his face, and adds, “Besides, with any luck it’ll give my bitch of a mother a heart attack.”
James considers this. He understands the appeal to Sirius: stand up for their best mate and the right and honorable cause – hell, James has half a mind to write a damn letter himself, Potter’s no name that’s laughed at either – and Sirius’ll piss his family off at the same time. It’s a win-win from Sirius’s perspective. James gets it, he does. Every day there’s a new terrible murder or disappearance, another rumor about Death Eaters, and all the Ministry is doing is persecuting one of their best friends.
And sixteen and brilliant though they may be, there’s nothing he nor Sirius nor Peter can do about any of it except yell. But… James looks at Remus, who is now studiously avoiding looking at anything but the floor. That doesn’t mean yelling will do anything to help Remus. It may even make him feel worse.
Dimly, James realizes this is one of those tests you get when you’re growing up which show your maturity. It’s a chance to broker peace or make the right but tough decision. Now, he understands, is the moment to step in and fix everything.
“Come on mate,” he says, looking back at Sirius. “Who are you fooling? Everyone knows you’re barely literate.”
Sirius doesn’t even register the comment, just grabs a piece of parchment from his bag and begins to scribble furiously. At least Remus and Peter each humor James with a snort. James knows he’s lost, and from the way Remus slumps next to him, Remus knows he’s lost too.
“Doing your homework last minute again, are we Black?”
James almost falls out of his seat in his haste to turn around. Evans is standing behind him, arms crossed over her chest and hair left long and loose. James has no doubt she was attracted by the yelling and Remus’s despairing posture. She takes a perverse delight in butting into quarrels and has an uncanny sense for when Remus is upset. Both of them, James believes, admirable qualities, but also damn troublesome at times.
“I’ve just been too busy doing your mum at night, Evans,” says Sirius, without even looking up. James automatically kicks him under the table.
Evans rolls her eyes, and James expects her to flounces off, but she doesn’t. She lingers. And he has no idea how to read that. Evans has only ever lingered at their end of the table before in order to nab Remus for prefect duties. But she’s watching Sirius curiously now.
“I heard you talking about the werewolf legislation,” she says, glancing briefly at James and meeting his eyes. He shivers, and it’s bollocks how everyone thinks unrequited love is romantic. It mainly just makes James feel ill. And he wonders, not for the first time, if Evans is a legilimens as well being the brightest witch in their year.
Sirius grunts, and James finds words spilling out of his mouth. He feels Remus stiffen next to him.
“We were, yeah. It’s total bollocks, innit? Anyway, Padfoot here’s doing his best to finish his mother off and redeem his family name – ”
“ – fuck my family name –”
“ – and he’s writing a letter to Daily Prophet about what a load of shit it is.”
Evans’s expression flicker slightly when he says ‘Padfoot,’ and James worries for a moment that he’s given something away. Evans is like that, he’s learned over the years; she picks up on scraps of information others let slips, and she hoards it and she studies it until she understands everything.
It’s enchanting, but also mildly terrifying.
“All right,” says Evans. She nods firmly at all of them. “Good. I look forward to reading that letter, Black.” Her expression softens a bit as it lands on Remus. “And Happy Christmas, Remus.”
She strides away, and leaves the slight hanging in the air behind her.
“How come she didn’t wish the rest of us a happy Christmas?” says Peter, disgruntled.
“Because she’s a – Ow, Potter!”
James gives Sirius an innocent look, and then slumps forward. He pushes his glasses up his forehead and presses the palms of his hands to his eyes. A small, piteous part of him wishes he were the one writing the letter.
That would have impressed Evans.
Remus gets up with a huff, muttering about the library, and neatly snapping James out of his brief reverie where he woos Lily with both his passion and his eloquence.
“Now come on!” he starts. He’s getting tired of how his friends keep storming away from breakfast like scorned lovers in a bad play, but Remus is already halfway towards the door, ears tucked near his shoulders as he walks away. He has none of Sirius’s elegant stalk, all grace and thunderstorm, but he telescopes his displeasure articulately enough all the same.
“He’ll get over it,” says Sirius dismissively, without looking up from his letter. James catches something that looks like “an offense to all wizardkind” before Sirius scratches it out and covers most of the rest of the parchment with his elbow.
“You’re going to get ink all over your sleeve,” says James mildly, pushing his glasses up his nose.
Peter pokes at his plate contemplatively.
“He hates it when you’re overprotective.”
Sirius and James both startle and look at Peter. Peter hates arguments. He never offers his input.
“Wossat Wormtail?” asks Sirius, eyes narrowed.
Peter looks nervous, but he holds his ground.
“Moony hates it when you’re overprotective. He thinks it’s patronizing. You know.” His nose twitches . “Condescending.”
“I know what patronizing means Wormtail,” says Sirius, tone proving his point.
Peter makes a face. “Yeah, ‘course mate. I’m just saying, Moony doesn’t like that. That’s why he’s in a strop.”
“Well that’s bollocks!” snaps Sirius. “I’m not being overprotective. I’m – I’m being a loyal friend!”
There’s a doglike earnestness to Sirius’s expression that means he’s being sincere. James sighs and runs his hand through his hair. There’s no good way of getting Remus and Sirius to make up. It’s not like when Sirius and James fight, where everything’s solved with a couple of solid punches followed by a manly hug. And it’s not like when Peter, well, James has never seen Peter actually fight with anyone, and no one can really stay mad at Peter for long. And James has never fought with Remus.
He pauses to consider what it means that his only conflict-negotiation experience has to do with Sirius.
Nothing good probably.
Across from him, Sirius starts humming “God Bless Ye Merry Hufflepuffs,” with unusual vigor. The plates shake tightly as he crosses a t. Nothing for it, thinks James, and he starts humming along with Sirius. With any luck, they’ll get a proper vulgar sing-a-long going before McGonagall can stop them.
He’ll make sure Sirius and Remus patch things up later. He will.
Chapter 3: December 3
“If there's an ounce of wit or courage in the Ministry, I'll eat my wand,” finishes Parkinson loudly, to hoots and cries across the common room.
She stays standing on the chair, flushed with attention and amusement, and puts her hands on her hips.
“My brother is in the Ministry,” she says in her high, perpetually offended voice that Regulus has always found so grating.
“He actually works for the Department of Magical Creatures, and he says this legislation is ace. But I guess Sirius Black wouldn’t know wit or courage if it bit him on the arse.”
“Your brother wouldn’t recognize wit or courage if it were a lethifold about to devour him,” says Severus Snape, bored voice rising suddenly above the murmurs of conversation. “The only reason he works for the Department of Magical Creatures is because he can’t do any real harm there, since it’s a useless department that no one actually cares about. Do you think all this new legislation has meant a single knut of a budget increase for that department? No. ”
Regulus smiles faintly and continues to act like he’s studying for Charms. He’s never been sure if he rates as a friend for Severus – never been sure if that’s something he should aspire too, what with Severus’s dodgy parentage. But he likes Severus well-enough all the same. He’s acerbic in a way that’s based on observation and ambitious in a way that relies on hard work and skill rather than connections and mind games. And he can’t stand Parkinson’s attention-shilling any more than Regulus can.
Parkinson gapes at Severus, and it takes her a moment before she shrilly comes back with, “Oooh. Are you standing up for Black now? Is that why you’re always following him around?”
A couple of Parkinson’s girlfriends titter in agreement, and Regulus slides a little lower in his seat. He’s in one of the chairs by the fire, half-tilted away from most of Parkinson’s audience. He hopes to stay that way, has no desire to be dragged through the mud on the heels of his wayward former brother.
But it’s no use. Macnair, who’s more terrier than human and seems to have taken enough of a shine to Severus to divert attention off him, spots Regulus and grins. He has ugly, tombstone teeth.
“Oi Reg! How’re your Mum and Da feeling about your brother’s little stunt? Little more troublesome for them than a bit of snow, innit?”
There’s a hush as everyone turns to look at Regulus. This is prime theater. Macnair has no real standing to cast aspersions upon the Blacks. As near as Regulus can tell, Macnair’s family was founded by a bloody swamp-witch with a taste for Muggle politics. But a morning doesn’t pass without some kind of power play in the common room; it’s school but it’s real life too, and everyone keeps a detailed account of favors and slights, of wins and losses. All these schoolboy machinations will mean something one day when they’re older. A man’s career starts the first time he gets on the train.
Regulus frowns tightly. He's sure his parents have already seen the letter, that there's a whole angry web of conversations already spinning outward across the family. He’s glad Sirius ran away over the summer; if he were, by whatever thin threads, still part of the family, the letter would no doubt put Narcissa's wedding on hold. And Regulus has no desire to spend the break consoling his cousin and dodging his mother's all-encompassing wrath.
As it is, this kind of thing may still be viewed very poorly by the Malfoys.
"Sirius is no longer my brother,” is all he says, and he’s learned to say it very calmly at this point. “Why should my family care what a fool like him does?”
Macnair laughs in an ugly way. Regulus has never understood why Severus hangs out with him. Macnair is dull and cruel for the sake of cruelty.
“Maybe they’re worried you’ll run off and do the same. I hear brains are getting bit thin on the ground round your family tree.”
"Honestly," cuts in Dorcas Meadowes, "this is the first time Sirius Black's ever done anything worth being emulated." She nods sharply at Regulus. "You should be proud."
There's a ripple of derision through the common room. Meadowes is, by unanimous and mostly silent consent, ignored. She's a little too uncouth, a little too opinionated, and there are rumors that her Russian grandmother might have had Muggle parents. But sometimes she says something so completely outrageous that someone has to gently remind her of her place, of who she's among.
"Been drinking before noon again Meadowes?” laughs Macnair. “You’re nuttier every week, I swear.”
Meadowes eyes him with disgust.
"Sirius Black is right, and you're an ugly git who likes to torture kittens," she sniffs. “But if you’d like to go after something that will fight back this time, then by all means McNair.”
“And now you’ve got Meadowes sticking up for you,” says Rabastan Lestrange slow and amused, cutting off Macnair and Meadowes’ spat before it devolves into a full fight. “Very intriguing. What’s your family’s motto again, Reg? Something about purity?”
“Toujours pur,” says Regulus automatically. He flushes, angry with himself and with Lestrange and Macnair and Meadowes and the whole bloody, festering lot of them. “Which I’m sure your sister-in-law will be more than happy to remind you of.”
Lestrange’s smirk doesn’t flicker. “Oh, no one’s any doubt of Bella’s politics, not since Andromeda ran off with that Mudblood. She’s really made a point to prove herself. She was in Cardiff just the other day, in fact. Making that point.”
Regulus flushes more darkly. Bellatrix had blasted Andromeda’s name off the tapestry herself that night, had demanded it as her right. Regulus, when given the same opportunity to blast off Sirius’s name, had shrunk away. There was something too final to it. Andromeda had married a Mudblood, so of course she was damned. But all Sirius had done was run away. He could have come back. He might still.
It had only been his mother’s all-consuming rage that had kept her from registering Regulus’s failure of nerve, and she’d blasted Sirius’s name off the second Regulus hesitated. But he knows his father noticed, and he still feels his Orion’s eyes on him from time to time, weighted and considering, like Regulus isn’t entirely to be trusted either.
Bellatrix and Narcissa are doing their best, but it’s him, ultimately, who will decide the lot of this generation of Blacks. He wakes up sometimes in the middle of the night and feels a hundred generations pressing down on him with the knowledge that he’s the last of his last name and he had better make them all proud.
He knows it will take more than a curt reply disowning his brother to do that, and he knows disowning Sirius won’t keep Macnair and Lestrange and their like from circling either. He knows as well that Macnair and Lestrange and most of the other Slytherin sixth and seventh years are getting involved with something ugly and dangerous and bigger than themselves. That the man who styles himself the Dark Lord, who Bella won’t stop talking and who his parents bring up in hushed tones, has found fertile grounds among Regulus’s classmates. That when Lestrange says “Cardiff,” he’s referencing Bella’s involvement.
That’s what Macnair’s vicious, dumb grin and Lestrange’s lazy shark impression are pushing him towards ultimately, to prove that as far lost as Sirius is, Regulus won’t give up on the family name. He’ll do something to redeem it. He’ll follow Bellatrix’s path.
Regulus closes his charms textbook and stands.
“I’d be more concerned about the fact no one’s willing to marry you than I would about who my former cousin ran off,” he tells Lestrange coolly, and then he turns to Meadowes and snarls, “And I don’t need the opinion of a hairy blood traitor like you.”
He strides towards the common room door before he can see either’s reaction, though he hears Parkinson’s delighted squeal of, He called her hairy! before the door swings open then shut behind him.
His heart is hammering in his chest and he realizes he’s left his bookbag with his quills and parchment back in the common room. He’ll have to get it later.
He lost that round, he knows it in his blood and his bones, and it’s all fucking Sirius’s fault.
Remus is the one who finds Sirius. Not that it was that hard to find him, he expects, what with the Map working now.
It’s the first good snow of the year, flakes coming down fast and finally sticking. Sirius expects it’ll be a few inches deep by nightfall. He’s smoking by Greenhouse Three, has been since the Howler Wahlberga sent him that morning screamed the Great Hall into silence. He’s not upset exactly. He knew his letter would piss his family off – is glad he has tangible, stomach-twisting proof of that.
“You missed Charms,” says Remus in greeting. It’s the first proper thing he’s said to Sirius in two days, other than ‘pass the salt’ and ‘get off my bed.’ He looks tired, more so than usual and Sirius attributes it to the coming full moon.
Sirius scowls. “I thought you were avoiding me.”
Remus spent all of yesterday and the day before hiding in the library, and Sirus, at least, had the decency to not act like he knew exactly where Remus was thanks to the Map. He’d left him alone, much as it pained him.
“I was,” says Remus simply. “And now I’m not.”
“Any reason for the change of heart?” says Sirius with a challenging look.
Remus just raises his eyebrows slightly and Sirius flushes and looks away.
“I just felt a bit dodgy is all, being on the same side as your mum, what with us both being peeved about that bloody letter of yours.”
“Well that’s very right of you, to feel dodgy,” says Sirius, but, deep down, he knows he’s not being fair. Remus is a right prat about letting his friends act like they do anything more than tolerate him, but he wasn’t angry at Sirius out of any real viciousness.
Remus laughs faintly. “It was a good letter. Very, ah, passionate. Inspired, really.”
“Which one? Mine or Wahlberga’s?”
“Both, I suppose. But I was referring to yours. I especially liked the part where you suggested the Minister shove a pygmy puff up his bum.”
“To match the one in his head, yeah,” says Sirius. He liked that part a lot too.
Remus leans against him slightly, a brief, warm point of contact, and then he leans away and studies Sirius thoughtfully.
“You’re allowed to have complicated feelings about it. About your Mum’s Howler, I mean,” says Remus softly. His eyes are damningly kind.
Sirius wants to hit him.
“Thanks for the bloody permission,” he sneers. “But I don’t have complicated feelings.”
“So the reason you’re hiding behind the greenhouse is because…”
Sirius shrugs expansively.
“I’m just pissed, is all. I’d really hoped being disowned would’ve meant I’d never hear from her again. But here she is sending me letters full of her screaming banshee voice like I’m still in second year and disappointing her for the first time all over again.”
“You got your first Howler from her in first year,” says Remus mildly. “In March. I’m actually surprised it took that long, in retrospect.”
Sirius stares at him. He realizes that his cigarette’s gone out, and he drops it with a huff and taps out the next one.
“You’re a strange one Moony. I can’t believe you remember that.” He waves the pack of cigarettes in front of Remus. “Want one?”
Remus pauses, wrinkling his nose, and finally nods his assent. It twists Sirius up – how reluctant Remus looks. Remus only ever smokes if Sirius or James are smoking; it’s clear he doesn’t like it. Sirius wishes Remus would just say no.
“Don’t smoke if you don’t want to,” he snaps.
“I said I wanted to,” says Remus evenly. Everything about him is even – even voice, even mouth, even line of his fucking eyebrows, and Sirius doesn’t know where these blistering rages come from sometimes. They just come, and he’s really fucking angry at Remus’s eyebrows.
“You look like it’d be a bloody penance to smoke.”
Remus laughs at him. “You’re in a mood. Give me a fucking fag, Padfoot.”
Sirius sneers, but he pulls out a cigarette and hands it to Remus. He waits for Remus to light it and watches the way Remus’s mouth curves around the cigarette with an itchy interest.
“The hell does that mean?” he mutters, but he can feel the morning’s anger start to drip away. Moony’s speaking to him again. Things aren’t all bad. “In a mood.
Remus smiles his private smile, the one that makes Sirius think Remus is watching them all from behind one of those funny Muggle windows where you can only see through from one side.
“It means you’re hormonal. It’s that time of month.” Remus cranes his neck up, and Sirius looks too, as if they could find the white thumbprint of the moon behind the thick clouds. They can’t, and Sirius just feels a bit stupid, standing there next to Remus with fat flakes of snow falling on his face. He’s glad the moon’s soon though. Or, not glad, but last year the full moon was the last day of term, and Remus had gone home early to his parents, to transform there. Even though, objectively, Sirius had argued, Remus’s transformations were safer at Hogwarts. He doesn’t like it when Remus transforms without him and James and Peter around.
“Oh piss off,” says Sirius, because he can’t think of anything else to say.
Remus doesn’t respond, just smokes, his light eyes still thoughtful and far away as he looks at the clouds.
“What?” says Sirius, eventually, because he doesn’t like the silence. “Like you don’t have hormones mucking you up?”
“Nah.” Remus blows out a long stream of smoke. “I’m a monk.”
Sirius snorts. “More like a eunuch,” and he gets rewarded with another laugh from Remus.
“Sure,” says Remus. He drops his cigarette and stubs it out. It leaves a little hole in the snow. He only smoked half of it, notes Sirius. “I’ve got something for you, by the way.”
Sirius’s eyes light up. “Yeah? What?”
Remus rummages into his robe and pulls out a folded piece of parchment. His face is pink as he hands it to Sirius, and Sirius doesn’t know if it’s from embarrassment or the cold. A brief gust of irritation bursts through him; Remus gets sick too easily. He should be inside, not out in the cold.
“It’s just a poem, but I don’t know. It seemed like you’d like it.”
Sirius laughs in surprise. “Fuck, Moony, this isn’t my bloody Christmas gift, is it?”
“Who says I’m giving you a Christmas gift?”
“I’m hurt, Moony. I thought we were friends.” Sirius unfolds the poem carefully. “Merlin, you’re such a girl sometimes.”
Remus rolls his eyes. “There’s nothing inherently girl-like about enjoying poetry.”
Sirius disagrees silently, and then starts to read the poem. Out loud. Mainly with the purpose of making Remus uncomfortable.
“They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad,” he shouts. “They may not mean to, but they do.”
Sirius voice falters, “They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra just for you.”
It’s just like Remus to do it, to give Sirius some dead bloke’s words and expect it to make him feel better. And weirdly, it works. Kind of. Remus doesn’t get it, what Sirius is going through or what he’s feeling, none of the lads do, much as he loves them. But Remus will at least try to find someone who might understand, and only Remus would come up with a poem to try to say that. He’s bloody unbelievable.
He holds Remus’s head, his hands clamped over Remus’s ears and leans in close to stare at him. Remus tenses like an animal in a trap, just looking for the chance to run away. Sirius takes in his pink nose, his chapped lips, the thin scar along the side of Remus’s forehead he didn’t notice until fourth year and has never not been able to notice again.
“What,” he says, “the bloody hell are you?”
“What?” says Remus. His voice is high, incredulous.
Sirius loves Remus, but he’s not empathetic enough to think how fucking strange this probably is for him. Sirius stares at him for another moment, and then lets go abruptly. The jerky movement makes Remus stagger and he presses his hand against the greenhouse for support.
“You’re so bloody – Merlin, Sirius, get help.”
Sirius studies his fingernails. “I liked the poem,” he says.
Remus goes still all over and his eyes light like Muggle lampposts at dusk. Sirius’s stomach does a slow loop. He likes being able to make Remus light up like that with just a word, but he wishes it weren’t so easy sometimes. Remus should care about someone’s opinion who’s less shit than Sirius is.
“Yeah.” Sirius slips his hand inside his pocket and touches the poem. “I did. Thanks for showing it to me. It wasn’t, you know, flowery shite like I expected.”
“I don’t read flowery shite,” mutters Remus defensively.
“The hell you don’t. You like that – what’s his name? – that Shakespeare bloke?”
Remus practically chokes on his laughter. Sirius gives him a cross look.
“What’s so bloody funny?”
“You,” says Remus. He starts laughing again. “Merlin, Sirius.”
Sirius starts to smile in spite of himself. “Is this the part where you call me an uncultured swine again?”
“That goes without saying.” Remus plays with the hem of his sleeve. They’re too short, Sirius notices critically – not the way his mother would care about, because it’s a sign of the Lupins’ poverty, of their low status – but because it’s just one more way Remus is going to be a little colder than everyone else, one more thing to add to the list of shit that’s trying to kill one of Sirius’s best mates.
“Larkin’s really good though. I’m glad you liked the poem.”
A flash of annoyance crosses Remus’s face. “The poet. Who wrote that poem I just showed you.”
“Oh, yeah. How’s his other stuff?”
“It’s good. Depressing.” Remus squints up at the sky again. “I like it. He’s a librarian, you know. At some Muggle university.”
Sirius realizes with a small shock that every poet he’s ever read he assumed was dead. It’s weird to think of poets still alive, walking around and writing and having opinions about their writing. He wonders if maybe Madame Pince writes poetry in her spare time. He can’t picture someone like Madame Pince saying fuck. At sixteen, he can’t picture anyone over the age of twenty-five saying fuck. His parents never said it. They saved their breath for more vicious words.
“A librarian? Merlin, that’s gonna be you one day, Moony. That sounds like your ideal life, writing poetry surrounded by books.”
“A werewolf-librarian.” Remus is deadpan.
“I see it,” says Sirius. He taps his temple and does his best impression of the Divination professor’s eerie monotone. “I’m having a vision. I am seeing your future. There are books. Books and cold cups of tea and sweater vests.”
“And depressing poetry?”
“No, really excellent poetry, about your handsome and dashing best mate.”
Remus snorts and takes Sirius’s wrist gently in his hand and squeezes it. It makes Sirius’s heart pick up a little bit, and he’s suddenly aware of how cold he is. He’s been out here in the snow for over an hour.
“Maybe I want some adventures of my own,” says Remus, dropping Sirius’s wrist with a grin.
Sirius gives him his best dashing look.
“You can come along on some of mine.”
Remus laughs. “Your heart’s in the right place, Padfoot. I just wish your head was.”
Sirius scrapes off a handful of snow from the greenhouse and shoves it into Remus’s hair. He’s beaming. He feels better than he has in days.
This Be The Verse
BY PHILIP LARKIN
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Chapter 5: December 5
Sorry it's a little late. D:
“Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” asks Lily for the third time in the past hour.
“Yes, really,” says Remus, biting back a tart response. “Why? Do I look that bad?”
“Well,” says Lily. She looks Remus up and down and arches an eyebrow. “I’ve certainly seen you look better.”
Remus grimaces faintly. She’s right, of course. The moon’s tomorrow, the longest full moon of the year, and Remus’s whole body is one large, pre-emptive ache. His bones feel slightly too large for his body.
“I’m just saying,” says Lily earnestly, “I’m more than capable of handling rounds myself if you’re feeling under the weather.”
“It’s only another hour,” points out Remus. He gives her an innocent look. “I tell you what, if you stop asking me how I’m feeling, I’ll take tomorrow off from rounds.”
An unhappy expression flashes across Lily’s face and she opens her mouth to say something, then clearly reconsiders.
“Fine,” she says, a little tightly, after a moment. “Though I have the sense you were going to miss rounds tomorrow anyway.”
Remus feels a little uneasy. There are times, like now, when he thinks Lily knows he’s a werewolf, and only hasn’t said anything out of a sense of politeness. It makes him feel vulnerable, but there’s no way of knowing without admitting the truth to Lily.
They continue down the hallway in silence for a few yards. The only sound is a couple insomniac portraits chatting down the hall. Remus normally likes making rounds with Lily; she’s good at conversation and good at letting conversations lull, a calm counterpoint to the frenetic nature of his friendship with James and Peter and Sirius. But tonight’s been tense since the beginning, as Lily has sent him one worried look after another.
“I liked Black’s letter, in the Prophet,” says Lily quietly, when they get to the end of the hall. “You know, some of the girls said he was daft to write it.”
“Did they?” says Remus, affecting disinterest.
“I just can’t believe,” continues Lily, “that people – other Gryffindors especially! – would think Black was wrong about that! And I don’t normally think Black is right about anything!”
“Er,” says Remus. “Is it really that surprising?”
Lily gapes at him. “You’re not serious.”
“I’m not saying I disagree with Sirius,” says Remus hastily. “Just… People are scared of what they don’t know, Lily.” He gives her a tired smile. “Even other Gryffindors.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” objects Lily immediately. “I don’t think it’s fear at all. I think it’s just hate. And I think it’s a mistake to excuse people’s hate as simple fear.”
Remus’s mouth twitches in a smile.
“Easy for you to say. You’re fearless, and the only thing you hate is James.”
Lily snorts. “I don’t hate James. He’s just an arrogant berk.” Her eyes go a bit distant. “And I’m not fearless either. There are plenty of things I’m scared of. There are plenty of things I should be scared of.”
Remus thinks about the missing Muggleborns and feels a pang of sympathy.
“You’re safe while you’re here,” he says, but it’s hardly comforting. They both know they won’t be at Hogwarts forever.
Lily smiles humorlessly, but is kind enough not to correct him. Remus wishes they could find a student out of bed, something to break up the dark place the conversation’s turned to.
“It just makes me so mad!” says Lily, after another long silence. Her mouth is tight. “Not just those bloody awful, unfair regulations. But the way – the way they’re being used! It just turns werewolves into a scapegoat for all this other terrible stuff that’s going on.”
Remus clenches his hands uncomfortably and hums to indicate he’s listening.
“Black had the right idea,” mutters Lily. “Only, it was just a letter. Hardly attention getting. Somebody should do something to get more attention! Like, like a petition! Or.” Her eyes light up, and Remus gets it, at times like this, why James is in love with her, can even almost see why they’d be a good match.
“Or hold a protest! Remus, we should hold a protest! At the ministry!”
“A protest?” says Remus, a bit dumbly.
“Yes!” says Lily, eyes still gleaming. “It’s not really something wizards do, but Muggles – especially Muggle students! It’s a huge thing, Remus. My cousin at Warwick helped occupy one of the administrative buildings last summer over rent increases. And she was involved in all kinds of Vietnam activism.”
“I don’t actually know what you’re talking about,” says Remus. Only about half the words Lily’s saying make sense to Remus. His mother’s a Muggle and all, but his contact with that side of the family is rare, made rarer by his condition.
Lily smiles broadly. It looks a bit deranged.
“I’m saying,” she says, slowly and carefully, much the same way James explained his idea for the Map, “that some students should go to the Ministry one day, with signs, and just… disrupt things – peacefully! – and demand the Ministry stop their, well, their witch hunt and actually focus on that Death Eater cult!”
Remus looks at her dubiously.
“And you think that will convince them to change things?”
“No!” says Lily, punching her palm. “But it will get attention! It’ll make people talk! And maybe, that might start changing things!” She glares and adds, more for her own benefit, Remus thinks, than his, “I’m not just going to sit here at Hogwarts and let things happen. I’m part of this world, too.”
“You’re set on this?”
Lily nods, jaw clenched firmly, and Remus knows he well enough to know that she’s telling the truth. Lily’s never said anything she didn’t follow through on.
Remus sighs in defeat. There are some battles he knows he can’t win; there’s only the question of what he can salvage.
“You’ll need someone to help you plan it,” he points out.
Lily frowns at him. “I was actually hoping you –”
“What about James?” interrupts Remus, an idea occurring to him.
Lily gives him a flat look. “What about Potter?”
“You two should work together. On planning this. He’d love to help, honestly. And who else do you think is going to be able to sneak a bunch of Hogwarts students into the Ministry?”
Lily laughs, and she seems startled by it.
“Point taken.” She purses her lips and then nods sharply. “All right then. Let’s talk to James when we’re done with rounds.”
Remus smiles faintly. At the very least, he’s salvaged a Christmas present for James out of all this.
“Prongs!” calls Remus when they get into the dormitory.
“What?” says James, poking his head out of the curtains surrounding his bed. His eyes widen comically.
“Evans?” he squeaks. “What are you doing in here?”
“Evans is here?” demands Sirius, popping out from the bathroom. He scowls tremendously, and it looks a bit ridiculous with his toothbrush sticking out of his mouth.
“She wants to talk to James about something,” says Remus.
“She what?” say Sirius and James at once, equally incredulous.
Remus smiles serenely and heads towards his bed.
“Consider this my Christmas gift, Prongs.”
James squeaks again and Remus grins at Lily. “He’ll be coherent soon. Have a good night, Lily.”
“You too, Remus,” says Lily faintly, nose wrinkled like she’s suddenly reconsidering the wisdom of this plan. “Get some rest.”
Remus disappears into his bed, closing the curtains tightly shut and falling face first onto his pillow. It’s a relief to finally be in bed, and he doesn’t plan on moving until he has to go the Shack tomorrow evening.
“Can we do this somewhere else?” he hears Lily ask, and James’s answer is a bit muffled, but clearly frantic and affirmative. Remus toes his shoes off.
“Great,” says Lily. “Put your trousers on. I’ll wait outside.”
The door closes, and a minute later, James says loudly, “God bless you, Remus Lupin,” and Remus hears James follow Lily out. He laughs into his pillow.
“You got Evans to go on a date with Prongs?” demands Sirius, jerking the curtains open and climbing onto the bed. “For Christmas? That’s bloody cheating! Did you hex her? Moony, I’m proud of you! But also angry. Incredibly angry. You know this is just going to ruin James!”
Remus groans but doesn’t lift his head from his pillow.
“Close the curtains. And it’s not a date. And stop talking.”
“So what is it?” demands Sirius, closing the curtains obediently. He sits on Remus’s legs.
Remus groans again; it’s obvious Sirius isn’t going to let him fall asleep without explaining.
“Lily needed a co-conspirator, and I suggested James.”
Sirius snorts and rests his hand in Remus’s hair. He rubs Remus’s scalp, fingers moving deftly. It’s nice, and sends a wave of warmth down Remus’s neck.
“And what does Evans need to conspire about? Finding a sense of humor?”
Remus pauses, considering how much he should say. He must take too long, because Sirius flicks his ear a little too sharply and sing-songs his name.
“She wants to stage a protest at the Ministry. About the werewolf regulations, and I told her Prongs’d be able to help her plan it.”
Sirius goes tense, and his hand stops moving in Remus’s hair. When he speaks, his voice is tight and angry.
“So how come Evans wants to do something to protest those dumb fucking regulations, and you set her up with James. But I write a bloody letter, and you punish me and don’t speak to me for two days?”
Remus squeezes his eyes more tightly shut. He’d asked himself the same question on the walk back to the tower.
“I’m setting her up with Prongs, who says I’m not punishing her?”
“Har har,” says Sirius, and Remus can clearly envision the sneer curling Sirius’s lips. His tone goes frosty. “Not important, I suppose. I’m just curious, really.”
“Kitchens. And that was a bloody obvious evasion.”
Remus rolls onto his back reluctantly, and Sirius looks down at him. With the curtains closed, Sirius’s eyes are hidden in the gloom, and it’s hard to read his expression.
“Lily doesn’t know I’m a werewolf.” He thinks.
Sirius’s jaw tightens.
“So… it doesn’t feel personal,” says Remus. “You… wrote that letter because of me. Lily does what she does because she… empathizes.”
“I empathize with you!” protests Sirius. “The bloody hell are you going on about?”
“Lily’s Muggleborn,” he tries instead.
“And what the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“Because,” says Remus, a bit helplessly, “this all affects her too. It’s people like her disappearing, that the Ministry is ignoring and acting like they’re doing something when they pass this kind of legislation. It’s not, you know. I know you care, but you don’t, it doesn’t affect you. When you do something like that…”
He trails off. Sirius’s jaw is dangerously tight. He shifts forward, and then backwards, mouth half-open. It looks like he can’t decide whether to say something or just leave. Remus tenses for a blow up.
“You, you’re such a –“ Sirius huffs and then shudders and there’s a large black dog in place of the teenage boy that was just sitting on Remus’s knees.
“You can’t just turn into Padfoot every time you want to avoid a confrontation. That’s not good communication.”
Padfoot whines and lies down, resting half on Remus. Remus can’t help but lift his hand to rub behind Padfoot’s ears. He’s actually a little grateful Sirius went with this tactic. He doesn’t want to get into another fight with Sirius so close on the heels of their last one.
“Fine, but you’re not sleeping here,” says Remus, trying to sound stern. “You have your own bed.”
Padfoot licks his face, and it smells like dog and minty toothpaste. Remus sighs and shifts so he’s more comfortable.
“You’re intolerable,” he says, closing his eyes, but he enjoys Padfoot’s warmth.
It makes his bones ache a little less.
Chapter 6: December 6
White. White. The dark flash of the stag's hooves. White. The forest and sharp smell of evergreen. Doesn't hide the death beneath the snow. Rotting leaves and small animals - a fox, recently. And he stops to sniff there. It's not fresh. Poor fox, not clever enough.
The wolf howls ahead and he shakes off the rabbit smell, moves forward, out of the sharp knife of the wind. Into the line of the trees. The snow will cover their tracks. Will snow all night, can smell the cleandeep scent of it.
Steady, thinks Sirius, steady. He's been Padfoot too long today, spent the night dreaming rabbit chasing dreams and the morning lying on Remus. No class, no food. Needed Padfoot to ride out the anger, to keep Moony safe, but now he has to ride out Padfoot, take control.
He loses sight of the others for a moment, but it doesn't matter. They're dark, shifting shapes in a dark, shifting forest. It's their smell that matters. Moony always smells like pain, like someone sick. Smelt that way all morning, smells that way more now, but also rawness, also anger – sour smell, anger. It’s not in any of the books; how to tell werewolf from a wolf, but a werewolf still smells like a man.
Barely seven, thinks Sirius. Doesn't seem fair. Isn't fair. They'll be out in the woods for more than twelve hours. Always a miracle Moony doesn't kill someone around the long moons. Such a long time to keep him contained.
He senses the wolf dart back in the direction of the castle, and he angles to cut him off, meets the wolf in a flash of dark fur, whitewhite teeth. Sirius fades back, lets the dog take control for the tussle. Teeth at the throat and claws along the flank. They tumble. The wolf is bigger, sharper claws, sharper teeth. But Padfoot’s shrewder and Sirius is angrier. Angry at himself and angry at the world and angry too at Remus – incomprehensible boy.
The wolf breaks from him with a snarl, fleet foots back to the stag and the rat. Prongs noses at him gently, weird moment of animal kindness, then lifts his head to look at Padfoot. The stag runs, elegant riverflow of its movements, guides them deeper into the forest.
The wolf howls, then he and Padfoot howl together. He stops being angry. All four of them running now – graceful and mad and free.
Chapter 7: December 7
The Shack is freezing that morning, and Peter reckons it’s probably colder inside the Shack then it is outside. Wouldn’t have killed Dumbledore to have set up some heating charms in here, he thinks darkly as he and James get Remus – human and barely conscious – settled on the cot in the Shack. But the man does seem to lose the detail in all his grand visions.
Peter longs to turn back into a rat and curl up in Sirius or James's pocket as they walk back to the castle. But if it's cold for him, he knows it's worse for Remus, and one of them has to stay to make sure he doesn't freeze to death before Madame Pomfrey shows up to bring Remus back to the castle.
And since Peter's the easiest to hide, that’s going to be his job. It's always his job. And cold as it is, he doesn't mind it. He likes being useful, being able to do something neither James nor Sirius can do.
Not that Sirius seems to understand that. Padfoot climbs up on the bed and settles on Remus as soon as Peter and James get him on the bed, clearly intent on keeping Remus warm. Which is a nice gesture, but...
“Pomfrey's going to be here soon,” says Peter to Padfoot. “You have to leave.”
He doesn't really know what time it is, and the Shack is always very dark. But the sky had begun to gray by the time they'd made it back to the Whomping Willow and Remus had transformed and collapsed. Peter's worried about him, more worried than he usually is. It was a long night, and more than once, Padfoot and the wolf had gone at each other with more vigor than usual.
Padfoot growls and shifts to cover more of Remus. Remus stirs and moans softly beneath him, and Padfoot licks his cheek, his doggy face remarkably expressive, clearly concerned.
“I’m not going to let him freeze to death!” snaps Peter, feeling slighted. “But you and Prongs need to get out of here!”
“Wormtail’s right, Padfoot,” says James, speaking for the first time since he changed back from stag, and remarkably, taking Peter’s side over Sirius’s. “Come on.”
Padfoot growls again, but less menacingly this time. He nuzzles at Remus gently, then, disdainfully, steps off the cot and transforms back into boy.
“It’s fucking freezing in here,” snaps Sirius.
“Really?” sneers Peter. “I hadn’t noticed.”
He rubs his hands together for friction then walks past Sirius quickly and takes off his robe, lays it over Remus. It only comes to Remus’s calves, and Peter feels both embarrassed and grateful for the thin blanket that manages to go past Remus’s feet.
Sirius snorts when he sees where Peter’s robe lands.
“Bit short there, innit Pete?”
Peter’s back prickles. There are some days he really thinks he hates Sirius.
“That’s enough, Padfoot,” says James softly. Peter turns and sees James place his hand on Sirius’s back. He smiles tiredly at Peter. “We’ll see you back at the common room, all right, Wormtail? Keep an eye on Moony for us.”
Peter’s chest puffs up with pride a bit. “Sure thing, mate.”
He likes James after the full moon, likes how something of the stag remains in him, calm and thoughtful and peaceful. He likes James the rest of the time, too, but it’s only after the full moon that James is likely to be reasonable in the face of Sirius’s petulance.
James starts to lead Sirius out, and Sirius spares Peter one last jealous scowl, his eyes slipping off Peter to look at Remus’s prone form with worry. There’s something about his look, about the way Sirius often looks at Remus, that makes Peter feel a bit uneasy. Sirius picks on both him and Remus, and Peter reckons he does it to Peter out of boredom and spite. But with Remus, it always seems like he's looking for more than just a reaction – he's looking for attention or validation or affection. Sometimes Sirius acts around Remus the way James acts around Evans, and Peter hasn’t quite figured out how he feels about that.
When Peter turns back to Remus, Remus is shivering, and his teeth chatter audibly. Peter takes off his sweater and drapes it over Remus’s feet. Then he takes off his scarf and folds it around Remus’s head, covering his ears. Remus’s eyes open as he does that and he looks at Peter hazily.
“You’re going to be cold.”
Peter shrugs, and he is cold, standing there in just his shirt and trousers. He's had goosebumps since he took his robe off, and his hands feel like chunks of ice. It’s exactly like Remus to be concerned for Peter when he himself is nauseous and bleeding.
“Don’t worry about it, Moony. I’ll be warm in no time.”
Remus tries to nod and ends up coughing. He closes his eyes, and Peter hovers over him.
“You all right mate?”
“I’m fine,” says Remus, though the thinness of his voice isn’t reassuring. Peter doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to this, to seeing one of his friends pale and hurt and laid out month after month. “The long moon just always takes it out of me.”
Peter nods, and he wonders where Madame Pomfrey is. He’s starting to lose feeling in his hands. He can’t imagine how cold Remus is.
"Sirius and James leave?"
Peter sits on the edge of the bed. Remus seemed kind of awake when they left, but he gets like this sometimes right after the transformation, a little loopy on pain and exhaustion.
"Yeah, James practically had to drag Sirius away. He doesn't trust me to make sure you don't freeze to death, I guess."
Remus smiles faintly and his eyes focus on Peter for a second.
"That's good. I thought he was still angry at me."
Peter shrugs. "Don't think he can really stay mad at you, mate."
He's been vaguely aware that Sirius and Remus were fighting, in the weird passive-aggressive way they had, full of silences and sharp remarks, and he knows it had something to do with the letter. And privately, Peter thinks Remus was right to be mad at Sirius over it. Sirius does what he does out of attention, always wants to trick people into thinking he's nobler and better than he really is. He has no idea why Sirius has been mad at Remus though. Not that Sirius has ever needed much of an excuse for that kind of thing.
"It's cold," is all Remus says in response to Peter. His voice sounds kind of muddled.
Peter sighs and tucks his sweater more firmly around Remus's feet. He's starting to lose feeling in his face too now. Though, honestly, that’s a nice change of pace from the sharp burn from before.
"Yeah, it sure is."
He flicks Remus's nose, remembering vaguely that you shouldn't let people fall asleep when they're cold, and Remus’s eyes blink open, but not for long. Peter wishes he were good enough at charms to make one of those contained fires Evans always has following her around in the heart of winter, when even the Gryffindor common room gets a bit of a chill. James could do a fire like that if he were here, or Sirius.
He hears someone at the door then and jumps to his feet, knowing it's Pomfrey come to collect Remus. He scoops up his clothes and transforms into a rat just as Pomfrey pushes open the door and comes in.
"Well you're a sight," she says. She doesn't notice the rat scurrying under the bed. "See you made it under the covers though. Sorry I'm late, lovie. Bit of an emergency this morning. Nothing for you to worry about though."
There's the sound of shifting above Wormtail's head, and he figures it's probably Remus trying – and failing – to sit up. He wonders what kind of emergency it was that kept Pomfrey up at the castle. He knows things outside Hogwarts have been getting bleak and hopes it hasn't come to Hogwarts now. He doesn't have as much faith in Dumbledore as everyone else seems to have.
"Oh, no, don't try to sit up, lovie. Here, I've brought the Pepper Up."
Remus groans and Peter listens as he and Pomfrey go through their usual routine for the morning after the moon. The Pepper Up, Remus getting dressed, Pomfrey's overly-light chatter as she looks Remus over for any really bad injuries, Remus's soft replies, always barely audible.
Then Remus finally gets out of bed and hobbles to the door, Pomfrey behind him as if she's afraid he might fall. Wormtail stays crouched in the shadows beneath the bed for a while after they've left. The rat brain always a little too nervous to risk the chance of getting spotted by a human, and Peter doesn't mind letting Wormtail's caution take control here. He doesn't think Pomfrey is particularly observant, but even she might notice the same rat hanging out at the Shack, moon after moon.
It's a good couple minutes before both boy brain and rat brain are content that Pomfrey and Remus have a good lead. He creeps out from under the bed and transforms back. He dresses quickly, doesn't want to spend any more time in the frigid Shack.
The he pulls open the door, and starts the long walk back to the castle alone.
Chapter 8: December 8
Sorry for the lateness! Have some levity!
“Moony!” whines Sirius, flinging himself across Remus’s lap and covering Remus’s Charms textbook. “Mooony. I’m boooored.”
"Padfoot." Remus tries – unsuccessfully – to pull his book out from under Sirius. It’s just the two of them in their room, James off helping Lily plan and Peter who knows where.
Sirius whines and gives Remus a pathetic look, the kind of look a dog would give while begging for scraps. He’s been growing increasingly twitchy as Remus has studied by the window, spent most of the last fifteen minutes short-sheeting James’s bed. And now that he’s done with that and his attention has turned to Remus, Remus knows it will be awhile before he can get back to catching up on the lessons he missed.
"Stooop that. You're hurting me."
"Oh, am I?” Remus keeps trying to pull the book out from under Sirius, even if it does jam Sirius in the ribcage. “How awful. I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable."
"Oh good. You're being cruel. That must mean you're feeling better."
"Maybe," says Remus, "or maybe I'm just putting on a brave face while my organs are slowly being liquefied."
"I don't think liquefied organs are a symptom of lycanthropy," sniffs Sirius. "I think you're having me over."
"It's not the lycanthropy." Remus gives up on the book and rests his hand on Sirius's head. He rubs at Sirius’s scalp. "How much pudding have you eaten lately, Padfoot?"
Sirius looks not unlike a cat as he closes his eyes and smiles, pressing his head into Remus's hand.
"Not much. Why?" His nose wrinkles. "Wait a – Are you calling me fat?"
He looks very offended, even with his eyes still scrunched closed. Remus grins and leans over so that his mouth is very close to Sirius's ear.
"My liver," he whispers, fake-distraught. "You're crushing my liver."
Sirius shoves at him. "Plonker!"
Remus responds by lifting Sirius’s shirt and digging his nails into the soft skin of his belly. Sirius yelps and wiggles away, flopping onto the floor with an ungraceful crash. Remus pulls up his knees protectively. He smirks.
“You’ve scarred me!” wails Sirius. He pulls his shirt up and stares at the red crescents Remus left in his skin. “You used your bloody claws and you’ve scarred me!” He swans forwards, lying across Remus’s feet now. “And not even in a dashing way on my face or anything! If you’re going to get scarred by a werewolf, you should at least get a dashing scar. How am I going to pull girls now? Just lift my shirt and say, ‘Oi, a werewolf gave these to me, he did. Bloodthirsty fellow. But thankfully I –’”
Remus kicks him.
“I’m trying to study.”
Sirius sniffs and sits up; his side presses warmly against Remus’s leg.
“You’re right cruel.”
Remus smiles down at his Charms book and rubs Sirius’s head again affectionately.
“Sorry,” he says, completely unapologetic.
“No you’re not,” purrs Sirius, eyes closed as he arches into Remus’s hand. “You take great delight in my suffering.”
“That’s true,” says Remus. He yawns. “Though given your record with girls, maybe you should try a little shirt-lifting, hm?”
Sirius’s eyes fly open. “Excuse me?”
Remus pauses; it had been meant as a joke. Sirius talks a lot about girls, but he never pulls, at least not that Remus has ever seen. Even Remus has had a girlfriend, short-lived though it was. And Sirius could get girls if he wanted. He’s had loads of girls throw themselves at him, and even one attempted love potion that was thwarted when Remus had eaten the chocolates instead. That was a memory he did not particularly want to relive, and, judging by Sirius’s furious reaction at the time, probably not something Sirius wanted to remember either.
It occurs to Remus that Sirius engaging in a bit of shirt-lifting might not be so far-fetched after all.
“Mmhmm,” says Remus forcing a smile, and ignoring the way his stomach feels like it’s suddenly shriveled. “Everyone knows what you Quidditch players actually get up to in the locker room.”
Sirius bites Remus’s thigh.
Remus yelps and thwacks Sirius in the head with the Charms textbook.
"That bloody hurt!"
Sirius laughs and grabs at the front of Remus's robe; he pulls Remus onto the ground with him. Remus lands half on top of Sirius, and Sirius bites his shoulder this time.
"Jesus Christ!" snaps Remus, but he's laughing, too. He elbows Sirius hard in the stomach and Sirius starts laughing as well, in between gasping for breath. "Are you a bloody two year old?"
Sirius is too breathless to answer, not that Remus is really expecting one. He rolls away, kicking at Remus as he does so, and Remus grabs at Sirius's hair to keep him from getting too far.
"Ow! Fuck – Moony! That's bloody cheating!"
"Cheating? Padfoot! You bit me! Twice!"
Sirius just grins like a maniac and chops at Remus's arm, hard enough to make Remus lose his grip. Then he gets to his knees and launches himself bodily, knocking into Remus. Remus collapses, back hitting the ground with a hard thump! All the air expels from his lungs as Sirius lands on top of him.
"You're bloody awful," he wheezes.
"It's your fault," says Sirius, blowing on Remus's ear. He doesn't budge from where he's lying on top of Remus. "You're the one who decided to one up us all at Christmas gifts and get Evans to date Prongs. Now who am I supposed to harass with him gone?"
Remus groans and resigns himself to losing circulation in his legs.
"One, they're not dating. Two, you would be bothering me regardless, since harassing me is your favorite hobby after eating. And three, you could always bother Wormtail instead. You could let me study."
"Hmm," says Sirius. He snuffles his nose into Remus's neck and Remus tries to wiggle away, blushing furiously. "Counterpoint. One, irrelevant. Prongs and Lily are still spending time together because of you. Two, I like spending quality time with you more than eating, thank you very much. And three, I don't know where Wormtail is."
Remus huffs. He honestly doesn't mind this too much. Things have been tense between him and Sirius for a week now, and the fact that Sirius is mauling him all over their dorm room again signals that things are finally back to normal. But he does need to study.
"You could always check the Map to find Wormtail. If you really wanted to."
"I could," says Sirius, in a voice that suggests he doesn't really care that much. He noses at Remus's temple, weirdly intimate, and Remus blushes again. "But this is more fun."
Remus sighs and rests one of his hands on Sirius's back.
"Do you really like me more than eating?"
Sirius pulls away a bit and widens his eyes very sincerely.
"I really do."
“Huh,” says Remus.
He takes advantage of the slight distance Sirius has put between them and flips Sirius over onto his back. This time, it’s Sirius who’s winded.
Remus sits on his stomach.
Sirius squawks loudly. "Bloody cheating werewolf!" Remus laughs delightedly. "I was being heartfelt."
"I'm aware," says Remus fondly. He pets Sirius's hair. "I nearly died of shock."
Sirius sticks out his tongue, but his eyes are bright and happy. He may have lost the battle, but he's won the war. Remus has been thoroughly distracted from studying.
Remus looks Sirius over thoughtfully, and then he gets up.
"Where are you going?" demands Sirius, propping himself up on his elbows and watching Remus.
Remus picks up his Charms textbook and waves it at Sirius with an innocent look.
"Library. I still need to study."
Sirius scrambles to his feet, eyes wide.
"Hey!" he says. "Come on now. Have some fun for once, Moony."
Remus has to work to hide his smile. He's beginning to get an idea for what to get Sirius for Christmas.
"Studying is fun," he says blandly.
Sirius raises his eyebrows.
"I always knew you'd go mad eventually. I just didn't think it'd be so soon."
Remus laughs, letting on that he's teasing.
"I tell you what, Padfoot. I'll spend half an hour doing whatever you want – within reason!" he adds loudly, when he sees the smile that starts to bloom on Sirius's face. "And in return, you let me have the rest of the evening to study."
Sirius looks briefly thoughtful.
"An hour, and you have to come down for dinner at some point."
"Forty-five minutes and I'll come down for dinner." He was planning on coming down for dinner anyway, so he's not really losing anything on that.
Sirius sticks out his hand, and Remus takes it. They shake firmly.
"So what are you going to make me do?"
Sirius grins broadly and slowly.
"Have you ever gone ice-skating before? Because I was just by the lake, and it's mostly frozen."
Remus makes a face. He’s regretting this already.
Chapter 9: December 9
Terribly sorry I missed an update yesterday; I had an awful headache and didn't get any writing done. So here's the update for December 9th and the update for December 10th should be up shortly. (Once I, er, finish writing it.) Thanks everyone who's taken the time to read, kudos, and comment! It means a ton. :) Also, this part vaguely references a flashback scene from the Half Blood Prince, which is as follows:
“…thought we were supposed to be friends?” Snape was saying. “Best friends?”
“We are, Sev, but I don’t like some of the people you’re hanging round with! I’m sorry, but I detest Avery and Mulciber. Mulciber! What do you see in him, Sev, he’s creepy! D’you know what he tried to do to Mary McDonald the other day?”
Lily had reached a pillar and leaned against it, looking up into the thin, sallow face.
“That was nothing,” said Snape. “It was a laugh that’s all –”
“It was Dark Magic and if you think that’s funny –”
Hope everyone's holiday seasons are going well! :)
Evans looks stricken when James finds her in the library that evening. They’re meeting to finish their plan for what Evans is calling a “Ministry Sit-In.” It’s all been rather overwhelming for James; one day Evans was ignoring him, the next, seriously considering his opinions. He wonders what parallel universe he’s slipped into, and, more importantly, if he’ll be allowed to stay.
Vaguely, he realizes he hasn’t really thought about the consequences of staging a protest at the Ministry beyond, ‘Evans will like me more,’ but he’s James Potter. Things will work out.
“Everything all right there?” he asks, dropping into the seat across from her.
She startles and looks at him. It’s disconcerting to see Evans like this. The only times she’s not completely put together is when she’s angry.
“Fine. I’m fine,” she says, clearly flustered. She smoothes out her skirt and frowns. “You’re late.”
“Only by a minute,” says James defensively. He starts digging out notes from their last couple meetings from his bookbag.
Evans huffs and crosses her arms over her chest, but she still looks uneasy.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks, soft but persistent; he’s used to fishing out people’s concerns. And Evans has nothing on Moony’s stoicism.
Evans breathes in deeply; there’s a pinched look on her face that means she’s about to snap yes at him. But then she deflates.
“I suppose Remus will just end up telling you anyway.”
“Tell me what?”
Evans looks out the window when she speaks next, and her tone is flat, clinical.
“A second year girl jumped into the lake the day before yesterday. She’s all right – the Giant Squid saved her, if you can believe it. But the professors think she was Imperio’d. They just told the prefects to keep an eye out for students acting strangely.”
James feels sick. He’s hexed his share of students in his time, he’ll admit it, but there’s good fun and then there’s attempted murder. He thinks back to two days ago and realizes it was the day after the full moon, that that must’ve been the reason Pomfrey had been so late. Wormtail had mentioned her talking about an emergency. And then yesterday Sirius and Remus said Hagrid had chased them away from the lake. All the pieces slot neatly together now, and James likes being informed of what’s going on the castle, but not when the news is so dire.
“Why would someone Imperio a second year?”
Evans looks at him, and her eyes are hard. “Because they’re evil? She was a Muggleborn.”
James actually feels his heart sink. His chest aches.
Evans’ fist clenches on the table, knuckles white.
“It must have been a student here. Do you know Mulciber tried to do something similar to Mary McDonald last year? He didn’t use an Unforgivable, else he wouldn’t still be at this school… But. It was Dark Magic. It wasn’t a bit of fun.”
Evans sounds like she’s replaying a conversation she had with someone else. James doesn’t know how to respond. There was no love lost between him and Mulciber, and he hadn’t been surprised to learn how creepy Mulciber could be.
He reaches out and covers Evans’ wrist with his hand. It’s an instinctive gesture, something he might do with Sirius when he gets upset, lost in the tangles of his own mind. And it seems the right thing to do here, to bring Evans back here, to their plan, to the dim and muffled library around them.
Her eyes focus on him, green as summer leaves. He has the sudden, stupid urge to promise he won’t let anything happen to her, but it’s an impossible promise, and, even it weren’t, one she wouldn’t appreciate hearing from him.
“You hex students all the time,” she says, voice low and accusing.
James flushes. His fingers tighten around her wrist.
“Generally not students who can’t fight back.”
And never out of bloody narrow-mindedness and bigotry, he tacks on silently. But it’s a weak defense, and he knows it.
Evans sniffs and looks at his hand where it’s still covering her wrist. He can feel her pulse, delicate but steady. The underside of forearm is white enough that he can see the blue-purple branching of her veins.
She pulls her arm away and tucks her long hair behind her ears. James hastily withdraws his own hand and finishes setting out what they have of a plan so far.
“Can you go over the checklist?” says Lily. She squares her shoulders, suddenly businesslike. Whatever weakness she may feel like she betrayed stuffed away and sealed up.
"Right! Of course. So we've got..."
James looks over the check list. It still feels a bit silly to have a check list. But Remus had suggested them in their fourth year and, honestly, it's much improved both their ability to pull off a prank and their ability to not get caught afterwards (escape routes? check. alibi? check.)
"A date. A way to get in. What we're going to say when we're there. And a connection at the Daily Prophet."
"So we just need people to actually show up," says Evans with a grimace. "On Friday. Which is one of the last Fridays before the end of term."
James shrugs. "Nobody'd be at the Ministry on a weekend if we showed up then."
Evans sighs and sits her chin on her palm. It's weird being around her like this, working together on something rather than being at odds. He rather likes it, and he’s been surprised to find Lily thinks a lot like Sirius – full of fire and ideas, zealous, but not particularly methodical. James is the one who sees how the pieces slot together.
"No, I know. I'm just saying, we didn't really give ourselves a lot of time to plan."
"We?" James raises his eyebrows. "This was your idea." He pauses. "You know I've only ever said that to Sirius before."
"You certainly know how to make a girl feel special, Potter."
"Oh don't worry Evans, I can make you feel very special."
It's an instinctive response, and James regrets saying it immediately, not least because Evans immediately punches him in the shoulder.
"The only reason I'm not walking away right now," she says frostily, "is because we still have to figure out who's coming and how to get them there."
"Getting them there is easy," says James, opting to be helpful instead of making excuses. He rubs at his shoulder. "We'll take one of the tunnels into Hogsmeade, make sure anyone who can't apparate is paired with someone who can, and then apparate to Diagon Alley and it's smooth sailing from there."
"Hardly smooth sailing," mutters Lily, but she writes everything down anyway. "But that's a good enough plan for now."
She taps her quill thoughtfully against her cheek.
"So you and I will be there, and we can both apparate." She raises her eyebrows at James. "You can apparate, right?"
"Yes!" says James, offended. "I can apparate. And the lads will be there – they all know how to apparate too, thanks."
He hasn't actually asked the others if they'd be willing to come along on this, but he figures some things don't need asking. Besides, Remus is the one who set this whole bloody thing in motion; whether because he honestly believes in it or because he wanted to do something nice for James is irrelevant.
“That’s still only five,” mutters Evans. “And we can’t exactly advertise for more.”
“Don’t you have friends?”
James knows for a fact Evans has friends. They’re around her all the time, giggling and tossing their shiny hair and in general being a wall of protection between Evans and harmless flirtation.
“Of course I have friends!” snaps Evans. She narrows her eyes, suddenly accusatory. “Can you name any of them?”
James knows – knows very well – that Evans and Snape used to be quite close. But he hasn’t seen them around each other at all this year, and besides, he’s not about to bring up Snivellus at a time like this. And Snape was never one of the giggly, hair-flipping, wall-of-protection types either.
“Oh come on Potter!” says Evans, clearly exasperated. “You’ve been in the same house as some of them for years. Just because I’m not inseparable from the same three people doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to name at least one person I’m friends with.”
“Are you saying you want me to know who your friends are?” he asks, bewildered. He feels like he’s stumbled into a marsh where there should have been dry land.
“I’m saying it would be nice if in all the attention you paid to me, you actually noticed something about me besides the color of my eyes!”
Evans turns bright red, like she’s embarrassed herself. James stares at her in stunned silence.
“Sorry,” says Evans, after a moment. She looks down at their list, and the tips of her ears are still pink. James doesn’t think he’s ever seen her embarrassed before, especially not around him. He runs his hand through his hair – a bad habit, he knows, and her eyes flick back up to look at him. Her mouth twists a bit disdainfully. He can feel something slip away from him, something important, an opportunity to not look like a complete moron in front of Lily Evans.
“Meadowes!” he bursts out. “You – you’re friends with Dorcas Meadowes. Merlin knows why. She’s terrifying. And a Slytherin.”
Evans frowns. “Dorcas is a very nice girl.” Her eyes (green, tremendously green, James can’t help but think or notice it) light up. “And she’d probably love to come.”
James breathes deeply in relief.
“Sure, ask her. We should probably get someone from each of the houses to come.”
Evans looks at him sharply. “That’s not a bad idea.”
“Thank you,” says James smugly. “How about I take Hufflepuff and you take Ravenclaw?” He’s a few friends on the Hufflepuf Quidditch team; shouldn’t be too hard to convince one of them along. They’re good people.
“Okay. Okay.” Lily chews on her quill, outburst forgotten. “Let’s work on the logistics of getting there some more.”
James nods. He finds he doesn’t mind getting bossed around by Evans. If anything, he kind of likes it.
“Sure.” He taps a piece of parchment with his wand, and three tiny maps spill out – one of Hogsmeade, one of Diagon Alley, and one of the area of Muggle London that surrounds the Ministry. Evans looks impressed, and James itches to tell her about the Map and how cunning it is. But he’s not quite that dumb, enamored as he is.
“You’re not bad at Charms, Potter.”
He smirks. “Maybe you’d know that if you ever took any time to notice anything about me.”
Evans looks torn between smacking him again and laughing.
“I notice plenty of things about you,” she protests.
“Oh? Like what?”
“Like the fact you’re an irredeemable prat.”
She sticks her tongue out at him, to soften the blow, and James laughs – probably a little too loudly for the library. He makes a mental note to thank Moony later.
He might get arrested with Lily Evans, and it’s the best Christmas gift anyone’s ever given him.
Chapter 10: December 10
Remus has a pine cone. He’s studying it rather intently as he and Sirius walk back to the castle from Care of Magical Creatures. They’re lagging behind, mainly because Remus needed to pick up the pinecone in the first place. Sirius probably shouldn’t dawdle so much; even though the sun is starting to set, it’s still only mid-afternoon and he has to be in Arithmancy by the next period. But it’s hard to feel rushed when Remus is staring so intently at a pine cone.
It is, granted, not the strangest thing Sirius has ever seen one of the other Marauders’ with, but it’s strange enough to warrant a comment.
“Normally people use pine trees to decorate for Christmas, mate.”
Remus flushes. “It’s my gift for Wormtail.”
Sirius raises his eyebrows. “You’re getting Pete a pinecone?”
“No! I’m trying to – to transfigure it. I think I’ll need your help though.”
Sirius looks at the pinecone curiously. “What are you trying to turn it into?”
“A sort of – ” Remus makes circular gesture. “A plastic ball with an opening that a mouse or hamster could get in or out of. And then they… sort of run around in it. I saw one at a Muggle store I went to with my cousin this summer. I thought Wormtail might find it fun.”
Sirius more-or-less knows what plastic is, but he’s a bit flummoxed on hamster. From context, he assumes a rodent.
“You’re taking this whole ‘no money spent on gifts thing’ way too seriously, Moony.”
Remus makes a face. “Am I? And what are you getting everyone?”
“Shit from Zonko’s,” says Sirius promptly. “Potter can get bent if he thinks he can put limitations on my creative gift-giving prowess.”
“Oh yes, shit from Zonko’s. Very creative, Padfoot. And how are you paying for that?”
“Male prostitution,” says Sirius promptly, and he gets rewarded with a laugh and a blush. In truth, he has an allowance from the Potters, which makes him feel both very grateful in a way that hurts his chest, and very resentful in a way that makes him hate himself. He should just accept that the Potters – all three of them – are better people than he can ever hope to be and thank them for it by accepting their generosity.
“Birds can’t get enough of me. I’ve a Christmas special, too.”
“And what’s that?” asks Remus, still blushing. He pokes at the pinecone with his wand. It becomes vaguely more spherical.
“I put Christmas pudding on my chest and abs for them to lick off, and then when they get to my manly bits they can jingle my –”
“Padfoot!” cries Remus, red and mortified.
Sirius throws back his head and cackles.
“I hate you,” mutters Remus. He brandishes his wand at Sirius. “Now are you going to help me or not?”
Sirius forces himself to stop laughing. It’s not often Remus asks for help.
“I think I’d need to see what you’re talking about to actually be able to do it,” he says thoughtfully. “But right away, I know a pinecone’s a bad idea. Sure, it’s sort of the same shape. But it’s not hollow, and it’s organic material. You’ll want something already man-made. It’s more likely to want to keep its shape that way once you transfigure it.”
He drums his fingers against his leg, thinking. He likes problems like this, thinking about the shape and feel of magic. Too many people think magic’s just something you impose upon the world, but the world’s magic itself, and magic has its own grooves and wants. He didn’t choose to be a dog when he transforms; a dog’s just what he is.
“That’s helpful,” says Remus, biting at his lower lip. Sirius can’t help but watch the way it reddens slightly. “I guess I could nick a goblet at dinner.”
“A goblet would be good. Teapot’d be better.”
“Harder to steal though.” Remus glances at him sidelong. “What if I showed you what I was talking about after Lily’s thing?”
“You mean Lily’s thing where we might all get arrested?” Sirius still feels a little miffed about Remus being so happy to go along with that plan, but he swallows it down in the interest of keeping the peace. And people call him immature.
They get to the castle, and Sirius opens the door for Remus. Inside, the Great Hall’s been turned seemingly overnight into a winter wonterland. With just over a week left of term, Hogwarts has finally decided to decorate for Christmas. They walk through a patch of snow enchanted not to melt, and their footprints disappear immediately.
Remus nods. “We’ll be in Muggle London. Might as well.”
“It’ll be mobbed with shoppers,” Sirius points out. He knows first-hand. He used to sneak out of Grimmauld Place this time of year to wander the shops. He liked the madness of it, the manic cheer; the occasional odd look from a Muggle or burn from his mother if he got caught was worth it.
“So that’s a no?”
“No! We should definitely do it,” says Sirius quickly. He really likes the idea of wandering around Muggle London with just Remus. It always feels like he’s the one trying to get Remus to spend time with him. “But we’d have to ditch Wormtail, cuz he can’t find out what you’re getting him. And that means ditching Prongs as well, else Wormtail will feel left out.”
Remus looks at him oddly. “That’s considerate of you.”
“I can be considerate!”
“I never said you couldn’t,” says Remus, smiling his sly, secretive smile.
Sirius scowls. Remus comes to a dead halt.
“What?” demands Sirius, stopping a half-step afterward. “Why did you stop?”
Remus merely points upward, and Sirius looks up. He’s standing directly beneath some mistletoe.
“Oh come on Moony,” he laughs. “You don’t want to kiss me? I’m offended.” He waggles his eyebrows. “I’ll even give you the super special Christmas discount, seeing as we’re mates.”
Remus rolls his eyes and walks past Sirius quickly; it’s not one of the enchanted mistletoe, so there’s nothing but tradition to stop Remus. And Remus seems to have no intention of being stopped by something like that. Except…
Sirius grabs his arm. Remus nearly drops his pinecone.
“Tradition Moony,” he says quietly but intently. He taps Remus on the nose gently. “You owe me a snog.”
Sirius has no idea what he’s doing, but it’s thrilling. His heart lurches in his chest. It’s the sort of feeling he gets when he’s flying, free and wild, consequences be damned. It’s the sort of feeling that usually ends with a lot of terrible consequences.
Remus stares at him, eyebrows drawn together.
“Don’t be a prick, Sirius.”
Sirius flutters his eyelashes.
“You’re the one who won’t kiss me,” he pouts.
Remus’s jaw clenches visibly. And then he leans forward, free hand braced on Sirius’s chest. He kisses Sirius, dry and chaste, high on the cheekbone. When he pulls away, his cheeks are slightly, barely pink.
A nearby portrait whistles.
“Thanks for the advice, Padfoot,” says Remus. He’s still standing close enough to Sirius that Sirius can see his individual lashes, golden in the pale and dying afternoon light. “I’m going to go see if the House Elves have a spare tea pot.”
He strides away before Sirius can react, leaving Sirius still under the mistletoe and completely gobsmacked.
He really would have liked to snog Remus properly, he realizes with stunning, horrifying force.
Chapter 11: December 11
Oh! So! Since all of these parts are un-beta'd, and I write most of them pretty rapidly right before posting, please let me know if I've made any typos or other dumb mistakes. Thank you! :) And thank you all for reading. <3
By the third day, Regulus starts to think they may get away with it. None of the professors have said anything. There have been no announcements, no one called in to talk to Slughorn or Dumbledore, no whispers or rumors. He even passes the girl – he doesn’t even know her name; Mulciber had singled her out – on his way back from Herbology, and she looks right through him as if he were water.
He has a bit of a scare when he realizes she’s being trailed by a prefect – Lupin, in this case. Something about him has never sat quite right with Regulus, something besides him being one of Sirius’s lackeys. Lupin meets his eyes briefly as they cross paths, and Regulus puts on his best sneer. Lupin’s mouth twitches, almost a smirk, and it makes Regulus itch to hex him, but then Lupin’s gaze drops, expression disinterested. He walks past Regulus without saying a word, and Regulus’s shoulders sag a bit in relief.
So the girl’s got a security detail, but no one’s any idea who made her toss her herself into the lake in the first place.
He'd wanted nothing to do it.
It had been Mulciber's idea. Regulus had gone along with it only because he knew backing out would have gotten back to people who mattered, and he couldn't do that to his parents, not so soon after Sirius. He had no idea why that girl, except that she was a Muggleborn and Mulciber was a bit creepy sometimes in a way Regulus didn’t think very befitting of a Pureblood.
“It’s practice,” Mulciber explained as they walked to the lake – Mulciber and Regulus and Lestrange and Snape, the girl obediently skipping ahead of them. That was the creepiest part for Regulus, how cheerful Mulciber had made her act, even more than how still her body had been as she floated in the lake.
Mulciber didn’t explain practice for what. Everyone in Slytherin knows there is a war coming. Most of them are hungry for it. Regulus knows his parents are.
It was Snape, finally, who lifted the girl from the lake with a flick of his wand, using the same spell Potter and Sirius like to use to humiliate him. As if it had all been a joke, they didn’t intend for the girl to die. Ha ha. Though there had been a tense moment, while the girl’s body, dripping wet and motionless, hung in the air, and Mulciber looked like he might snatch Snape’s wand from him. But Lestrange had touched Mulciber’s shoulder and shaken his head.
"Don't worry about getting caught," Mulciber hissed afterwards, face bright with ecstasy, his hand rubbing his forearm – a nervous tic, Regulus thought, but he remembered Bella and her husband doing the same last he was home. Something else, then.
"If no one tells, we won't get caught. And she won't remember. Isn't that right, Sev?"
Snape shrugged casually, his mouth curving in a smile. "She'll think it was the Giant Squid who pulled her out."
"Besides," and that had been Lestrange, eyes glittering and dark, "in a couple years, no one will care if we got kicked out of Hogwarts for this. If anything, we'll be respected for it."
Regulus felt sick then, and he feels sick now as he crosses the grounds in a hurry, the sun sinking low to his back, sending sprays of red and gold glancing across the tree tops of the Forbidden Forest. He dislikes Muggleborns at Hogwarts as much as the next right-thinking person, but he isn't sure he wants to live in a world where nearly drowning a twelve year old girl is considered heroic.
Around him, everyone is cheerful as they head in for the evening. It snowed again last night, and everyone seems light with the freshness of it, with the knowledge the term is almost over. A group of Hufflepuffs are singing carols as they leave Care of Magical Creatures.
Regulus thinks about seeing his parents in a week. It’ll be their first Christmas without Sirius. Less arguing, he thinks dully. Last year, Sirius and Bella almost came to wands at the family Christmas dinner. Then the fight had been replayed afterwards, between Sirius and their mother, both of them black-eyed and shaking with rage by the end of it. Even Orion, usually calm, had been furious, called Sirius a disgrace to the family name. And honestly, Regulus is still a bit surprised that Sirius didn’t run away right then.
He would never have been at the lake that morning, he thinks bitterly, if Sirius had never run away, never been placed in Gryffindor in the first place. He wouldn’t need to uphold the family name.
He's the good son. But there are times he thinks Sirius is the one who has more in common with their parents. All of them are angry. Regulus just wants to survive.
Chapter 12: December 12
:c Sorry I didn't update on the 12th and 13th. Everything will be back up to speed by this evening. Thank you everyone who's been reading!
In the end, it's surprisingly easy. Granted, there aren't many of them – only eleven, four of whom have ample experience sneaking in and out of places they aren't supposed to be. But Lily's impressed in spite of that.
They've someone from every house – Dorcas was only too happy to go "spit in the face of those fuckers at the Ministry" and even brought along someone Lily assumed to be her younger sister from Ravenclaw as well another girl Lily didn't recognize. James did his bit convincing Fenwick and Dithers, the beaters from the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, to come and Lily talked Mary around to it after promising to write her end of term Charms essay. That made eleven.
And there all eleven of them are, sitting at the Fountain of Magical Brethren with their handful of signs, at half past four in the afternoon. They're getting the occasional stare, but, beyond one comment about young people today from a man in an emerald green robe, no one's bothered them.
It is, admittedly, a tad underwhelming. Black and Remus are even arguing quietly over the crossword, with occasional input from Fenwick and Dithers. Lily worries that James's connection at the Daily Prophet may not show. Or worse, if she does, there'll be nothing to write about.
Black perks up suddenly, staring over Remus's shoulder.
"Incoming!" he says cheerfully. "Twelve o'clock!"
Lily whips her head around in the direction Sirius is looking. Sure enough, a small,frog-fraced woman is bustling their way. Her face is the same hue as her garish pink robes.
"Hem hem!" says the woman, once in range, as if she's trying to get their attention. She has it. She's the most interesting that's happened since they made it to the Ministry.
"Er," says James, glancing around at all of them. "Yes? Can we help you?"
The woman's eyes bulge out, as if James just insulted her family.
"Help - can you help me?" she stutters. And then her face goes a bit slack, and a slow, creepy smile takes over. "You're the Potter heir, aren't you?"
James looks as dumbfounded as Lily feels. He looks at her and she shrugs. They didn't prepare a contingency plan for small, creepy women dressed all in pink. She reminds Lily of Slughorn, except that Slughorn, for all his mercenary ways, can at least be nice. This woman's smile never quite reaches her eyes.
"Can I ask who's asking?" says James, and it's not precisely an impolite thing to say, but the way he says it is all boldness and swagger. It reminds Lily why he and Black share a record for most detentions.
The pink lady’s eyes bulge out again.
"I am Dolores Umbridge, junior assistant to the Director of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."
"Hold on," says Black suddenly, face going dour. Remus seems to shrink back a bit, almost as if he's trying to hide behind Black. "I know you. You're that thing that authored this ruddy legislation in the first place."
Umbridge's face goes from flamingo to scarlet as soon as Black calls her thing. Lily can't say she blames Umbridge for that, even if Black has a point of his own.
"Leave!" squawks Umbridge. "You must all leave immediately!"
"With all due respect," cuts in Lily, "I don't believe we have to do anything you say."
The sidelong look James flashes at her is full of admiration and Lily has to bite her cheek to keep from smiling. She can be wicked too, Potter.
“Auror Longbottom!" snaps Umbridge at a passing woman. The Ministry atrium is beginning to get more crowded as people leave work, heading out a bit early with the night onset so soon and the holidays approaching. "Arrest these hooligans immediately!"
“Why?” asks the auror, slowing to a halt. She's a small, dark-haired woman with a round face. Lily vaguely remembers her being a Hufflepuff prefect in her first year. The woman wasn't Longbottom then. "What's all this?"
“This is a sit in,” Lily tells her. “We’re protesting.”
“Are you now?” asks Longbottom. Her gaze passes over the collection of students and motley signs. “And what are you protesting?”
“We’re protesting for equal rights! For the new werewolf legislation to be dismissed and for an end to discrimination against the Muggleborns, like the fact we keep getting murdered!”
The auror eyes Lily thoughtfully. “It’s a dangerous thing to admit to being Muggleborn, times like these.”
Lily flushes angrily, and is suddenly, vividly reminded why she’s here. She remembers the girl who almost drowned earlier this week. There’s a point to this, even if the only person who’s stopped to talk to them wants to kick them out.
“I won’t be made ashamed of it.”
“Good for you.” A smile tugs at the corners of Longbottom’s mouth, and she turns to face Umbridge. “Well I see no problem here. Just some kids exercising their Queen's-given right to express their political opinion.”
Umbridge boggles at her. “Are you mad as well as stupid, Longbottom? They’re loitering! Or trespassing! Or both!”
“Are they?” asks Longbottom. She looks back at the students. “It seems to me like they’re just sitting there. Peacefully. Hell, that Malfoy bloke is here all the time, expressing his political opinion. And no one ever tries to arrest him.”
Longbottom says the last part in a tone of voice like maybe somebody should arrest Malfoy.
“Be that as it may, I’m not actually sure there are any laws regarding sitting inside the Ministry, minding your business.” She shrugs. “And even if there were, it wouldn’t really be something an auror would take care of, would it?”
Umbridge flushes blotchily. “I’ll take this up with Crouch then. I’ll go to your boss.”
“I’m afraid he’s in a meeting at the moment,” says a deep, new voice. Lily looks at the speaker. He’s a tall, grave-looking, dark-skinned man, standing behind Longbottom. He’s handsome. And young. She thinks she remembers seeing him around the Ravenclaw table, but has no idea who he might be.
“Dearborn!” snaps Umbridge. “I want to see him immediately.”
“He has ten minutes on his schedule Monday at three,” says Dearborn. His expression is still grave, but Lily thinks she sees a tiny, wicked glimmer in his eyes. “Shall I schedule you for then?”
“Monday? This is an emergency!”
Dearborn’s eyes flicker over the crowd of students. Fenwick and Dithers have stolen the crossword from Remus and Black and their signs are propped up against their backs. Mary seems to be trying to read sneakily. Dorcas is doodling on her arm with a Muggle pen, and her sister seems content blowing increasingly large bubbles from her bubblegum.
Dearborn looks back at Umbridge.
“I fail to see anything urgent about the situation at the present time. However, I assure you, should matters become urgent, Mister Crouch will be the first to know.”
Umbridge looks very intent on arguing, but then she squares her shoulder and her frog-like eyes glance between Longbottom and Dearborn before settling back on Lily. Lily suppresses a shudder of repulsion.
"Very well," she simpers. "I know when I've lost my argument."
But she doesn't sound like she's lost at all. If anything, it's just a tactical retreat. Lily's very glad she never gave Umbridge her name.
Dearborn and Longbottom watch Umbridge stalk off, then Longbottom turns to Lily and says, serious, “We can probably give you another hour before someone decides to arrest you lot. They won’t be able to hold you on anything serious, but if you don’t want your parents picking you up from Dung’s tank, you’ll want to clear out before then. Umbridge has more pull than she’s any right to.”
“Dung’s tank?” asks Lily faintly.
Longbottom smiles thinly. “Inside joke,” she says. “Long story. You lot notified the Prophet, right?”
“We did,” interjects James.
“Any idea if they’ll show up? Or who’s showing up?”
“Marlene McKinnon?” says James, a bit uncertainly. “She writes the Quidditch column. I've written her a few times about her terrible opinions. She's generally a good sport, usually writes back.”
Longbottom’s smile widens. “Good choice. Smart lad. McKinnon’ll show, or she’ll send someone who will.”
“I’ve already shown,” says an amused voice. Lily turns. It’s the girl she didn’t recognize, the one she thought had come with Dorcas.
Longbottom blinks. “Are those your old Hogwarts robes?”
“They sure are!” beams McKinnon. She twirls, black robes flashing around her ankles. “They still fit me! Can you believe it?”
“Oi!” says James, affronted. “How come you didn’t say it was you?”
McKinnon looks bemused. “What? And ruin all the fun.” She bats her eyelashes. "I was so excited to meet the young Mr. Potter without him having any preconceived notions about me."
James sputters and turns red, and Lily has to hide her laugh behind her hand. McKinnon's pretty, but in a way that looks like she's trying to seem younger than she really is.
McKinnon grins smugly at James's sputtering and turns to Lily.
“Anyway, you’ll have to excuse me. But I never get a chance to go undercover, and I wanted to hear what you kids were saying before you got all flustered about talking a reporter.”
“I’m not sure that’s ethical,” says Lily.
Dearborn coughs in a way that sounds mysteriously like a laugh.
“Prophet,” he mutters.
McKinnon looks decidedly less amused.
“I’m not sure anyone who works as junior assistant to Barty Crouch can cast aspersions on the ethics of others.”
Dearborn bares his teeth. “Crouch takes ethics very seriously, particularly his own.”
“That’s enough you two,” says Longbottom with a yawn. “Let McKinnon do her job. And Dearborn, go do yours.”
Dearborn sneers like he’s inclined to argue, but then gives Longbottom a tiny, ironic bow and drifts away without so much as a good-bye.
“Cheerful fellow,” says McKinnon, amused. “No wonder Crouch likes him.”
“Dearborn’s not so bad,” says Longbottom. She looks at McKinnon and something passes between them that Lily can’t quite place. An understanding. It’s the same way she’s seen Black and James look at each other right before the Great Hall erupts in chaos. “See you around Marlene.”
"Give Frank my love, Alice.” She turns to James and Lily. “Right. So you two are the ones what organized this?”
“Yes,” says Lily primly. “That’s us.”
McKinnon nods and produces a notepad and quill from nowhere.
She launches into her questions.
After McKinnon finishes interviewing them and moves on to the others, James says, “They’re definitely shagging.”
“The reporter and that Dearborn bloke.” He makes a slicing gesture. “You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.”
Lily’s mouth thins. “As opposed to cutting it with what? A spoon?”
“Har har. I’m just saying, there was tension.”
Lily sniffs. “Sometimes two people just don’t like each other. It doesn’t mean they’re shagging.”
“She’s right about that, mate,” says Black, popping up. “Else I’d think you and Snivellus were going at it like rabbits.”
Lily scowls at the name Snivellus; even if she and Severus are no longer friends, it’s not a nice thing to say. Black flashes her a cheeky smile like he knows exactly what she’s thinking and then not-so-subtly elbows her out of the way to talk to James. Lily makes an indignant noise.
“So the being arrested thing…”
“Yeah!” says James, eyes bright. He claps his hands together. “What do you reckon? Sounds like a fun story for the grandkids.”
Sirius makes a face. “Like anyone’d breed with you, Prongs. But anyway. Me and Moony can’t. We’ve plans.”
James looks at him owlishly, as if he can’t quite believe Remus and Black have made plans without him.
“Plans doing what?” he asks indignantly.
Black looks shifty. “Plans. Seeing Muggle London. Plans.”
James makes a face. “And that’s more important than doing the good and righteous thing?”
Black eyes Lily speculatively and then leans in close to James and whispers, “Yeah, but we don’t want Moony’s furry little problem acting up.”
Lily pretends not to hear and ignores the impulse to roll her eyes. James and Black and Remus are none so subtle as they would like to believe. But her heart sinks a little as well. If Remus is what she thinks she is, he’s a very good reason to not want an imbroglio like this anywhere near his record. She’s secretly impressed he came at all.
James deflates a bit. “Right. Good point.” He looks at Lily. “What do you think Evans?”
“About Remus and Black’s shopping spree?” she asks innocently.
“Haha. I meant, what do you think about standing around here, letting ourselves get locked up for the night?"
Lily hesitates. She likes the idea of it; it’s very noble in its own way. But she also has essays for Arithmancy, Transfiguration, and Potions due on Monday, and Slughorn’s the only professor who'll be likely to grant her an extension. But…
She can’t quite believe she’s seriously considering spending a night with Potter in a jail cell. She makes a face.
“I think we’ve done what we set out to do. It’ll be in the paper tomorrow, and maybe that will get some things started.”
James nods decisively. “All right. Let’s clear everyone out then. Evans, you good for bringing back those who want it?”
“Because I’m not about to be left out a field trip,” he says, with a scowl for Black. “Really. You two thought you could ditch me and Wormtail? Tsk tsk.”
Black manages a smile, but he looks a bit put out. Curious.
Though, ultimately, none of her concern. She puts Black out of her mind and concentrates on how everyone is going to get back. Simple enough, out the door, take off their robes and walk in Muggle clothes back to Diagon Alley…
She realizes she’s shaking. The whole thing’s taken less than two hours, but she feels exhausted and a little nauseous. She wants to go lie in her bed for a very long time.
James claps her on the shoulder and she looks at him.
“That’s the adrenaline come down,” he says with a wink. He squeezes her shoulder and then lets go. “You’d be more used to it if you ever did anything interesting, Evans.”
“I do very interesting things! Potter! Just because I don’t spend half my ruddy life in detention –”
James laughs and scuttles away, off to collect Remus and Pettigrew. Lily is suddenly reminded of why she dislikes him so much.
“Cheer up, Evans,” says Black, head cocked and eyebrows drawn. “Now that this is over, you’ll no longer have to hang out with him.”
Lily glares at him. Privately, she kind of liked planning this with James.
“I’m not sure that’s something to be cheerful about,” she manages stiffly. “He’ll just go back to finding ways of being creative.”
She still vividly remembers the time in fifth year he thought flying kittens would be a good idea.
Black flashes her the kind of smile that makes her understand why half the female population of Hogwarts is besotted with him. He runs his hand through his hair and watches James talk to Remus. He still seems bothered by the fact James invited himself and Pettigrew along.
“He’s not the only one who will have to be creative,” he tells Lily obscurely. Never let anyone say Black has not inherited his family’s sense of drama.
Black flounces off before Lily can respond, wedging his way between James and Remus and throwing an arm around Remus’s shoulder. Remus smiles wanly. He looks a bit peaky and Lily considers the fact it hasn’t been that many days since the last full moon.
The four of them leave in a clump, Black still hanging off Remus, and that leaves Lily to round up the others and get them back to Hogwarts. Dorcas seems about to argue, like she wants to stay and get arrested. It’s a desultory exit, but they’ve done what they set out to do. Or, they’ve done something at least.
Lily just hopes it provides a spark.
Chapter 13: December 13
Ten Hogwarts students occupied the Atrium of the Ministry Friday evening, protesting the recent werewolf legislation and what they see as a lack of attention paid towards the recent disappearances of Muggleborns.
“It’s absolutely discriminatory,” said Lily Evans, a Gryffindor sixth-year and one of the organizers of the protest. “Werewolves are just people who’ve had terrible luck, and the Ministry should help them rather than persecute them.”
The students, who represented all four houses, surrounded the Fountain of Magical Brethren for over an hour, holding signs and conversing with passerby. They left after being threatened with arrest.
“Not that I wouldn’t mind enjoying the Ministry’s hospitality,” said Benjy Fenwick, a Hufflepuff seventh-year. “But I’ve exams. NEWTs are coming up fast!”
“Of course I’d be willing to be arrested,” said Dorcas Meadowes, a Slytherin seventh-year who seemed reluctant to leave. “The Ministry’s full of bull**** cowards who don’t give a flying **** about any of these Muggles or Muggleborns dying. They just **** on werewolves cuz it’s politically safe and it means they don’t have to get off their fat ***** and actually do something.”
- excerpt from Hogwarts Students Protest at Ministry by Marlene McKinnon, December 13th, 1976
I, for one, heartily applaud the students for their courageous demonstration at the Ministry. In dark times such as these, when Ministry forces use the threat of Death Eaters to advance terrible policies, it is refreshing to see so many young people taking a stand against both the Death Eaters and the Ministry’s own corruption. I can only hope those of us farther removed from our Hogwarts days take inspiration from these students, and remember, as the great sorcerer Wilberforth Wimbley once said: Shall we die with our hands scratching our bum? No! We shall die with our hands clutched around our wands and our wands upraised! Wimbley was of course then immediately struck down and killed by a gorgon, but the sentiment remains an important one, and a rather excellent example of 18th century sculpture in Kent now commemorates his brave and striking final pose.
-Dedalus Diggle, Sheffield
While I more than sympathize with the idealism of youth, the students who demonstrated at the Ministry on Friday proved nothing more than their frightening naiveté. Times being what they are, we wizards must present a united front against the Dark Lord and his forces. The students’ criticism of the Ministry’s recent werewolf legislation and much of its current policies only demonstrates weakness to our enemies. Such demonstrations are an important part of society during times of peace, but this is no time of peace.
- Leonato Hopkirk, Bridgend
As the mother of a Hogwarts student, I am appalled and worried for my own daughter. What on earth is Dumbledore teaching at Hogwarts these days that students think they should demonstrate on behalf of dark creatures? A werewolf is no more a person than a levithold! And given a werewolf’s disingenuousness, far more dangerous. There should be a full Ministry investigation into the curriculum at Hogwarts, and the students responsible for the demonstration should be expelled before they infect the rest of the school with their folly!
- Orchida Parkinson, Alderley Edge
Can we really expect differently, given our culture today? It’s become increasingly obvious that Muggles have lost control of their youth. We only do ourselves a disservice by allowing continued contact with Muggle society. Soon it will be our children rioting in the street. The recent infraction at the Ministry by Hogwarts students is only the start, and it’s unsurprising that a Muggleborn was one of the coordinators. I’m sure Miss Lily Evans is a lovely young woman, but I’ve also no doubt she’s brought some ideas from her own culture which Wizarding culture simply cannot abide. For her sake, as well for ours, it would be the best if she and others like her weren’t given the chance to besmirch the proud tradition of a family like the Potters, whose own heir was involved in this madness.
-Abraxas Malfoy, Wiltshire
It’s about time someone told the Ministry where they could shove it, and it’s a damn shame it was a bunch of students who were the only ones brave enough to do it. Good for them, and I hope they keep doing it. I’ll be there next time they do. The Ministry needs to stop fooling around with its anti-werewolf and anti-goblin and anti-anything that isn’t a Malfoy, Black, or Lestrange malarkey. The Ministry’s as bad as You-Know-Who and his lot at this point, and speaking of You-Know-Who: when is the Ministry going to do something about him?
- Edward Tonks, London
“How many letters is that, Albus?” asks Minerva, watching another owl swoop in and deposit a letter on the headmaster’s desk.
Albus picks up the letter with a thin smile and opens it, “I believe that’s the nineteenth. I expect the Prophet will be brimming with them in the morning.”
Minerva sniffs delicately. “I can only hope a few of those have more sense than the ones we’ve been getting. You know, I had to practically threaten Marissa Nott to get her to leave?”
“I’d an idea,” says Albus, skimming the letter. He puts it down with a sigh. “Well that’s a twelfth for expulsion. Though this one’s being lenient. It’s only Evans and Potter that should be expelled.”
Minerva rubs her face. “I’d never expected Lily Evans of all people to be riling people up. Especially not with Potter.”
Albus’s eyes glimmer with amusement behind his glasses. It’s getting on till dark. Minerva has seen none of her more erstwhile students since news of the article broke. In her defense, she has also not looked particularly hard.
“Is it really so surprising, Minerva?” he asks, handing the letter to Fawkes, who touches it with his beak and sets it to flame. “Miss Evans has always held very strong convictions and very little fear.
Minerva sighs. “That is true. They’re just so much more difficult to protect when they put themselves out there like this.”
Albus looks thoughtful.
“Perhaps the time has come when we must admit we can longer protect them. Miss Evans and Mister Potter seem to have made their choice, even if they’re not yet totally aware of it.”
“Albus! You can’t be serious. They’re still children.”
Albus waves his hand and soft, golden light blooms in the headmaster’s office. He sighs heavily and takes off his glasses, cleans them gently with his sleeve. He looks tired, the events of the last week weighing down heavily. Minerva trusts him totally, but even she’s starting to feel frightened.
Things are darker than anyone but Albus seems willing to admit.
“I’ll speak with them in the morning,” he says, decisively.
“You too then?” says Lily a bit bleakly. And it’s Lily now, James realizes with a start. Not Evans in his head any more.
“Me too.” He favors her with a grin more courageous than he feels. They’ve both been called to Dumbledore’s office, and it’s fairly obvious what it’s all about.
“Well,” says Lily. “At least it’ll be the both of us then, whatever it is.”
“Don’t worry so much, Li – Evans. I’ve been here loads of times and they haven’t kicked me out yet.”
It makes sense Lily’s not used to being in trouble, and James is a bit nervous, but he honestly doesn’t think their little stunt at the Ministry is something Dumbledore of all people would be in a tizzy about.
The gargoyle which guards the staircase to the headmaster’s office shudders suddenly and shifts, revealing a circular staircase. Lily grabs James’s elbow, and them immediately lets go. James barely registers it.
“Miss Evans, Mr. Potter,” calls Dumbledore’s voice. “Please come up.”
James and Lily exchange a glance, and then, James, shrugging, takes the first step.
Dumbledore’s office looks much the same as it did the last time he was here. Though he’d been in a much greater state of panic then, and the portraits of previous headmasters seem much less interested in a couple of students in the office at teatime than they were when it was a very bruised up Snape, James, and Sirius at midnight.
James has no fond memories of the last time he was here.
“Miss Evans. Mr. Potter. Please take a seat.”
They sit. Dumbledore fixes them with a grave look from over his half-moon glasses. “I understand you two were the organizers of the protest.”
Lily juts her chin out and crosses her arms over her chest.
“We were,” she says, and there’s a definite challenge to her voice. “And we accept full responsibility for it.”
Dumbledore looks at James. His mouth is thin, and for all the times James has been in this office, he’s never gotten the sense that Dumbledore was disappointed. The thought that this time, Dumbledore actually might be is almost too much to bear. Even as terrible as the incident at the Shrieking Shack had been, he’d gotten the definite sense Dumbledore was proud of him.
“Is what Miss Evans says true, Mr. Potter?”
“Yes,” says James, mouth dry, and that feels strangest of all, admitting to something honestly instead of dissembling. He breathes in deep through his nose. “And we’re proud of what we did. We did the right thing.”
Dumbledore sits back in his chair.
“Do you think it will have any effect?”
James and Lily exchange glances, and then Lily says, “Maybe not on the legislation, not immediately. But the Prophet covered it. People are at least talking about it now. And they’re talking about more than that, too. They’re talking about what’s happening with Muggleborns. That’s more than they were before.”
“All very true, Miss Evans, and very well-stated.” Lily flushes with pleasure at the compliment, then immediately blanches when Dumbledore gestures at a stack of letters on his desk. “I’ve received multiple owls over the course of the last few days demanding that I expel those students involved in the Ministry protest.”
James swallows hard. He could probably get by if he were expelled. He has his name, and his money, and in a lot of circles, that’s still enough to live long and comfortably. Even if he’s never allowed to use magic again. But Lily… Lily’s a Muggleborn, and she has no education worth a job back with the Muggles, and no one who would hire her among wizards.
But Lily draws herself up, thin shoulders a strong line, and looks directly at Dumbledore, and says, “That’s your decision to make. We accept responsibility for what we did, and we won’t regret the consequences.” She glances uncertainly at James.
Something in James’s chest shifts and locks with a painful finality. He feels, at once, both in awe and protective. He feels as if his life has settled on its course, that, for good or for ill, he is always going to be in love with Lily Evans.
It’s almost traumatic.
“Right,” echoes James. “You can expel us, but it won’t change the fact we’re right, and what the Ministry is doing is wrong. They’re going after people who are defenseless when they need to be focusing on the fact some bloody maniacs are running around killing Muggleborns.”
“Fortunately for you both, there appear to be no rules on record stating students may not organize a sit-in of a government facility, so I’m afraid our letter writers will have a disappointed holiday.”
James nearly collapses with relief, and then Dumbledore leans across the desk, his expression suddenly serious.
“That’s not to say your actions will be without consequences.”
“You’re taking points?” asks Lily, in a small, disappointed tone. James stares at her. Competing for house points even at the best of times is absurd.
“No,” says Dumbledore. “Nothing like that. Though that reminds me. Ten points to Gryffindor each for your valor and moral courage.” He takes off his glasses and studies them. “I’m afraid your consequences will be much more dire. The two of you,” he puts his glasses back on and glances between them, “are among the brightest and most powerful wizards and witches of your age.”
James preens a bit.
“However, you are also very young. Unimaginably young, and what I am about to ask of you is a hard burden even for wizards and witches three times your age.”
“What is it, Professor?” asks Lily softly.
“I am currently the head of an organization known at the Order of the Phoenix. I am asking that you two become members.”
Dumbledore spends the next five minutes explaining the Order to them. James’s eyes get wider and wider the whole time, and, next to him, Lily tenses the way he’s often noticed her doing in their more exciting lessons. And it is exciting – it’s subterfuge and heroism and everything James had hoped might be going on, a secret society of good guys to fight a secret society of bad guys.
“I’ll give you the break to think on it,” finishes Dumbledore, surveying them thoughtfully.
“There’s no need, Professor Dumbledore,” says James. His chest hurts. “I’m in.”
Lily, however, hesitates.
“This is dangerous, isn’t it?”
“Extremely so, Miss Evans.” His gaze lingers on James. “It’s not an agreement to take lightly. And it’s not something you’ll be able to share with people outside this room.”
“I haven’t taken it lightly,” says James with a shrug. He doesn’t admit his sudden vision of him vanquishing Death Eaters, but it’s neither here nor there. He knows this is an obligation he can take on. “It’s the right thing to do, and I have resources to help do it. It would be cowardly not to.”
It doesn’t sit quite right though, that he won’t be able to tell Sirius about this, especially since it’s exactly the kind of thing Sirius would want to be involved with. He’s not used to keeping secrets from Sirius.
“We could get killed.”
“You could,” agrees Dumbledore.
Lily smiles suddenly, bitter, and a little feral.
“But I’m a Mudblood, so I’m a target anyway, aren’t I?” She lifts her chin. “If I’m going to die because all of this, I’m going to go down fighting. I won’t be a victim.”
And that sobers James for the moment. His fantasy of him blasting Death Eaters from his broom falters. This is the biggest thing he’s ever done. And he could hide from it. But Lily can’t. Remus likely won’t be able to either. It’s not just stories and triumph; it’s his friends on the line.
Dumbledore is silent for a long moment, and then he rises from his desk.
“Very well,” he says. “I now welcome you as members of the Order of the Phoenix.”
Well, there's that plot line wrapped for the time being. Back to the pups!
Chapter 15: December 15
Remus gets woken up by someone sitting on his stomach. It's not exactly unusual, so he ignores it, pretending to still be asleep.
Whoever's on his stomach bounces. Rudely.
"Geroff," he mutters, swatting sleepily at his assailant.
"Ha!" crows Sirius, and the weight lifts. Remus automatically curls into a more defensible position. "Knew you were awake! Get up, Moony! There are plots afoot!"
"Duncurr. Sleep." Remus burrows into his pillows, trying to recapture the dark warmth and contentment he had only moments before Sirius's assault.
"You can sleep when you're dead!" cries Sirius, and he yanks the covers off Remus.
Remus groans and flops onto his back. He glares up at Sirius blearily. He can''t hear Peter or James, and he wonders if he's Sirius's first victim, or if the others have already woken up and just quietly resigned themselves to their fate.
"Hate you," mutters Remus, shielding his eyes with his forearm. Sirius has all the lights on, not that it gives Remus any indication of what time it is. This close to the solstice, it doesn't get light till well into class time.
Sirius grips his face and presses a wet, loud kiss to Remus's forehead. Remus’s stomach twists itself into a knot.
"You don't mean that, Moony. Get up and help me wake up the other wankers."
"Don't you dare," growls James from the bed over.
Sirius beams and Remus sits up slowly.
"Oh good! Prongs is already awake. I'll just get Wormtail."
Sirius bounds off Remus's bed and in the direction of Peter's. Remus seriously considers going back to sleep, but he knows from experience that will only end with a bucket of snow dumped over his head. He climbs out of bed slowly and crosses to James's and yanks open his curtains.
James hisses like he's been burned and curls more tightly around his pillow, looking, no doubt, exactly like Remus had.
"Oh, don't be so dramatic," says Remus. He tries to sneer but it gets lost in a yawn. He pokes at James's side hard. "It's all your fault. He wouldn't be like this if you didn't encourage him."
"Untrue," mutters James. "False and hurtful."
Remus yanks on his hair and James whines and tries to wiggle away; Remus keeps a firm grip. From Peter's bed, he hears something like, "You know what Muggles do to their dogs, don't you, Padfoot?" At least Peter's awake enough to be making decent threats.
"Dunno why you're helping him," says James accusingly. "S'posed to be the responsible one."
Remus makes a face.
"I'm not helping him. I'm just being sensible. Do you really think he'll leave us alone?"
He knows Sirius won't leave them alone until they're awake, and he definitely won't leave Remus alone, mood that he's in. So they might as well all get it over with and suffer together.
James huffs and sits up.
"Fine. Where're my glasses?"
Remus helpfully hands James his glasses, and James takes them with an expression that Remus thinks is supposed to look regal, but really just looks like he's caught a whiff of garbage. Remus sits down on the bed next to James and awaits their fate.
Remus hears the sounds of a scuffle taking place. Then, after a round of muffled curses, Sirius emerges from Peter’s bed, carrying Wormtail by his tail. He's still beaming.
"All right, lads!" he says, tossing Wormtail to James. James catches the rat neatly, Quidditch reflexes sharp even at whatever ungodly hour it is, and places him on his pillow.
Wormtail transforms back into Peter, and his extra space forces James to squish in closer to Remus. The four poster beds weren't really made for three almost grown boys. James's knee threatens Remus's cheek.
"Prat," mutters Peter, making himself comfortable.
"Love you, too," says Sirius. He blows Peter a kiss. Remus considers kicking him in the kneecap. He's gotten close enough.
"Stop flirting," orders James. "Why am I awake?"
"Because you make awful moaning noises in your sleep. It's all, Ooooh, Evans. Pull my Quaffle. Someone had to do wake you up. Just out of dec – Ow! Potter! Bloody hell!"
James does kick Sirius, and Remus doesn't bother to hide his grin.
"The truth hurts, Prongs," huffs Sirius, rubbing his knee. "And so do your bloody hooves. Merlin. But since you three insist - "
"We don't insist," interjects Remus. "We just hate you. You woke us up."
Sirius keeps talking as if he doesn't hear. "Since you three insist! I've come to a very important realization: we have only four days until the break is upon us!"
He pauses. Dramatically. Peter looks in danger of falling asleep again.
"Oh fine. Wankers," says Sirius with a huff. "I woke you all up because our last prank was two weeks ago, and if we don't plan something for before the break, our reputations will suffer. And you know what they say about reputations."
"Speak softly and carry a big stick?"
“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush?”
“Never trust a hag bearing apples?”
Sirius glares at them.
"Well, if we're tossing around bloody quotations like a bunch of fruits, let me just say: Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once!"
"Oh!" says Remus, feeling pleased. "That's Shakespeare. You did read him."
Sirius looks momentarily sidetracked as he smiles at Remus.
"See? M'not totally hopeless, Moony."
Remus smiles back. He feels a bit flushed.
James groans loudly, throwing his hands dramatically into the air.
“If I wanted to watch you two flirt, I could, oh I don’t know, exist around you at any point in time ever? And still be asleep.”
Peter bursts into giggles. Sirius turns very, very red. He stares at James intently, but James doesn’t notice. He’s busy laughing with Peter.
Remus notices though. He doesn’t know what to make of it. Sirius isn’t usually someone who gets flustered over those kinds of jokes. But Sirius is in a mood, so that must be part of it. He’s manic, really. His eyes are wide and bright, burning, and he won't stop moving. He sits on Remus's bed, jumps up, paces to the window, stares outside, bounces back across the room.
It always makes Remus anxious when Sirius gets in a mood like this. He feels himself tensing up pre-emptively, a nervous knot forming in his shoulder. But there's nothing to do times like this except ride the mood out or risk an explosion from Sirius.
Sirius might explode anyway. But at least if they go along with whatever he's planning, there's a chance he won't.
“Really funny, Prongs,” he says coming back. “But like I was saying, reputations shatter easily. We’ve got to maintain ours! All work and no pranks makes Marauders a lot of buffoons.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before,” says Remus. James pinches his side.
“Oh, let the lad talk.”
“That’s it,” says Sirius, staring at them all. “That’s my piece. So let’s plan something.”
“You woke us all up just to say we needed to plan a prank? You don’t even have an idea!?”
Sirius’s smile is entirely too charming.
“Sorry, Moony. Brilliant as I am, I can’t do everything. So. Any ideas?”
There’s a long pause. With all the excitement of the last few days, it's hard to get back in the mindset of pranks. Even James looks unusually reticent.
“Slughorn’s party,” says Peter eventually. “It’s Friday, innit? Day before the trains leave? You and Prongs’ll have invites. You can be the inside men.”
Sirius looks like ecstatic.
“Wormtail, you genius! Sluggy’s party is perfect.”
James looks torn.
“Is that really – I mean, that’s not exactly the most creative time to strike.”
Sirius’s face darkens. Remus thinks about shoving a sock in James’s mouth. It’s too early to be awake, which means it’s far too early for an argument.
“You’re worried about losing ground with Evans,” says Sirius. “You want her to keep thinking you’re a mature little snot, don’t you?”
James’s jaw tightens.
“Nothing wrong with wanting to be mature,” he says defensively. And this is new. Remus recalls James was called into Dumbledore’s office the day before; perhaps that had finally put the fear of God into him, as unlikely as it seems.
Sirius lets out a bark of laughter.
“I can’t believe this is James Potter I’m talking to! What the bloody hell’s gotten into you?”
“Oh, sod off Padfoot,” says James. He and Sirius glare at each other.
It’s a tense moment, one filled with the kind of unspoken communication James and Sirius mastered long ago. Sirius's face looks like a thundercloud.
Finally, James drops his gaze and shrugs.
“All right Padfoot. If you’re so bloody intent on this, come up with something better than dungbombs. Moonny, can you grab some parchment?”
Remus sighs and gets up, assigned again to the role of notetaker.
“Nothing wrong with dungbombs,” says Sirius. He catches Remus wrist and squeezes it as Remus passes him, and his smile is almost enough to make Remus feel better about the whole morning. Almost. “They’re a classic for a reason.”
Remus settles on the bed next to Sirius. It’s too crowded on James’s bed, and this is his bed anyway.
He writes down dungbombs, then crosses it out, for the sake of being thorough. It’s going to be a long morning.
Sirius leans against him and wraps his arm around Remus's waist.
Chapter 16: December 16
Severus finds her as she's making her way back from rounds. She went with Emmeline from Hufflepuff, so they part outside the Great Hall, and Lily heads back towards Gryffindor Tower quickly. It's chill in the corridors at night, and even in her sixth year, the castle still feels a bit spooky when she’s alone.
Severus steps out from behind a knight, and she nearly screams.
"Lily. We need to talk."
Lily stares at him, heart hammering in her chest.
"Have you been waiting for me?" she demands. "And you – you're out of bed after hours."
Severus jerks as if stung and his face twists into a sneer.
"Would you say that to Potter?"
Lily glares at him. They haven't talked in months, and he's still hung up on some idea that she's partial to Potter.
"I can't believe you," she hisses, striding past. "Get back to your common room before I dock points."
“You have to stop doing this,” says Severus. He grabs her arm, eyes suddenly a bit wide and frantic. “All this stuff about werewolves and Muggleborns, that stunt you pulled at the Ministry – you’re just going to draw attention to yourself!”
Lily pulls her arm sharply away. “Let go of me!” she snaps.
Severus turns paler.
It’s the most interaction they’ve had in ages. After their argument at the end of last year, Lily thought that Severus might sincerely apologize, that her initial anger might dim, that she could forgive him and they would be friends again. But Severus hasn't apologized, and Lily’s anger, rather than dimming, has hardened into a stone she carries tightly in her chest.
She's realized she hadn’t actually liked Severus since the end of fourth year, that their friendship beyond that point was kept afloat by habit and obstinacy. She misses him, but she knows, too, that she misses a Severus who doesn’t exist anymore. And perhaps the Lily she had been doesn’t exist anymore either. She certainly wasn't this angry when she was younger.
“Lily. People are paying attention to who you’re hanging out with!”
She laughs hysterically. “Oh? And who are you hanging out with Severus? Still Mulciber and Avery and that lot? You’re one to talk. I heard about that second year. Did you have anything to do with that?”
Severus flushes darkly, and it’s all the answer she needs.
“You know Lupin’s a werewolf, right?” spits Severus, veering the subject off course. “Like he could be any less bloody obvious about it. He and Black and Potter tried to kill me last March, they –”
“Shut up! Shut up, shut up! I don’t want to bloody hear it, Severus!” Lily shakes with rage. She wants to slap him.
She knows about Remus. Of course she knows. Anyone with a half a brain who paid attention to Remus could figure it out. But it isn’t Severus’s secret to tell, and now she can no longer plead ignorance.
“You could get him killed if you go around saying that! What the bloody hell is wrong with you?”
“Get him killed? Lily! He and Potter and –”
“I don’t care! And honestly, I don’t believe you. Remus wouldn’t do that. And I don’t think Potter would either.”
Severus laughs cruelly. “Really? You’re taking Potter’s side now?” He sneers again. “You’re such a brainless girl sometimes.”
Lily does slap him then, hard and open-handed. Severus stares at her, stunned.
"Don't," she says. "Don't talk to me any more."
Lily's breathing hard and her palm stings. Severus keeps staring at her like he can't believe what she's done. There's a red mark on his cheek. And with a flood of guilt, she remembers that she isn't the first person to strike him, that he may even be used to it.
"I'm sorry," she blurts out. "I shouldn't have done that! But you – you have to leave."
Severus touches his cheek. He's still staring. The sleeve of his robe slips down his arm and she catches a brief glimpse of a mark on his forearm, but he quickly drops his hand, and whatever it is disappears from sight.
“What a Muggle way of solving things,” he says softly. His eyes are very dark. ”But since you've thrown your lot in with Potter and them, I suppose there's no helping you."
It's just like Severus to put it in those terms. He's always demanded loyalty and Lily was, for a long time, happy to give it to him. But he's gotten it backwards. Potter's thrown his lot in with her.
She thinks about what Dumbledore told them, what they're involved in now, and she trembles.
"Just go, Sev."
Severus gives her one last, hard look, and then he glides off towards the dungeons. Lily stands there until she's sure he's gone.
She doesn't think she'll speak to him again.
When she finally makes it back to the common room – muttering Clytemnestra to a drowsy Fat Lady – she finds Remus and the others wide awake, all bunched at one of the study tables. They’re clearly plotting something; they have that look about them, and just when she thought the four of them might finally be starting to grow. But she stifles her irritation, and the four of them fall silent as she marches up to them.
“Evening, Evans,” says Potter, speaking first. “You’re looking particularly lovely tonight. A little color in your cheeks suit you.”
She realizes right then she doesn’t understand Potter at all. One day he can seem almost a man, and the next, he’s back to acting like a second year who’s just discovered girls and dungbombs.
She ignores him.
“Remus,” she says, looking right at him. “We need to talk.”
Chapter 17: December 17
This was finished last night, but then my internet stopped working. :C #foiledagain
“Where’s Moony?” Sirius tries to shuffle back a step and ends up with a broom to the kidney. He winces.
“Ancient Runes,” says James.
He frowns, peeking through the sliver of the door they’ve left open. Sirius stands on tiptoe and tries to see over, but Prongs has gotten bloody tall.
“Muggle Studies? Why’s Pete in Muggle Studies?”
“Same reason you were. It’s easy.”
Sirius huffs. “I was in Muggle Studies because it pissed off my family. Now that I no longer have a family to piss off, it’s irrelevant.”
“What a fantastic reason,” mutters James. He sounds distracted. Sirius wonders if he can see something.
“Excuse you,” says Sirius. “As I recall, you were in Muggle Studies because you thought treating Evans’ ‘culture’ as an anthropological experiment would impress her.”
James snorts, but he doesn’t deny the assertion. Smart man James Potter, always willing to face up to the truth.
“I still think she was impressed with my initiative,” says James. “How come you don’t know Moony and Wormtail’s schedules by now? It’s end of term.”
“My dear Prongs,” says Sirius charitably. He fidgets and feels something filmy brush against his face. Probably a cobweb. Ugh. “I barely find it necessary to remember my own schedule. And why remember others’ when your giant head is there to do it for me?”
He can hear James’s grin. “So you admit I’ve got the better memory.”
“Not at all. You just use your memory for less important things. Obviously.”
“Plonker,” says James. “And why are you asking where they are anyway? You’re the one with the bloody Map on you.”
“Oh, you mean the Map I can’t reach because I’m jammed in a broom closet with a smelly ungulate? Or do you mean the Map that somehow missed the fact Slughorn’s in his bloody office?”
“So there are still a few kinks to work out,” huffs James.
Sirius considers biting James’s ear. It’s pretty near his mouth. He could do it. And it would serve Prongs right for not bringing his bloody cloak along. He can almost hear Remus scolding them for being unprepared.
“You’ve got a few kinks you need to work out,” he growls instead. The broom handle continues in its disemboweling efforts.
Sirius whines and rests his forehead against James’s shoulder.
“I wish Moony were here instead of being boring in Ancient Runes.”
“Because that’s really what this broom closet needs, a third person.”
“We’d just kick you out. Have the broom closet to ourselves.”
He waggles his eyebrows lasciviously, regardless of the fact James can’t see him do it.
“Pouf,” snickers James.
Sirius’s stomach turns over. And that’s it. James thinks he’s joking, typical Black, hahaha. And he is, kind of. He wouldn’t want to do anything with Moony in a broom closet. Broom closets being neither sexy nor romantic, what with the poking brooms and cobwebs and James Potter’s body odor.
But he does want to do things, with Moony, of a sexy and romantic nature. And his desire to do so has only increased since the first bright, horrifying realization that he wanted to kiss Remus. It sort of feels like his heart turns into a thrashing, dying fish every time he looks at Remus. Remus chewing his lower lip as he reads, Remus’s pale eyelashes glowing golden in the firelight of the common room, the sly, funny look he gets on his face after he says something particularly cutting. It’s all long, slightly crooked fingers and straight, bony shoulders and even the fine, curling, dusky hair along Remus’s arms.
Sirius is afflicted.
“You’ve gone quiet,” says James, a note of trepidation in his voice. “What are you plotting back there?”
Sirius bites his earlobe and James breathes in sharp and fast, stifling a yelp. They are across from Slughorn’s office. They can’t make too much noise.
“Were you seriously quiet for thirty bloody seconds so you could decide whether or not to bite me?”
“No,” says Sirius haughtily. “I decided on that a long time ago. I was thinking about something else.”
James makes a prissy, offended noise. “Don’t strain yourself.”
“Funny,” says Sirius. He tries to step on James’s foot, but can’t quite make it at this angle. He gives up. “What if I were?”
“What? Straining yourself from thinking too much?”
“No, you imbecile. What if I were a pouf?”
James lets out a small, hysterical laugh.
“Are you serious?”
James tries to turn to look at Sirius, but there’s not enough room to do it completely, so he ends up just glaring at Sirius from the corner of his eye.
“Were you being funny, or was that a straight answer?” His voice catches on the word ‘straight’ and he grimaces.
Sirius rolls his eyes.
“I’m being serious. What if I were a pouf?”
James hesitates, and then he says slowly, “Well, if you were, I wouldn’t. Well, I wouldn’t be totally surprised, to be honest with you. Though, honestly, Padfoot, is this really the place to be having this conversation?”
“Like I’d be attracted to you anyway, you stringy herbivore!” He scowls. “And what do you mean ‘not totally surprised’? I’m very manly!”
“Manly’s got nothing to do with it, Padfoot. Though with eyelashes like yours, I –” Sirius chomps his teeth threateningly, and James skips over whatever moronic thing he was going to say. “What I mean is, every bird here’s been in love with you since fourth year, but the most action you’ve ever gotten is from those Muggle bikini posters you put up to tick your mum off. It’s just not very red-blooded of you.”
Sirius mulls this over. He presses his forehead against James’s shoulder; it’s easier having this conversation without looking at him.
“So what you’re saying is, if I were like that, you wouldn’t have a problem with it?”
“Why would I have a problem with it? I can’t say I totally understand it, not liking birds. I mean, they’ve got,” James makes a gesture with his hands that would no doubt earn him a hex from Evans. “And blokes, well. I think my own bits look a bit naffy. Can’t imagine wanting to do anything with another bloke’s.”
Sirius snorts disparagingly.
“That’s because your bits are naffy, you berk. I’ve seen you in the changing room.”
“Ha! I knew you were ogling me, Black.”
“Not so much ogling as gawking, but I can see how a freak such as yourself would get that confused.”
“Yet again you wound me. And here I am, being the very picture of an understanding friend and loving comrade.”
“Is that what you were doing? Seemed more like you were going on about bloke’s bits. Are we sure you aren’t the pouf?”
“Oh yeah, that’s why I’ve tricked you into this broom closet, Padfoot. I’m mad for you. Take me now.”
Sirius licks his ear. James squeals.
“Blech! You taste terrible. I’m not taking you anywhere.”
“Merlin, well whoever you end up mating with I hope they don’t mind saliva in all their orifices.”
“Isn’t that inevitable when it comes to that sort of thing? Saliva in orifices?”
James shudders delicately. “You make everything sound so appealing.”
“Sorry, mate. Shall I be quiet then? Let you continue with your inspirational and affirming words?”
“No,” James sniffs. “I’ve decided you don’t deserve my inspirational and affirming words.”
“Oh no, however will I go on?”
But Sirius is smiling, smiling so wide his face is starting to hurt. It makes sense that James, for whom everything in life has come easy, would accept this so easily. James, who’s in love with a Muggleborn, who’s best friends with a werewolf, would have no trouble accepting this as well; he’s had nothing in life to make him bitter or hard or hateful. Sirius loves him for it.
“You’ll flail through somehow. You always do. Oh!” James’s voice brightens noticeably. “The door’s opening! Be quiet!”
Sirius stiffens and limits his breathing. Across the hall, he can hear Slughorn’s office door open and then Slughorn’s ponderous tread as he walks away. It sounds like he’s humming Good Mage Wenceslas.
They wait in the broom closet for another thirty seconds, and then James opens the door and they tumble into the hallway.
“Perfect!” says James, casting a quick alohamora on Slughorn’s lock. “That didn’t take too long at all!”
Sirius rolls his eyes fondly and darts into Slughorn’s office. They’ve snuck in here enough times before that it’s short work for them to do what they need to. Sirius only makes it through one verse of Good Mage Wenceslas before they’re back out in the corridor, robes stuffed with potions ingredients and a charm placed on the record player Slughorn likes to use at his parties.
Sirius is quite looking forward to the Christmas Slug Club Party now.
Chapter 18: December 18
“Sirius?” says Remus, poking his head into their room. “Are you in here?”
It's evening, getting on to true night, and Sirius was conspicuously absent from dinner. James mentioned something about him fiddling with the Map, then disappeared with Peter for a post-dinner kitchen run. Which gave Remus an opportunity.
“On my bed,” comes Sirius’s voice. “That you, Moony?”
Remus walks over and shoves the thick curtains aside. Sirius is sitting cross-legged, the Map laid before him. He has a thoughtful, intent look on his face, and he doesn’t look up when Remus opens the curtains. It’s rare to see him like this, and Remus is always a bit in awe of how Sirius can marshal his energy and condense it to such a fierce and single point.
“What’re you working on?”
“Map’s been acting wonky,” says Sirius, still not looking up. From this angle, Remus can’t see his eyes, only the dark fringe of eyelashes against his cheek. Sirius hums and stretches, sketching a vague symbol in the air with his wand. The symbol glows blue for a moment and hangs in the air, then gently floats down to land on the Map. It flares, throwing harsh shadows on Sirius’s face, then disappears.
“That should do it,” says Sirius, sounding pleased.
“What spell was that?” asks Remus, and Sirius finally glances up at him. His lower lip is red from where he’s been chewing on. Remus wishes he weren’t quite so aware of that.
“It was a patch for the tracking spell,” says Sirius a bit slowly. “Wasn’t exactly a spell.”
Remus nods. Sometimes it seems like Sirius can pull magic raw from the universe and shape it as he pleases, without any of the words and movements necessitated by lesser wizards to channel it. Remus would be jealous if he weren’t so impressed by it.
“Well, hopefully it works.” Remus shifts uncomfortably. “Do you have a moment?”
Sirius smiles brightly and straightens up.
“I always have a moment for you Moony, love,” he coos.
“Charming.” Remus pulls a small, wrapped package from his pocket and shows it to Sirius. “I’ve your Christmas present.”
Sirius’s eyes go wide and he bounces up from the bed to his feet in one graceful, jubilant moment, delight rippling across his face.
“Can I open it now?” he asks, already pulling the present from Remus’s hand.
“Might as well,” says Remus, smiling. “Prongs already got his gift.”
Sirius grins and tears off the wrapping paper with ferocious speed.
He goes still.
“You got me a book?”
"Er. Yes. But it's, er, it's like a coupon book. When you want to bother me, you can give me one and I have to do what it says."
It is a book, but a homemade one, each page a different promise – “won’t complain about breaking school rules for one prank” and “will cease being boring and studying and pay attention to Sirius Black for thirty minutes” and “good for one late night trip to kitchen without hesitation, ” the kind of stuff Sirius always wants Remus to do, and which Remus – for various reasons – objects to.
There's a long pause. Sirius flips through the book. It's handsomely made, if Remus says so himself, and he'd put the same level of skill into the penmanship as he had into his parts of the Map. But it's obvious Sirius doesn't like it. It was a stupid idea.
“What do the blank ones mean?” asks Sirius, still very still.
“Er,” says Remus, feeling miserable. “Whatever you want them to be, I suppose. You just, you write it down.”
Sirius’s face lights up wickedly, and Remus’s spirits lift with hope.
“Within reason!” he adds hastily.
Sirius snorts. “Well what’s the point of that then? You’ll just nix everything, you will!”
“I will not!” says Remus defensively. “Within reason means within reason. Just, nothing illegal, all right?”
Sirius purses his lips thoughtfully.
“Is buggery still illegal, d’y’know?”
“Just an innocent question, mate.” He leers. “I want to know what my limits are.”
“How in Merlin’s name is that an innocent question? Padfoot!”
Sirius throws his head back and cackles, then springs forward and ensnares Remus in a massive hug.
“Oh Moony,” he says fondly. “I am going to use all of these up in a month.”
“That’ll be your loss then,” says Remus, smiling. He leans into Sirius a bit, gets a mouthful of black, shiny hair. “I’m not making you anymore.”
“Ah, but you’ve forgotten,” says Sirius, “you’ve given me blank ones. I’ll just make a Moupon for more Moupons.”
Remus splutters. “Moupon?”
“Oh yes, a Moony coupon.”
“That’s a terrible name!” he protests.
“And what would you suggest?” asks Sirius mildly. He pulls away a bit, but keeps his hands on Remus’s arms, and Remus can still feel his breath against his cheek.
“I was thinking something like Moony Money.” Remus feels a faint blush creep up his neck.
Sirius stares at him, clearly unimpressed. “Really? You really think Moony Money is better than Moupon?”
“I do. It’s alliterative.”
“You’re a daft bugger, Moony,” says Sirius, smiling. The little book disappears into one of his pockets. “I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for your present, however.”
“You mean you haven’t done anything for it yet.”
Sirius draws himself up in mock outrage. “Slander!”
"I'm sure," says Remus, smiling giddily. Sirius is still very close, and Remus can smell dog and soap and whatever product it is Sirius insists he doesn't put in his hair.
Sirius smiles back and his eyes go lidded; there’s a wicked slant to his mouth.
“Ta for the present Moony,” and Remus thought they were in each other’s space before, but now Sirius is pressed against him, a hot line of contact from chest to thigh.
“Don’t mention it,” says Remus, brain feeling like it’s suddenly gone on fritz. “Happy Christmas Padfoot.”
“Mmhmm,” hums Sirius, looking at Remus’s mouth.
He leans in to close the distance.
"Lily knows I'm a werewolf."
Sirius freezes, eyes going very wide. And he starts talking very quickly and very angrily.
“Evans what?" He shakes his head like a dog shaking off sleep and his expression turns suddenly intent. "How? Did she just piece it together? Is that what she wanted to talk to you about the other night?"
Remus knows immediately he's made a mistake. It wasn’t what he wanted to say, just the first thing he could think of that would give Sirius pause. Lily told him two days ago, and he likes to think he’s dealing with it surprisingly well, probably helped along by the fact Lily had been remarkably kind about the whole, awkward ordeal.
But he still hasn’t told Sirius or the others about the conversation. There's no point risking conversations like the one he knows he’s about to get into.
"She didn't, ah. She said she'd figured it out a while ago but something happened recently that meant she couldn't pretend she didn't know any more."
Sirius narrows his eyes. “What do you mean?”
Remus doesn’t look at him. “It’s not really important.”
He knows he should lie. And normally he would be quicker on that front – Sirius likes to think he’s a good liar, but he’s not nearly so good as Remus. But Sirius’s proximity and him, him trying to do whatever he was about to do, has frazzled Remus’s brain. He’s no match for Sirius at a moment like this.
“Did someone tell her?”
Remus doesn’t answer. He can see Sirius quickly flick through everyone who knows Remus is a werewolf, and his eyes light up when he lands on the most likely candidate.
“He was just trying to warn her,” protests Remus weakly. “They used to be friends, you know. He’s just concerned about her –"
Sirius interrupts him by yelling. Remus is glad James and Peter are off on a kitchen run.
"If Snivellus – if that bastard's going around telling people about your furry little problem, then it's not fucking safe for you!"
"I'm aware," snaps Remus, a little more hysterically than he’d like. "And I don't need a knight in shining armor. I can handle this myself."
Sirius glares at him.
"Really? And what were you planning on doing about it?"
Remus doesn't say anything, and Sirius looks even more frustrated.
"That's what I thought. You're not going to - you're not going to bloody do anything. You have to learn how to stand up for yourself!"
"Do I? And do I accomplish that by letting you berate me into it?" asks Remus, voice gone soft.
Sirius's face twists like he senses danger. But he keeps going anyway.
"At least I've got your best interests at heart, Moony."
"Right," says Remus. He feels completely cold inside. "Now, remind me, how does Snape know about my 'furry little problem' again?"
“Thought you didn’t hold that against me.”
Remus bites the inside of his cheek. He doesn’t, not really. Sirius is Sirius, angry and impulsive and loving, and Remus forgave him easily. But he hasn’t forgotten; the incident at the Shack still lurks in the back of his mind, an odd token.
“I’m just pointing out you’re being hypocritical,” he says. The taste of copper floods into his mouth. He’s tired of fighting with Sirius.
Sirius purses his lips.
“Are you mad at me?”
Sirius frowns and he pulls the stupid coupon book from his pocket.
“Can I use one of these to make you not mad at me?”
“I’m not mad at you!” It’s practically a shout; Remus winces.
Sirius shoves his hands into his pockets and snorts. “Oh yeah, you’re really convincing me here, mate.”
“Sod off Padfoot,” Remus mutters, but there’s no venom to it.
He and Sirius regard each other uneasily. It’s odd that Sirius seems uneasy, but Remus recalls that just a moment ago, it seemed like Sirius wanted to kiss him. Remus blushes hotly. He has no idea how to square that in his mind. It was probably a weird prank.
“How about this,” says Sirius, “I don’t murder Snivellus, and that’s your Christmas present.”
“That’s a bloody awful Christmas gift.”
“I know,” says Sirius, grinning suddenly. He darts forward and kisses Remus on the mouth, quick and firm. “That’s why I’ll get you a real one too.”
He bolts out the dorm before Remus can react, his voice trailing like a banner after him.
“And just cuz I won’t kill him doesn’t mean I won’t retaliate!”
Remus stays where is, absolutely shocked, and rooted to the floor.
Sirius kissed him.
Chapter 19: December 19
James and Sirius are at the party. James is always invited to Slug Club events. And Sirius was, up until the beginning of the year, after he ran away from home. But now Slughorn seems to have remembered Sirius, despite no longer being the Black heir, is still one of the most talented students in the school. He is a student who is, as Slughorn would put it, going places.
Unlike Peter, who Slughorn doesn’t even seem to know exists. Or Remus, who Slughorn definitely knows exists, but who Slughorn has only ever regarded with bald revulsion.
Peter shifts uncomfortably beneath the cloak. A small part of him reckons that’s fair. Sirius and James may like Remus more than they like Peter, but at least no one ever looks at Peter like he’s a dead gnome the kneazle dragged in.
So James and Sirius are at the party, and Remus and Peter are also at the party, underneath James's cloak. It's a bit stuffy. Peter doesn't mind sharing the cloak, and Remus in particular is conscientious about not taking up too much space and always smells nice. But it's still a bit stuffy, and they've been under the cloak for fifteen minutes, watching James try to chat up Evans and Sirius sulk by the Christmas tree Slughorn set up.
"What do you think Padfoot's got his panties in a twist about?" asks Peter. He doesn't bother to whisper. No one's particularly close to them and there's enough background than an extra conversation won't be noticed.
"No idea," says Remus. But he seems twitchy. Peter sighs. He can practically smell the secret on Remus.
"Reckon it's cuz Evans is finally giving Prongs the time of day?"
"Er, yeah. That could be it."
Peter purses his lips. There's something going on with James, too. He's hiding something. Sirius, at least, doesn't seem to be keeping secrets, but that's because Sirius doesn't really hide things. You just have to figure out to ask him about it.
He wonders if Sirius can smell it when people are lying or keeping secrets too, though Peter isn't even sure smell is the right word for it. It's a sense, some weird holdover from the time he spends as Wormtail.
He leans backward, resting his back against the wall and watches as James tries to keep Lily's interest. He's succeeding pretty well, and Lily looks a little flushed. But Peter thinks it's probably due more to the firewhisky they spiked the drinks with than with than any new found charm on James's part.
James has gotten tall. He’s a whole head taller than Evans now. It happened, Peter thinks, sometime around fifth year, and it feels like a betrayal. James is loads of things Peter admires – smart, funny, magnetic. But he was also short, the same height as Peter their first year. And Peter had clung to that fact – that you could be smart and funny and magnetic and short all at the same time. And he’d felt a solidarity with James, in opposition to gawky, tall Remus who seemed embarrassed by his height and to Sirius who had been average then but burst in every line of him with his swaggering anger. But now they’re all three of them tall and Peter finds himself looking at James’s shoulder blades more and more these days.
It’s a self-pitying line of thought and Peter tries to shake it off, blame it on the winter. He’s never liked the winter. It’s too dark and everything always feels damp.
“Exploding snap and firewhisky when we get back?” says Remus, as if he can sense Peter’s dark mood.
“Course,” says Peter, suddenly grateful for Remus, for the warmth and consideration of his friendship. “Tis tradition.”
It’s not really tradition. It’s what they did last year, and the year before, though that was all of their first times with firewhisky. The train ride back to London the next morning hadn’t been pleasant.
“Good,” says Remus. “I’ve some chocolate frogs, too. Maybe we’ll finally get Wilberforth Wimbley.”
“Be a right Christmas miracle if we did.”
The background music suddenly switches from Celestina Warbeck crooning We Three Kings to some Muggle song about a red nosed reindeer that Sirius likes to serenade James with. Slughorn, who’s sidled into James and Lily’s conversation with the same look on his face that Peter’s baby sister gets when she makes her dolls kiss, pauses. He looks a bit confused at the musical shift.
It’s their cue. Remus lifts his wand and waves it in a lazy half-circle as he mutters the incantation under his breath.
It begins to snow. It’s just gentle, slow flakes at first, adding a hint of romanticism to the evening’s proceedings. A girl from Ravenclaw coos with delight, obviously thinking it’s part of the party programming.
But Slughorn knows better. Peter snickers into his sleeve as he watches Slughorn’s expression transform to one of total consternation. He turns to James, and even across the room, he can hear Slughorn’s incredulous question.
“Did you do this?”
James’s expression is the very picture of innocence. The snow starts to pick up. It’s falling more quickly and the flakes are thick and fat. It’s the same spell they used in the Slytherin common room, though modified to not stick this time. Just a bit of holiday fun.
“Professor,” says Lily, sounding shocked, “what’s going on with your nose?”
Slughorn touches his nose. It’s beginning to glow red. So is Lily’s. And James’s. And everyone else’s in the room. Firewhisky wasn’t the only thing they laced they drinks with.
Peter can see Sirius smiling broadly, still half-hiding by the Christmas tree. He sneaks a glance at Remus, and he’s smiling, too. James is trying very, very hard not to smile. He looks like he’s having a mild stroke.
“What is going on?” splutters Slughorn.
The snow’s picking up even more now. Someone shouts at James to knock it off already, Potter!
“I’m not doing anything!” protests James. He waves his hands, showing that he’s not holding his wand.
A song comes on about a snowman, and Remus mutters, “Desino.”
It stops snowing, but the stuff is still laying thickly on the ground. Though everyone seems more concerned with their noses at the moment. Peter gestures with his wand and casts a spell of his own.
A cold wind whips through the crowd, causing at least one shriek, and the snow begins piling into the center of the room. Slowly, it transforms into a vaguely mannish shape.
“What is it doing?” demands Slughorn, still looking at James.
“It doesn’t look like it’s doing anything right now, sir,” says James politely.
“Just stopping to catch my breath,” says the snowman cheerfully. Someone in the crowd gasps. The snowman waves. “Howdy y’all. It’s ice to meet you.”
“Why is it talking in a bad American accent?” mutters Remus under his breath.
Peter shrugs. “That was Padfoot’s part of the spell.”
Which probably goes a long way towards explaining the puns as well.
No one says anything.
“Man, frosty reception tonight. But the snow must go on.”
There are a few nervous laughs this time, and everyone’s attention is so focused on the snowman, no one notices Sirius pretty much disappearing behind the Christmas tree.
“Now we’re talking! I knew I could sleigh. But you know what they say about fame – it’s sleeting.”
“Winter!” cries the snowman, sounding like a broken toy. “I hardly know 'er!”
“That one didn’t even make sense!” protests Remus, but softly enough so that only Peter can hear.
Slughorn’s Christmas tree crashes to the ground, making everyone jump. And when the first ornaments shatter open, fireworks. Scarlet and green light bursts through the room.
“Happy Christmas to all! And to all a good night!” shouts the snowman, in the split second of stunned silence that follows.
And then he explodes, too.
Chapter 20: December 20
"I never want to move again," moans James, falling into a puddle on the floor of their compartment.
Sirius helpfully kicks him in the ribs, and it's a sign of the true pain of James's hangover that all James manages to do in response is whimper.
"Betrayed. I've been betrayed."
"You're fine," says Sirius, helpfully kicking him again. "It's almost Christmas!"
"I'm not fine. I'm going to die. Padfoot, you'll have to tell my parents. Replace me as the Potter heir. Be valiant, my brother."
"Maybe your head would hurt less if you whined less," says Remus tersely. He's resting his head against the window and grimacing. He drank a lot too, which is unusual for Remus, but he has been avoiding Sirius a bit, and drinking an inordinate amount of firewhisky seems to be one of his strategies.
Which is fine. Sirius has surprising reserves of patience. He can wait to get Remus sober and alone.
"Prongs feels better when he complains," says Peter, looking red-eyed and grim but otherwise upright and functioning.
"I am so very, very aware of that," says Remus.
"M'sorry," whines James.
The door to the compartment jerks open, and Evans stands in the doorway, haughty and straight-backed. Her nose is still glowing dimly red.
"Remus," she says, voice clipped. "They want us in the Prefect car."
Remus groans and digs the heels of his hands into his eyesockets, but he stands, albeit wobbily. He's wearing the expression that Sirius knows, after years of extensive Moony research, translates to: 'I hate so very fucking much about the world right now.'
It's one of his favorite Moony faces, personally, because it means Remus is much more likely to say the hilariously mean things that come to his mind, rather than swallowing them down in some misguided attempt to be, "a morally upstanding member of society and fundamentally decent human being, Padfoot."
"Have fun," says Sirius sweetly.
Remus glares at him.
"You are not human," he hisses, and then slams out of the compartment, in tow of Evans.
"She didn't even notice I was on the ground," says James mournfully.
"It's probably for the best," says Peter gently. "You're looking pretty pathetic right now, mate."
Sirius has to admit that Wormtail has a point.
"Devil woman. Drove me to drink."
Sirius and Peter exchange a look. If Remus were still there, he would no doubt point out that everything that happened last night was James's fault, and really, he shouldn't be surprised that Evans blew up at him after their (frankly, quite amazing) pranking of The Slug Club Christmas Party.
Still, Sirius thinks, "I thought you were growing up! I thought maybe you weren't such an arrogant toerag! But you're still the same immature little shithead you were as a first year!" had been particularly harsh, especially as it'd been in full view of the Gryffindor common room.
"Well, you know what they say," says Sirius, with a gentle kick, "the course of true love ne'er did run smooth."
James groans. Sirius contemplates his prone form for a moment, and then gets up, stepping over James to rifle through James's luggage.
"What're you doing?"
"Getting your cloak."
James rolls onto his back to frown at Sirius.
"Because I need to put dungbombs in Snivellus's luggage," says Sirius, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. Which, really, it should be.
Sirius raises his eyebrows.
"Do I really need an excuse?"
James hesitates, and then bulls ahead with whatever half-drunk, moronic thought has entered his head.
"Maybe we should tone all that down a bit, mate."
Sirius stares at him.
"You drank more than I thought, Prongs. You sure you're not feverish? Wormtail, feel his forehead, see if he’s clammy."
"I mean it," says James, and his feeble voice hardens a bit, which means he's not nearly so hungover as he's been pretending. He does like to go on. "Snivellus hasn't done anything to us lately."
"He told Evans about Moony's furry little problem," snaps Sirius.
In the silence that follows, Sirius realizes that maybe he was the only one Remus shared that with.
"What?" says James, sitting up. His eyebrows knit together. "When?"
"Few days ago," says Sirius, suddenly irritated. Maybe he shouldn't have told them that.
"And you're just planning on putting dungbombs in his luggage?" says Peter. Peter can be a good man, at times.
"Promised Moony I wouldn't kill him." Sirius grimaces. "I'll think of something worse over the holiday. This is just stage one in the retaliation."
James opens his mouth like he's about to say something, then closes it. It gives him a rather fish-like affect.
"Look, I'm all for the dungbombs. But I do think, yeah, wouldn't do us any harm if we toned things down a bit."
Sirius scoffs. "It's like I don't even know who I'm talking to, just because you've got your panties in a twist over Evans, doesn't mean the rest of us have to 'play nice.'"
He yanks the invisibility cloak from James's luggage and swings it over his shoulders.
"Merlin's hairy ball sac," groans James. He grabs at Peter's legs and pulls himself to his feet. "Well come on then, Peter."
"How many people does it take to stuff a dungbomb in Snivellus's luggage?" says Peter skeptically.
"One," says James. "And two others for the distraction. Also, I'm unable to walk under my own power. Hup hup, Wormtail."
Peter sighs and gets to his feet, and James immediately half-collapses onto him, arm around Peter's neck.
"We lead," says James, with a pointed look at Sirius. "You follow."
"Aye aye fearless leader."
He pulls the cloak over his head and follows James and Peter. The dungbombs are stored safely in his pocket.
James clings to Peter, acting like they're heading to the toilet so James can throw up - the trolley witch gives him a wider berth - but really glancing into the compartments looking for Snape.
It doesn't take too long.
Sirius isn't really sure what the plan for the distraction is. But he's faith in James – hungover and wet-blankety as he's finally become.
James and Peter stop outside the compartment, and Sirius stops behind them. Over Peter's shoulder, he can see that it's relatively full. There's Snivellus, and his cousin's dippy brother-in-law, and Avery. And his brother.
James shoves open the compartment door. There's an immediate outcry; Lestrange cutting himself off mid-word to snarl, "What the hell are you doing here Potter?"
James lurches forward, and vomits all over Lestrange's shoes.
It takes everything in Sirius's power to not burst into laughter right there.
"Are you bloody deranged?" shrieks Lestrange, stepping out of the compartment. Avery and Snape right behind him, and Sirius shuffles quickly to the side to give everyone room to fan out.
Lestrange has his wand raised, and perhaps this wasn't the smartest idea, though Sirius will never say no to a good hex off.
"Lestrange! Put your wand down!"
Everyone turns. Evans is barreling down the train corridor, coming back from the Prefects' car. Remus looks peaky behind her.
Sirius takes advantage of the confusion to slip inside the compartment. There's only Regulus still inside, and his head is poking out into the corridor anyway. Sirius has to suck in his gut to not knock into him and he slides inside, neatly sidestepping James’s, er, ‘distraction.’
Snivellus's bag is easy to spot. It's the mangy one without a fancy family crest imprinted on it. It's the work of seconds to open it, pull off the dungbomb's pin, and shove the dungbomb inside.
Regulus's bag is right next to Snivellus's on the luggage rack. It’s nearly identical to the bag Sirius burned six months ago after he'd fled to James's with his life's possessions crammed inside it.
He opens Regulus's back and shoves a dungbomb in there, too.
Happy Christmas, little brother.
In the corridor, it’s mayhem.
"Really Potter? This is immature even for you," sneers Snivellus, and Sirius has half a mind to hex him.
"You all need to stop arguing and get back into your compartments!" That's Evans, red-faced and practically yelling. Curious faces from nearby compartments are beginning to poke into the corridor.
"Like we have to listen to some uppity Mudblood!"
That's Avery. The corridor falls silent, and Evans' face turns even redder.
"Oh, you bloody twat!" snarls James, and he lifts his wand. Though, really, he's in no shape to be flinging curses around.
"Expelliarmus," barks Remus.
Everyone's wands fly to him, even Sirius's, slipping out from under the cloak as it jerks from his pocket.
No one else seems to notice the extra wand flying over, but Remus clearly recognizes Sirius's wand. He raises his eyebrows in Sirius's general direction. Sirius puts on his best innocent face, hoping it somehow manages to radiate out to Remus anyway.
Remus's mouth twitches. Everyone is staring at him. He still has his, 'I fucking hate everything' face on.
"Everyone get back to your compartments," he says calmly. "And remain there. James, I'm going to give you back your wand, but only so you can clean up the mess you made."
He hands James's wand back to him, and James, with the world's smarmiest expression, does as he's told.
"Good," says Remus. He hands Peter and Lily their wands. Sirius's wand somehow disappears into Remus's pocket. "Get back to the compartment."
Peter and James trudge off obediently, leaving the Slytherins a simmering cauldron of dissent. Sirius's fingers itch. He doesn't want to leave Moony alone with them, even if Evans is with him and has a surprising knack for hexes of her own. He wishes he still had his wand.
"Here you go," says Remus, tone and expression going carefully neutral. He distributes the wands back to the Slytherins. Snivellus holds his as if it's covered in slime, a sneer curling his mouth. But no one says anything; the fight's left everyone.
"Back in your compartment," says Lily tightly. She taps her Prefect's badge. "Or we'll start taking points."
Avery looks like he has half a mind to whip out Mudblood again, but Lestrange puts a hand on his shoulder and shoves him inside. Snivellus follows, sparing one last, weird look for Evans. And that's always been too creepy a relationship for Sirius to spend much time thinking about.
Evans and Remus exchange a look once they’re all back inside.
“Your friends are something else, Lupin.”
Remus shrugs. “Yes. But they’re my friends.”
Evans huffs, and Sirius figures she’s probably peeved at Remus too for last night. But she doesn’t say anything else, and after lingering a second, she and Remus keep walking down the corridor.
Sirius follows at a safe distance.
He’s never been so attracted to someone in his life.
The rest of the train ride is uneventful. Sirius follows Evans and Remus for a ways, and then when it's clear they're just going to be boring and do rounds, he ducks back into the compartment with James and Peter.
"Well, was it all worth it?" says James as soon as Sirius pulls off the cloak.
"Sure was," says Sirius, grinning. "Put one in Reggie's luggage too."
"Ah, what a quaint and delightful family tradition you Blacks have," says James, rolling his eyes. He looks upset, and Sirius has no doubt it's over Evans being called a Mudblood.
Sure enough, James opens his mouth a second later and adds, "But really you should have shoved one in that fat gob Avery's face."
"Next time, mate." Sirius pats his knee.
"Really though, the bloody nerve of that inbred, mouth-breathing – "
"Do you mind?" says Peter, cracking open an eyelid. He's resting against the window, head pillowed on his bunched up robe. He's already changed into his Muggle clothes. "Only I'm trying to sleep."
James huffs, and crosses his arms over his chest, looking sulky. But it's only a few minutes until he too is asleep, mouth open and head on Sirius's shoulder. Sirius sighs and lets him.
Remus doesn't come back, and that means Sirius is left with the questionable company of his thoughts.
He doesn't normally look forward to Christmas. Christmas has always meant painful family dinners and fights, unless he's willing to sit quietly and listen to whatever batty tirade one of his relatives wants to whip out. But he's spending Christmas with James and his parents this year, on their odd, giant estate.
He figures it won't be so bad. He tries to remember the last Christmas he enjoyed, and he thinks it must have been the last one before he left for Hogwarts, back when Dromeda was still part of the family, too. She'd taken him and Reggie out into Muggle London to look at the lights and decorations. They'd gotten hot chocolate and watched ice skaters. Dromeda’d gotten a terrible tongue lashing when they came back, but still. It was a nice memory.
Chapter 21: December 21
Sorry for the lateness! I've gotten more wrapped up in family holiday stuff than I thought I would be!
ETA: And I realize I'm still a day behind, but I'll catch up tomorrow! Thanks everyone who's been reading and commenting and given kudos. :)
“Mum?” James pokes his head into the kitchen and finds his mother humming as she cooks. Their old, nearly blind house elf Crinkle is standing next to her, dutifully holding a bowl of batter.
“Yes, love?” asks his mum, not even looking up. She’s a small woman, with James’s thick, wild hair. Though hers has been white for as long as James can remember.
“I, uh, need to pop over to some shops for the morning to pick up a few gifts for Christmas. Can you let Pad – can you let Sirius know I’ll be back after lunch? If he’s up before then?”
“Of course, love,” she says, still without looking up. “Crinkle and I will make sure Sirius is well entertained while you’re gone.”
“Thanks, Mum. Love you!”
“Love you too, Jamie,” she mutters, eyebrows drawing together as she prods at whatever it is she’s cooking. It gives off a cough of smoke as James hurries to the fireplace.
He feels a bit guilty ditching Sirius, but it should only take the morning. Dumbledore doesn’t seem like the type to hold long meetings. It’s far too early to be awake on the first day of winter holidays, but James is bright and alert with anxiety and anticipation. It’s going to be his first Order of the Phoenix meeting; there’d been a letter waiting in his room when he and Sirius had finally gotten home, and it had turned to ash upon reading, like something out of a Muggle movie.
He looks around nervously, even though he knows his mum and Crinkle will be occupied with their cooking experiments for the next hour or so, and Sirius and his da are both late sleepers – Da, particularly of late has been sleeping a lot.
Then he takes a handful of floo powder and casts into the flames.
“The Hog’s Head, Hogsmeade, Scotland,” he says loudly, stepping into the fireplace.
“We’re closed!” snarls the barkeep when James stumbles out on the other side.
James coughs pathetically. Floo powder is his least favorite way to travel. He tries to remember what the letter instructed to do at this point.
“Er, pygmy puff,” he says to the barkeep, who looks oddly familiar. James adjusts his glasses and peers at the man thoughtfully. He’s never actually been to the Hog’s Head before, so perhaps he’s seen the man somewhere else around Hogsmeade.
The barkeep snorts and jerks his thumb at a rickety staircase. “Third door on your left.” He narrows his eyes. “Though you’re a bit young.”
“Well I’m not trying to drink, so I don’t see why you should care,” says James coolly. He marches to the staircase and hears the barkeep mutter behind him something that sounds like, “Bloody Albus.”
He takes the stairs two at a time – he’s running late – and grabs the doorknob of the third door on his left. He’s a little nervous about just barging in. Should he knock? But then, without opening the door, he’s suddenly falling, stomach swooping, head spinning –
He lands, face first, in a snowbank.
“Mr. Potter,” says a familiar, clipped voice from above him. “You’re late.”
James wipes the snow off his face and looks up into the stern expression of Professor McGonagall.
“Professor! He gets to his feet hurriedly. “I’m here for –”
“The meeting, yes. I know, Potter. Come along.”
She turns and strides across the field. James follows, stomach twisting. He probably shouldn’t be surprised McGonagall’s a member of the Order. She is Dumbledore’s right-hand woman. But it is odd to think of his teachers participating in a secret, evil-fighting society. He’s still not quite used to the idea his professors have a life outside Hogwarts, and it’s honestly a bit shocking to see McGonagall outside the context of the castle.
They walk to a small, gray barn in the middle of the field. It looks completely dilapidated, the wood warped and half-rotted and shingles falling off the roof. Then McGonagall taps her wand against the door – which is hanging off its hinges – and the door opens and lets out a blast of warmth and conversation.
The conversation falls to a stop as James and McGonagall step in. On the inside, the barn is solid and comforting. The walls are white-washed and the dirt floor is covered in rugs. Whatever concealment charm has been placed on the barn, it’s a strong one.
In the center of barn, there’s a large table, mostly occupied, and all of the occupants look at James quizzically.
Except Lily, who’s sitting next to a large black man James vaguely remembers from their protest at the Ministry. She just looks a bit embarrassed.
“Everyone, this is James Potter,” says McGonagall. She presses her hand against his back and gestures at James to take a seat.
He grabs the spare one next to Lily and glances at her. She avoids his eyes, looking instead at the table. She’s still mad at him.
James swallows his disappointment and glances around the table. He’s surprised by how many faces he recognizes – there’s the Auror Longbottom and her husband (also an auror, James recalls hazily, and also a Longbottom) and Marlene McKinnon, the reporter from the Prophet. There’s also the legendary Prewett brothers, and James thinks how excited Sirius will be to hear about that before remembering Sirius isn’t going to hear about it.
And then, of course, there’s Dumbledore himself, sitting at the head of the table, a Father Christmas hat perched jauntily atop his white hair.
Dumbledore clears his throat. Even with the Father Christmas hat, he doesn’t look nearly as kindly or amused as he usually does.
“Now that we’re all here, the meeting can begin.”
They start with a round of introductions. It’s not a very large secret society; there are only about a dozen people at the table, but James still finds himself blanking on people’s names as soon as they’re said. He’s not sure if it’s some weird, protective spell or if it’s just his nerves. When he glances at Lily to his left, he’s relieved to see that she’s muttering people’s names under her breath as they’re introduced. Clearly she’s struggling a bit too. She’s also still staring at the table.
“Prewett,” says Dumbledore, when introductions are over. “You have a report to make?”
“Right. Yeah. We have intelligence indicating there might be an incident at the Falcons’ game on Tuesday,” says one of the twins. Fabian, James thinks. His hero worship had never quite extended to being able to tell the Prewett brothers apart. “We’re not sure if it’s going to be officially coordinated by You-Know-Who and his lot, but the Falcon ultras sympathize with him, and our sources are saying they’re planning something.”
“The Auror office has evaluated it,” says Alice Longbottom. “And we’ve decided it constitutes a viable threat, but we don’t want an official presence. This close to Christmas, it may send people into a panic.”
“Right,” says the other Prewett brother, “So me and Fab will be there ‘off duty’ to keep an eye on things.”
Dumbledore nods thoughtfully, stroking his beard.
“Marlene, you’ll be there as well, won’t you?”
McKinnon nods. She looks a lot more grim than she did when she interviewed James at the Ministry.
“Yes, in the press box though.”
“And the teams and stadium have been informed of the possible disruption?” says Dumbledore, switching his attention back to the Prewetts.
Frank Longbottom answers for them.
“Yes, we briefed them yesterday. Their official stance is the League’s stance. They’re not going to cancel any games.”
“And when will they?” says the man on Lily’s left. Caradoc, James thinks his name was. “Muggleborn players have been receiving death threats for months now. And sooner or later, the Death Eaters are going to realize that many people in that small a location is too good an opportunity to pass up.”
James’s stomach clenches. He didn’t know that. He feels very lost and very small at this meeting, not sure what he’s able to contribute.
Fabian Prewett smiles humorlessly. “And referees got death threats long before any of this started happening. The League’ll lose a lot of money if they start canceling games because of a few misspelled letters.”
“Besides,” says Gideon darkly, “I think we all know by now the Death Eaters aren’t exactly nice enough to deliver death threats before killing someone. The letters are just garden variety crazy, picking up on the peculiar madness of our times.”
“I like that,” says his twin. “Peculiar madness of our times. Very poetic, Gid.”
“We’re getting off topic,” snaps Caradoc. “Is it just the Prewetts and McKinnon at the game then? Because that’s hardly –”
“I’ll be there,” says James, impulsively.
Every person at the table looks at him, and James feels suddenly grateful for his well-honed skill of lying.
“I didn’t know anything about there maybe being an incident or anything like that,” he says hastily. “Just an early Christmas present from my parents. Me and my mate are going. So. I’ll be there.”
The lie comes easily, even though he’s not really sure why he’s lying. But he figures, if he’s going to get involved, then he’s going to jump in. And it shouldn’t be too hard to convince his mum to get him some tickets. And he’ll just… Make sure Sirius doesn’t get himself hurt if anything does happen while they’re there.
“How old are you?” says Caradoc, looking unimpressed.
“Does it matter?” says Lily, speaking for the first time since she gave her name. “He’s a member of the Order, same as the rest of you.”
The Prewett brothers snicker. Caradoc draws his eyebrows together, looking faintly amused.
“I suppose not.”
“But Caradoc does have a point,” says Dumbledore. “We’d do well to have at least another Order member present.”
“And as it’s my point,” says Caradoc, “I’ll be there as well. Crouch owes me the vacation time.”
Dumbledore nods. “Very good.”
The rest of the meeting is mostly a blur to James. There are a few more reports; he realizes almost everyone there has some sort of a connection to someone, and it makes him feel all the more overwhelmed that he’s sitting there, discussing strategies for fighting You-Know –Who.
But mostly he’s just stunned he’s signed him, and he guesses Sirius, up for something that could be really, really dangerous.
The Prewett brothers tug him aside at the end of the meeting, and James feels a bit disappointed by that. He wanted the chance to talk to Lily, maybe apologize for the prank at the Slug Club party and for his behavior at the train. But she disappears, deep in conversation with Caradoc.
“Right, Potter, is it?” says Gideon. “Since you’ll be at the game, we’ll need to brief you on some possible situations and how you should react to them. What are you thinking of doing after Hogwarts, by the by?”
“Er,” says James. “I was thinking about being an auror, actually.”
“Good,” says Fabian, clapping him on the back. “This will be good practice then. So if you’ve never been to the stadium before, it’s about…”
It’s another fifteen minutes before James finally staggers out of the barn. The Prewett brothers leave him with another clap to the back and a bright, “Happy Christmas, ickle Potter!” and he’s left blinking in the bright glare of the midday sun on snow.
He realizes with a start it’s the solstice. The darkest day of the year. The sun won’t be up for much longer, and it looks a bit unsure of itself even now, in the brightest part of the day.
He turns. Lily’s standing by the door, hands tucked in her pocket.
“What are you still doing here?” he asks, a bit stunned.
He thinks Lily blushes, though it’s hard to tell with her face already pinked from the cold.
“I just wanted to wish you a happy Christmas,” she says a bit stiffly.
“Right,” says James. “Happy Christmas, Evans.”
She nods to him and starts to go, but he realizes that this his chance and touches her arm.
“Wait,” he says, at her curious look. “I just wanted to. I’d like to apologize, for my behavior the past few days. I’ve been a right prat.”
Lily’s mouth flutters in a quick smile.
“At least you’re willing to admit it, though I can’t say I don’t have to quell a similar reaction when it comes to Lestrange and McNabb.”
“Yeah, well,” says James blushing, and he’s not sure why he’s admitting this, except that he feels like he has to start being honest with Lily. “That was just a distraction so Sirius could slip in and mess with Sn – with Snape. For, er, telling you about Moony’s furry little problem.”
Lily’s smile disappears.
“You do realize calling him Moony doesn’t exactly help him conceal that.”
“In our defense, we were twelve when we came up with that nickname.”
Lily snorts, but doesn’t say anything. They stand in the snow, the last people from the meeting still lingering, and carefully avoid looking at each other directly.
“It’s strange,” says Lily eventually. “Severus is the reason I first started thinking about prejudices in the first place.”
“What do you mean?”
Lily sighs. “Oh, just that. Well, I knew Severus before we went to Hogwarts. And he was always... poor and a little strange. Everyone knows his father’s a drunk. And my sister looked down on him for it.” Her lips quirk into a small smile, but it’s not a happy one.
“It took a lot of work to convince my parents to let him into the house, too. And they would never let me go to his. But none of them – my family – they didn’t understand that Severus was brilliant and funny and really, just terribly sweet at times. And then when we got to Hogwarts, I think Severus thought it would be better. But then we were supposed to be enemies, just because of this silly house business. And some people hated me because I wasn’t from the right type of family.” She laughs sadly. “It’s funny. My sister hates me because I have magic, and people like Lestrange and them hate me because my parents don’t.”
“So it made me think that, people really are so short-sighted sometimes. None of this stuff matters. How rich we are or what our blood is or whether or not we’re a werewolf. It’s what we do.”
“I’ve always thought so,” says James gruffly. None of the words she used were ones he would ever associate with Severus Snape, but it’s Lily’s memory and her story to tell.
Lily gives him an amused look. “And yet you’ve always insisted on doing exactly what a complete and utter prick would do.”
James winces. “Ah, well, you know–”
“But you’re getting better,” says Lily. “There’s hope for you yet.”
James grins slightly. “Well, hope is what the Christmas season is all about.”
“I suppose that’s true,” says Lily. And then she does something amazing. Something magical, in the sense of the word that means impossible and miraculous.
She hugs him.
“Happy Christmas, James Potter,” she says into his shoulder. Dimly, James registers that her hair smells like lavender.
“You too, Lily Evans,” he says, squeezing her gently.
She pulls away and smiles at him.
“And do be careful at the game.”
“I will. I promise. I will.” He feels a bit dazed; he would definitely promise her anything.
She smiles more broadly and raises her hand to wave good-bye.
“See you next year, James,” and then she takes a step back and apparates away.
James stands there for a moment, still stunned.
“She hugged me!” yells James. Some birds in a nearby tree scatter, and he shouts at them, too.
“SHE HUGGED ME!”
He punches the air. He could take on a million Death Eaters. He could take on an army of dementors. He could take on the Dark Lord himself, armed with this one, golden memory and his love.
Chapter 22: December 22
Frodo has been at Bilbo's party for the past forty minutes.
Remus sighs and rests the book on his face. It's a personal tradition that he reread Lord of the Rings every Christmas break, but he's having trouble getting into it this year. It's too quiet in his parents' house. And every year, Remus feels a little more awkward being there for Christmas. They don’t have relatives over, and they don’t have a tree or many presents. His dad's money has all been spent on increasingly absurd cures for Remus.
It's a combination of guilt over that, of the silence which pervades the hours, and of the way his mother's eyes follow him around the house - constantly asking him if he's okay, if he's comfortable, how has school been? – that make him feel so uncomfortable being at home.
He feels guilty, too, that he doesn't enjoy being here. But it's easier to be at Hogwarts and write them letters; yes, he's happy, yes, he has friends, they should hear what James and Sirius got up to the other day.
And he can’t stop thinking about Sirius kissing him.
He's turned it over in his head again and again, and he still can't make sense of it. If it were a joke, then it was an odd one. Sirius didn't stick around to laugh at him. Or maybe the joke is for Remus to go totally mad thinking about it. But that seems particularly cruel even by Sirius's standards, and it doesn't seem like something James would have put Sirius up to. James isn't one to make fools of his friends.
But the only other possibility - that Sirius actually wanted to kiss Remus, that he perhaps wants to kiss Remus again - seems so preposterous as to be not worth examining at all.
He tries to think about it rationally. He's pretty sure Sirius isn't into girls, but that doesn't then mean Sirius is into him. But then again, Sirius spends a lot of time pawing at Remus. He's protective to the point of being infuriating. And he gets jealous when other people spend too much time around Remus.
But it still feels absurd.
He supposes he could just ask Sirius about it, but he doesn't fancy that conversation at all. He doesn't really fancy talking to Sirius at all until he's sorted this all out in his mind, and it's not like Sirius has been forthcoming himself.
He wonders if Sirius is expecting him to make the next move; if romance is a little bit like chess in that regard.
He blushes hotly, even though there's no one to see him, and presses The Fellowship down on his face. He shouldn't have thought of it as a romance. There's nothing romantic about wanting to kiss your best mate.
And that's the scary, dark heart of it: Remus does want to kiss Sirius back. It's just not something he's ever wanted to think about because it's such a colossally stupid idea. Sirius can do better, and Remus doesn't like the idea of being stranger than he already is.
He sighs and sits up, dropping the book into his lap. Maybe he should go for a walk.
"Remus," calls his mother from downstairs then. "Remus, honey!"
“Yes, honey,” comes Sirius’s voice, sickly-sweet. “We want to talk to you!”
Remus freezes. It’s as if he’s summoned Sirius there.
“Yeah, one moment,” he yells back, and scrambles to his feet, dropping The Fellowship to the floor. He checks his reflection hastily in the mirror – his hair is sticking up on one side of his head, and he’s still in his pajamas. Then he realizes he’s being ridiculous; it’s just Sirius, Sirius who has seen him in all states of undress and illness and still seems to like him.
James is there too, when Remus comes down. Remus isn’t sure if he feels relieved or annoyed.
“Moony!” says Sirius brightly. He throws his arms around Remus as soon as Remus gets within reach, and doesn’t seem to notice the way Remus tenses. “We’ve come to rescue you!”
“Rescue me?” says Remus dryly. He wonders if it’s worth the effort of trying to disentangle himself from Sirius.
Remus’s mother laughs a bit. She’s standing in the middle of the living room, hands clasped together tightly in front of her. She looks nervous, but Remus knows that’s more a function of her always being anxious when they have guests – they have guests so rarely – than of her being anxious about Sirius and James in particular. His mum is even more grateful to Sirius and James for being Remus's friends than Remus is, and she would probably let them take him to Brazil if the mood struck them.
James smiles at him.
“Just for the next day or so. I’ve got four tickets to the Falcons – Wasps match tomorrow.”
“Originally he just had two,” says Sirius mournfully. He rests his chin on Remus’s shoulder and blinks up at him prettily. “But I told him it wouldn’t be properly fun without you and Wormtail.”
James turns red and he shrugs awkwardly. “I just reckoned Pete and Moony would want to be spending time with their family. They see enough of our ugly mugs the rest of the year.”
There’s something a bit off about James’s response. He isn’t usually one to blush and dissemble, unless he thinks it will get him out of detention.
“I thought we’d agreed we weren’t spending money on gifts this year,” says Remus.
“We aren’t! This is my parents’ gift to me. They’re taking me and three of my best mates to a Quidditch game, and a finer gift I’ve never received.”
Sirius blows in Remus’s ear.
“What are you –”
“So will you come?” asks Sirius. “You miss our ugly mugs, don’t you?”
Remus rolls his eyes. “Mum?” he asks.
“Of course, dear!” she says immediately. “Go pack something for overnight, and I’ll make you something to eat before you leave. James, Sirius, would you like anything?”
Remus winces on the inside and pulls himself out of Sirius’s grasp to go change and pack a bag. He wonders if his mother really wants him to go, or if it’s just her usual tendency to put Remus’s happiness above her own.
And he would be just as happy staying here, he tells himself as he changes. But that’s mostly a lie. He’s never been to a professional Quidditch game before.
Chapter 23: December 23
Peter’s in a great mood.
He has butterbeer and roasted nuts. He’s with his friends, at a Quidditch game, and it’s snowing just enough that it’ll make the game interesting, but not enough to make it hard to see.
The games has yet to start. There are still people filing into the stadium. James and Sirius to his right are squabbling over something, and to his left, Remus has been staring at the same page of his book for the past five minutes. But Peter feels buoyed by holiday spirit, fond of his friends and their idiosyncrasies. A few rows behind them, someone’s singing lewd Christmas carols. Sirius breaks off from his shin-kicking battle with James to join in, and Peter finds himself humming along as well:
“Oh come all ye perverts. Come and have an orgy!”
Remus closes his book and reaches across Peter to swat at Sirius.
“Oh, have a sense of humor for once, Moony,” laughs Sirius, swatting back at Remus. And Peter suddenly finds himself in the middle of a tussle. He considers escaping and stealing Sirius’s seat next to James.
Then suddenly, there’s a small explosion and a burst of smoke from the Falcons’ supporters’ section, on the other side of the stadium.
James looks suddenly tense. He leans forward, shoulders held straight, and flings his arm out to the side, as if he's stopping the three of them from crossing a busy Muggle street.
"Everything all right there, Prongs?" asks Sirius. He sounds amused. But he looks a little sharper, a little more intent now, too, picking up on the seriousness of James's stress with whatever best friend psychic link it is they share.
James doesn't answer for a long moment. He stares at the Falcons' supporters' section, and the smoke is starting to clear out. Even from here, Peter can see the sheepish looks on some of the fans’ faces.
“Looks like one of their fireworks went off early,” says Remus, sounding amused. “I thought those were banned.”
"Yeah, they are," says James eventually. He smiles in a way that feels a bit forced. "Doesn’t keep people from smuggling them in though."
Peter and Remus exchange looks. Neither of them believe him, and it's clear Sirius doesn't either.
"You know we're here for you, Prongsiekins. Whatever it is, you can share."
"Shut up, Padfoot," huffs James. He grabs the game programme from Sirius and busies himself with looking at. "Ooh, Esme Weatherwax is refereeing. Ace! She's a tough old bird."
"How do you know the names of the referees?" mutters Remus.
James sticks his tongue out at him. "You're the one who knows Elvish."
"What?" says Peter, feeling lost. "Like House Elves? They have their own language?"
"Probably," says Remus. "But Prongs is referring to a fictional language, which I don't speak."
"He could if he wanted to though," says Sirius, leaning back in order to reach behind Peter and brush his fingers against Remus's shoulder. "Smart lad, our Moony."
Remus turns bright red and garbles something unintelligently. Peter feels even more lost, and James has gone back to staring at the Falcons' supporters' section. They've been chanting nonstop and the game hasn't even started, but then again, the Wasps' fans have been doing the same. So Peter doesn't know why James seems so perturbed.
"Who're we cheering for, lads?" he asks brightly, trying to direct the conversation back to something he can understand.
"Wasps," says James immediately, turning back to face them. His eyes glint maniacally. "Falcons are third in the table right now, but if they drop points here, they'll probably drop to fifth, considering the Tornados and the Harpies both have easy matches tonight and they're right on the Falcons' heels. And I'd hate to see the Falcons in Europe again next season, bloody lot of thugs. It'd be terrible representation of British Quidditch."
Sirius yawns. "Didn't one of England's chasers get sent off last World Cup for pulling an axe on Peru's keeper?"
"Yes. So? What's international play got to do with the European Championship?"
Sirius smirks. "I'm just saying, maybe the Falcons wouldn't be such bad representation after all."
James huffs and shoves at Sirius, which sends Sirius knocking into Peter and Peter into Remus. There's another scuffle, and it ends with Sirius in a headlock.
"Who're you rooting for, Padfoot?" demands James, tightening his grip.
Sirius makes a face and scrabbles ineffectively at James's side.
"Wasps," he admits. "My family loves the Falcons."
Remus hums to Peter's left.
"I think I'll support the Falcons today."
James lets go of Sirius's head, and Sirius nearly thumps to the ground before catching himself.
"Are you out of your mind?" sputters James. "That's – that's!"
Remus bursts into laughter, and Peter has to laugh too. Remus nudges him in the ribs.
"They're far too defensive when it comes to Quidditch. Aren't they, Wormtail?"
Peter grins. "They've just so little else in their lives to give them meaning. Must be sad."
"You," says James sternly, glaring at Remus, "are a terrible man."
"I can't help it. I am a dark creature after all."
"Poppycock," snorts James. He leans across Sirius and raps Peter on the knees. "What about you? You're rooting for the Wasps, right?"
"Er," says Peter. He blushes. As much as he appreciates Remus's ribbing of James and Sirius, he hates to let James down. "Falcons winning would actually be better for my Arrows."
James looks deeply affronted.
"Shame!" he cries. He flops across Sirius. "Shame! We've been betrayed, Padfoot, old pal. We've been shockingly, terrifyingly, totally betrayed. What meaning friendship! What meaning brotherhood! What meaning Marauders! That I should live so long as to see times like this!”
"Shut up!" says Sirius. He shoves James off his lap and to the ground. "Match is starting!"
Sure enough, the referee has taken the field, sprigs of holly in her hair in deference to the season. Behind her, follow the teams. The announcer almost can't be heard as he says the players' names.
James climbs back onto the bench and starts a running commentary of his own.
"That's Dahlia Montgomery on the Wasps. She almost transferred to the Harpies last season, but the Wasps upped her contract something massive. All that brinkmanship put a bit of a sour taste in the fans' mouths, yeah? But she's a bloody excellent keeper. She's probably going to challenge for Colt's spot on the national team next summer."
James points to the Falcons’ seeker next.
"And that's Salvador Gutierrez. He's Spanish, and Muggleborn, actually, even though he plays for the Falcons. Falcons wouldn't let anyone who wasn't pureblood play for them until the 60s when the Ministry made them. Honestly, it's better for them in the long run. Talent comes from anywhere. Anyway, he's apparently quite a good footie player, too. He has this crazy stunt where he'll pretend to see the snitch in the crowds and go diving in. It freaks people out, and the other seeker always freaks out and freezes."
"That sounds dangerous," say Remus mildly.
"Oh, it definitely is. He smashed the stands in the Arrows match last March something terrible. And oh - there's Mad Maxwell Parker! Did you know - "
James continues on in that vein even past the starting whistle. It's only until Sirius clamps his hand over James's mouth that he quiets.
"And Parker to Neuer, Neuer to Cevasco, Cevasco back to Parker and - ooooh! Bludger to the head from Falcons' beater Dijkstra! And Andrews has the Quaffle! He's flying low! It's taking some time for the Wasps to intercept him! And - no! Crosby sends a bludger spinning past him. It's a near miss but Andrews seems unfazed! And oh - what a swoop upwards! That's the new Cleansweep Three he's flying on, and look at the control! And now he's - he's taking a shot and! No! Blocked by Montgomery! That's why they pay her the big galleons, lads and ladies! What. A. Save!"
The Wasp side of the stadium erupts in cheers, and James shoves his fingers into his mouth and whistles with ear-aching loudness.
Peter grins. This is way more exciting than the House matches.
The game is frenetic, the pace break-neck. And James starts up his commentary again soon after the Wasps score first to talk tactics and formations and, “Look how Parker and Neuer and Cevasco keep their shape? Even when they’re above or below each other? They weren’t doing that last year. Their new manager knows his stuff.”
The Wasps score three rapid goals in succession, bringing up the score to 40-0. But then the Falcons’ beaters – “the best two in the League,” if James is “being honest” – break up the Wasps’ formation and the Falcons control the Quaffle for a twenty-minute stretch that sees the score almost even out.
It’s like that for the next hour and a half, always almost evening out but with the Wasps maintaining a fine but constant advantage. It’s going to be a seeker’s game, and the two seekers circle high and hawk-like above the fray, with only the occasional dive.
Then, when the score is 120-100, Wasps in lead, and Peter’s starting to lose feeling in his feet, Salvador Gutierrez dives directly into the Wasps’ supporters’ section.
There’s a loud outcry and someone near Peter shouts something about poor gamesmanship – “Diving into the other teams’ section! I’ve never!” Even a couple of Gutierrez’s teammates look more annoyed than amused.
And then Gutierrez flies upward, smirking, arm stretched out above him. In his hand, shining dimly in the dying light of the afternoon, is the Snitch.
The crowd goes silent.
Then, from the back of the Wasps’ section, comes flashing a bright, green light. Someone screams. The spell hits Gutierrez’s broom and sends half of it flying off, and then the seeker is careening downwards, his broom cut in half.
“Not from there,” Peter hears James say, sounding stunned.
Another two spells come hurtling from the crowd – but these Peter can recognize. One to slow Gutierrez’s spell, and the other is Protego, shielding the player from harm.
The Wasps’ supporter section, Peter realizes, is in chaos. They’re not far from the section, and it’s easy to tell there’s a fight happening. Black-robed masked men are wrestling with the supporters. There are more curses, though none of them green, and that’s when it hits Peter. It was the killing curse. Someone tried to kill a Quidditch player.
“We should go,” says Remus, standing up. Sirius leans across Peter and yanks Remus down.
“No – we’re only going to get stuck in the mob. We’re safest here.”
Peter sits frozen between them. It’s strange that Sirius is the one being reasonable, he thinks, in a weird, distant way. Everything seems like it’s happening very slowly. All the players are landing. The game’s over.
A misdirected spell goes hurtling from the fight and nearly misses Peter’s head. And then he moves, dropping into the space in front of him, between their row of bleachers and the next. Above him, Sirius is grabbing Remus and shoving him down to.
The four of them huddle there for a moment, and the crowd around them surges in fear and confusion.
Someone runs across the bench, and Peter glances up. It’s one of the masked figures, clearly seeing an escape route. The other masked figures are fleeing too. It’s impossible to apparate inside a stadium. They’re all running.
And that’s when Peter catches it, distinct and unmistakable, the smell of dungbombs.
Severus is hungry. He hasn’t had much to eat the last few days; the house is almost empty. And maybe it’s that old sense of want and ache that sends him down a familiar but now abandoned path.
The Evans’ house is a neat cottage on the opposite end of Cokeworth from Spinnet’s End. It looks cozy and warm in the falling evening. And then Lily’s horsefaced sister steps out the door, ruining the effect.
Severus goes still.
It takes her a moment to notice; she’s busy fumbling with a cigarette and a lighter. But when she does, her eyes go narrow.
“What are you looking at, freak?” hisses Lily’s sister. It’s the first time they’ve interacted in year; Severus got good at avoiding her when he visited Lily. She wrinkles her nose. “And what is that smell? Is that you?”
Severus stares at her. His hand closes around his wand. It would be so simple to kill her, he thinks. It would only take two words, and she would crumble. She would deserve it. It might even make Lily happy; Severus knows how terrible Lily’s sister is to her. It would be hard to prove it was him, too. The Muggles certainly wouldn’t be able to do it, and most of the time the Ministry is too stupid to realize when a Muggle’s been killed by a wizard. That’s what Bellatrix says, and Bellatrix is mad, but Severus believes her.
Lily’s sister must see something of what Severus is thinking, because her expression shifts, turns wary.
“I’ll tell Lily you’re out here,” she sniffs, stubbing out her cigarette.
“There’s no need to,” says Severus, and his voice sounds creaky even to his own ears. He’s barely spoken to anyone since the break started. He hasn’t seen anyone since the ceremony, and his forearm still throbs a bit from the mark. “She won’t want to see me.”
Lily’s sister opens her mouth like she’s about to say something else cutting and rude. But she stops, and Severus wonders if she remembers the first summer after he and Lily had gone to Hogwarts. Lily’s sister had slapped her, and anger like a snake had come whipping out of Severus and pushed Lily’s sister to the ground. That was the problem with Muggles; they were jealous and stupid and cruel. And they had no idea how weak and pathetic they really were. His grip tightens on his wand.
“Well,” sniffs Lily’s sister. “Well.” She turns and walks back to her house.
Severus watches her go, his hand around his wand the entire time. He could do it. He could strike her down, like a vengeful god. She wouldn’t even see it coming.
She gets to the door and he relaxes his grip. He doesn’t want his first death to be a defenseless woman, killed while her back was to him.
“That boy is out there,” hisses Petunia. She looks rattled.
“What boy?” asks Lily in a bored tone. “Are you referring to that rhinoceros you call a boyfriend?”
Petunia sneers at her. “At least I have a boyfriend. You just have a stringy-haired stalker.”
“Truly,” says Lily, flipping a page of her book, “it is a race to the bottom.” Her curiosity is piqued though, and she fixes Petunia with a look. “What boy though?”
“What boy do you think?” asks Petunia, like Lily’s an imbecile. “That freak from Spinner’s End.”
“Severus is outside?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t? He’s being his usual creepy self.”
“What is he doing here?” demands Lily.
“I didn’t ask him! He’s your friend.”
“He’s not my friend,” snaps Lily. She puts down her book and stands. “Not anymore.”
She leaves the room before Petunia can respond. Even after their last, terrible fight, there are times when she still misses Severus’s friendship. She’ll hear his dry commentary in his mind when she’s reading the Prophet. She’ll want to get his thoughts on a tricky potions recipe, or use his encyclopedic knowledge for help with the crossword.
It’s Christmas Eve, maybe she could forgive him.
But when she opens the door, there’s no one outside. Just a few rapidly disappearing footsteps in the snow.
"Cousin!" says Bellatrix, sliding into the seat next to Regulus and draping her arm around his shoulders. "It seems you've finally gotten that stench off your clothes."
"Yes. Kreacher did a very thorough job. I'm very pleased."
From the corner of his eye, he sees Kreacher puff out his chest a little, clearly having overhead Regulus' comment. It's enough to make up for the way Bellatrix waves her hand dismissively. Around them, their family is congealing into smaller groups to digest their dinner and talk. Kreacher and their other house elves are clearing the table, as surreptitiously as possible.
"You shouldn't talk about the help like that, Reggie. It only makes them think they're better than they are."
"Right," says Regulus, biting his tongue. It doesn't do to argue with Bellatrix. He squirms a bit under her arm and her nails - sharp and painted red, she's always had such a sense of drama - dig into his arm.
"I heard you went to a Quidditch game yesterday."
Regulus blanches. It had been her brother-in-law's idea to go. It was supposed to have just been a joke, but, like the time with the girl at the lake, things had swiftly gotten out of hand. Regulus half-suspects that had been the plan all along, and the smug look on Bella's face firms up that suspicion.
"I did," is all he says. He'd bolted first, when things got hairy. He feels a little bad about that, especially since McNabb had almost gotten caught. But he hadn't wanted anything to do with it in the first place. He didn't want to kill some dumb Quidditch player just because they were Muggleborn and played for what should have been a pureblood team.
"How was it?" asks Bella, caressing his shoulder.
"It was fine."
"Mmm," purrs Bella. "Well Rabastan tells me he was very impressed with you."
“I don’t see why he would be,” says Regulus.
Bellatrix laughs and digs her nails in again. He’s not sure if it’s meant to be affectionate or threatening. Knowing Bellatrix, likely both.
“You shouldn’t underestimate yourself, Reggie,” she coos. “I think you have a lot of potential. I tell you what, before break ends, how about you and I have a talk?”
Regulus gulps at his wineglass to buy himself a moment. He’s never minded Bellatrix. They normally don’t interact that much, but since Sirius’s defection, he’s borne the brunt of her attention at family gatherings. It feels like a tightening noose.
“Aren’t we talking now?”
Bella laughs and rises to her feet gracefully.
“After the new year, Reggie. Enjoy the rest of the party.”
Regulus nods and slumps in his seat. He wonders how long he has to stay at the party before he can graciously decamp to his room. Almost everyone’s attention has shifted to Cissy, cooing over her ring and asking about her wedding plans. She and Malfoy are honeymooning in Nice, apparently. But Regulus knows that as soon as he makes a move out of the dining hall, his mother will descend.
He thinks wistfully of Christmases when he’s younger, when he and Sirius and Cissy were banished to the children’s table and allowed their own fun. Sometimes Dromeda would sit with them, or show up afterwards to tell them stories or sneak them on walks into Muggle London.
But Sirius and Dromeda aren’t part of the family any more, and Cissy’s getting married. The only cousin who wants anything to do with Regulus is Bellatrix.
“Sleep well, Dora,” says Sirius. He leans over and kisses her nose, and she giggles and turns it into a pig snout.
“Very charming.” Sirius ruffles her hair. She has it long and dark at the moment, probably Dromeda’s doing, because Dora seems bent on turning it neon orange at every opportunity. “Thank you for having me for dinner.”
“You’re welcome,” says Dora, as gravely as her four-year-old self can manage. And then she ruins it by bursting into giggles.
“Happy Christmas, Dora,” he says, kissing her nose again.
“Happy Christmas, Sirius,” she chirps, snuggling into her bed. “Now go away! I need to sleep! Tomorrow’s Christmas!”
Sirius laughs and leaves her. He comes downstairs to an argument. Ted is brandishing what looks like an overlarge sock at Andromeda.
“It’s ridiculous, Ted!” says Andromeda. “Who’s seriously going to believe a fat man flies around the world – in one day – giving presents to every child. There’s no such thing as a flying reindeer! Maybe if it were a thestral, but even then!”
“Ridiculous? We’re wizards, Dromeda! We went to a school in a castle with moving staircases and ghosts! Our daughter is a bloody shapeshifter! How is Santa Claus such an impossibility?”
Andromeda crosses her arms over her chest and huffs.
“What do you think Sirius?” she demands, turning to him.
“Oh, I think I’m staying out of it,” laughs Sirius.
Andromeda scoffs at him. “Coward. Some Gryffindor you are.” She turns back to Ted, back straight and eyes flashing. “She’s starting to get too old for it, Ted.”
“But she’s not too old for it yet!” insists Ted, his Father Christmas hat sliding off his curls. He softens his gaze and takes Andromeda’s hands gently. “Come on, love. It’s tradition.”
Sirius and Andromeda exchange a look, and Sirius wonders if she’s thinking similarly to him. How strange it is that tradition – a word that has always been an oppressive weight to Sirius, a sharp word, a weapon of a word – can sound so warm and soft coming from Ted. As if tradition were an old sweater rather than a vise.
Andromeda sighs, and Ted’s eyes light up, knowing he’s won.
“Fine,” she says, leaning into her husband. “But we’re having this argument again next year.”
Ted kisses her. “I’m looking forward to it.”
A wave of want hits Sirius. He wants this – the push and the pull, the quarrels and easy intimacy and compromises. He thinks about Remus, and he needs to do something about that, something more than just teasing and poking. He wants to do something more about that.
“Oh, Merlin. We’re embarrassing poor Sirius,” says Andromeda. “Look, he’s blushing.”
“No – I’m. I’m not embarrassed. I just thought of something all of the sudden.”
“Oh?” Andromeda raises her eyebrows.
Sirius shakes his head. “No, it’s nothing. I’m going to go.” He grins. “You two seem pretty pre-occupied.”
Andromeda pulls away from Ted and hugs Sirius tightly.
“Thank you so much for coming for dinner,” she says, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “It was good to see you.”
Sirius hugs her back, feeling warm. “It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.” He grins. “Us black sheep have to stick together, after all.”
Andromeda laughs and lets him go.
Ted hugs him, too, and they both load him up with food, despite his protests that, “the Potters feed me you know!”
Andromeda kisses his cheek once more and then releases him, finally, into the night.
He has a sense of direction, finally; he has a plan.
Happy Christmas Eve from balmy, sixty-degree California! The final part will be up tomorrow lateish morning or early afternoon my time. To those of who've already celebrated, I hope you had wonderful days and will have a peaceful post-holiday. For those of you yet to celebrate, I hope your day is merry, lovely, and bright.
Thanks everyone for reading along. I hope you've had as much fun as I have. <3
Chapter 25: December 25
Merry Christmas everyone. :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Around four, just as the shadows are getting long outside, Remus hears a crash from upstairs.
He and his parents all jump to their feet, and Remus's book thumps to the ground. It’s a handsome, leather bound tome on dark creatures of Eastern Europe, his Christmas present from his parents along with a bar of chocolate and a thick pair of socks.
His father has his wand out; both Remus's parents were shaken by the events at the Quidditch game, more than Remus even.
“It’s just me!” yells Sirius’s voice from Remus’s room up the stairs. “Sorry! Ow, bloody – sorry! It’s Sirius!”
Remus’s parents both look at him, and Remus blushes.
“I’ll just, ah, go check on that,” he says, and he picks up his book and flees up the stairs.
“What are you doing here?” he demands when he gets to his room. Sirius is tangled in his curtains, his broomstick sticking half out the window. Surprisingly, James is nowhere in sight. Sirius came alone.
Sirius beams at him.
"Happy Christmas to you as well, Moony, light of my heart, song of my soul."
Remus huffs, trying not to laugh, and goes to Sirius to help him untangle from the curtains. Sirius grabs his wrist and grins at him brightly, sending a little thrill down Remus's spine. It's been awhile since they've been alone together.
"You know, most people just send an owl or floo when they want to wish someone Happy Christmas."
"That's true," agrees Sirus genially, hand still circling Remus's wrist. "But who says I'm here to just wish you Happy Christmas?"
"Oh?" says Remus. He pulls his arm away from Sirius gently and tucks his hands into his pockets, to better pre-empt future advances.
Sirius grins more broadly and flourishes two coupons from Remus's coupon book at him. Remus takes them tentatively and reads them. The first, unmistakably in his own writing, reads, “Permission to bother Remus at his place of residence when-so-ever the holder of this coupon sees fit, regardless of the time of day or night.” The second was blank but now reads, in Sirius’s spiky hand, “a proper snog”.
Remus’s lips twitch. His mouth feels very dry.
“That second coupon seems a bit coercive, doesn’t it?”
"Shouldn't have given me blank coupons then, should you have?" says Sirius, attempting archness, but the look on his face is anxious.
Remus studies his carpet. It's a good carpet. Green, durable.
"I don't understand what all this is about," he says, sounding much more vulnerable than he would like.
“Remus,” says Sirius. He places his hand on Remus’s shoulder, and his thumb brushes Remus’s neck. Remus looks up at him. “Moony. This isn’t, this isn’t some bloody prank. Prongs didn’t put me up to this. I’m dead –” He wrinkles his nose. “Serious. I like you. And I think, I think you might like me too.”
He looks at Remus intently, and Remus looks back. It’s like all the different Siriuses – the merry prankster, the haughty scion, the petulant rebel, his terrible need and his terrible anger, his phosphorescent brilliance and endless devotion suddenly, finally click all into place. And Remus feels like the person looking at him is Sirius, all of Sirius, and the man that Sirius is becoming. It’s a life-splitting moment, he realizes, a point of inflection. Whatever happens here will determine the course of everything else.
“Well, I guess you're all right,” he says, stunned.
Sirius lets out a bark of laughter, and his hand curls around the back of Remus’s neck.
“You’re such a bloody dunce,” he says. Fondness lights up his face, turns his cutting features warm and soft.
“Terrible thing you’re carrying a torch for me then.”
“Mmhmm,” agrees Sirius. He’s very close, practically nose to nose. Remus can count the individual eyelashes that make up the soft, dark fringe around Sirius’s eyes. His heart hammers. “Very terrible.”
He kisses Remus.
Remus kisses back.
It's a slow, tentative kiss. Remus hasn't had much practice at kissing, and he doesn't think Sirius has either. But it's brilliant. Sirius makes a soft noise and presses in closer to Remus, one hand still on the back of Remus's hip and the other curling around his hip. Remus runs his hands up Sirius's sides gently and Sirius shivers a bit. That's brilliant, too.
“Why’d you decide to do this now?” asks Remus, when they finally pull away. He's more than a bit dazed.
“Because I couldn’t wait until New Year’s Eve. And it’s not very romantic to kiss someone for the first time on December the bloody 28th.”
Remus laughs loudly. "This isn't the first time you've snogged me though," he points out.
Sirius makes a face, jutting out his chin haughtily.
"That other time didn't count. That was just... exploratory. This was proper."
“Don’t be specious,” protests Remus.
“Oh, it’s not fair to use the dictionary on me, Moony. It only gets me hot and bothered.”
“Get bent,” laughs Remus.
Sirius grins crookedly and grabs the front of Remus’s shirt. He tugs him forward into another kiss, and Remus lets him. It’s deeper this time, and harder. Something new and wonderful bursts in Remus’s chest. Right then, at that moment, everything seems so simple, so much simpler than he ever thought things could be. The petty quarrels, the strained silences, the way he and Sirius have danced around each other for months, all fall away.
It seems possible that everything else could be simple, too, that the darkness of their times and the anger and fear might fall away too.
“Remus, honey!” calls his mother, and he and Sirius start apart. “Invite Sirius down for hot chocolate! I’ve put the kettle on!”
They both laugh nervously and look at each other.
“Would you like to come down for hot chocolate?” asks Remus politely.
Sirius beams and leans forward. “I’d love to.”
Remus grins and laces his fingers with Sirius’s. He kisses Sirius this time.
It’s another two minutes of kissing before Remus’s mother yells again. They break apart and tumble down the stairs, high-spirited and laughing.
Outside, it’s snowing and the sun has dipped below the horizon, but Remus’s house is lit warm and yellow, bright against the dark.
If you're asking yourself, Wait, but what did everyone else give as gifts? Fear not, I have now answered that question here.