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"Sirius," and Peter ducked, "what are you doing?"

James waved his hand in front of his nose, wrinkling it. "That smells like a fireplace," he told Sirius, coughing a little. "What the bloody hell are you doing?"

Sirius concentrated, and waved his wand, muttering something. The rolled up parchment went "poof" in a puff of purple smoke, disappeared, and reappeared right over Peter's head, where it promptly hit him, bouncing to the floor. "Well, the teleportation works," he mumbled, glancing over at his notes - yet another crumpled piece of parchment - "but it's not blue."

Peter and James looked at each other. "All right," Peter said, picking up the parchment ball casually, "What are you doing? Look, we're all paying attention, best you just confess--"

"Leave off," Sirius grumbled, "I'm trying to concentrate."

James shook his head slightly, disbelief on his face. "You smell like a fireplace," he repeated, "and your robes are covered in soot."

Sirius suddenly pointed his wand right at Peter, and Peter backed up in alarm. "Hey!" Peter tossed the parchment ball right at Sirius's head, but Sirius caught it easily. He put it on the table, waved his wand a little differently, muttered something else--

--and the parchment went "poof", disappeared in a puff of blue smoke, and reappeared above James' Arithmancy notes. The only problem was that it had caught fire, and the flames were currently threatening to spread to the work James had spread out in front of him. "Oi!!" James yelled, putting the parchment out by waving his wand and knocking his glass of water all over them and himself. "I've been working on those for an hour!"

Sirius ignored him, knowing full well James had written the assignment up in the last five minutes and the rest of the parchment was doodling. He said to himself, "right, well, that kink can be worked out later--"

"What," and James shook the parchment out vigorously, ignoring Peter's protests as he got Peter all wet - "are you doing?"

"Maybe--" Sirius crumpled up another parchment ball, eyed it carefully, then did his thing again. James watched, annoyed. The ball went "bamf," disappeared in a puff of blue smoke--

and didn't reappear. "Huh," Sirius said.

Peter rolled his eyes. "I don't understand you," he told Sirius, and turned to James. "Do you have any idea what this loony is about?"

"For once, no," James answered. He shook his head violently, and scratched his scalp. "But I think I have soot in my hair."

"Well, I'd better go find out where it teleported to, hadn't I?" Sirius mumbled to himself, standing up and stretching. "I'll see you fellows later." He strolled away, looking in every corner and pausing only to ask a younger girl if she'd seen a wadded up piece of parchment appear.

"Loony," Peter mumbled, shaking his head. "Off his rocker."

James nodded, still pursing his lips over his now very soggy notes. The ink wasn't running too badly, but a few sheets were going to have to be recopied. "You're not wrong," he said.

"Speaking of loony," and Remus came toddling into the portrait hole. Peter leaned over to James, saying, "are you sure we shouldn't tell him we've figured it--"

"we've figured--"

"--all right, you and Sirius have figured--"

"Hello chaps," Remus said, and sat down. "What are you doing?"

James hastily tucked his Astronomy charts - covered in doodles of the prank they were planning on playing on Wednesday - out of sight under his Transfiguration homework. "Homework, my dear lad," James said, "or at least Peter was, and I was trying to figure out our next illustrious caper--"

Remus rolled his eyes. "Homework, do you even know what that is, James?" Peter ducked in between them, to grab another book, which effectively halted the argument brewing. "And this prank," Remus said, drawing his eyebrows together, "am I going to have to tell you off about it when you're done?"

"Come off it," James said impatiently. "When have you ever told us off?"

Peter held a hand up, ticking off points. "When we nearly set the Common Room drapes on fire. When you and Sirius nearly set the dining table in the Great Hall on fire. When we stayed out all night and slopped lake-water in the entry-way because Sirius decided that it would be a fun time to go swimming last October at the new moon--"

"--which time Remus was in attendance, prat, so how could he give us detention then, anyway--"

"The time you and Sirius snuck down to the dungeons for the express purpose of putting up "Where Are My Bollocks?" posters with Snape's face on them--"

"--which he helped us make, I'll have you know--"

Remus sat down beneath the open Common Room window, a good distance away from James and Peter's bickering. It was OWL year tension, he figured, and good riddance to them - he'd been feeling it a lot sooner than those clowns, so if James or Sirius were finally feeling pressured about something, exams or not, it might teach them a lesson.

"--and then you mixed raven's wing with unicorn hair and made those fireworks that stayed in the dorm room for two weeks--"

Speaking of Sirius. Remus called out, "Where has Sirius got to?"

Peter was ducking as James hurled a thick little book at his head, and answered, "he went to see about a piece of crumpled up parchment."

"Er, right." Remus shook his head. As far as Sirius's behaviour went, it wasn't the most obscure thing he'd heard the boy do. "Would you two mind keeping it down? I'm trying to study."

James sniffed. "Come on, only dull-wits are studying on such a nice winter day, surely you know all there is to know already."

Lily Evans, who'd been sitting in a corner, stared at James balefully. "Shut up," and she held out her Potions textbook. "He's not the only one."

James immediately went still, quiet, while Peter snickered behind a hand. Lily went to go for a wand, and the two of them fled the Common Room.

"May I ask something?" Remus said to her, cautiously.

Lily glared at him. "You may not."

"Fair enough," and he went back to staring at his textbook, which might as well have been in Latin. In all fairness, the few years of Latin he'd had at primary school might have made it easier. "Can I ask about the Potions assignment then?"

Lily rolled her eyes again, but came over to sit with him grudgingly. Remus heaved a thankful sigh, and let James' not-girlfriend-except-in-the-way-he-desperately-wanted-her-to-be sort out his essay.

~

The cauldron began to smoke again.

Remus sniffed carefully; goddamned Sirius, who'd taken this period off to grow boils all along his right arm. "More salamander?" James said brightly.

Remus sighed. "Couldn't hurt." He carefully dropped a few more salamander feet into the cauldron and it started to froth; at this point, they were most assuredly failing so he didn't much care whether the potion was more a brick red than a crimson. Not when it should have been greeny-yellow, anyway. "What are you doing?"

James held out a carefully folded envelope full of Billywig stings. Remus rolled his eyes. Oh. "They might come in handy," James said, shrugging.

"You can buy those, you know," Remus told him. "And then you wouldn't be caught with a pocketful."

"I'm not caught, am I?" and James winked as Professor Slughorn called for them to halt. "Better hide the last of them, there," and James tucked another - more peppery smelling - envelope into Remus's books just as the teacher came by.

"And what," he asked, "is this?"

Remus was spared from answering by James clumsily-not-at-all-by-accident spilling a vial of live beetles all over the desk. "I'm so sorry!" James yelped, hopping about and trying to catch the beetles. The action had the opposite effect; whereas before they were quite content to scuttle around the relatively small work area, with James scooping - or attempting to scoop - them up, they were making a mad dash for the door.

"Stop, stop!" Professor Slughorn said, alarmed. He shook his head, and added, "you two, you two! I hate to do it, but you both could use a detention."

James said, "look, Remus didn't--"

"You can spend it outside, tomorrow night," Slughorn said, as if he were giving them some kind of grand concession. He zapped the beetles, collecting them back up. "As Mr. Lupin had nothing to do with the beetles, he may go one out of two nights."

James caught up to Peter in the hallway. "That was downright mean of old Slughorn," he said.

Remus shrugged. "Are you surprised?" He pulled back on Peter's robes, jerking him backwards and effectively halting his rushed progress down the hall. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

"It's still not fair," James said, as if he hadn't heard a spot of what was going on. "You didn't even know I was going to tip over that vial."

Peter answered, "Meeting up with--"

"And detention?" James went on. "You're a prefect, he shouldn't be giving you detentions. Anymore."

Peter gave up, looking at Remus and rolling his eyes. "I'm off," Peter said, and ducked around the corridor.

"He shouldn't," Remus agreed, because he wasn't going to argue. He was a prefect, and technically shouldn't be getting into trouble. "But then, I should know better than to trust you to keep me out of trouble, shouldn't I?"

James started rummaging through his bag. "Probably." He pulled out a pouch, triumphant. "Ah hah!"

"I'm not going to want to ask what's in that, am I?" Remus said, warily. It was a common occurrence, James coming up with some weird and exotic - and usually poisonous, scratchy, or otherwise unpleasant - thing. James had a habit of 'losing' said things often, as well, and they found themselves in the damndest places. The prefects' bathrooms. The kitchens. The front entry.

"Relax," James said, "it's nothing awful. Simple pinking powder."

"What?"

"Pinking powder," he repeated. They were on the way to dinner, and Remus' stomach growled. "I made it last hols. It turns things, well, pink."

Remus faked a yawn. "That one's been done to death, mate."

James rounded on him. "I bet I can find a new way to use it!" He looked at Remus, sly. "Besides. Shouldn't you be telling me off, scolding me? Look at that badge on your robes, all shiny and--"

"What's shiny?" Sirius said, and Remus nearly jumped out of his skin. While he and James were arguing, their feet had taken them to the dining hall of their own free accord, and Remus had found himself sitting down with Sirius looming behind him.

"Remus' prefects' badge." James passed over a platter of dumplings. "He put it through the bath with him this morning."

"Planning on blinding you with it next Quidditch match," Remus answered, readily enough. "Ta," and he took the dumplings.

Sirius sat down beside Remus, leaning into him just a little bit. "Are you taking all your duties seriously, m'darling?" he asked, and shoved Remus.

James rolled his eyes. Remus chewed on a dumpling. Sirius had taken to calling him ridiculous pet names in public; Remus had drawn the line at 'my little doxy'. Sirius had claimed it was to try and get their friends, at least, semi-acclimatised to the idea they were seeing each other. Remus still wasn't quite sure how the status of 'seeing each other' was at all different - at least in James' eyes - than not. Even despite their amazingly lengthy period of 'seeing each other' (nearly a year, even off and on, it was practically a scandal) it really didn't have much effect on either of their lives. Sirius had argued that it was important to show something had changed, Remus had argued back that nothing had except they were fooling around, and so why the pet names; that was when Sirius had countered with 'doxy'.

"--think about your punishment?"

James sighed. "It's either going to be some horrid task like gardening, or something in the Forbidden Forest." He grinned, sneakily. "I wouldn't mind that," he said, low. "Can't wait to explore it ourselves, you know?"

Remus jerked out of his mindless eating. "What?"

"Nothing," Sirius said, hastily. Remus looked at him. "We might have had a breakthrough in a little spell," he added. Remus looked at him. "That we've been working on for nearly three years." Remus looked at him. "To, um. becomeanimagi."

Remus looked at him.

~

"We're sorry we didn't tell you earlier that James got so close," Peter said, earnestly. "They really weren't sure, and they were going to surprise you at the end of the week when Sirius was positive it was going to work--"

"I'm not angry," Remus said, and sighed. He felt like he spent his entire life trying to explain away one of two things: either why he was in league with Sirius and James to other people, or why he wouldn't be in league with them, no, this was too much, to them. "I'm just, surprised."

"You're really not cross?"

Peter was wincing a little, and so Remus tried to give him a smile. "I'm not."

"All right then," and he got up. "I'd speak about it with Sirius, he thinks you're cross."

"Does he now." Remus watched Peter go. He wasn't cross; how could someone be cross with three people who were trying to make your quality of life go from horrid to tolerable? To possibly, okay? He really loved them all for it, for the blind hope they had for somehow finding a way to become Animagi, for the thought that they would do such a thing.

It was just such a shock to know - not in the abstract, but the very real, completely concretely solid sense - they might succeed.

~

"--so then he got up from the table and there was a huge pink heart on his robes," James said urgently, "but right over his--"

"James Potter," Lily said. "What are you doing?"

James hastily tucked whatever gizmo he'd been playing with under the table. Remus glanced from behind Lily, and inwardly winced. Oh. Good. As if the Prefects' council meeting hadn't made this day worse...

"Nothing, my lady," and he started playing with his hair. "How are you this evening?"

"They're getting along well," Remus said breezily, as Lily started threatening to tell everyone one or all - Remus couldn't really hear what she was saying - of James's deepest darkest secrets. "The badge suits her."

Peter rolled his eyes. "James is an amazing lad," he said as they sat down, far enough away from the melee that it was relatively quiet, "but one or the other of them is going to wind up in hospital this week. My Galleon's on James to lose. How was detention?"

Remus replied, "dull, sticky," and pulled out their History of Magic notes. All four of them - well, he and Peter, seeing as how Sirius and James practically hadn't cracked a textbook since their first day at school - had been completely neglecting History of Magic in order to study more appealing subjects. Because, well, let's face it: while revision was on Remus's list of favourite activities right below scouring toilets, History of Magic was even less appealing than the rest. Now he had nearly two dozen parchment rolls to memorize by tomorrow or he'd most assuredly fail the test they had. "They're hardy," Remus answered. "They'll survive."

"True, very true," and Peter sat down with him. "Do you think I can copy off you?"

"What am I here for?" and Remus grinned. "But you have to steal me Sirius's Transfiguration first."

Peter pulled out a Spell-o-taped stack of parchment from one of his textbooks. "Already done," he told Remus. "We can trade off in an hour."

Remus stared at the mounds of notes he had to memorize, all full of dates and names of people who were most likely dead and buried already. "Can't we make it half?"

From across the room, James was trying to coax something out of Lily. Remus and Peter looked up, as Lily told him off. "What do you figure they're up to?" he asked, already trying to copy out Sirius's Transfiguration. It was a marvel, Sirius's notes sometimes. When he bothered to take anything down on parchment at all, his notes would have all the information, and yet none of it would be in any kind of order. "And would you look at this?" Peter added. "It's going to take an hour to decipher what he's on about."

"They're letting off steam," Remus answered. His notes looked like a very hastily drawn diagram of - France. Or was that Algeria? Why did he need to know half a map of Algeria? "It's exam year. Even James is feeling the tension - though he's just more bored than usual."

"The animagus transformations will do him good," Peter said. "Give him something to do while the rest of us are proving what dolts we are." He suddenly turned the first of Sirius's parchments sideways, squinting a little. "Ah!"

Remus glanced over, but shuddered and decided not to ask. Peter would figure it out. It was a pity that Remus himself hadn't been in class; another casualty to the full moon. They probably would have decipherable writing, at least, had he been present.

Across the room, James was tugging gently on Lily's hair; she, however, was poking him in the shoulder with the end of her wand. Remus stared hopelessly at his map of not-Algeria, and asked Peter finally, "You think they're actually quarrelling?"

While they'd been examining their schoolwork, Lily and James had escalated their attacks. As one, Peter and Remus looked up to see James steal Lily's notes and hold them above his head, telling her she needed some time off. Lily hexed James' bag so that the contents - including a bottle of very expensive orange and silver ink - crashed to the floor. James flipped his hair back, and made sure to bend over while he cleaned it up. While he was bent over, Lily quietly set his robe on fire.

Peter stared, eyes rolling finally. "No, I don't think so." His lips were pursed as he said, "I think they're flirting."

~

They knew it was a bad idea to sit in front of Snape. They knew. Remus must have been temporarily rendered an idiot to have forgotten; that was the only explanation.

James looked over at his cauldron. "But--"

"Mr. Potter," Professor Slughorn said angrily. "I would think that you would take this class seriously exam year, if at no other time!" He waved her wand, clearing away James' melted cauldron, and completely ignoring James' burned arm. "I hate to do it, but-- zero," he said.

Remus quietly counted to ten; James swivelled in his seat to stare at Snape, who was sitting behind them with Lily. Snape looked back at him with a triumphant grin. Sirius grabbed James' shoulder from across the aisle, and mouthed, 'later.' James nodded.

Outside the classroom, James was fuming, as one might think. "You ever notice?" he said to Sirius and Remus, "that he's more vindictive than we are?" James cradled his burned hand to his chest.

Remus eyed him. "You could call dangling him above the lake in pink robes just because it's funny fairly vindictive--" he started, but James held his blistering, bleeding hand up, and nearly shouted,

"look at this!" He winced as someone walked into the back of him, and he almost bumped the burn against the dungeon wall. "I'm going to be useless to write for a week!"

Sirius patted his shoulder. "Don't worry," he told James cheerily. "We'll take notes for you, you'll be right as rain in a day or so, old chap - and I get the feeling that Snape's going to have a nasty accident with some dye tomorrow at breakfast." He started rummaging through his bag, and helped James up the stairs to the hospital wing all at once. "Blue, perhaps. Maybe his clothes will turn invisible."

"Don't tell me," Remus intoned.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Oh, honestly, Prefects don't have to be out of all the fun."

"I don't lie nearly as well as you two," Remus countered, which was true. He couldn't ever pull off James's effortless innocent look all the professors had come to know and dread, or Sirius's happily glib tone as he fed them a bald lie. "You both know that."

James grinned. "It's true, you can't tell a proper lie to save your life."

"Save my life maybe," Remus answered, and rolled his eyes. "Just for some reason, not to keep myself out of trouble."

"It's you biting your lip," Sirius told him, draping his arm over Remus's shoulders and pinching his neck gently. "Always gives you away."

"I'll remember that," Remus said dryly. He parted ways with them at the top of the stairs; James to the hospital wing and the Madame, Sirius probably to some class skipping. "And, just don't do any bodily damage," Remus pleaded. "Trying to explain it away is too much trouble."

Sirius beamed. "True, that. Right, I'll make sure it's nice and safe." He narrowed his eyes, as James awkwardly tried to hold the banister and his bag at once. "At least, mostly safe."

~

Funnily enough, Snape came to dinner with a limp. Remus quietly covered his eyes, but Sirius said instantly, "I didn't do it."

"Right."

"No, honestly, I didn't," Sirius said. "You told me to attempt to protect Snivellus from bodily harm, and I did. In fact," he said, grinning a little, "I had planned to wait until tomorrow before Hogsmeade to get him back."

"Why?" Remus asked him, though he was fairly certain he A, didn't want to know and B, would find out whether he asked or not. "It's not like you to wait on revenge."

"Ahh," Sirius said, "but if I wait until tomorrow to get his knickers in a twist, he'll miss out on a day of fun at the village as well. It's maximum payback for minimum effort."

"That's not very nice," Remus told him. "It's the last Hogsmeade weekend this term."

"No it's not," Sirius countered. "Besides. He doesn't deserve any fun. James is still in the hospital wing."

Remus had to agree, though he didn't do so out loud.

~

"So how does it work?" Remus asked Peter. "The transformation, I mean."

Peter shrugged. "You'd have to ask James or Sirius - I'm just," and he waved his wand at the blackbird squawking in front of him, "following their lead and hope I don't end up a cactus."

"I thought you couldn't--"

"No, I can't," Peter said, "plants are out."

Remus silenced his squeaking mouse, and then picked it up in his hand. He liked mice; James still screeched at the sight of one. Maybe he'd sneak this one into James's bed later. "So you're just going to follow their lead and hope for the best?"

"You can't know what you'll be for certain," Peter said. "Anyway, James is going to try first. If he ends up a cactus you can bet I'm not going to attempt it."

"Smart man," Remus said. He let the mouse run around their desk for a minute. It snuffled at Remus's quill, then started chewing the feather daintily. "Do you think I could blame it on Sirius if this found its way to James's pillow tonight?"

They both turned to stare at James and Sirius's desk at the back of the room. Sirius was writing furiously, completely ignoring the croaking toad in front of him. James was petting his bird, which was suspiciously orange. "Probably," Peter said.

Professor McGonagall, meanwhile, was hurrying over to where James and Sirius were sitting. "Boys, boys!" he said. "Please demonstrate this spell for me."

Sirius looked up, face so completely confused that beside Remus, Peter snorted. James silenced Sirius's toad for him. Sirius's face cleared - they saw him mutter, 'oh!' and silenced James's bird. Remus couldn't hear what McGonagall was saying to the two of them, but he had a fairly good idea of the general content. Sirius was trying to surreptitiously move his textbook to cover whatever he was writing.

Peter's blackbird chirped. "Why can't I get this?" he said, waving his wand. The blackbird squawked again, though quieter, and ruffled its wings.

McGonagall was carefully poking James's bird; each time he did, the bird turned a different colour. James was watching politely, and Remus shook his head. "You know," Remus told Peter, "if you can't even manage a simple silencing spell..."

Peter dropped his head to the desk. "I'm going to end up a cactus," he replied.

~

"--have to stop him," Lily finished up. Remus refused to come out from behind his book. He wasn't going to waste his free period arguing. "Well?" she asked.

"Why don't you," Remus said very pleasantly, "go and tell James to stop spreading that coloured powder everywhere. Last night he got it in my hair," and he pulled on hair, showing her his nice new pink stripe. "If you confiscate that fucking stuff, I'll, of course, tell Sirius off for materializing little pieces of parchment."

Lily glared at him; Remus blocked the full effect of it with the book he was reading. He liked Lily, after a fashion, but she expected him to do the impossible. When it was obvious he wasn't going to answer her, she flopped down beside him. "Oh, bugger," she said. "I thought, well, it's impossible - but you're one of them, you should be able to do the impossible, maybe I'll try and get you to--"

"What are you talking about?" Remus asked her. It was a nice change from the typically goading girl he'd had to put up with lately. Just because they were given Prefects' badges didn't mean they had superpowers or something, and that would be near about the only way one could ever stop James Potter and Sirius Black from doing whatever they damned well pleased.

Lily put her hands over her face. "The four of you. You do impossible things. And trying to make them behave is impossible, so logically you should be most likely to get them to behave."

"Oh, Lily, m'girl," Remus said, patting her shoulder. The mouse squirmed in his pocket for a moment, probably sensing Remus's movement, then settled back down to sleep. Remus said, "Look at them."

Obediently, she did. James was holed up, alternating his attention between balancing a stack of books on the wall with a tricky levitation spell, and throwing the books at Peter - who was fending himself off quite nicely with an occasional expletive. Sirius had a group of fourth years ringed around him, and he was making a little piece of parchment appear and disappear over their heads, one by one. Each time the parchment dropped on one of the girls' heads, she'd squeal.

"You can't stop that," Remus told her. Sirius waved his wand; more smoke that smelled faintly like a chimney puffed out, and the parchment was gone. It reappeared above James's head; James yelled, the books fell, and Peter fell over laughing.

Lily stared at them glumly. "I suppose not." She waved a hand in front of her nose. "Why does it smell like a chimney in here?"

~

"I'm so bored," James said. In front of their class, Professor Binns droned on. Remus had scrawled out the first ten words that had come out of his mouth, as well as the occasional place name and wizard name. His notes would be incomprehensible, but he desperately hoped that perhaps later he'd be able to look everything up he'd missed. James leaned over his chair, past Remus, and hissed at Sirius, "Do something funny."

Sirius was writing on a piece of parchment, and apparently hadn't heard James. "You want I should shove him?" Remus whispered, and then just shoved Sirius; James was sure to answer affirmatively. "What are you writing out, anyway?" Remus asked.

"Er," he answered quietly. "Something for the spell."

James looked at him oddly. "What?"

"Well," Sirius whispered, "sort of for the spell, anyway. Related to the spell." He looked a little pink. "What do you want anyway?"

"Do something," and James leaned his chair back, "interesting."

Sirius carefully folded his parchment up. Remus had no idea what it could possibly be, and looked around the classroom carefully. He pulled his wand out, and ever so quietly mumbled something, and - a piece of chalk behind Professor Binns started floating. From the small cloud of dust raised when it started moving, Remus would have bet that it had been years since anyone had ever touched it, much less the chalkboard.

A few students glanced up, and then around at each other. Sirius stared out the window, feigning boredom - then he wiggled his wand a little. The chalk started dancing, moving through the air, then Sirius mumbled something else, and it vanished in a little puff of blue smoke, appearing right beside the professor, a few feet from the ground, hitting with a little 'plop'.

Professor Binns looked around. "Eh?" he said.

Martha, a Hufflepuff girl who had the unfortunate luck of sitting in the front row, said politely, "something fell off your podium, sir." She pointed at the chalk, now quietly minding its business on the floor.

Remus snuck a glance at Sirius, but Sirius was still staring out the window as if he hadn't ever seen blue sky and clouds before. Several other students, however, were desperately trying to hold back laughter. Peter in particular had to stuff the corner of his robes into his mouth to stop from laughing. Martha added, "just now, sir, off your podium."

"She's good," James whispered, also perfectly straight-faced. Remus nodded once. It wasn't like Binns wasn't dead easy to fool, but not many other students could look a Professor - even a dead one - in the eye and tell such a bald lie with such an earnest face. "Impressive, even."

"The lesson more interesting?" Remus asked dryly. In front of them, Peter made a little choking noise, and knocked his quill off the desk - then spent several moments under his desk retrieving it. When he came up for air, he seemed a little more composed. "All right, Peter?" he murmured.

"mmph," Peter said. Remus figured he didn't quite trust himself to make full words yet.

The Professor went back to lecturing. Sirius murmured again, and the chalk grew a little set of legs, then started moving along the floor gently, ever so slowly making its way towards the door. Charlie in the second row had his head bent so far over his parchment he was nearly doubled over, forehead touching his desk. Peter had to go back under his desk. Binns droned on.

"Sirius," Remus muttered, "are you really--" but Remus trailed off as the chalk, seeing an opportunity, scuttled off the platform at the front of the room, and out the door.

"--best History of Magic lesson in ages," James crowed as they out the door to dinner. "I nearly died."

Peter was half-walking, half-dragging himself down the hall, wheezing. "I can't, I can't breathe--" he choked out, then had to stop.

Remus was peering around his feet. The first floor wasn't really that big, and sooner or later Binns' piece of chalk was going to run out of energy, have to take a rest. He didn't want to step on the poor thing. "Where on earth did you send it, anyway, Sirius?"

Sirius shrugged. "No clue. I simply liberated it - life after that is up to it."

"Best lesson ever," James repeated.

"Not that that's hard, with History of Magic," Remus said. "Still, that's ten minutes I don't have to flash back on before I die and think, 'gee, I wish I hadn't been stuck in a classroom right then.' I owe you one."

Sirius turned around sharply. "What do you mean, flash back on before you die?" he asked. "What a stupid thing to say."

Peter chose that moment to choke on air, and Remus had to haul him over to the side of the hallway. He held Peter up, as the other boy pressed one hand against the stone wall, and the other to his chest. Nothing worked; he just kept laughing helplessly.

"So what are we doing after dinner?" James said, as they resumed walking. Peter stumbled along behind them, trying to get out a word here and there.

"As long as it doesn't involve any kind of powder that turns something pink--" Remus warned.

Sirius glanced around, then said quietly, "let's try the spell tonight."

Remus felt a huge weight settle in the pit of his stomach. James, however, looked eager. "Good idea, lad," James told him. "It's nearly a week before Remus transforms, so we'll have it down pat by then." From somewhere behind them, Peter coughed in agreement. "All right, it's a date. We'll do it."

~

James screamed, promptly dropped the little satchel of whatever he was carrying on the poor mouse, and leaped from his bed to Peter's. "You filthy bastards!" he yelled.

While Sirius and Peter laughed their heads off, James cursing the lot of them, Remus got up, worried. The bag could have been heavy, and Remus had no idea what was in it; he hurried to the mouse's aid, and pulled the little thing from under it.

Apparently, there had been pinking powder in James's sack.

"Where do you think you're going?" James said, scowling at Remus as he went to follow the three of them out of the dorm.

Remus leaned back, stung. He had nothing to say. The weight that was in his stomach - briefly dispelled by Sirius's chalk-man and the look of terror on James's face - came back, twice as heavy. Surely, James wasn't that angry. Surely. They should have someone observing, watching out that they didn't fuck up the transform--

"It's," and Peter glanced at Sirius.

Sirius leaned over to kiss Remus on the mouth. Their lips touched just briefly. "It's supposed to be a private thing," he said. "Like, we're not even really supposed to watch each other."

"Oh," Remus said. His mouth was still stinging, throat a little dry. "Right."

"We'll be back in an hour," Sirius told him. James was looking around at the floor - probably checking for mice, Remus realized. He swallowed. Putting that mouse in James's bed had seemed funny at the time, but now it seemed cruel, completely unlike him. Mean. "Don't worry, luv," Sirius said to him. "We'll keep an eye out. If Peter turns into something hideous, we'll cart him back here."

"I'm not going to--" Remus heard Peter complain, as the three of them went out of the room. He rubbed his face, then carefully took the mouse out of his pocket. The little animal seemed content enough, even though his fur and whiskers were bright pink. He couldn't let the thing loose again - he'd be a target for any cat in the whole castle.

Remus pulled out a shoe box from his trunk, and dumped the wizard trading cards into Sirius's second drawer. He put the mouse inside; it ran around a little bit. Remus gave it a dirty sock and a piece of taffy, and the mouse curled up to sleep. He just wouldn't tell James.

~

"Did it--"

As Peter closed their door, Sirius transformed into a big black dog. Remus pressed a hand to his mouth tightly, then fell over as the dog bounced on his chest and knocked him over onto James's bed. "Hey!" James said, laughing. "We need a new rule: no dogs on the beds."

Sirius growled; Peter was giggling. "Look at me!" he cried, "come on!" and he transformed, skittering around, under the bed, then up the bed curtains. Remus smiled, congratulated him, but kept that hand pressed to his mouth.

The three of them transformed from animal to human and back again several times, not really getting tired of the novelty - not even when James's antlers managed to nearly knock everything off the bedside table. Remus figured that becoming a new person, a new species, wouldn't ever really get tiring unless you were afraid of what you became.

~

"Mr. Black," McGonagall said crisply, "have you heard a word I've been saying?"

Sirius looked up, a glazed expression. He was polite as ever, however. "Pardon?"

"Five points from you," she said, lips pursed. "Would you be so kind as to demonstrate the spell the class has been working on?"

Sirius continued to stare at her, eyes glazed, and Remus hastily pointed at his notes to the spell they were trying to do. Sirius glanced down, and then said "oh," and did it perfectly.

"Very well," McGonagall said. "You may forfeit detention today."

"Detention," and Peter shook his head. "You're slipping, boy. Days were you'd never be caught not paying attention. You even had that spell, to make it look like your eyes were open when really you were asleep--"

Sirius shrugged, cutting him off. "Whatever," he said. "I was thinking about Hogsmeade tomorrow. Remus, are you going to be well enough to go?"

Remus rolled his eyes. "I suppose," he said. He was, in truth, feeling quite awful, but there were only two Hogsmeade trips all month, and he didn't want to miss a chance to watch James spend more money than Remus would ever have. "For a few hours at least."

They were heading to lunch. "Let's make a date of it, then," Sirius said. "I'll buy you a beer and some lunch, you can leave your book at the castle."

"What book?"

"Whatever book you were planning on bringing," Sirius told him. "James, what about you, coming?"

James was playing with some indescribable contraption that appeared to be trying to escape his grasp very quickly. If Remus wasn't mistaken, part of it had lots and lots of little legs. "Lily doesn't want to go with me again this week," he said. "So I suppose not."

"Her loss, as usual," Sirius said, draping an arm around James's. "It'll be the three of us, then."

"But--"

"Smashing," Sirius said.

Remus frowned, watching the two of them sit down. He looked at Peter; Peter looked at him, and shrugged. Sirius had been acting very oddly for quite some time. Writing things in classes, playing with pieces of parchment.

Peter echoed his thoughts by asking, "have you noticed he's cracked?"

"Well, yes," Remus answered, "but he's also a little more cracked than usual." A very unpleasant thought occurred to him. "You don't think it's because of--"

"Nah," Peter said, answering what Remus couldn't quite bring himself to ask. He didn't really want to know if something had gone wrong with the transformations. Everything appeared in order, but looks could be deceiving. Peter added, "even I pulled it off without a hitch."

"How did it go, really?" Remus asked quietly.

"Oh, fine," Peter told him, already helping himself to roast lamb. "Like I said, even I pulled it off, you saw. James was standing there, tapping his foot, and finally he said, 'all right, Pettigrew, do it already, you know you can,' and then, I knew I could. And I did."

"Did what?" James asked Peter, leaning over. "Anything exciting we should know about?"

Remus rolled his eyes. "Most likely not."

Lily sat down across from Remus, and he tuned her out as she started talking about a problem one of the second years had. He didn't actually care whether Andrea was caught with a set of joke quills; Sirius had bought three off the girl last week, saying he hadn't seen anything quite this innovative in a long while. The girl had sworn secrecy though, so Remus figured Sirius was probably safe.

Next to Lily, James and Sirius were arguing about Quidditch. "The Wasps would have creamed the Arrows, my completely naive friend," Sirius said.

Remus chewed mechanically. He wasn't feeling well, not at all. That Potions essay he was going to do tonight was going to have to wait.

"There's no way, the Arrows would have - that's as likely as Czechoslovakia winning the World Cup."

Lily told Remus they were going to have to keep a better eye on the pranks being passed around the lower school. Some of them were dangerous; they could burn their fingers, their hair off. They'd have to be more vigilant, being the Prefects. Remus knew the pranks Lily was referring to, since they were both of James's invention.

"Which next time is quite likely, their chances are--" and then Sirius stopped, and shook his head. "Damnit."

Remus looked up; Sirius was staring hard at his plate all of a sudden. Lily had gone silent, as had the girls on the other side of them. Remus knew that Sirius was remembering Kieran again. He knew that he and Sirius had been quite good friends.

"Sometimes I can't believe it," James said quietly. "That they cancelled the World Cup."

Sirius suddenly pushed his plate away. "Do you blame them?"

Lily coughed, and then asked James whether he was going to Hogsmeade; then refused to go with him. Peter took another helping of potatoes, accidentally spilling a bunch on the table. The girls beside James began talking about the potions professor again. Sirius, however, kept looking at his plate, forehead creased. Under the table, Remus squeezed his knee.

~

James said to Sirius, "Remind me again why I'm here," and sipped his butterbeer. Down the rather long and full table, Peter stopped trying to chat up Poesy and leaned in a plate of curry. "Oh, look at that. That's disgusting."

Remus came back, carefully balancing six more drinks on a make-shift tray that James was fairly certain would topple over and get the three of them soaking wet when Remus tried to set it down. Sirius jumped up and relieved him of the tray, which Remus deposited in his arms gratefully. James leaned back a bit, as Sirius carefully manoeuvred the whole thing onto their corner of the table.

"Where did you learn to do that?" Remus asked.

Sirius slid glasses towards the three of them. "Bussing tables in Upper Erstwhire, last hols," he said. "Uncle got me the job, just to get me out of that house for a while. Trays like cardboard and pint glasses the size of gallons."

"Why am I here again?" James repeated patiently. Sirius and Remus looked at him as if he were daft. "I thought," and he shuffled around. "Well, this is your date, isn't it?"

"We weren't going to leave you to mope around the dorm, twat," Remus said.

"Have a drink," Sirius said blissfully. He slid the glass a little closer, and it bumped James's elbow resting on the tabletop. "You'll feel better."

"I'm not," and James obligingly drank, as Sirius threatened to push the pint glass into his lap, "feeling down. I just don't understand why I'm--"

"He's daft," Remus said.

Sirius nodded, chugging some more of his beer. "Ahh, that hits the spot." He took Remus' hand, and didn't even appear aware of it. Remus's fingers curled through and around Sirius's sticky ones, and they stared at James.

James shook his head. "I am not daft," but as there were two of them and one of him, he knew he'd never be able to prove it. Not unless Peter got his elbow out of the curry, at least.

~

Back at the castle, McGonagall was waiting for Sirius. She all but hauled him off by the scruff of his neck. If other people hadn't been watching, Remus had a very good idea that she might have.

~

"I'm never going to be able to look at another plate of custard again," and Sirius gagged.

Remus didn't even bother looking up. He and James were engrossed in a very important game of Exploding Snap, modified rules, with Peter refereeing on the side. Bother really didn't enter into it - he didn't dare look up, in case James used the opportunity to singe his knuckles like last time. Of course, when Lily wandered over to see what they were doing, Remus had got James back, but still.

"Custard," Sirius said again. "It's the foulest stuff in the whole--"

Peter bit his lip. "Hush," and then he said, "James is nearly winner."

"Oh?" Sirius pulled a chair up and sat backwards, leaning over the back and peering over Peter's shoulder, interested. "I think he's right - Remus, you're a goner, lad."

Remus snatched his fingers away as James exploded another card too close to his hand. "That's it," Remus said, disgusted. "I fold."

"You can't fold, this isn't poker."

"Watch me." He got up, letting Sirius take his vacant spot. "I'm going to bed."

"You are looking right awful," James offered. While Remus was trying to decide whether he was annoyed or not, he said, "and all right, Sirius, what's this about custard?"

Sirius started describing, in great detail, the detention that McGonagall had given him and the horror inflicted on him. Remus tuned him out; Sirius never seemed to understand the beauty of the subtle prank, simply putting custard in Snape's book bag and upsetting his essay instead of, well, something much more subtle. "--and she made me apologize to him, what's worse," Sirius said. "He stood there gloating, just itching to hex me, too. Stupid bastard."

"We can take him down a notch or two in class tomorrow," James replied, yawning. "I'm bored."

Remus shook his head. "I'm going to bed," he told them. He climbed the stairs alone, leaving the three of them to try and plan ways to make Snape regret that apology with every fibre of his being, every cell in his body, every-- and Remus closed the door. He didn't, when it came right down to it, care that they were probably going to pull something cruel on him. Despite the Prefects' badge, Remus didn't really feel much more responsible than he already did. You just - some things, he thought, you just probably shouldn't do. Not too often, anyway.

He pulled a crust of bread out of his pocket, and opened the lid of his box. The mouse stared at him sleepily, squeaking, and seemed to squeak a thank you when Remus fed it.

~

To be fair, the shattering cauldron didn't get all across the classroom like Sirius later embellished. Just across two rows of desks.

"James," Peter said, scowling as he wiped the stinking mess from his eyes.

"Yes Peter."

"It's a good thing Remus and I are hardy by now." Peter glared at him. "Because I think that might have killed us."

Sirius looked utterly nonchalant. "You'll be all right, just don't eat the damned stuff--" and then Professor Slughorn came over to yell at Sirius and James.

Remus tried to mop up the gunk, scraping at his cheeks and forehead to get the glue-like substance off. James and Sirius - who, to be fair, had a good amount of goo on themselves - were pouring apologies out in amidst snickering. Snape, sitting in the desk right in front of them, had a mass of the disgusting liquid in his hair and running down the back of his neck. It seemed the potion liked him. Beside Snape, Lily was soaking up the goo in her Griffindor scarf, every once and a while turning around to glare at James. If looks could kill, Remus thought-- and then ducked as she swiveled to stare at him, too.

"Two weeks detention!" Slughorn finally yelled at them, and ordered everyone to clean up.

Remus was mostly dry already; though he and Peter were splattered, the remains seemed to be dissolving of their own accord. Not so, with Snape - his hair was puffed up and covered in what looked like puke-green foam. Remus had the odd dab on his robes, but Snape and Lily were covered.

It even smelled a bit like puke-green.

Peter wiped the last of the gunk off his textbook, making an absolutely disgusted face. "You might have warned us," he muttered, "so we could duck?"

Snape turned around, and stared at them, an ugly look on his face. James looked right at Snape when he answered Peter. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Still and all," Remus said as he paused at the second floor hallway - the eternal question: go to class, or head to the Common Room? Sirius made his mind up for him, not even stopping to consider as he headed off for Gryffindor Tower - "it was rather more complicated than you two usually get in your inhumane torment."

"Boredom is an ugly, ugly thing," James told Remus. "Still, we'll head into the Forest tonight, right?"

"Are you," and Remus swallowed. "Do you have a plan?"

"A definite lack of boredom." James looked positively thrilled. "And then the Arithmancy homework at breakfast tomorrow morning. Don't worry, lad, tomorrow's going to be different."

They passed Snape and Lily in the hallway, and Remus covered his eyes out of habit. At least there were no teachers around. He didn't have the energy to argue with Sirius when he hexed Snape, and he wouldn't have the energy to argue with Lily when she told Sirius off for hexing Snape. Remus really didn't see the point in trying to stop the world from spinning as he knew it would, so instead he kept moving, ducking out of sight when Snape tried to make James bleed. Not so, however - this time James was ready, and he hung Snape off the top banister, tied in his robes, and Lily yelling at all of them.

It was a pathetic sight. Remus couldn't bring himself to care.

Snape called threats after them, and Remus couldn't bring himself to care about that, either. No one had seen them, no one was bleeding, his Prefect duties were taken care of. He did say to them, yawning, "One of these days, you two are going to go too far."

James nodded happily, and stepped through the Portrait hole. "And on that day, Snivellus is going to find himself atop West Tower with nothing but a sneer and a pile of pixies."

"Should that be a flock of pixies?" Sirius asked. They trouped directly up to their dorm room. It was best, on the whole, not to advertise that one was skipping classes. "A herd?"

"A coven?" Peter piped up. "A--"

Remus flung himself down on his bed, and put the pillow over his head. The day before the full moon was less tiring than the actual transformation, but still like running two marathons back to back, on his head. He wanted no more than to sleep for a week, but a nap instead of Divination would have to do. Sirius leapt onto his bed - he could tell it was Sirius because he dove head-first, rather than landing with his knees like James - and then carefully stretched out beside him. "Are you quite all right?" he asked Remus' pillow.

Remus muttered, "just tired."

Sirius drew the curtains. Remus could hear James muttering loudly about them having no manners whatsoever, and Peter sighing about how they might as well just go to class if they were going to sleep - then the door opening and closing again. Sirius said, "go to sleep," and it was oddly quiet, possibly gentle.

Remus pulled the pillow off his head. "A gaggle," he said sleepily.

Sirius blinked. "A what?"

Remus rolled over, laying on his back so he could properly look up at Sirius and still lie down. "Of pixies." He grinned. "A gaggle of pixies."

Sirius swatted him, but lightly. "You always were the one who did the Magical Creatures homework."

"And the Defense Against the Dark Arts," Remus pointed out, "and the Runes," he said, "and the Arithmancy--"

"Be fair," Sirius said. "James did the Arithmancy last week."

"--and the Potions--"

"Now, you copied Lily's because she's taken an insane liking to you, that's so not fair." Sirius leaned over, and kissed him. "No more talk of homework."

"--and the History of Magi--"

Sirius kissed him again. Remus pulled away, already feeling exhausted. "I have to feed the mouse," he said sleepily.

"The mouse?" Sirius looked at him as if he was crazy.

Remus pulled the little box out from under his bed, and peered into it. The mouse actually had a little doorway, so he could get out and run around their room, but so far he'd stayed happily in the box. Remus suspected that it wasn't an ordinary mouse, as he seemed to know that if he stayed put he'd be fed and taken care of. "The mouse," he explained to Sirius. "I saved it. Do you have any more candy?"

Sirius grumbled all through digging out some Bertie Bott's beans, but Remus ignored that, too. The mouse delicately sniffed at them, picking a handful out to nibble on and discarding one that looked suspiciously like the potion they'd got all over the classroom earlier. "Must be vomit-flavored," and Sirius grinned. Remus was too tired to answer, and fell asleep with Sirius's mouth next to his collarbone.

~

Of course later they found out that they'd missed prep for the pop-quiz tomorrow in Divination.

Remus sighed, looking at himself in the mirror. "Why is it," he asked the room in general, "that the full moon always falls right before a test?"

"The world hates you," Sirius answered immediately. "Oh, hurry up, James."

"Now, you're going to be there?" Remus asked, and halted. He felt so stupid, he must have asked Sirius that a dozen times in the last ten minutes. It was stupid - they were either going to punk out, not be able to get away, or otherwise be unable to come, in which case he'd have a normal transformation, the kind he'd been dealing with since childhood. Or they'd be able to make it, and.

"Of course," Sirius said.

Remus sat down on his bed. His stomach always twisted up at twilight, as if it knew that something pretty bad was coming. Sirius was writing again, propping his parchment up on a textbook - "what are you doing, anyway? You've been writing who knows what for days."

"Thoughts," Sirius answered. He waved the quill around. "You have to have, a clear mind, for the spell, shit like that." He tucked them away. "Have you fed your mouse today?"

It wasn't like Sirius to wonder about another creature's well being. Even Remus and James and Peter, he tended to treat as if they were hardy enough to take care of themselves. Which was true, of course, and the way they all treated each other. It wasn't necessarily disregard. "Er, yes."

"Good," and Sirius stretched out beside him. "We'll be there, tonight."

"I still can't believe you pulled it off," Remus said.

"You can't."

Remus looked at him, a little dread seeping in. "You didn't think you could do it either?"

Sirius looked thoughtful - which was certainly new. "No, I was certain it was going to work. And then I realized, hey, it worked." He shrugged, flipping over. "It was a shock. Retro-actively."

Remus leaned over to kiss him. "It was a shock." It was a shock, and it would still be a shock probably until he died. Remus had no idea what was going to happen tonight, but there was no way he would let his nervousness show, not even to Sirius. Not more than he already had.

Sirius rested his hand on Remus's neck, for a moment, then glanced at his watch. "Damn. You're due in the hospital wing in five minutes. Best go, Moony."

Remus rubbed his face, feeling very, very tired, and none too afraid.

~

The Madame greeted him as always. He took her fortifying potion, and followed obediently as she led him out of the castle just as twilight was falling.

"I always said," she prattled on, the two of them ducking out a side exit, "you deserved better. You poor thing," she said, patting him on the arm, "always coming back with scratches, bites. It's disgraceful, they need to do something about it, someone needs to--"

Remus sighed. "Yes, Madame," he said. He'd heard it all before. At first, the Madame was kind but distant. As the months went on, however, she ended up clucking and fussing over him each morning, treating his wounds and calling him a poor dear. Remus tired of it. Each scratch hurt, and each bruise ached - but having someone fuss over them just made it worse. Especially someone who didn't even know who he was, saw it as an affliction and idn't know anything about him other than that.

"There now," and she ducked down, stilling the Whomping Willow's branches. "Best hurry, dear, get going," she said, and gave him a look. Remus closed his eyes to stop from rolling them. She looked at him the same way each month: pity and compassion, worry, concern. But also that bit of fear. "Moon's nearly risen."

Remus started clambering down the tunnel. He heard the Madame press the knothole again, and he kept moving - but this time, he didn't utterly dread finally getting to the shack. This full moon, he'd have company.