"Remus," James said. "What's that noise?"
Remus didn't even look up. "My teeth," he answered. "Grinding together in frustration."
James leaned back from the table, stretching his arms up. "Ah." He glanced at Peter. "Why?"
Remus threw his quill down and dropped his head onto the desk with an audible thump. There was no use denying it. He'd have to ask someone. "Do you know how many hoops, how many steps, how many--" and he waved his hand in aggravation, face still planted on the table. "Sixteen! Sixteen aptitude tests, eleven practicals, on top of the N.E.W.T.S!"
James tilted his head. "What are you on about?"
"Certs!" he said, picking his head up. "Applications. Testing grounds."
Peter looked at James, James looked at Peter. "What?"
"Just to teach!" Remus finally said. "Thank the stars I managed to convince McGonagall to let me take those extra O.W.L.s last year. And I'd better keep the classes I've got, too. Forms," he added, disgusted. "Forms and forms and checks and--"
A metaphorical light bulb went off over James's head. "Teach?" he asked. "You plan to teach?"
"I don't plan to anything," Remus answered. He stared at the third Ministry form that his mother had sent him. Werewolf housing restrictions; maintenance check. The day before it was Ministry aptitude tests, second class. The day before that, a list of recommended subjects for advanced placement. Remus wanted to cry. "Do you know," he told them, "how many extra N.E.W.T.s I have to take just to make it past the door?"
James shrugged, snagging a list of required extras for the Ministry of International Cooperation, Transport Division. "Charms, charms, charms, overseas experience, flying carpet license preferred, two Muggle languages - they don't want much, do they?"
Peter leaned over James's shoulder. "Plus an exam."
"Which," Remus told them, "you cannot buy the textbook for, nor can you get it out of the library." He shuffled parchment around and finally pulled out the one he was looking for. "Just a list of topics on the exam, with suggested study times." His fingers were crumpling the edge of the parchment, and Remus resisted the urge to ball up the whole thing and throw it at someone. "That would be great if I knew how in the world I was supposed to go about learning German wizarding broom regulations, wouldn't it."
"Maybe Henrietta would know," Peter said. "She's half-German." Remus eyed him, and resisted the much stronger urge to ball up the study list and throw it at Peter specifically. Peter added, "and she can ride a broom."
"You'll damage something, keep that up," James commented, as Remus's teeth started grinding together again.
Despite trying, James and Sirius were both caught whilst trying to skip their career prep meetings. "And we've already done this once," James grumbled over breakfast, "why do we have to do it again?"
"Mmm," Remus muttered. He was reading some last minute Transfiguration that he'd missed due to an untimely full moon; James was rambling away.
"It's ridiculous, Remus. We can't keep asking Sirius to smell his way down the hallway," James continued. "He gets too much information - did we need to know what those two students were doing yesterday? - and is totally unreliable. I mean, we were caught!"
Remus said the magic words. "So think of something better."
James's eyes widened, and he said, "well, maybe if," and then, "perhaps if we could--" and then he clammed up, staring at a little statue of an owl that stood over the doorway out of the Great Hall that lead down to the kitchens. Remus sighed. This couldn't be good.
Remus, of course, forgot all about the magic words, and desperately hoped that James would as well.
"And last night I nearly got caught," Sirius was just saying, "right before the statue of Bodrick the Odd, up near the Astronomy Tower."
"Why were you up the Astronomy Tower?" Peter asked, mouth full of mashed potato. Remus grimaced as a glop fell off his fork onto James's Arithmancy homework. He muttered a few words of clean-up, wand out, as Peter swallowed to add, "there's nothing up there."
"Ahh," and Sirius put a finger to his lips, "that's for me to know. I just wish that the Astronomy Professor hadn't nearly known, as well. Almost snuck up on me from around the corner."
Peter dropped another glob of potato. Remus sighed. "You need to see around corners, mate," Peter said absently, and leaned in gravy.
James - who'd been staring down the table to where Lily was chatting with a couple of the fourth years - suddenly snapped his head up. "Remus had an idea, fellows, I've just remembered."
Remus looked up in alarm. "No, wait, I disavow--"
"He thinks we need to come up with a better idea than just Sirius sniffing around corridors," James said, and then he leaned forward. As Remus got a sense of foreboding, James said, "I've just had a thought."
It turned out that his idea was less-formed than Remus feared; it involved some way of charming something into seeing around corners for them. "And then we won't have to worry about being seen by the teachers. No detention, no worries."
Worries, they were the key, Remus thought, as James held a rather large toad-like creature out for the inspection of several fourth years. The frog croaked, and a tiny bit of purple flame came out its nose. Remus closed his eyes.
Sirius was just coming back into the common room with a house elf trailing behind him. Remus smelled fish and chips. "This way," Sirius said brightly, and pointed to the corner table.
"Don't do that," Lily said automatically. She was working on their Charms revision; Remus was trying to read over her shoulder, watch the not-toad, and finish his Transfiguration all in one go. His life of late seemed a precarious juggling match between the absurd and the frustrating; or the absurd and the painful, depending on the cycle of the moon.
Sirius patted the house elf on the head, who bobbed up and down a few times, smiled brightly and scurried off. "Do what?"
"Order the house elves around." She tipped the book she was making notes from into her lap and eyed him from over the top of it. "Just because they think their one purpose in life is to serve you and make you happy doesn't mean that it is."
"You should see the alternatives for house elves, Lily," Sirius answered immediately. The elf, wearing a bright tea towel and carrying a tray thick with, yes, fish and chips - and pickles - as well as a pot of mayonnaise, bowed again, and set it down beside Sirius. "Thank you, er, ah. I'm sorry, but I've forgotten your name."
"Oh, you is not needing to know my name, sir," and the elf bobbed again, politely. "Your thanks is most appreciated."
The house elf scurried off again out the portrait hole, and from behind her book, Lily clucked her tongue. "What?" Sirius sat up, actually taking his feet off the table they were resting on, and leaning forward. "How did I treat that elf badly?"
"You act as if they should like doing what they do." Lily shrugged. "It just shows that you have one at home. Some wizards are just used to being waited on."
Sirius leaned forward, and enunciated carefully, "I do not, under any circumstances, have anything to do with my family's house elf."
Immediately, Lily dropped the book and turned pink. "I didn't - I meant."
Abruptly, he leaned back again. "That's all right." Smiled, sheepishly. "Maybe I was used to it a bit growing up. Even if I hated the house, I didn't ever have to cook for myself."
"And bloody good you never did, too," Remus called out, as several third years came tromping into the common room and squealed as the toad belched fire at them. "You would not believe the horrific things he can do to simple chips and eggs on toast."
James finally smelled food, and put the toad on a puffy armchair - where, of course, it didn't stay. "What's this, my friends?" He leaned over, taking a big whiff. "Fish and chips again? What's wrong with you, dimwit?"
Sirius shoved him, as Remus rescued the tray from dumping all over the hearthstones. "Shut up! I felt like it."
"Well, I don't." James came to sit on the edge of Lily's chair; as she rolled her eyes, James said, "you know what I really want?"
"A muzzle?" Remus muttered. The frog had already taken a few tentative hops over to the fireplace.
"Chow mein," James went on, in a dreamy voice. "D'you think the house elves would make us chow mein?"
"Don't see why not," Sirius answered. "They're always happy to get me anything I want."
Lily had been trying to shove James off her Charms notes - they'd been resting on the arm of the chair and were currently underneath him. Giving up, she put her chin in her palm. "Can they?" Lily asked. "I mean, they'd need ginger, and bean sprouts, and all sorts of other things I really haven't seen around the castle before..."
James shrugged. "Their brand of magic," he said. "Cooking, cleaning."
"But why chow mein?" Sirius asked.
"Dunno," he said. "I just fancy it."
"Fancy what?" Peter said, stepping over to their corner of the Common Room.
Remus waved; he had, in his hand, an essay that Peter was sure to want to copy. Peter did indeed take it from his outstretched fingers, and then flopped down on the floor, eyeing the fish and chips Sirius had completely forgotten about. "Go ahead," Remus told him, as James said again,
"Chow mein. And sweet and sour pork. and rice balls."
Peter started eating the chips, covering them in mayonnaise. "That's disgusting," Sirius told him, "honestly."
With a mouth stuffed full of food, Peter asked crossly, "what were you going to do with it then?"
"I like the fortune cookies the best, I think," Lily said.
"They talk too much for my taste."
"Haven't you ever had a wizarding cookie? They're barmy. Talk for hours, all nonsense like 'you can't sniff out a bezoar with two left feet!'" James rolled his eyes. "Chow mein," he said again. "I bet they'd make us some. Properly, too." He stood. "I'm going to get some."
Like many plans Remus had seen James come up with - his frog not in it's box, but was in fact currently belching purple fire into the common room fire and creating sparks of green, for example - it didn't take him long to become completely distracted by something else entirely. Unfortunately, that something else was more worrying than chow mein. Remus sighed, watching James pull some spare parchment and an extra cloak out of his trunk, a determined look on his face. He was going to explore the one-eyed witch hump as soon as it got dark, apparently. And he wanted company.
"I have homework to do."
James pulled him up. "I'll do your homework. Come on," he said impatiently, "don't be an idiot. Sirius would come but he's in detention again for dueling." It had been a spectacular battle, sparks everywhere. A chandelier on the third floor was missing several hanging things. "Come on," James repeated.
Remus got up, not without protest. "I hate you."
"Good," James said happily, "let's go."
It turned into a rather short adventure, as McGonagall found them lurking just outside the girls' toilets on the third floor. James managed to duck into a cubicle, Invisibility Cloak wrapped around himself, but Remus was summarily dragged by his cloak out of the toilets. "Mr. Black!" McGonagall barked, "come out of there."
The cubicle unlocked, and James came out grinning. One of McGonagall's hands was wrapped around Remus's upper arm, her knuckles locked. "I'm very sorry, Professor," James said, "but Sirius isn't here tonight."
She stared at him, from above her glasses, and said, "you will have to do."
"But Sirius is washing cauldrons by hand again--"
"James--" Remus slapped his quill down angrily. "James, please. We have a test today and two essays do that I haven't even started yet due to the detention you got me last night." James opened his mouth and Remus rolled right over him, "no."
"It's not even lunchtime," James coaxed. "Peter, tell him it's not even lunchtime."
"It's not even lunchtime," Peter dutifully repeated. Remus bent back down to his books. It was only lunchtime, that was true. The problem was they had a Runes test after lunch. "What did Sirius do?" Peter asked.
James shrugged; as he started telling the fantastic tale of - what else? - the duel, Remus scribbled out a few more notes. The food would appear any moment, and then it would be too loud in the great hall to work.
When it finally did appear, Remus took no notice until the smell of ginger and lemongrass hit his nostrils. There was a little Chinese place down the street from his parents' place when he was a child, and he could clearly remember the takeaway they sometimes brought him when he was sick. This was definitely Chinese.
He looked up slowly, to see a very please expression on James' face as he swooped a whole bowl of fortune cookies into his bag.
"What we need," Peter announced before Transfiguration, "is a map of the school."
Remus was skimming the chapter for today's lesson, and James and Sirius had yet to even appear, so Peter didn't get quite the reaction he was hoping for. "Mmph," Remus said, which was his usual reaction when someone was saying something he probably shouldn't be hearing (a distressingly common occurrence, all things considered).
"I said, map of the school," Peter repeated, as James and Sirius came up with a box that was croaking ominously. "A map," Peter said again. "We've learned everything there is to know about Hogwarts and so much of the grounds, you know, because--"
and Remus clapped a hand over his mouth. Peter mumbled an apology through fingers, and Remus said, "yes," and then, "ah."
James and Sirius were huddled over the box, occasionally dipping the wrong end of a quill inside it. When Professor McGonagall opened the door to the classroom, they shuffled in with the rest of the students without acknowledging Peter, Remus, or indeed, any of their surroundings at all. As they all took their seats, Peter turned to Remus, a puzzled expression. "I just thought. I guess it was a silly idea."
Remus felt a bit guilty; it was a silly idea, but not for the reasons Peter thought it was a silly idea. It was a silly idea because it was exactly what James and Sirius were trying to think of, not the other way around. "No," Remus said, "it's perfect, more's the pity."
"It'll be fun," Peter started, but then there was a bit of commotion from beside them as the box James and Sirius had shook, croaked again, and then crumpled under the weight of a very large frog that was determined not to stay in the box any more.
Oblivious to their audience, James and Sirius were dangling a polka-dotted pocket watch above the purple toad. Remus tried to pretend they didn't exist. "Did you do the homework?" he mumbled to Peter, and pulled out parchment.
"Watch this," James said suddenly, and tapped the toad with the pocket-watch. Immediately, the toad sprouted wings.
Remus pulled his essay out; it had taken him nearly three hours last night to finish, since all the volumes on illegal human transformation were already checked out of the library, no doubt for the class. It would have to do. He handed his essay to Professor McGonagall, and then watched as Sirius pulled three of the books out that Remus had been looking for last night to dig out a rumpled piece of parchment.
"Mr. Potter?" McGonagall said.
"Professor, watch." James swiveled the knob on the pocket watch, and then tapped the toad again. The toad gave a croak and then hopped away, turning into a miniature elephant mid-step. It landed abruptly, and turned back at James ask if to say, 'what?'
"Intriguing, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said to him. "And your essay?"
"Oh, sorry, it's just here." James had the other two books that Remus had been scrambling for at midnight last night. Of course he had. James pulled out his essay and tossed it onto the desk.
"Why didn't you tell me you had those books?" Remus said once McGonagall had moved on.
Sirius shrugged. "Oh, I forgot. Didn't need them."
On Peter's desk, the miniature elephant made a noise approximating that of a real elephant, and swung its miniature trunk one way and then the other. Peter eyed it warily while moving his books. Remus pushed his chair a little farther away from everyone else; there was no point in making a point about it, none at all. It wouldn't have any impact. He did not, however, have to sit close enough to get elephant droppings on his text.
As Professor McGonagall continued to collect the essays, Sirius sat up in his chair as if to suggest he had an Announcement to make. "I know exactly what we need," he started. Remus looked at Peter; Peter looked at Remus. "We need a map of the school," Sirius said.
James nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, of course! That's absolute brilliance," he said.
"Yes," Peter said, "only you could have thought of that, Sirius. Complete brilliance. I'm sure it didn't help at all that I'd just been talking about that very thing before class--"
Sirius started to speak, undoubtedly to protest vehemently, when an uproar started in the far corner of the classroom. Several students were sitting on top of their desks rather than in their seats, and Professor McGonagall was staring at the four of them, lips pursed. "Perhaps, Mr. Potter," she called out, "you would benefit from a little more reading into the various forced transfiguration spells." She levitated the miniature elephant, which was now making a most unhappy noise, probably because half of it had turned back into a frog.
"Professor--" James said, but she cut him off with,
"Two feet, I believe, for Monday?" She tapped the poor creature with her wand, and the frog croaked, struggling with all its might to get free. Remus didn't blame him. James nodded, writing a note to himself on the top of his parchment, as Professor McGonagall put the frog away. James, Remus noticed, hid the pocket-watch.
"A map that sees around corners!!" Peter exclaimed suddenly, and then ducked his head as Sirius slapped it. McGonagall swirled around, facing them with one eyebrow raised. "er, I mean," Peter started, and coughed. "It's this comic book, you see, and."
Professor McGonagall turned back to the blackboard, and began outlining the day's lesson. Remus started taking notes, when movement out of the corner of his eye distracted him. Beneath his desk, James was holding a little blue lizard in the palm of his hand. In the other, was the pocket-watch.
Remus moved his chair further away from all three of them. From under James's desk, there was now a faint moo'ing - Sirius was huddled over his parchment, writing more feverishly than he ever did in class, Peter occasionally leaning over his shoulder and mumbling something. Remus tugged his chair away a few more inches. Just to be safe.
At breakfast the next day, only Peter and Sirius were to be found - James having to write an essay on the problems associated with object-induced transfiguration spells. Sirius had rushed in late, a suspicious brown paper bag clutched in his hands that turned out to be only new Bertie Botts' gummies that a cousin had sent him.
"Look! A miniature eggplant!" He popped the candy in his mouth. "Eugh. I don't like eggplant."
Peter held one out. "try this one next!" he said. Remus leaned over, despite himself, to find out what it looked like. It was a harmless looking enough gummy worm. Peter added, "go on. It can't taste like worm, why would they make a candy like that?"
Sirius put the gummy in his mouth, chewed, and spat the gummy worm out.
"Did it taste like worm?" Peter asked him, and picked up an electric blue wiggling thing with two fingers. The worm turned to look at him, and vainly attempted wriggling away.
Sirius was gulping pumpkin juice, and gagging. Remus shrugged. "Guess so."
After breakfast, they met up with James on the stairs, nearly plowing into Teresa, a Gryffindor sixth year, in the hallway. She was clutching an envelope, her tawny owl sitting on the banister beside her. Even the owl looked distraught; Teresa was crying openly, unable or unwilling to stop.
There was no way they could get around her, not with the owl flapping its wings at anyone who came near it, and they needed to get up to the Charms classroom. Poor Teresa. The envelope was open, Teresa's hand canted enough so that if he wanted to, Remus could read it. He didn't need to read it to know what it said - bad news.
James had his hand out awkwardly, put it on Teresa's shoulder. "It'll be all right, you know," he muttered.
Remus stood, holding her bag for her, while she cried quietly. Having been already faced with so much grief on a personal level, neither of them knew quite how to show someone else that they even recognised her own; weren't sure they did recognize it. Remus hadn't known the Potters nearly as well as he'd liked.
"It'll be all right," James said again, and squeezed her shoulder. Even that slight aid, the fact that someone was speaking meaningless words - lies, from what Remus knew; it never was exactly all right - seemed to help. Teresa wiped her eyes, smiled a little at James, and looked embarrassed.
Remus kept a firm grip on her satchel, with all her books, and stood helpless beside Peter and Sirius; it was the only thing he could do, not having as close a relationship with sadness to be of any use - or perhaps too close a relationship with sadness, one familiar enough that sadness, to Remus, was simply part of one's day. He couldn't help because he gave up long ago ever escaping it.
More and more people at Hogwarts were beginning to feel the same way.
"You shouldn't wear that robe," Remus said.
"What?" Lily held a piece of it up for inspection. "Why not?"
"No reason!" and James gave Remus a glare that was supposed to stop him in his tracks - Remus held his book up and ignored him - "You look lovely."
"Shut up," Lily told him, and swiveled around. "Why not, Remus?"
"Er, well." He could feel James's stare trying to freeze his tongue to the roof of his mouth, and pulled his wand out just in case James's hands and mouth also attempted it. "You show rather a lot of cleavage, ahem." He dropped the book, and finally looked at her. "And anyone, well, taller than you, they can look down the front of your shirt."
Lily crossed her arms over her breasts, making the situation somewhat worse. "Ah," she said.
"You do look good," Remus added. "But I wouldn't wear it."
"Ah," she said again.
Lily stood up, pulled her cardigan around herself, and then soundly slapped the back of James's head. "Ow!" he yelped, as she marched away. Remus was already beginning to regret having said anything; Lily would be mad about this for at least a few days and it was likely she'd find a way to blame him as well. He sorely regretted it when James said, rubbing the back of his head, "That's it, you're not getting my transfiguration essays for a month."
"Fine." Remus turned back to the second of five essays he had to complete that night - who on earth had convinced him it was a good idea to try and pass more than the suggested amount of N.E.W.T.s, anyway? Oh right, him - and kept reading. This one was a complex reworking of an already complex charm, something about the ability to make even untraceable wizards visible under the right circumstances.
"Haven't you finished that yet?" James asked, and flopped back into the chair beside Remus. "Sirius and I did it yesterday. It's simple, you just--"
"Do shut up." Remus read another line, then two, and then dropped the book - a sixteenth century treatise on the effects of various disguise spells - and stared at James. "You just what?"
James grinned smugly. "What do witches and wizards almost always have with them?"
"Overinflated egos," Remus muttered, and then said, "I don't know."
James leaned forward. "Their clothing. If you can't trace the wizard, trace the clothes."
It made sense, in a ridiculous sort of way. "What about if they're in the bath?"
"Why would you--" James started to say, and then frowned, puzzled. "Hang on, I bet we can get it."
Remus wrote a few lines out, trying to come up with a better way to find an untraceable wizard than trying to track the clothing they were wearing. He ended up writing on why tracking a wizard's clothing wouldn't work - after all, people had clothing in wardrobes, in trunks, all the time, how could you tell the difference? Plus, sometimes people didn't wear clothes. All in all, Remus took six inches to explain how the theory didn't work, and failed to come up with anything better. It was a fair essay, but not an answer.
Sirius, meanwhile, was dazzling Peter and a group of fourth years with a rendition of the duel he'd had with his cousin. "Five points from Gryffindor for dueling!" James called out, and then as Sirius roared in protest, James added, "and ten points to Gryffindor for showing the Slytherins who's boss!"
"That's not how Prefects--" Lily started to say, as James leaped up and pushed her off the couch.
"Bad idea, that," Sirius said, sliding into James' newly vacated seat. Remus held his book out. "Oh, that essay." He waved his hand, added, "finished. It's easy."
"The clothing," Remus said. "What about while they're in the bath? Or trunks full of robes?" Sirius opened his mouth, sat there for a second, and closed it again.
At the same moment, across the room, James presented Lily with a bag full of fortune cookies. As she snapped the first one open, they both heard it say, "hindsight is twenty-twenty!" Sure, Remus thought. Thanks very much.
Hindsight is indeed twenty-twenty.
"This map," Sirius was saying. "We've got to figure out a way to get the whole of the grounds on it."
"We know the grounds," Peter replied, puzzled. "Why?"
James was busy sketching out a crude drawing of the one-eyed witch. "Because how else can we pass on our wisdom to younger generations unless we write it down?"
"Remus, old chap," Sirius was saying, "you've got to figure out a way to make sure that we can guard this old map against people who'd want to use it for the wrong reasons."
Remus had another essay for McGonagall due. All he did all day long anymore was essays, essays for Transfiguration, essays for Charms, essays for detention. He wasn't any closer to choosing any kind of profession and still every single professor had sometime decided that he'd better ace every class. "I'm busy," he told Sirius. "I missed this class because of the moon."
"Oh, come on," James said impatiently. "You're already smarter than everyone else. No one likes a know-it-all. We need your help."
"No one likes a know-it-all that doesn't want to help them with crazy extra-curricular projects," Remus muttered, but it was no good - Sirius and James had both moved onto something else. Whatever it was, it involved a dash of pixie dust and some boiled newt.
"Do you have anything yet?" Sirius said in Runes.
Remus yawned. There was a pop quiz this morning that he'd known about only because the Runes professor had taken pity on him yesterday evening and dropped a hint about studying for it. He'd finally fallen asleep on his Runes textbook after midnight. Runes was possibly less useful than say, Charms, but Remus couldn't afford to slack off in anything, especially given the last flyer his mother had owled him - Ministry of Magic, Law Enforcement division requisites.
He'd managed not to owl her back anything along the lines of why the Ministry would never, ever, in a million years hire a werewolf in the Law Enforcement division, and sent her a birthday card instead, but it was dicey for a moment. Even his great uncles had taken to sending him suggestions. One had shipped him three different books on the benefits of flobberworm raising, hearing he'd taken an interest in Magical Creatures.
"--can't really start properly doing anything until you think up a way to protect it from prying eyes," Sirius was saying. "Are you even listening to me?"
"Do you know what the benefits of raising flobberworms are?" Remus finally snapped at him.
"None. There aren't any." Remus pulled out his quill as the Professor came in, and sure enough, he started writing on the blackboard the word 'quiz'.
"I wouldn't think there were," Sirius told him, puzzled. The Professor started handing out anti-cheating quills, along with their quizzes. "What do you want with flobberworms anyway?"
"Have you done the Advanced Defense essay yet?" Remus whispered back. There was no point in getting angry with Sirius today, not when Sirius could ace this quiz with his eyes closed - he'd proven that point, once, by writing all his answers blindfolded; he'd charmed the paper to talk to him, and Professor Flitwick had given him extra points - Sirius simply wouldn't understand the idea behind trying to plan for the future. The only future Sirius planned for was boredom and the lack thereof. Fringe benefit of being pureblood, Remus sometimes thought, but only deep in his mind where it wouldn't show.
"Haven't started," Sirius whispered back. He was about to say something, but then the Professor reached them and so they couldn't talk anymore. Remus was sure Sirius was going to ask to borrow his when Remus was done with it. It was like sunrise, it was inevitable.
He went to bed without doing the essay. James said, as he fell under the blankets, "we really need you to get going, Remus," and then, "your part's important."
Advanced Curses, for which there was an entrance test they'd have to take in June simply to enroll, as well as wizarding security, those were important. The political pressure on the Ministry of Magic to bring in other nations' Dark Wizard catchers to stem the tide of bad news and disappearances, that was important. "If it's so important," Remus replied, yawning, "you do it."
Of course, it wouldn't come to that. Sirius had been flapping a rough drawing on a piece of parchment in Remus's face for the entirety of the study hall - it was supposed to be the beginnings of a map of the school, but there was no way to have it look around corners, and there was no way to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Sirius, being the determined sort, had decided that today was the day they were going to solve both those problems. The flapping was making it rather hard to focus on different ways to block a covert attack without knowing it was coming, especially since Sirius had just taken away Remus's textbook.
In a fit of unthinking pique, not to mention a desperate attempt to get Sirius to leave him alone for ten minutes, Remus said, "teach it to think already!"
Sirius blinked. "Hmmmm."
James, of course, thought it was a smashingly brilliant idea. James also, of course, thought in fourth year that magically attaching various things to the ceiling of the Common Room just to see which would fall down first was a smashingly brilliant idea.
Peter asked, "but won't it take a fairly - I mean," and he coughed nervously, "that's fairly Dark Magic. We'd have to get to the Forbidden section of the Library, and--"
Sirius pulled a little pamphlet out of his pocket, which looked like a moldy Muggle bus schedule. He muttered to it, and immediately it turned into a list of items for sale from Borgin and Burkes, Suppliers.
"--well, yes, or we could just send away," Peter added.
Sirius passed the little parchment over, and Peter started skimming. "It's a bit pricey," Sirius told them, "but James should have more than enough to cover us."
"Hey!" James started. Remus had already started to tune them out, recognizing the signs. They were going to be at it a while, and that probably meant that, yes - he surreptitiously moved his armchair away from the three of them and closer to the window - he could maybe get at least six inches done before they noticed his existence again.
Across the room, when Peter exclaimed "Vampire blood!" before ducking his head, Lily eyed them. Vampire blood. Fantastic.
It happened accidentally. James would later say, serendipitously. Remus would say unfortunately. It didn't really matter - it happened accidentally, and once James caught the whiff of an idea, there was no way to prevent it.
It was Chinese food for tea again, at least at the Gryffindor table. Lily sat down, and said, "I quite like these wizarding fortune cookies. They're a bit unpredictable, but it's an ingenious charm."
Sirius and Peter had started an argument about who was going to get the last of the egg rolls; James, meanwhile, had a vacant expression. "You might say," he said slowly, "That the cookie knows what's going on. Intelligent, even." Beside him, Sirius's mouth dropped open.
Lily said, "I recognize this. What?"
"Nothing, my dear, absolutely nothing," James said. Beside him, Sirius was casually sweeping bowl after bowl of fortune cookie into his bag. Remus put his head in his hands. This couldn't be good.
"Try wiping your mouth?" James said, helpfully leaning over the back of his chair and spinning around in a circle. It made Remus feel much, much sicker.
"Why did you make him eat that cookie anyway?" Peter asked.
Remus sighed. He knew why James had made him eat the cookie; it was because James flat-out refused to, and Sirius wasn't available. Of course. He'd made sure to be unavailable and now Remus was seeing everything upside-down.
"I told you not to eat it," James said gravely. "Wizarding fortune cookies are dangerous."
Remus looked at him.
"Are you really seeing the whole world upside-down?" James asked, and kept spinning around on the stool. Remus closed his eyes; surely, surely James would stop. "That's a tricky bit of potion."
Remus opened his eyes and looked at him.
James had a hand on his mouth, thoughtful. "If I tried to duplicate it - I mean, would your recognize the feeling again?"
Remus looked at him.
Remus didn't turn around.
James was staring at him. Remus knew James was staring at him because James's eyes were drilling bore holes in the side of his skull; it was quite possible, Remus felt, that James may have developed some kind of magic vision beam - thing - while away last hols. It was also quite possible that he was using it to drive Remus mad.
While Professor Binns told them all about Ulrich the Odd's campaign in the spring of 1407, Sirius leaned over. "I think James wants a word with you."
"James wants to convince me I'm dying to put something in my mouth, chew it up, and then ingest it, that he's actually created himself. He might just be mad."
Sirius leaned farther over, ostensibly tucking something away in his bag. Of course, Sirius could be standing on his head and Binns probably wouldn't see him until Sirius fell on his head, and maybe not then--
"Remus, we have to observe the effects," James told him, reasonably. "It's just--"
"Go bark up someone else's tree," Remus said. "I don't even like them."
Apparently, Remus's likes and dislikes - much like the planets and stars and even moon - didn't apply to the world of James Potter. James, he tended to go along in one course, simply refusing anyone else's nay-say, much like a steaming locomotive approaching right for you.
After advanced Transfigurations, Remus found himself stuck in the Common Room with a plate of fortune cookies and a glass of milk. He mentally counted ways to throw James out the window. "Is there any way in the universe that you'll allow me to not do this?" As James held out the first one, Remus sighed. "I didn't think so."
Peter and Sirius tumbled in, with a plate of noodles and bok choy each. "Thought we'd have a snack," Sirius offered.
James shoved the first cookie under Remus's nose. Remus took the cookie. Not because he wanted to, for sure. He didn't even have to take the cookie. The one thing people didn't understand about Sirius and James is that you always had an option, with them - you didn't have to do what they wanted.
It was just, the alternatives were often so unpleasant. Remus snapped it in half, and gingerly started to chew. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the far-off chugging of a train.
For three weeks his fingers tingled at any sign of rain, his toes went blue when he faced his enemies, and he sang a song while completing important tasks. It was enough. It was more than enough. James tried every kind of potion; he snuck out to Hogsmeade to buy chocolates to put spells in, and then finally forced Remus to chew on the paper itself. It was, Remus decided, more than enough.
James held a cookie out, a piece of paper wrapped up and stuck in the centre. Remus shook his head. "No."
"But Peter won't, and you'll need me to make the antidote..."
"No." He was not going to eat another fortune cookie.
"But this one only says that if you look into the future, a bird in the hand is worth two on the wing!" James thrust the cookie into his hand. "And it's nearly the last of this bag. We have to find the right cookie if we ever want to duplicate it."
Remus pointed to Peter, who shook his head and crossed his arms. Remus looked at the cookie. The fortune was a little white piece of paper, and it chirped invitingly. Remus sighed, and ate the cookie. Looking back on it later in life, it wouldn't be the biggest thing he'd ever regret, but it did make the (admittedly long) list.
When he didn't sprout wings or start to warble, James and Peter both were disappointed. Sirius offered to warble; James slapped him upside the head. "Must have been a dud," James told them all, annoyed, and tossed the fortune aside.
Later, he'd be secretly glad of the horrible aim, that instead of landing in the fire, the fortune bounced to the ground a ways off and sat, forgotten.
In the middle of a squabble about who won 'invisible yonkers' - a game Sirius had invented using a piece of string, five Exploding Snap decks, three Knuts, and a lot of noise - Remus had a vision.
"Oh, come off it," Sirius scoffed. "A vision? All that malarkey's fake."
"My Nan had a vision once," Peter mumbled. "She saw my uncle fall off a bridge, and the next day he did."
James raised an eyebrow. "A vision, though? Remus?"
Remus was beginning to regret ever saying anything. Laughed at, ridiculed, that he should have expected. Misbelieved, sure. But he truly resented when Sirius quipped, "Maybe he's just cracking up. Seeing things and the like."
"Oh shut up." He had looked up from his two Knuts - he'd been winning - and saw James standing behind a wedding cake. James had been laughing, looking careless, but also sad.
Sirius sat bolt upright. "You know what it was, don't you?" Fishing around in the discarded rubbish at his feet, Sirius finally straightened up, triumphant. In his hand was the discarded fortune.
"Remus," James said, "whose bloody awful idea was this, anyway?"
"Yours, I believe," he replied, and shifted around uncomfortably in the cupboard, but it was useless - nothing he could do could possibly restore blood flow to his lower extremities. "Everything below my knees is asleep," he added.
"My arse is numb," James told him. "Memo to me: never follow your own advice again. Especially when it involves going into store cupboards where your wands can't create any light."
"I could have told you that," and Remus tried to carefully stretch his right leg out in the utter darkness without accidentally knocking something over.
They had - well, James had - decided to investigate a possible secret passage and shortcut from the Divination tower to the Quidditch pitch via the kitchen pantry. However, waiting concealed in a store cupboard for someone to come along and use the shortcut so they could get the password proved to have one major disadvantage, which was demonstrated when they were locked in. It was possible that the door might have responded to a simple unlocking spell, but then they'd be caught.
There was a bit of a shuffle, and James said, a little brighter, "I think I just backed into a stack of baker's chocolate."
"All is not lost, then," Remus told him. "Taste it and see if it's dark or milk."
"Milk," James said after a second, and passed some over.
Remus chewed on a chunk thoughtfully, and carefully rearranged himself on his bale of flour. "You know what I wish we could have right now? Some lemon cake."
James fumbled, thrusting the chocolate back at Remus. "Help me find a way out of here. I'm starving."
"Don't you have your mirror with you?" Remus asked. "We could get Sirius to try and find us from the outside."
"Much good it'd do us in the dark," James answered. "Besides, he's still in the hospital wing for dueling, cleaning bedpans or something." Even though he couldn't actually see it, Remus knew James was shaking his head in pity. "Poor bastard. Injured and in detention."
"I'm still a bit in shock they managed to thrash him so badly."
"Told me they ganged up on him. Plus when Slughorn found them of course he let everyone but Sirius go. Sirius was going to appeal it, but McGonagall was busy--" James trailed off. "Didn't he tell you?"
Remus accidentally put his elbow in a tin of butter, and made a face in the dark. "I've been a bit busy. Classes, you know? Not all of us can breeze through our lives you know."
There was another bit of shuffling, and James's voice said, "I've covered the wall I was sitting against." Remus heard a muffled curse, and then, "I think I stepped into a box of corn flour."
"I'll just sit here while you fumble," he told James.
"We don't all breeze through life, you know," James said, and Remus scrubbed at his face, trying to stop his skin from feeling so suddenly heated, like he'd been sitting too close to the fire; of course they didn't. Sirius had one room during the summer, James was living with his grandparents. No one - and then James said, "Damn. Nothing on this wall either. I did find some lemon cakes, by their smell, though."
"Pass them over." Remus hesitated. "I didn't mean to imply that."
James's arm whacked him on the shoulder as the smell of lemon suddenly got much stronger. "Little cakes," James said. "Bite sized. Take the whole bag." He stepped around Remus awkwardly, moving to try and test the last remaining wall in their little cell. "I know," James added. "Lily says the same thing all the time, you know - that we don't realize things because we just don't find anything hard."
Remus opened the cakes to give himself a moment to think. "You remember that conversation?" he asked James.
"You knew about it?"
"Of course," Remus said, and then, "I was the one that told Lily to say it. Sometimes it takes repetition to get anything through your head. Both of you."
"We're never getting out of here," James said, and sighed. Remus nodded, even though James couldn't see him. "Do you get angry at Sirius for it?"
Remus thought. "Sometimes," he said. "But by now I've nearly given up hope. Lily, as you know, is much more determined than I."
It was true that he didn't get particularly angry with Sirius, not anymore. It was also true sometimes for no reason at all that Remus found himself completely and utterly uncomfortable in Sirius's company. In anyone's, really, because they had all changed so much in the last year or so - they had all done things that Remus still couldn't understand. Sometimes even he felt like a stranger to himself. With James and Peter, he could ignore it as best he could. But Sirius had a knack of continuing to do utterly and inexplicable things and proving yet again that Remus didn't really know him at all.
He was never going to explain all of this to James, however. Remus wasn't even sure he could if he wanted to. Thankfully, James seemed willing to drop it. "Find anything yet?"
"Not a bloody thing."
Remus sighed. He had homework to catch up on - surprise, surprise - and now he'd be up all hours trying to do it. He leaned back, resting his hand on what he thought was a shelf, and caught himself just as he started to fall over backwards. Very much aware that the passage he'd found could lead damn near anywhere, he started to whisper. "James!"
The two of them carefully peered into the hole the lever had exposed in the wall. It was nearly as black as their storeroom. Remus felt along the opening, and found what he was hoping for - and what had been lacking in the pantry cupboard - a candle holder and candle. Risking the spell, Remus lit the candle.
"Where are we?" James muttered.
"It looks like," and Remus trailed off. He really had no idea. On every wall of the little room were little doors. A little stone walkway ran around the length of the wall above them, with another row of doors.
Ever so carefully, Remus opened the closest door, and peered out the crack. He could only see the back of a tapestry until James held the candle closer, and then they could make out things behind the tapestry, students hurrying down the hall. Remus didn't recognize the corridor right away, but it was a busy one.
James opened the one beside it, hunkering down to peer through. They could see clearly this one lead to the steps of the Owlry. It was hidden carefully behind a stone pillar Remus had never taken much notice of before. Perhaps the door on the other side was charmed to look like the stone.
Remus was counting the passages up quickly; about fifteen each row, nearly thirty in total. Assuming none actually lead anywhere off-limits, like right into the Common Rooms or teacher's lounge or anything--
Obviously James had been thinking along the same lines. "Remus," he murmured slowly, "do you know what we've found?"
As they made their way to the hospital wing to tell Sirius, James said, "we're going to need some labels."
Their amazing discovery was somewhat tainted by the fact that when they tried to show it to everyone else, the room was gone. "I just don't understand it!" James said, slapping the arm of his chair.
Peter frowned. "Pity. We could have used that."
"Sirs, pardon," the house elf following Peter said, "but I think - you is finding the come-and-go room."
"What?" James said.
The house elf bobbed, putting its tray down - Peter wanted snacks, like usual. "There is a room, it comes and goes. It is whatever you need."
"How do you find it!" James asked, excited.
"I is not knowing," the house elf told them sadly. "So sorry."
"Oh, damn," James said, and waved to the house elf, who scurried off again. "That's useless. We'll have to do it the old fashioned way."
"Where'd the secret passage you found go this time?"
James said, "The dungeons. Right by potions." Sirius made a face as James added, "it's interesting, since it seems to lead anywhere at any time, but not very useful. Forget it."
It was easy to forget the room. It was less easy to forget everything else, especially when James started poking him with his wand to try and figure out which charm would induce a vision. "Stop it," Remus said, and then he nearly fainted from seeing an Irish Quidditch player fall off his broom.
The next thing he saw was Sirius physically slamming a door on his thumb, and then himself coming over to check on Sirius. They said a few lines, though Remus couldn't actually hear the words, and then Sirius opened the door again. The angry, closed look on his face was untranslatable; it was almost festered. Certainly it stayed with Remus quite a while, stayed under his skin. He thought about it when Sirius sat down to breakfast, he thought about it while they walked to Transfiguration two days in a row.
He thought about it when he went to bed, and found himself up at two in the morning, attempting to study because he couldn't sleep.
"You aren't seeing the future, not really," Sirius snapped, and then broke open a fortune. "Look!"
He ate up the fortune cookie, and then, as Remus didn't look very impressed, snapped open three more in quick succession, gulping them down. "Sirius--" Remus said, and then, "What else could they be?"
"They're nothing, Remus, these are just tricks, little pieces of paper, okay!" Sirius grabbed more and chewed. The fortunes were gathering in a little pile, all insistently giving their advice; Remus heard something about golums and something about fences. It seemed as if they were all trying to drown each other out.
"I just." Remus sighed. "I keep seeing things that. They're something."
"They're not," Sirius said, and then his ears went red and his face went green, and he clutched his stomach.
Perhaps fortune cookies were best in moderation, Remus thought. He said, "Did you really just eat eleven fortune cookies simply to make a point?"
Sirius scowled at him, clutching his belly. He didn't know why he'd asked, really. Of course Sirius had. Remus flipped the page of his book. Beside Sirius, fortune number seven chirped out, "If you spellcast like a Doxy there's no way to be a bird!"
The only reason they didn't take James' Prefect badge away was because, now that Remus wasn't allowed - "damn the Ministry bastards, anyway," Sirius tended to say - to hold a badge, the only other options were handing it over to Peter, who'd probably drop it on his toe and stab himself, or Sirius - "I'd be a good Prefect," - which McGonagall flat-out refused to do.
"And not only that, Mr. Potter," she said, eying them over her glasses, "simply because I did not find you at the scene of this incredibly sticky crime, does not mean I am so dim as to not realize you were involved."
James shuffled his feet.
"Truly, James," and Professor McGonagall sighed. "I thought perhaps you had matured in the last year enough to honor that badge we gave you."
Sirius started to stand up, and James knew he was getting ready to protest vehemently James' involvement one more time. James stood, hand on Sirius's shoulder. He stared at McGonagall, and told her quietly, "I believe you don't fully understand, Professor."
She tilted her head. "Very well. Perhaps I do not." She gestured for James to sit again, which he did, kneading his knuckles one by one. "Let us put aside this messy business," and James stifled a grin - they'd managed to make the entryway a nice puffy marshmallow texture for over an hour - "to discuss next week's Hogsmeade monitors."
They never called them patrols, because the lower students, cheerful as they were, didn't know about them yet.
"Mr. Potter," and James nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Er." He very un-surreptitiously hid the spell book under the tabletop.
It was a book of spells to track magic use - specifically magic use for disguise. The writer was of the firm opinion that, if you can't track a wizard, you can track a wizard by tracking where he is not. Magic leaves a signature, and so if you look for the blank places, there you have the wizards. It was similar to the method that the Ministry used to trace underage magic use, James had told them. James, though, was of the firm opinion they just needed to take that complex magical theory and translate it into a pithy one-liner able to be stuffed into the middle of a cookie, and they'd have things solved.
James could have probably got away with having it, even in transfiguration, because it could be a study book. Remus knew that McGonagall had caught James off-guard, and so now there was nothing to be done. "Yes?"
"What, precisely, do you have there?"
McGonagall stared at him down her nose, lips pursed. James tried his best to look innocent; McGonagall stared down at him, harder. James cleared his throat.
"Mr. Potter," McGonagall said, "I believe you and I have detention tomorrow night. A horrible shame, for a prefect to still be receiving such a punishment."
The reason they found it was, Sirius always could smell fresher air, even in the castle.
"You know what this is, lads?" Sirius said, shifting briefly from his canine form. "This is a tunnel leading off the grounds. We've gone miles by now."
Remus rolled his eyes; he was the most uncomfortable, being unable to shift form and crawl up the tunnel. James would be equally miserable, if he wasn't in detention for being caught with illicit material. Small comfort it was to know that however sore Remus's back was, it couldn't beat how uncomfortable James would be in the morning after having scrubbed the kitchen floor.
Peter paused, shifting back into human form too. He wiped his brow. "Do you really think so?" he asked, excited. "We've got another way out of Hogwarts?"
Sirius turned to Remus, a big beaming grin on his face. "I think so, lads," he finally said slowly. Sirius was carrying the air of a great announcement, of the tides rolling aside just for them, moving out of the way and letting them get to Hogsmeade without being caught. "I do believe so."
Peter clapped his hands; Sirius changed back into dog form, and sniffed the air, then set off bounding down the tunnel. Peter shifted and followed him. Remus stretched his lower back out, and rubbed his tailbone.
"What did you see?" James said, peering into Remus's face eagerly. His breath smelled like the chocolate chip cookies the house elves had brought them, Remus thought stupidly, and then instantly regretted it.
"Come on," Peter said, nearly bouncing in excitement. "What's going to be on our test? What's going to happen? Come on!"
What's going to happen, Remus thought. Somehow, he wasn't entirely sure he was feeling quite all right. He had seen a light, and a motorbike, and then someone's face, laughing like it was the end of the world. The face was restrained by people in official ministry robes, wands at the ready. What's going to happen. Around them were bodies in jeans and tee shirts.
"Come on," James said, laughing, "I'm dying to know. What's on our tombstones?"
Remus's head jerked up, sharply, and he frowned. "Don't be stupid," he said, angry.
Sirius was just coming into the Common Room, another plateful of food in his arms. Remus's head swung slowly around, his gaze coming to rest on Sirius's face, his eyes, his forehead. What's going to happen, Remus thought again, and when James asked, "why won't you tell us?" Remus turned away from Sirius and said,
"I don't remember."
The last vision he had was actually during Charms. Thankfully, Professor Flitwick didn't notice, because Remus paused utterly in the spell he was trying to cast, and started staring off into space. James also didn't notice, unfortunately, and hit him with a stray jinx.
"Sorry about that," he said hastily, applying the counter-jinx immediately, but Remus didn't notice - he was staring down a street in London, and then he was staring at the front door of an old house, the knocker carved into an elegant snake, and then he was passing through the door into the house. There was dust everywhere; dust and here and there, footprints on the carpet. The footprints stood out, as if they were put there by magic. Curtains hung on the wall of the front entrance. There was no sign of the family he knew lived there, no voice, no pictures, no mementos; his vision spun around the house at a dizzying speed, and he caught glimpses of people, but none he recognized, strangers in rooms he knew to belong to someone else.
James put a hand on his shoulder, and Remus blinked, and it was gone.
Sirius and Peter, used now to the state Remus ended up in when he was seeing things, came up eagerly. Peter said, "what! What was it this time?"
"I don't know," Remus said. He stared at a spot on the floor without seeing it; he said, "It was weird. Sirius, I think it was your house--"
"It's not my house," Sirius interrupted sharply.
"It was your family's house," Remus repeated stubbornly - the more interruptions the farther the vision got, it was just a mental flash now - "but there were different people there."
It had been an odd feeling to Remus, especially since he'd only been summarily thrown out of the Black manor once before, and thus wasn't intimately acquainted with it. Still, with the few seconds staring at the door knocker, the flash of the inside front hall, Remus knew the Blacks were no longer in residence. It was the same, and yet not; something was stirring, deep down.
"I think," Remus said - he closed his eyes, trying to remember what the fading impression, the visual equivalent of a faint smell. "I think," he said, "that all the pictures were covered." Remus scratched his head. "What could that mean?"
Sirius didn't want to hear it.
"I've got it, it's a very small adjustment in the second charm!" James held a wrinkly parchment out, covered in half drawings of birds and wands and one or two dirty pictures. "Look, all you have to do is make sure that the 'when' is 'where', so to speak, and the paper knows!"
"Knows what?" Peter asked, peering over James's shoulder. "Quidditch scores?"
"No, fool." James brandished the parchment. "Where everyone is in the castle. All we have to do is perfect it, a little tweaking, and then we can phase out the cookie part and make the--"
Remus held a hand up. "Cookie?"
James looked at him.
"I don't care what you offer me, James, I refuse to eat any more cookies."
James started to apologize, but Remus tuned him out. They'd managed to find a way to turn off the visions, and so Remus wasn't seeing anything but what was right in front of him - and since James was hanging fireworks off the edge of the fireplace, that was quite enough - but the damage was already done.
"Come on!" James said. "Now that we have a way out of here, let's take advantage of it. One-eyed witch, say an hour?"
"Course," Sirius said. "And now we'll be able to see farther than right in front of our face - no more detentions."
Remus caught his winter robe in one outstretched hand. Apparently the field trip wasn't voluntary. He didn't entirely feel comfortable putting his trust in this new-found ability to sneak out because of a piece of parchment, but then again, he could foresee worse things happening.