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Seven Things That Didn't Happen On Valentine's Day At Hogwarts, Or Maybe They Did

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I.

When James walked into the dormitory, he was pink.

Remus blinked, and set down his pen. Sirius' fingers loosened around his quill and it fell to parchment with a soft, feathery sound, black ink blotting over his scrawled Charms homework.

James narrowed his brown eyes at them and said, "Stop it."

Contrarily, Remus continued to gape.

Sirius said, "Christ--you're pink."

James was pink from head to toe, and from what Remus could see, it was the same exact color all over--not like a sunburn with varying shades, but a solid stomach-medicine hue, vaguely nauseating in and of itself. It had to be Charmwork. Advanced Charmwork from the looks of it--magic that no regular first year ought to have known. Which narrowed the field to James--who was predisposed to magic; Sirius--who was predisposed to mischief; Remus--who was predisposed to reading; or Snape.

James huffed and unclasped his robe viciously, tossing it over the foot of his bed and jerked at his loosened tie, muttering under his breath.

Sirius cocked one dark, arching brow. "Was it Snivellus?"

The gears in his head appeared to be turning already and Remus couldn't repress the disapproving frown that appeared on his face. There didn't seem to be any point in trying to change their minds, but it felt good sometimes to remind them what utter gits they were--despite how worrisome it was at the same time; how tremulous and strange to push his luck with the only friends he'd ever had.

And on some level, Remus was grateful that James and Sirius were being somewhat civil to one another. After months of posturing and machoism over what seemed to be the most reasonless grudge in the history of time--"Sirius is a Black!" and "Potter is a rotter!"--any peace in the first year boys' dormitory was appreciated. There'd been too much tension, and Remus--as much as he liked Sirius--was getting sick of being the only person Sirius had to drag along on highly dangerous and mostly horrible pranks in the dead of night. With any luck, Sirius and James would commune over this incident and Remus would finally be allowed to sleep through the night.

Also, they might stop poking about, asking why he was gone once a month. He was running out of relatives to kill off and short-term illnesses to develop.

"D'you think I'd let that snake get close enough to do this?" James said, insulted.

Remus coughed. Sirius grinned and said, "Yes."

"I don't want to talk about it, all right?" James finally said, fuming.

Remus cast a glance at Sirius before shrugging and settling back to his Transfiguration dichotomy table. A few moments of strange silence passed before Sirius shouted, "For Christ's sake, James--you're bloody pink!"

James started to yell something, bloodlust gleaming in his eyes just as Remus cleared his throat loudly and asked, "Say, how did that Valentine for Lily go over?"

At the dead silence, Remus blinked, regarded James' furious blush, apparent even in the thick pink of his skin, and then gaped again. "She didn't," Remus said incredulously.

Sirius laughed so hard he fell off of his bed. "She did."

Remus said, "Erm."

"Spiffing girl," Sirius said in between guffaws. "Wonderful sense of occasion."

Remus choked, fought, and gave in, burying his face into a pillow and laughed himself sick.

James fumed. "I hate both of you, and hope that you die."

 

II.

Remus trudged into the Great Hall and mustered a smile for James, Sirius, and Peter. They were all waiting and wearing concerned expressions, which may or may not have had anything to do with the pronounced limp that Remus suffered.

"Good morning," he said weakly, feeling his taped ribs protest as he gingerly lowered himself into one of the seats at the long table. He wanted to reach for some food--and he was starved--but he couldn't bear to risk it. He'd spent two and a half hours leaking tears while Madam Pomfrey bawled and patched him up and sniffled that werewolf puberty was just inhumane; there really wasn't much point to pushing his luck and trying to move more than utterly necessary.

James stared at him for a solid minute, and Remus started feeling his heartbeat accelerate uncomfortably as he realized that nobody had said anything yet.

"Is something wrong?" he asked, and felt stupid doing it.

The cut on his mouth was visible and looked just as bad as it hurt. Maybe, Remus thought crazily, I ought to tell them that Mum's beating me.

Peter looked down at the table and James piled up a plate of food, high with potatoes and eggs and sausage and two slices of French toast with syrup all over it. Sirius winced as the food all ran together and Remus breathed--maybe it was a normal morning after all.

And then James pushed the plate in front of Remus while Peter started pouring a glass of pumpkin juice even though his own was still mostly-full. Sirius glared at him and didn't say a word. The nauseous feeling was back and his appetite abandoned him.

"I just fell down," Remus explained lamely. And at their stares, he added with a nervous laugh, "Terrible day for it, too. Can't see anybody fancying someone as klutzy as me, right?"

Peter nodded noncommittally. "Sure."

James frowned.

Sirius continued to glare.

Remus was starting to panic. "Say," he said, high-pitched, "the owls aren't here yet."

James said, "Oh. They'll be here soon. We sent the Valentines at last minute."

"It should be good," Peter supplied, looking nervously at Sirius by his side. "The hexes were good."

Remus said, "That's lovely." He forced himself to eat some eggs because James looked as if he were about to have a fit. "So."

"We know, so stop hiding," Sirius said abruptly, slamming his hands down the breakfast table. The jolt sent two forks flying, while the pumpkin juice tipped over from the impact. Orange liquid ran down the table along a groove and dripped with a sickening tap tap tap onto the ancient stone floors.

Remus swallowed the eggs, stood up so quickly he felt one of his gashes reopen, and as Sirius' eyes widened at the blossoming red on Remus' left shirtsleeve, Remus threw up.

They missed the owls.

*

"That was incredibly disgusting," Sirius remarked, sitting on the side of Remus' bed and kicking his legs against the rails. Madam Pomfrey was in a corner sniffling, having barely kept it together while bandaging Remus again. Sirius had said, "Astounding. I've never seen the old bird even bat an eye for anybody else."

Remus stared at the ceiling and thought about what he'd tell his parents.

"Though," Sirius said judiciously, "those eggs didn't look much worse coming back up than they had going back down." He made a face. "There was syrup on them, Remus. And they'd touched the potatoes--and the sausage. I don't see how you can eat that."

Remus felt that Sirius was focusing on the wrong things. Perhaps, he ought to remind his friend--no, his ex-friend--that Remus was a werewolf, and that once a month, he liked nothing better than to attempt to bite people and tear helpless virgins and virtuous men limb from limb. Or so the story went.

Sirius frowned and moved closer, putting one hand on either side of Remus' face and leaning in until Remus was convinced he'd have to bite Sirius anyway--fur and fangs or otherwise.

"Hey," Sirius said, blue eyes angry.

Remus blinked, and said, "What?"

Sirius pulled away, scowling. "You're ignoring me."

Remus decided that maybe it was worth the excruciating pain if he could run away. "You know."

Sirius sighed and shuffled up until he was leaning against the headboard of the infirmary bed, his hip--warm underneath his clothes--pressing against the side of Remus' hair., Sirius was alive and real and not some creation of Remus' fevered mind: he knew and he was there anyway. Some part of Remus hoped that it meant something. Twelve was a very confusing age, Remus decided; he didn't like it much and he felt that he needed to write a letter about that to somebody.

"We didn't pay much attention at first," Sirius admitted, embarrassed. "That's our own fault. You were always so tired and coming in cut up, and we just assumed that your mum beat you or something."

Remus turned to stare at the ceiling again. At least he knew his plan might have worked.

"We should have figured it out earlier," Sirius said decisively.

"And then what?" Remus asked, hoarse. He was dizzy and nauseated.

Sirius frowned. "If you weren't all banged up already I'd punch you." He poked Remus in the temple instead. "We could figured out how to help you, you daft cow."

Remus stared.

"What did you think," Sirius went on, "that we'd tell everybody? That we'd get you thrown out of school?" He grinned, broad and uncomplicated and trademark Black. "Then who'd do my Arithmancy homework?"

Remus thought he was going to be sick again, but felt it would ruin the moment.

"Since when are you and James friends?" he murmured.

Sirius shrugged. "He's all right," he admitted defensively. "Still a bloody rotten Exploding Snap player and couldn't prank properly if his life depended on it, but there's hope." He looked thoughtful. "He was worried about you, too. Came and asked me if I'd noticed something."

Remus felt delirious. It was entirely too much to process but that didn't matter, because Sirius had very clearly implied that nobody was going to be kicked out of school.

Sirius said, "You should have told us. We're your friends." He sounded hurt. "I'm your friend."

It took a long time, and Remus was nearly certain he was going to cry. "I'm sorry," he managed.

Sirius was quiet, but he slouched against the bedframe, sliding down far enough that his shoulder was pressed to Remus' cheek, and that meant something, too.

"Go to sleep," Sirius whispered. "Madam Pomfrey said she'd write you a note."

Remus nodded, bleary and crazy but settled, comfortable, warm with Sirius beside him. He was nearly thirteen years old and a boy besides, he shouldn't need somebody to stay with him, and he wouldn't ask--but only because he had a feeling that Sirius would stay, and would be there when he woke up later, too.

If anybody saw them, they'd both die of embarrassment. But Sirius frequently did stupid things for Remus, and Remus knew there was nothing he could say or do to change that.

"Wolf," Remus said as he drifted.

Sirius asked, "What?"

"You called me a daft cow," Remus murmured, and the light at the edges of the room faded into black, wrapping around him like a blanket. "I'm a wolf."

Remus wasn't sure if he'd dreamed it or heard it, but Sirius said, "Yes. Of course you are."

*

"That was vile," Remus stated.

James started peeling off his socks. There were eight house elves--usually so quiet and invisible--standing there in mute shock, gathering bits of clothing that the four boys were tossing onto the floor of the boys washroom. Gideon had declared they reeked and that he was sleeping in the common room and how he hated all of them, even if Valentines Day had been a good show.

Sirius shrugged cheerfully. "Frankly, I think that Snape has the worst end of the deal." He was trying to unbutton his shirt but his fingers kept sliding off of the tiny, slime-covered buttons.

All four shared a moment of thoughtful silence, and then shuddered in disgust.

"You're a sick, sick man, Sirius," James said, almost respectful. He handed a house elf his tie apologetically and the creature almost cried as it oozed yellow sludge.

"It's his own fault for opening an ugly Valentine from somebody named 'Muffy,' I have no sympathy." Sirius slapped one hand on James' shoulder and said, "Learn from the master."

James narrowed his eyes. "Why you--"

And before they could start snarking at one another, Remus interrupted "How much longer do you think it'll take to muck out that swamp?" He was trying to unbuckle his belt but was having no more success than Sirius had with his buttons, and the slime was starting to burn.

Peter was squeezing the goo out of his hair. "From the plants that I saw when that Grindylowe tried to drown me? Three weeks, at least."

Remus groaned, James hissed, and Sirius growled. Peter said, "Oh my God, it got in my eyes!"

Later that night, laying in their beds and freshly scrubbed from the showers, Sirius said loudly, "We'll have to change the trick next year, you see. Because they won't fall for fake Valentines anymore--"

Remus threw a pillow at him.

III.

Pink paper and frilly lace was spread an inch thick around them, and Peter was pasting two curls of ribbon on a large red heart.

Remus flipped through the Astronomy book, and asked distractedly, "Sirius is?"

"A wanker?"

"A prat?"

Remus didn't bother to hide a smile as Sirius tried to hit both James and Peter at the same time. He ran a finger down the middle of the Astronomy textbook and smiled, saying evenly, "Yes and?"

Sirius shot him a dirty look but stopped trying to strangle James long enough to shout, "Main sequence! And stop trying to make me learn. I can't be bothered!"

Remus turned another page and asked, "What about the sun?"

James tackled Sirius into the carpet and Peter muttered to himself as he tried to scrub the paste out of his hair. The Valentine was a waste and Sirius was covered in some Muggle creation that Remus had explained was "glitter" and which James had taken to calling "Ponce powder."

Sirius groaned from the floor as James pushed himself back up on all fours and crawled over to his own impressive stack of paper and ponce. James said, "It's big. And yellow."

"That," Remus said lightly, "is why you're not in Advanced Astronomy." He turned back to Sirius. "Come on now."

Sirius groaned again. Remus frowned and kicked him.

"Main sequence, too," Sirius finally said and did not budge from the floor.

Remus smiled and shut the book. The three other boys stared at him. They said, "Well?"

Remus grinned broadly and tossed the volume onto the bed. "You'll be fine." He rubbed his hands together. "And now--Valentines?"

Sirius and James whooped.

*

"I'm not sure at all that this hex is safe," Remus said thoughtfully around his fourth Chocolate Frog of the evening.

Sirius had deposited an enormous sack of candy between the four of them earlier that day and instructed them to have at it. He said that it was partially because he could stand James and Peter and Remus and that alone meant that they deserved something, as the House of Black had always been generous to friends.

"Safe is in the eye of the pranker," Sirius lectured. He chewed on a jelly slug. "Besides, if you're not going to let me touch the one for Snivellus, the least you can do is give me a good show."

Sirius had made Snape's Valentine last year. They'd served four weeks detention for it and Snape had to have special dispensation to wring the oil out of his hair every forty minutes, which had been less funny and more disgusting--even for a Slytherin.

Remus frowned and decided on another hex.

"You are so full of crap, Black," James said cheerfully.

Remus and Peter both cocked brown eyebrows in James' direction.

Sirius deadpanned, "Right."

They all looked at Lily's Valentine.

Which, over the course of three hours, had grown from a simple pink card extolling James' virtues and reminding her how blind and daft she was to be ignoring his love, into a monstrosity of ribbon and lace. It'd more than tripled in size and now looked more like a macabre patchwork poster, an unfortunate victim of carnage. To add insult to serious injury, James had somehow discovered Remus' book of Shakespearian poetry and started adding various lines that had absolutely no bearing upon one another. Sonnet 3 was adorned with an enormous pair of red lips on the back of page 4, section B, cut from felt and charmed to express affection at the receiver. So far, it had attempted to attack both Peter and an armoire.

James smiled proudly at it. "She'll be begging for me once she gets this."

"For your expulsion," Remus said under his breath.

Peter chewed on some Pepper Imps and stared at his card thoughtfully. "You know," he said, "this'd be a lot easier if we didn't have to do it the night before."

Remus shrugged and reached for a pair of scissors. "Can't be helped," he said. "They were still being sent until the Owlery got locked up three hours ago."

Really, Remus thought and stared at Crabbe's card, which was a lovely shade of puce and had what looked suspiciously like Goyle's characteristically illegible handwriting scrawled all over it. Part of him almost felt bad about it, but if the owls were afraid of him, then who was he not to take advantage of it? He'd only just indicated that they needed to place their owners' Valentines into a conveniently large box and they'd complied. It'd almost been too easy.

Speaking of which. "It'd also be easier if James would help, the miserable prat."

Sirius smirked and grabbed a Butterbeer Pop. Unwrapping it, he added, "Yeah, especially since it's his grand idea." He frowned. "So far you've made Moony and me and Pete do all the dirty work, James. Bad show."

James leveled them all a glare. "Can't you see I'm busy wooing?"

Peter snorted and turned back to the delicate task of copying out Narcissa Black's spidery handwriting onto a new sheet of pink vellum.

"And doing a terrible job of it," Sirius growled. "You've only been at it since first year." He jerked a thumb toward Remus and said, "Moony here already saw her knockers, and he's not even trying."

Dead silence fell in the dormitory and Remus' hand froze mid-sentence.

There was a long pause before Sirius said, "Which was an utter, total joke. Naturally."

Peter said, "Really?" He sounded high-pitched and a bit desperate. "Because I thought so."

Sirius said, "Er."

James roared and launched himself at Remus.

*

James was sporting an impressive bruise on his left cheek when they walked into the Great Hall for breakfast the next day. Remus was wearing a matching bruise on his knuckles, but was carrying it with much more dignity, considering he'd completely and utterly won.

"You cheated," James declared, and flopped down in a chair.

Remus snorted. "By holding you face down while you tried to breathe stone and kill me."

James' strong suit had never been physical violence. It was one of many reasons that he had won the coveted, once-only Best Bleeder In Quidditch award the year previous.

James colored brightly and shouted, "Yes, exactly!"

Remus began buttering his toast. "When are the owls coming?" he asked.

Peter poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice and glanced up at the enchanted ceiling. "Probably not much longer."

Sirius grinned and started his daily process of pushing his food to opposite edges of his plate. "Never fight with a werewolf," he said in a hush, and more loudly, he added, "Besides, Remus only looks girly-- oomph."

Remus dislodged his elbow from Sirius' side and said, "Look!"

From the north windows, dozens and dozens of owls streamed into the Great Hall, pink and red and white envelopes in their talons. Sirius looked as if he was about to bounce right out of his chair and Remus shot a look at James, asking quietly, "Are you sure we only did the Slytherins? We were up until nearly three with them."

Peter watched the Slytherin table warily, and Sirius nearly fell out of his chair in anticipation.

James nodded, never taking his eyes off of the birds. "Trust me-- I did a sorting spell."

Remus looked vaguely impressed.

*

Remus stared at his feet and shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat. "I've never seen her that mad before."

James kept tugging at his robes, pulling them tighter around himself and snuffling into his sweatervest. He muttered, "Yeah. Terrifying woman. I thought she was going to pull us all over her knee and have at it."

"Please, don't remind me," Peter said, pulling the arms of his sleeves down as far as possible to wrap around his fingers.

Sirius leaned against Remus' side and grabbed the loose end of Remus' scarf, wrapping it around his hands. "McGonagall nothing," he growled. "What about our fellow Gryffindors? I thought they were going to eat us."

Remus frowned at Sirius and tried to jerk his scarf away. Sirius whined, "Don't be cruel, Remus." He huddled in closer, making whimpering noises.

Peter moaned and hung his head. "Six hundred points. We're at negative three hundred and forty-two."

James wrapped his arms around himself and rubbed his sides, tilting his head up to stare at the stars against the dark blue sky. "Crazy woman," he said. "Utterly off her rocker. Obviously doesn't want Gryffindor to win the House Cup-- "

"Well I-- Sirius, you parasite, let go!-- don't blame her," Remus said. When Sirius looked at him with a doleful expression, Remus rolled his eyes and shoved his hands back into his pockets. "We gave half the Slytherin house food poisoning." He looked at James accusingly.

"The pages were stuck together!" James howled. "How was I supposed to know it was the wrong potion?"

The three other boys ignored him. At a distance, something in the Forbidden Forest howled back.

Sirius whined again, hands inching toward the hem of Remus' peacoat and Remus punched him in the gut. "Stop trying to crawl into my clothes!" Remus shouted. "It's not my fault you didn't dress properly this morning."

Sirius narrowed his eyes and said, "I was going for 'dashing,' not Russian Magical Army."

Remus ignored him.

"I can't believe they locked us out of the castle," Peter complained.

"I can't believe they took our wands!" James bellowed, running closer to Gryffindor tower and raising his voice as loudly as it'd go. "Did you hear? I can't believe you locked us out of our own home and took our wands!"

Someone threw a shoe out of the window and it bounced off of the frozen ground a few times before settling by James' left foot.

"That is so insulting," Sirius said, voice shaking, "they could have at least tossed a blanket."

Remus snorted. Peter huffed into his hands. Sirius made a desperate grab for Remus' scarf.

James glared at all three of them and said, "Right. We have to take action."

*

"Hey, Lupin! You and Black make an adorable couple!"

Remus groaned and Sirius yelled, "Sod off, you!"

Remus picked at his food and tried to ignore the catcalls from what seemed like every inch of the Great Hall.

Two mornings ago, when Andromeda had let them back into the castle and said that not every Slytherin was mad at them, it had seemed like it was going to be all right after all. Sirius had said, "Andromeda, I know you saw-- " but she'd promised that it was all forgotten, that she'd never say a word. They'd all breathed a sigh of relief.

And then, two days had passed and the photographs had appeared.

Peter hadn't even bothered to come down for breakfast.

Remus glared at Gideon, who passed by and blew him a kiss.

Sirius hid his face in his hands. "I can't believe she posted them in the Great Hall."

With a sigh, Remus leaned forward on his elbows, ignoring a rather disconcerting glance from Severus Snape, who was looking paler than usual after an extended bout of botulism. "I suppose that it could be worse," Remus said thoughtfully.

Sirius glanced at the photos again, at the way that he and Remus were curled into one another.

He looked away, suddenly shy. "We'll never get girlfriends now," he half-complained.

Remus grinned. "Not that we ever do anything with girls over Valentines day, anyway."

To Remus' right, James could be heard saying, "No, Lily! Don't misunderstand! We're not like that at all! We just had to preserve body heat-- !"

Sirius had to laugh at that. "Yeah, not as if."

IV.

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," James said. His glasses were glinting dangerously.

Remus covered his face with his hands. "Oh, no."

James grinned, positively devilish now, and clapped one hand heartily against Remus' back. "Look at it this way," James said, in a voice that wasn't at all reassuring. "It was inevitable anyway."

Remus glared. "How is that supposed to help?"

James shrugged. "It wasn't," he said lightly.

Remus just scowled and fisted his hands in the dark fabric of his robes and stared out the enormous windows that lined the hall, over the students sprawled out on the lawn in the midafternoon sun, and toward the sparkling edge of the lake. The sky was blue and the

grass was green and the clouds were puffy, white blurs. Everything was perfect.

Except that it was February 13th and Hogwarts was already bracing itself for whatever the Marauders had planned. Half of Slytherin was trying to appeal for some sort of amnesty, and Sirius was, apparently, planning something complicated involving the squid.

"So, the squid," Remus said lightly.

James nodded enthusiastically and pushed his glasses higher on his nose.

Remus sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, eyes sliding shut. "James."

"Yes?" James asked, beaming.

Remus slapped him hard on the back of the head and as James was shouting threats and protests, Remus stalked down the hall and toward the lake.

*

Remus had known the whole affair was going to blow up in his face but he hadn't known how badly.

On some level, he was aware that it was his own fault, knew that he should have cut Peter's tongue right out of his mouth as soon as he realized that there'd been a witness. Then again, it was Sirius, who could read Peter's nervousness like a much-abused book and would have

tortured the boy mercilessly until he told, anyway. (Which, incidentally, Remus had a strong suspicion was what had actually happened.)

Remus resisted the strong urge to slam his head against a wall and ran his hand over his mouth instead, as he'd been doing for nearly a week already.

Part of him was mortified, part of him was incensed, and the rest still didn't have a clue as to what the hell had happened. He'd been walking back from a make-up Potions assignment from the last moon, and he'd been caught off-guard when Snape had dragged him into the shadows near Slytherin commons.

Since the Disaster of Third Year, the Marauders had been forbidden from working together on any projects whatsoever, so Remus had been partnered with Snape on Potions assignments. Partially because Snape didn't seem to harbor any murderous intentions toward Remus, and partially because Remus knew when to shut up, which outnumbered occasions to

speak when it came to Severus. But where James was short-tempered despite his so-called love for Lily, Peter was lazy when it came to Catharine from Ravenclaw, and Sirius homicidal with William from Hufflepuff-- Remus and Snape had come to a sort of equilibrium. One that had even allowed for the occasional piece of conversation in between curt requests for one Potions ingredient or the other. Even Remus found it surprising, but Snape had never lost his temper with

Remus, even when their potions had almost reached or totally embraced disaster.

Which might have been an indication of one kind or another, Remus admitted to himself. But he was a fourth year, barely old enough to receive The Talk, much less start spending any considerable amount of time thinking about what his father had stuttered out in between his own choking and Remus' mum's laughing.

Beyond that, The Talk had most assuredly not covered boys.

And besides, Remus had spent the first few terrified moments with Snape's hand at his neck thinking that he was going to be killed, some sort of fitting culmination to the five-point drop in Snape's grade since they'd been partnered together.

"I-- " Snape had started, very red in the face, showing more color than he had in months. "I don't know exactly how to say this."

Remus, in an act of extreme calm, had then started scrabbling at Snape's hand. Once Snape's eyes had widened and he'd let go, Remus had said, "What?"

"My family!" Snape had shouted. "We're going to Bulgaria. This Christmas." He'd turned his eyes away and whispered, "I was wondering if you'd-- if you'd like to come with us."

When Remus had blinked dumbly three times and added another "What?" to the conversation, Snape had growled, low and frustrated and said, "Oh, sod it," and kissed him.

Which had begun a sequence of events that started with Peter's gasp from the far corner of the hall and led to Sirius' attempted storming of Slytherin commons two nights ago.

Part of him-- the part that knew better-- just didn't want to know.

The other part-- the part damaged from long-term exposure to James and Sirius-- thought it fitting that Snape and Sirius were probably going to die in the process of whatever the latter had planned for the former.

"Remus!"

He turned in time to see Peter barreling down the hallway, color high in his cheeks and his scarf flying out behind him. He was waving frantically, and as he stumbled the last few feet, he shouted, "Sirius! Drowning-- the squid!"

Remus blinked, and helped to right Peter against one of the walls as they attracted the curious gazes of a few students in the hallway. "What?" Remus asked. "Sirius is drowning the squid?"

Peter gasped twice and glared, wheezing, "No! The squid is drowning Sirius."

Remus blinked. "Oh. Oh, I see."

Peter stared. "Aren't-- aren't you worried?"

Remus blinked again, and reflected that he'd been doing that quite a lot in lieu of speaking the last few days. "What? Oh. Certainly," he nodded. "Very worried."

"Sirius! Drowning! Lake!" Peter shouted.

"Oh! Right!" Remus exclaimed, and ran down the hall.

*

By the time Remus made it down to the lakeside, a small army of Hogwarts students and staff were already there.

Sirius was clinging to dry land with his hands fisted in the grass, his hair plastered to his very pale face. Blue eyes impossibly wide and glassy, gasping for oxygen and muttering something, his robes all dark with water and slicked to his skin while bits of seaweed

remained in his hair. Madam Pomfrey was wavering between disgust, astonishment and hilarity, and was attempting to administer a moral lesson and restrain herself from hitting Sirius with a large rock at the same time. Professor McGonagall would have none of that

indecisiveness and was shouting about how many detentions young Sirius Black could look forward to in the coming weeks and why on earth had he been harassing the squid, anyway?

Hagrid, on the other hand, was attempting to sweet-talk the large, angry squid back into the water. It was enormous and mottled purple and really quite ugly, Remus decided, but for the large, brow, cow-eyes that seemed to turn to Remus as if saying, "This is your fault, you know." But Hagrid, who was normally so good with animals, was having trouble making the squid go back into the lake, largely due to the fact that one thick, suction-cupped tentacle was still tight around Sirius' left ankle, completely content. It seemed to remain there until everyone became distracted and Sirius was drowned like had been the plan all along.

On the sidelines, students whispered, Lily looked on with a mystified expression on her face, and James appeared genuinely concerned. He shouted over the din, "Black! Black! Did it work?"

Remus didn't pick up a rock and throw it at James, but it was only because the largest rock was already worrisomely near Madam Pomfrey's right arm, and it'd take too long to retrieve it and then throw. There was a voice somewhere inside his head that said the entire mess was his own

fault; hadn't he spent three years trying to get Sirius and James to get along like normal human beings? Look what you've done, he thought sullenly; this is how they get along when they act like 'normal' human beings. Taunting dangerous animals, almost getting themselves killed,

and over what, stupid vendettas?

Finally, since Remus had a very rotten temper of his own, too, he shouted, "Sirius Black!"

And an angry werewolf, where Hagrid and Sirius' death throes had not been enough, sent the squid sliding back down into the water. It also made Sirius' shoulders tense before he glanced around confusedly, until fuzzy blue eyes found Remus in the crowd and a large, stupid grin appeared on his face.

"Remus!" Sirius said.

Madam Pomfrey rolled him over onto his back, and he continued to shout, staring straight up at the sky. James and Remus pushed in until they were looking down at Sirius' now-flushed cheeks, his expression of triumph. He looked as if he were waiting for a royal chariot, and not as if Madam Pomfrey hadn't just muttered a Squeezing Spell to remove all the water from his belly-- as if he were an oversized, overdressed sponge at all-- a particular skill of Sirius' that everybody in Gryffindor tower envied.

"It worked!" Sirius crowed. "I think. But I'm almost positive that it totally and probably had to have mostly worked!"

James yelled, "You're cracked!"

Remus said, "I can't believe you're so stupid!"

Sirius bellowed, raising one fist powerfully and narrowly missing Madam Pomfrey's face, "I'm a genius! No one has ever come up with anything this good-- sorry, ma'am-- and nobody will, ever again. I am King!"

"You are hypothermic!" Remus shouted. "You're insane! You nearly drowned! And froze!"

"Jesus Christ! Sirius, do you think it actually took?" James asked in awe.

"King!" Sirius added once again for emphasis. "King!"

"Oh for-- !" Madam Pomfrey put a silencing spell on him and floated him back to the infirmary, warning that if anybody came round or so much as uttered the words "king" or "squid" she'd make failing Transfigurations the least of their problems.

*

At seven thirty-six AM on February fourteenth, the giant squid climbed out of the Hogwarts lake, dragged itself in front of a nondescript part of the castle, and began to sing "Daisy." Before the encore performance and right after a glorious vibrato finale, the squid dedicated the song to Severus Snape, who had appeared at one of the nondescript windows at twenty minutes till eight.

Sirius, who was not actually hypothermic, almost fell out of the infirmary window laughing.

*

"I hope you're happy with yourself," Remus said.

Sirius looked up from the Daily Prophet, where he was drawing mustaches on the faces of one of his distant relatives who had made the front page. The relative did not look amused, and seemed to be shouting something obscene about what fate would befall Sirius at the next reunion.

"You don't sound happy," Sirius said petulantly.

Remus' brows rose. "And why, Mister Black, would I be happy about this?"

Sirius set the newspaper aside and frowned. "I did this for you, Moony," he said reproachfully. "I've never seen such ungratefulness."

And in some way, Remus understood perfectly what Sirius was talking about. Having been friends for four years gave Remus a remarkable amount of insight on the way that Sirius' mind worked, how it made strange leaps of logic from point to plane to vector, and how above all, Sirius never entertained the notion that he could be wrong.

"Oh you're just misreading me," Remus said sarcastically. "I love it when we lose points."

Remus didn't bother to mention how Snape had come up to him after said events of the morning and punched him, none of the awkward excitement from the day before remaining. It'd taken two separate Glamours to hide the bruise on his cheek.

The last thing he'd needed was for James and Sirius and Peter to declare full-scale war against Severus Snape and by correlation all Slytherins for one stupid incident in a hallway-- God knew it was embarrassing and difficult enough coming up for feasible reasons that Sirius had set the squid on Snape anyway, without telling the humiliating truth of the matter.

"It was a noble cause," Sirius said, scowling. "I can't believe that horrible bastard would-- "

"Sirius," Remus said sharply.

Sirius' face turned red and Remus knew then that it had been exactly the wrong thing to say.

"Oh!" Sirius shouted. "So you liked having that great, dirty Slytherin kiss you?"

Remus flushed. "That is not what I meant!" he yelled. "It wasn't a big deal, anyway!"

Sirius' eyes widened to enormous blue-china plates as he shouted, "Wasn't a big deal? Wasn't a big deal?" He threw his arms about in an effort to convey his horror. "It was a kiss! Of course it was a big deal and-- "

Remus was panicking, classes would be let out soon enough and there'd be a crowd of well-wishers for Sirius. Not to mention that Madam Pomfrey couldn't be busy raiding the Potion's dungeon for more ingredients forever, and people would hear if Sirius kept shouting. Remus couldn't even fathom how mortifying it'd be if the entire school knew Sirius Black had been defending Remus Lupin's so-called honor from Snape who apparently had some sort of-- oh

Remus couldn't even bear it and Sirius desperately needed to stop shouting.

"-- And it was even your first kiss and-- "

So Remus made a vague sound of distress, grabbed Sirius' fisted hand out of the air and pressed it into the mattress as Remus sealed his mouth over Sirius'.

Remus felt light-headed, hot, and totally insane. A strange, tangent thought ran through his head that this must be what it was like to be James Potter all the time: acting without any rational thought and hoping to fall on his arse and not his head.

When he pulled away, his mouth felt swollen-- even though he hadn't moved it about or anything like those people did during those horrible soppy movies his parents liked to watch. He licked his lips and tasted oranges and lake water, both of which Sirius had consumed earlier that day. And when he looked up, he saw Sirius, stunned-silent. His mouth slightly open with shock, and very pink. His blue eyes were even wider and his hands were loose at his sides.

Astounding, Remus thought wildly, he'd finally found a way to shut Sirius up.

It took half a beat before he forced a laugh and said, "See, not a big deal at-- "

But by then Sirius had grabbed him by his badly-knotted tie and dragged Remus forward until they were mouth to mouth again, lips on lips and awkward for bumping noses.

Sirius' mouth felt soft, and very wet against Remus', heavy and strange, awkward and kind of nice. So when Sirius didn't let go of Remus' tie and Remus didn't asphyxiate, he closed his eyes and opened his mouth, just a little-- which made Sirius' lips part, too. And then careful slips of tongue, warm and wet and tasting flesh-sweet, slid underneath it all.

Not very magical at all, Remus decided, mouth shy and tongue hesitant and hands fisted in the blankets of Sirius' infirmary bed. Or maybe, slow magic, because he could feel the heat on his cheeks and the blood rushing to his head and he didn't particularly want to stop.

Remus pulled away after what felt like a very awkwardly long time, wide-eyed and pink, and stared at Sirius, who was much the same. They gaped at one another and breathed hard; Sirius' hair was mussed, and Remus wondered if he'd done that, like in one of those horrible

romance novels that his mum claimed were actually his aunt's. He didn't remember doing that.

Then again, Remus couldn't remember why he'd thought that kissing Sirius would be a good idea.

Or, in fact, why kissing him more seemed like one, too.

Maybe it was how Sirius' eyelids had suddenly lowered, as if he were sleepy or plotting or possibly both. Remus leaned in to investigate and noticed as he crept closer that Sirius' mouth really was very pretty, all red and swollen, wet from Remus' own mouth just moments before, and it gave him a thrill as he scanned Sirius' face, drowsy and handsome, like waking up.

"Sirius! You absolutely brilliant bastard!" James, loud and unmistakable.

Sirius' eyes snapped open-- not sleepy at all but very, very blue, and fringed in deep, dark lashes-- and Remus jumped, suddenly very far away again and shaking.

"Are you all right, Sirius?" Much quieter and concerned, but Peter nonetheless.

James and Peter bounded into the Infirmary, leaping all over Sirius' bed and peppering him with questions, how did you do its and where'd you finds and will you agains until Remus' head hurt.

Sirius gave an elaborate (and obviously made-up) account of how he was forced to blind the Queen of the Merpeople in Hogwarts lake with his dashing good looks before he could venture into the forbidden depths in which the squid made his home. James and Peter listened with rapt

attention, and interrupted occasionally to call Sirius a bastard, but never told him to stop. Remus laughed, and didn't think about anything.

Later that night, Remus carried Sirius' books as they walked back up to Gryffindor tower. They put out their lights and forgot about their homework and went to bed early-- earlier than James and Peter.

Remus fell asleep instantly.

In the morning, Sirius separated his eggs and bacon and tomatoes, Remus read his Charms book, and James tried to harangue Lily into falling in love with him.

V.

"In the long and illustrious history of Hogwarts," McGonagall said, folding her hands, "no student has ever had to be flayed limb from limb."

Remus, Sirius, James, and Peter all stared at her wide-eyed.

"I'd like to keep it that way," she finished primly.

Sirius sagged visibly in his seat; James' eyes rolled heavenward; Peter uncrossed his legs. Remus fiddled with the edge of his Prefect's badge and felt nauseated.

All four loosened their ties as soon as they stepped out of McGonagall's office, and realized that they had garnered a crowd only after several deep sighs.

"Are you lot expelled then?"

Remus glared around and spied Gideon, robes tight around himself and scarf double-knotted about his neck, looking expectant. He made a mental note to remind Sirius not to hex Gideon's bed that night, thereby guaranteeing it being hexed.

James said, "We haven't even done anything!"

"It's only the ninth, anyway," Sirius added helpfully, before Remus jabbed him in the ribs and they all started off toward the library. James and Sirius and Peter seemed to be working on some sort of extra credit assignment for Transfigurations. None of them were willing to explain why or what it was about, and Remus generally accepted such indicators as Bad Signs, and bit his tongue-- wisely.

"And we're not going to," Peter said. He glanced at Remus from the corner of his eyes. "Right?"

"Right," Remus agreed with finality, ignoring Sirius' pout. "We're the only students in the history of this school literally be threatened with a bloody end for something we haven't even done yet. I think that's a sign."

Sirius scowled and slapped Gordon Spinnet on the back as they passed. "That prefecture is rotting your brain."

Remus raised an eyebrow. "Very quickly, too," he said precisely.

The pout on Sirius' face returned and he glared at a passing group of first years, who scuttled away, terrified by the unfortunate conjunction of Valentine's Day, Sirius Black, and historical fact. "I don't see why you got it," Sirius complained. "I swear she's done it just to ruin our fun."

"Default," Remus explained. "It was either you, James, Peter, Gideon or me."

Sirius seemed to consider this for a moment before he said, "Why not Gideon? He hates us."

"No, actually," Remus said naughtily, "I think he rather fancies you."

Sirius opened and closed his mouth in horrified anger, face reddening as James burst into guffaws and Peter muffled his laughs into his palm. Remus wasn't sure if it was the thought of a boy fancying him, or Gideon fancying him that was giving Sirius seizures, but his reaction made Remus uncomfortable for some reason. One totally unrelated to what had not actually happened in the infirmary after Valentine's day the year before.

When Sirius finally managed to string together two words, they were, "Sod you!"

He stormed off to the dormitory.

Before Remus even had a chance to turn on them, Peter and James gave him a rather forceful shove after Sirius' retreating figure.

James said, "You did it."

Peter said, "It's your fault."

Remus glared. "Ten points from Gryffindor," he told them, "for cowardice," and started to follow Sirius, leaving James and Peter stuttering in his wake.

*

Striding into the fifth year boys' room, Remus said, "Stop being such a queen, Sirius. It's not as if half the school doesn't already think that you and James are shagging any-- oh."

He froze in his steps and stared for half a beat before saying, "Oh," again.

Standing in the middle of the room, dripping wet, was a girl. She was staring down at herself silently. Either because she was dripping wet or because she was dressed in a boy's school uniform, Remus wasn't quite sure, but she looked surprised.

When she neither looked up nor spoke, Remus said, "Er. Are you lost?"

Which was stupid, because one did not find themselves randomly wandering about the boys' dormitories without reason. Then again, it was Hogwarts-- Remus had seen stranger.

The girl looked up and stared at Remus with wide blue eyes, lashes dripping and mouth open in mute shock. She was shaking and pale and Remus was beginning to grow concerned. He took half a step forward and said, "Hey. Are you-- are you all right there?"

She opened and closed her mouth a few times silently before managing, "Remus?"

"Yes?" he said.

Remus thought furiously: had Gideon mentioned a girlfriend? James, Peter, and Sirius were all utilizing a Silencing charms nightly, and alone, so Remus assumed that it couldn't be one of their

acquaintances. His own romantic exploits were limited to Slytherin ambushes in the hall and repressing and denying the thereafter or possible reasons therein. Did he know her from a class? Was this some sort of Charm gone wrong?

Any further attempts at thinking through the situation were destroyed as the girl's eyes widened just a fraction more and she began to scream.

*

"I know he did it!" she shrieked. "There's nobody else in this castle who could!"

James, Peter, and Remus were gathered round the outside of McGonagall's office . The high-pitched, panicked voice was clearly audible through the walls and closed door, and occasionally, Peter and James looked at one another, bewildered.

"So that's..." Peter trailed off. "Bloody fantastic potion-brewing," he admitted.

James appeared almost awed. "Stroke of brilliance, really."

Remus just watched the door intently. "He-- she was standing in a puddle of the stuff. I think it was meant for all of us."

The three glanced at one another, sharing a collective shudder.

Finally, the door opened, and McGonagall ushered out a shell-shocked girl, still dressed in a damp boy's uniform, color high in her cheeks and trembling with rage.

Remus spoke first. 'Professor, can you-- ?"

"I've already spoken to the guilty parties, and taken appropriate action," she interrupted, staring at them with steely eyes. "Though I do not condone his behavior, I doubt any of you can claim that this is unexpected, given your past behavior."

Remus, James, and Peter coughed.

"What about-- how do I-- ?" the girl stuttered. She knotted the tails of the shirt in her fists and Remus thought how strange it was, to see a girl do that when it was a move he associated so closely to Sirius' decidedly unfeminine form.

"Unfortunately, there's nothing that can be done now," McGonagall said. She didn't sound very sorry at all. If Remus didn't know better, he would have sworn she was smirking. "But I am told that this...prank will wear off with time."

The girl-- Sirius, Remus reminded himself-- muttered a curse loudly.

McGonagall gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

*

While James and Peter were exclaiming about the horrors they'd bring on Snape's head for doing such a thing to their comrade, and Sirius was preoccupied with shaking and staring fixedly at his own newly-acquired breasts through his damp shirt, McGonagall pulled Remus aside.

"Mister Lupin, I am entrusting Mister Black to you," she said seriously.

Remus blinked twice before realization set in. "I-- that's never really worked before, Professor."

The Transfigurations professor very nearly smiled. "I was referring to the fact that four boys will be having to share quarters with a girl for the duration of this incident," she said gently. She inclined her head to where Sirius was slumped against a wall, scowling and tugging his-- her hair in between very rudely putting her hand down the loose, boy's trousers and growing pale.

"Considering the circumstances, we really haven't anywhere to put Mist-- Miss Black," McGonagall said with forced lightness. "An attractive girl in an all-boys' dormitory is just the sort of thing that could easily get out of hand."

And McGonagall was right, Sirius was very pretty.

Which, Remus realized, shouldn't have been a terrible surprise, as Sirius was a very fit male; but with Quidditch-toned muscles and the boyish angles of his face gone, left instead was a rounded, curvier version. The thick, girlish mouth that had Sirius so popular with the fairer sex vied with Sirius' blue eyes for attention on her face; the dark, wavy hair that was drying slowly along her high cheekbones only accentuated what a lovely golden color she was. It was as if Remus was staring down the hall into the face of Bellatrix without all the makeup, and a good twenty pounds heavier. The weight would have agreed with her, Remus thought distantly, but shook himself out of it as he felt McGonagall's hand on his shoulder.

"So you see my concern," McGonagall said dryly, making Remus blush furiously.

"Ah, well," Remus coughed. He shuffled his feet.

Professor McGonagall turned to head back into her office, only pausing to say, "I'll send some effects up to your room shortly. Also, inform Mister Black that he is required to speak to Madam Pomfrey sometime this afternoon."

Remus took a deep breath and headed off toward his friends, praying that they managed to get back to the dorms before afternoon classes let out.

*

"I cannot sodding believe this!"

James and Peter sat on their respective beds and stared.

Remus was sitting at the foot of Sirius' mattress, holding a rumpled skirt in his hands as Sirius stalked around the fifth year boys' room, throwing her hands about in anger, shouting at the top of her lungs, and using more imprecations than Remus had ever imagined Sirius knew.

"A skirt!" she bellowed. And if Remus was honest, the dangerous growl was more terrifying coming in a girl's voice than a boys; the thought made him uncomfortable. "That old bint thinks I'm going to wear a bloody skirt!"

James and Peter continued to stare, mouths falling open.

Remus, narrowing his eyes, followed their lines of sight for at least a minute before he realized what exactly was the cause for all the gaping. He cursed under his breath and grabbed Sirius' wrist-- so much thinner now-- on her next pass before her own bed and sat her down roughly.

"Sirius," he said, flaming red in the face, "you're-- bouncing."

Sirius stared at him. "What?"

Remus groaned and covered his face, muffling his words in the fabric of the uniform skirt. "Your-- your chest," he managed. "You're bouncing."

Sirius stared at him blankly. Then glanced down to stare at his newly-acquired breasts. And then looked up at Remus again in horror. And then rounded about to glare at James and Peter, crossing her arms over her chest protectively. "You bloody perverts."

Peter colored rapidly but James yelled, "Well what are we supposed to do! You're running about there...jiggling and-- "

"Jiggling?" Sirius shrieked, leaping up, which only added credence to James claim.

"-- not wearing a bra and-- "

"I," Sirius declared with deathly finality, "am not going to wear a bra."

"You probably should," Remus said, wincing as Sirius turned on him, eyes sparking. He decided that they needed to correct this genderswitch as quickly as possible, as Sirius terrified him as a female. "I mean, it's just that-- "

Seeing the look in Sirius' eyes, Remus wisely shut up.

Owing to much the same reason Lily was more frequently found hexing than dating him, James asked, "Hey, can you give us a look?" He indicated Sirius' shirt. "Just loosen a few of the buttons and give us a peek."

James spent the rest of the afternoon in the infirmary, but was finally convinced to leave when a glance yielded Remus and Sirius' shadow at the door.

"Any permanent damage?" Remus asked lightly, an iron grip on Sirius' left arm.

James whimpered, and hustled out of the room with both hands over his crotch. He tossed a doleful glance backward at Remus and said, "You'd think a man'd know it's wrong to hurt the crown jewels."

Remus bit his tongue but Sirius growled, "Watch it, you bastard-- I'd do it again in a second."

*

When Sirius returned from Madam Pomfrey two hours later clutching a box and wearing an utterly terrified expression, Remus was glad that he had excused himself, claiming Prefectly duties in lieu of staying behind and suffering through a lecture with Sirius. He'd spied the charts as soon as they'd walked into the room, and Remus knew better than to linger when Madam Pomfrey had charts-- it was how she'd ambushed them with human growth and development the end of third year, and how she sucked the life out of all the sixth year boys with the mandatory So You've Decided To Become Sexually Active speech.

However, despite his desperate attempt to feign sleep, his twitching must have given him away as Sirius stalked up to his bed and said in a low, doomed voice, "You've got to help me."

Remus said, "I'd love to, but as I am asleep, please consult with James or Peter."

They were hiding in the library, and Remus figured it was futile, but he'd try it anyway.

"Like hell," Sirius declared. She jerked Remus to a sitting position and Remus instantly discarded that old notion that girls were not as strong as boys. "This is part of your job anyway," she said, "Mister Prefect."

Remus groaned. "Fine." He peered at Sirius carefully. "What do you want?"

It was horribly disconcerting to see all the same expressions on Sirius' face mirrored on one much rounder and softer about the angles. And the dark, dark lashes that already stood out against blue eyes on Sirius stood out even more in this girl's worried expression. She was still dressed in her-- his? Remus decided this could get enormously confusing very quickly-- uniform, slacks too long like the sleeves of the loose, white shirt.

Sirius looked strangely vulnerable like that-- lost, like Remus had only seen once before.

She thrust the box in Remus' hands before lowering it to his lap, babbling the whole time. "She-- she showed me pictures, Remus. Terrible, horrible pictures. And then she gave me this...this bloody novel about female "health" and was throwing about all these horrible words like "menses" and "uterus," and warning me about being careful since I was with all boys and-- " Sirius clammed up, took a deep breath, and started again, "As if she doesn't know that I'm a boy-- as if she doesn't remember that I'm supposed to have-- " she gestured between her legs "-- my stick and balls-- "

"Stick and balls?" Remus interrupted.

"-- Sod you, Lupin!" Sirius bellowed, and then calmed again, slowly, hands trembling before removing the cover on the box.

Remus glanced inside only to see boxes "Mrs. Norrington's Foolproof Pads-- Indestructible!" Beside those were a few pairs of underthings that looked very, very pink, a bra-- which looked utterly terrifying-- and a thick book called When Charming Yourself Into Numbness Is the Only Option: A Witch's Helpful Handbook to Preventing Mass Homicide.

"Er," Remus said.

"Yes, precisely!" Sirius shouted, more emphatically than before. "Why isn't anyone trying to find a counterspell? Or an antidote? Why is everyone giving me women's underwear and feminine hygiene products and telling me not to shag my roommates?"

Remus, carefully, set the lid back atop the box and promised retribution on James and Peter. Some distant part of him even hoped that Gideon would walk in, as Sirius would clam up immediately and there'd be no more talk of pads or bras or numbing charms.

"Perhaps," he said reasonably, looking into Sirius' red face, "there aren't any counterspells or antidotes. Snape is the best potions-brewer in our year. It's entirely possible that he created a

whole new one."

Sirius narrowed her pretty blue eyes and flopped down on the bed next to Remus, throwing her arms over her face and moaning, "What am I going to do? I can't be seen like this!" She shifted one elbow to focus on Remus' face and ask, "What am I going to tell Gideon? What about the rest of the school? People will ask!"

Remus patted Sirius awkwardly on the arm and set the box aside. "Maybe McGonagall will make an announcement, and you won't have to tell anybody."

"Madam Pomfrey says I have to wear the skirt," Sirius said, as if relating a death in the family. "And the bra. She said it'd be a scandal otherwise."

Thirty points, Remus decided, from Gryffindor when James and Peter finally showed their faces.

Sirius propped herself up on her elbows and pressed her chin flat against her collarbone. A tiny double-chin appeared and Remus promised himself that if Sirius began to ask if she looked fat, there'd be a mercy killing. She said, "Pomfrey says that anybody above a B cup is required." Sirius peered at her breasts for a moment longer, before poking the one on the left with an extended finger, scowling.

Thirty points each, Remus revised. There were circles of hell less horrible than this.

"Maybe you should sleep," Remus improvised, desperate. He'd never been more tired.

Sirius rounded on him, saying, "I have to pee sitting down. In the girl's lav." A pause. "Help me put on the bra."

Mid-hemorrhage, Remus managed, "I beg your pardon?"

She leaned back, a long stretch of limbs and dug one hand into the box before she retrieved one of those horrible contraptions, white with straps and what looked like shoulder pads and hooks. Sirius shook it about in front of Remus' face with one hand and tugged at her top button with the other. "Help me put on the bra," Sirius repeated.

Remus felt sick. "I think you should ask James. Unhooking underwear is all he talks about."

She scowled and pressed the bra into Remus' hands. "Don't be stupid. As if I'd let that bloody berk anywhere near my bosom."

Remus decided not to point out that Sirius had referred to her chest as a "bosom." He said instead, "But I'll see it this way." It sounded desperate even to his own ears. "That's just as terrible, really. Almost worse."

Sirius paused fixedly for a moment, at the third button on her white shirt. After a beat during which Remus was nearly certain she was blushing, she said, "It's all right if it's you."

Panic leads to stupidity, Remus knew, but this entire situation was already a head-on train collision. "It-- it took me forever to figure out how to get one of these off of a girl," he said

frantically. "I'd never be able to get one on."

Sirius' fingers stopped suddenly on the fourth button, which did very little good as the wide-opened shirt was now revealing some very familiar shadows and curves. Ones Remus had seen during his one, abortive snogging session with Lily Evans after all the Prefects had decided to have a meeting down at the Three Broomsticks, and had ingested a bit more butterbeer than generally recommended for fifth years. Unlike that awkward attempt, Remus found himself swallowing hard and squirming in his seat. It just figured, he thought bitterly, that he'd only be attracted to magicked girls. His whole life was an utter disgrace anyway, why not his attempts at romance, as well?

There was a long, long moment of silence and Sirius dropped her gaze to her lap, fingers clutched along her legs. The temperature in the room dropped ten degrees.

"Oh," she said thickly. "I didn't. You hadn't. When?"

Remus blinked, fingers tightening along the soft material in his palms. "Just-- just a couple of months ago. Right before Christmas hols."

Looking at Sirius' tense shoulders and cascading hair, Remus suddenly felt awful, overcome with the urge to apologize and not even knowing for what. It was infuriating, confusing, daunting; he wondered if it was some sort of magic that only people of the female persuasion possessed, before discarding the thought quickly-- Sirius had always made him feel that way. This was just to a greater degree.

"Oh," Sirius said. "Who, then?"

Remus, who still had a survival instinct, said, "No one important."

She looked unconvinced, but mollified at least. "Not a girlfriend, then?" Sirius sounded high-pitched, though that could have just been the sudden attack of ovaries.

Remus wondered if this was, perhaps, the most prudent time to have a conversation about his experience with the fairer sex, but then decided that as long as no further mention of assistance in the wearing of undergarments came about, he was willing to talk about anything.

"No girlfriend," he said.

"Well," Sirius said briskly. "At least you've got some practical experience."

Paling, Remus said, "Sirius, I really-- "

"Do it, you git!" Sirius said, flushing dark and tugging at the fifth button of the shirt.

One more to go before it was completely open, Remus thought with a faint feeling of dread. He decided to ignore the small voice in his head asking why exactly he was not thrilled to see female breasts and be offered the opportunity to almost-touch them.

Sixth button, and the shirt fell open. Sirius was shrugging her shoulders and Remus fought the nearly irrepressible urge to slap his hands over his eyes and run screaming from the room-- or to deduct ten points from Gryffindor if Sirius did not stop stripping immediately.

Instead, Remus stared straight ahead, which would have been at Sirius' face if it wasn't turned down to examine her breasts. She said curiously, "Are they supposed to sag like that?"

Remus made a thin, strangling noise. He refused to stare at Sirius' breasts.

There were so many things wrong with that sentence he didn't even know where to begin.

The door to the dormitory banged open.

Gideon shouted, "Oh my fucking God!"

Sirius shrieked and dove down, grabbing Remus and pulling him bodily over her, pressing against his back and dragging them further along his bed, shouting at him to close the curtains and for Gideon to turn around at the same time.

Gideon shouted again, "Oh my fucking God!" just as James and Peter barreled up the steps asking what had happened and then widening their eyes and saying things like "Hey, no fair, Sirius!"

Remus lay on top of Sirius, feeling her breasts soft on his back and stared at the ceiling. The bra fell out of his loose fingers and onto the floor.

Thirty more seconds of pandemonium passed before he groaned, "This cannot be happening."

*

McGonagall did make an announcement, at dinner that night, which garnered the Gryffindor table curious looks and uproarious laughter. The Slytherins tapped their goblets on their plates and shouted, "Good show!" until they lost themselves twenty-five points for bad sportsmanship.

Sirius shrank down in his seat, shoulders hunched and blushing furiously as he glared at his plate. He looked very small in Remus' sweater and jeans, both pilfered when they realized that Remus was the only one as thin as Sirius was now. Remus, for his part, fought off the animal contentment that had realized itself as he watched her pulling on his clothing; something about Sirius wearing a part of him around, like maybe--

Maybe nothing, Remus decided, and returned to glaring at people who stared. He was also feeling particularly bloodthirsty about everyone who was lavishing attention on his friend, but that was to be expected; no one teased a Marauder and got away without fitting and

exaggerated punishment.

James sulked and poked at his food. "How come you let Remus see?"

Sirius glared at him, and separated his roast chicken and potatoes. She said, "Because unlike some other people, he is not a ravening pervert."

"I am not a ravening-- "

Lily, downtable, cleared her throat meaningfully, and said, "Be strong, Sirius."

Remus bit the inside of his mouth hard enough to draw blood, and noted Peter doing similar. Sirius returned to scowling darkly and stabbed at his food even as James whirled about to start another fantastic row with Evans about how the heavens wept at her foolish rebuffs to his

undying love.

From her spot next to Remus, Sirius muttered, "Un-fucking-believable."

Remus smiled at her encouragingly. "Hey," he said, "it's Hogwarts. At least we know stranger things have happened." He nudged her shoulder lightly. "Besides, it's not as if you're ugly or anything like this."

Sirius stared at him for a minute, and Remus felt James' narrowed eyes on the side of his face.

"I'm not ugly?" Sirius asked.

"Not ugly," Remus repeated. "Actually, quite pretty." It felt good to say that, and see Sirius stop looking so doomed for a minute, even if the reaction made no sense.

Sirius said, "Oh."

James snorted. "And they call me the ravening pervert."

*

Remus woke up, as usual, to a loud, dangerous-sounding thump.

Sometime during first year, he might have mentioned something about finding a graceful method of it-- but he'd mostly forgotten about it in between sticking Sirius to the ceiling of the girls' bathroom and serving detentions and mucking out swamps and helping James hide from Lily.

That day, instead of just shooting up straight in his bed and becoming increasingly concerned about developing some sort of heart condition, he bolted up, veered wildly to the left as his body realized it was not technically awake and then he fell off his bed in a roll of sheets and comforters with a painful thud to the ground.

All those books talking about animal grace were full of lies, he thought darkly.

He lay there until the sounds of the room were louder than the sound of his own heart launching a full-scale protest against these sorts of things, and then he pushed himself up on his elbows--

-- In time to see Sirius stalking around the room in a shirt and what seemed like nothing else.

She was thumping things about and glaring, giving a wide berth to the skirt tossed haphazardly over the end of her mattress. She was not, Remus thought with doom, wearing a bra.

Remus scrambled to his feet and the altitude gave him a view of James and Peter, attempting the last round on their tie and failing grandly as they stared at Sirius wandering around. Gideon, for his part, was fully dressed, but was inspecting a pair of the pink panties that had been included in Sirius' little goodie box.

He said, "Sirius, these would look better."

"Sod off, Gideon," Sirius snarled.

Remus clawed at his own face. "Oh God, Sirius, what the bloody fucking hell are you doing?"

Silence fell in the dorm as James and Peter pried their eyes off of Sirius' figure to gape at Remus.

For no good reason at all, Sirius' eyes widened as she turned to Remus and she started tugging at the hem of the shirt, which extended no further than to conceal the bare necessities. Remus fought a primitive urge to attack her with a potato sack. Hadn't Pomfrey or McGonagall explained about wearing trousers or something while they'd been terrifying Sirius with the female reproductive system?

Remus decided this was some sort of nightmare.

He pointed at Sirius' bed angrily and shouted, "Bed! Now! Close the curtains!"

Sirius looked startled, but ran to comply, which did nothing but worsen the situation of her not wearing proper support. But at least this time James and Peter were too busy snickering at Remus to stare; it was a comfort, but not a large one.

"Oh you're so forceful, Mister Lupin!" James said, high-pitched, swooning into Peter's arms.

Peter, smiled dashingly and said, "Worry not, Miss Black. I'll be gentle-- "

"Oi!" Remus shouted, hearing Sirius yelling imprecations and looking for her wand behind him. "Does no one in this room remember that Sirius is a boy?"

James, with a prodigious insight Remus loathed, just blinked owlishly behind his glasses and said, "Really, Remus-- I'd think that's more a question for you."

Remus turned bright red and James escaped before any points could be taken.

*

It took twenty minutes to coax Sirius into women's clothing.

When she finally emerged from her closed bedcurtains, her roommates stopped to stare.

In a rumpled skirt and shirt with the cuffs rolled up, Sirius looked unforeseeably sexy. She was disheveled and unvarnished, as if she'd just woken up. She passed a dangerous glare around the room but said nothing and stalked away to gather her books and things from where she'd thrown them the night before.

"This is so incredibly disturbing," James said finally.

With smug satisfaction, Gideon said, "I always knew he'd be brilliant as a woman."

James, Remus, Peter, and Sirius all turned to stare at Gideon, who was proving that he might actually be stranger than all the Marauders combined.

By the time they made it down to the common room Sirius already had to be restrained from causing permanent damage to two sixth years. And having fallen down some steps, Sirius claimed that walking as a girl was all different and much harder, and that if James did not stop laughing like that immediately Sirius was going to tear him a new one. Also, he declared that his legs were cold, that he felt naked, and that most of all, skirts were for the birds.

Stopping in front of the portrait hole, Sirius pulled his robes around herself like a shield.

"What are you waiting for?" James asked irritably.

Sirius looked like she was having a panic attack. She whipped around, wild-eyed.

"I can't do this," she said, shaking.

"You'll be fine," Peter soothed. "You'll see."

Remus smiled encouragingly, dropping one hand on Sirius' shoulder. He said, "You'll be great. It's Hogwarts-- there's been weirder. And this won't be the weirdest."

"I miss my cock. I can't do this," Sirius said in a rush.

"I can show you mine," James offered. "If it'll ease the pain."

Remus closed his eyes just in time to miss seeing Sirius whip out his wand and James dive for cover. He had a policy about his friends: if he didn't see it, then he had no obligation to take away points for it. It was probably the only reason Gryffindor wasn't in the negatives.

As Remus, Sirius, and Peter strode toward Charms, Remus said, "I'm not condoning this."

Sirius only beamed, and Remus felt something flutter in his chest at that. Sirius was really quite beautiful; but Sirius was a boy, Remus shouted in his head, and that was important. But really, a traitorous voice in Remus' head murmured, Sirius was quite beautiful as a boy, too. He smothered it hatefully beneath a blanket of Prefectly authority, glaring round as people in the hall stared and snickered. He could feel Sirius tensing beside him.

Still, on a grand scale, James had to have had the worst of it that morning.

"Bloody-- sodding-- Sirius, you git!" James shouted as the portrait hole swung shut again.

He would be, naturally, horribly late to their first classes, as the Permaeroticus Hex-- frequently referred to as the Is That An Enormous Log In Your Trousers Or Have You Just Pissed Off Sirius Black Today? Hex-- had been known to take up to twenty minutes to properly wear off.

*

Remus kept a hand on Sirius' thigh all throughout Charms.

It was less kinky than it sounded-- or more, depending on varying definitions.

Every time Sirius reached for her wand, Remus dug his stubby nails into her leg and preserved a pleasant, still expression on his face. Flitwick had talked the whole period, and Remus' Muggle spiral-bound notebook (which Sirius loved and thought was funny) was scrawled with notes, but Remus had no idea what had been covered. He was intimately aware, however, of how soft Sirius' thigh was, and of each and every catcall and insult or jibe that had been tossed in their general direction, and how his heart really couldn't take much more of this-- nor could Gryffindor's points, for that matter.

As they stepped out of Charms, Sirius punched him hard on the arm and growled. "What the fuck was that for, Moony?" she asked.

Remus scowled. "McGonagall said to watch you," he explained. "And I am."

Sirius narrowed her pretty eyes at that. "So you're only doing it for McGonagall are you."

"Yes-- no. Don't be difficult, Sirius," Remus said, and decided never to spawn, suddenly understanding why boarding schools were so popular in the United Kingdom. "You can't hex everybody who takes a shot at you, you know."

Sirius' eyes glinted dangerously. "Oh can't I."

"That wasn't a challenge," Remus hissed. "Now go and behave in your next class."

"Bollocks," Sirius said clearly, righteously. "I have to defend myself."

"From what? Prats? You'd have to kill James. He's King Prat."

A genuine grin touched the corners of Sirius' mouth, and Remus was grateful for it. "Right." The smile turned wicked. "I hope he's enjoying his hard on right now."

A passing third year gave them a wide-eyed, curious look and Remus moaned softly, burying his face in his hands. If anyone had thought them heterosexual after the Great Photographic Scandal of Year Three then they surely didn't anymore. It all seemed very hopeless.

"Just behave," Remus instructed, lifting his face.

Ignoring him, Sirius stalked toward his Advanced Potions class. There was a new sway in her steps, hard-earned through trial and error, an exaggeration of the round dip and slide with which girls walked always, and Remus found himself staring as Sirius left.

A snicker interrupted his thoughts and am arm looped over his shoulders. Remus turned in time to see James leaning on him, an appreciative grin on his face.

"I've got to hand it to you, Lupin," James said warmly, "you're one lucky bastard."

Remus scowled. "James, shut up." He glanced surreptitiously at James' pants. "Recovered?"

James made a fairly obscene hand gesture. Remus raised his eyebrows. "Ah."

Grinning, James said, "Can I walk you to our next class? Or will your girlfriend bite me?"

Remus thumped him, and stomping toward Arithmancy, muttered, "Keep it up and I'll bite you."

*

The enormous House point hourglasses were mounted in the hallway near the Great Hall doors. They were generally the location of much hilarity or grief, depending whether or not you were in Gryffindor and if Sirius or James had been left unsupervised at all.

Remus stood in front of the Gryffindor hourglass, his head tilted to the left.

"This," Remus decided, "has to be some horrible prank."

Granted, they'd started the day off in last place with two hundred and twenty-five points, but it was still two hundred and twenty points more than they seemed to have now.

Remus wandered into the Great Hall to a loud rush of whispers and stares. Professor McGonagall, at the teachers table, made a stern face and motioned to him. He walked up as if in a trance, dumb with shock. Two hundred and twenty points.

Two hundred and twenty points-- gone-- in the space of two hours. Remus couldn't even wrap his mind about how it could possibly happen. The only time any point loss of that magnitude occurred it was unfailingly the Marauders, and Remus knew for a fact that Peter wouldn't (and most probably couldn't) act alone, that James had been well-supervised during Advanced Arithmancy by himself, and Sirius--

The door to the Great Hall burst open.

Remus whipped around to see Sirius, robe wide open, skirt hiked up, shirt rumpled, and tie loosened. Her hair was a curling mess, and she was very red in the face; her wand was still out, and she stormed into the center of the room and glared round darkly before cupping her hands about her mouth.

"LISTEN UP, YOU LOT!" Sirius started, voice magically amplified to shake the foundations of the building.

Remus' eyes widened, and he froze, balancing himself with one hand on the edge of the teachers' table; his entire life flashing before his eyes.

"DESPITE THE TITS YOU SEE HERE TODAY, I AM A MAN. AND IF YOU'D LIKE TO STAY THAT WAY, TOO, YOU'LL SEE TO IT YOU REMEMBER THAT INSTEAD OF ASKING IF I'D LIKE A GROPE BEHIND GREENHOUSE THREE. I DON'T REGRET HEXING ANY ONE OF YOU STUPID BASTARDS."

Remus saw several boys scowl and ignored the flash of reasonless jealousy.

Sirius inhaled and added, "ALSO, IF ANYONE HAS THE BOLLOCKS TO LAUGH ABOUT IT ANYMORE, EVANS ALREADY ATTACKED ME AFTER POTIONS AND MAGICKED ALL THE HAIR OFF MY LEGS AND I SAY OW AND SOD YOU ALL."

It suddenly made a horrible, horrible amount of sense, really, that they were down to--

"Mister Black!" Professor Sprout trilled, rushing into the Great Hall. She appeared to be as horrified as Remus. "Really! Five points for language!"

Remus knew he couldn't actually hear the hourglass in the hallway go empty but he felt it.

He started toward Sirius in the middle of the Great Hall, and by the time Sirius noticed and yelled, "Ohfuck!" Remus was already upon her, one hand on her collar, hauling her bodily out of the Great Hall and back toward the dorms.

*

Remus had lost his temper with Sirius a sum total of twenty-six times. Remus knew this figure with exact certainty because whenever he shouted at Sirius, he used words like "disappointed" and "know you better than this" frequently, where he found himself never needing them otherwise.

So after shouting at Sirius that he was disappointed and knew he-- she-- was better than that, Remus had frogmarched Sirius to her next class and listened to her under-the-breath whine that she hadn't even gotten any lunch. His only response had been to shove her through the door and stalk off, ignoring the titters from the female half of Sirius' Advanced Care of Magical Creatures class and outlining a rather involved argument he'd propose to McGonagall later that required locking Sirius in some sort of tower until her breasts went away.

Two days passed in relative quiet, with Sirius spending most of his time sulking and playing with his own breasts during class, which did little for the concentration of James or Peter and made Remus more than a little homicidal. But overall, it was better than expected: people were starting to get used to the notion of Sirius being female-- albeit, a terrible one.

Remus should have known it was too good to last.

The other shoe dropped when Remus slumped down in the Great Hall, face down on the Gryffindor table. He was being comforted by Lily over how it'd be all right, really, when he heard an unladylike shout of "Back off, Evans!" and was jerked rudely upward to his feet, Sirius' shining eyes staring into him.

"You've got to be my boyfriend," Sirius said urgently.

Lily made a sharp, squeaking noise. Remus gurgled.

"Are we set then?" Sirius added.

Remus continued to gurgle. It seemed, however, to be too much for Lily.

"Your boyfriend?" she shrieked. "Sirius Black well I never! This isn't very funny at all!"

Sirius rounded on Lily, glaring and not letting go of Remus' collar; he did not at all seem concerned that Remus was dying. "You know what else isn't funny, Evans?" Sirius bit out. "How you're always hanging around my boyfriend when you've got your own man already."

"Does anybody else find this conversation terrifying?" Remus piped up, trying to loosen Sirius' fingers from his shirt while ignoring the curious-cum-amused expressions of nearby students.

Lily's face turned the color of her hair. "I do not! James isn't anyway! And Remus likes hanging around with me!" she trilled.

Remus' attempts grew frantic and Sirius' fingers grew tighter; the whole universe was darkening around the edges.

"Oh yeah?" Sirius sneered, her voice developing the ugly shade Remus knew all too well. She jerked on Remus' collar again and asked loudly, "Remus, tell her: you'll be my boyfriend, right?"

Remus panicked. "Sod you, Black!" he shouted, ignoring the sudden flash of hurt in Sirius' blue eyes, "I bloody will not! And let go of my shirt!"

Lily grinned in satisfaction and Sirius made a low, dangerous growl. Pride deeply injured, she stubbornly did not let go of Remus' shirt and turned round to shout at a passing fourth year, "Oi! Ashley, you'd date me, right?"

When all she received in response was a flat stare, Sirius roared, jerked around to the left and yelled, "Fine! Shacklebolt! Kingsley!"

A tall, black boy perked up, looking in their direction. "Yes? Hello?"

"You'd date me, right, Shacklebolt?" Sirius asked. Remus buried his face in his hands, but not before he saw Kingsley's expression of excited interest.

"Yeah-- yeah! You're a brilliant bird, Sirius!" he said enthusiastically. "How about we-- "

"See!" Sirius bellowed, jerking Remus about by the collar again, incensed. "Kingsley would date me! I'm gorgeous! And hairless. I am like one of those freak of nature cats!"

The sheer number of laughing students that had gathered in the Great Hall to witness this latest display boggled the mind. Two thirds of Hogwarts' student population seemed to be sitting around smirking at Remus as if they knew how miserable he was and were perfectly content to let him suffer.

It was more than he could bear.

"Sirius!" Remus all but screamed.

It got the brunette's attention, and she stopped glaring at Lily long enough to glower at Remus.

"I don't know if you've forgotten, but you are a boy. One of my best mates, granted, but I am not going to date you. The-- the girl parts have rotted your brain," Remus said decisively. Sirius opened her mouth to protest but Remus cut her off. "I don't know who put this daft idea into your head but you should have hexed them like you did with half your Potions class."

Remus took in the stunned silence with great satisfaction and stormed out of the Great Hall.

Right into Professor McGonagall.

She stared at him solemnly. "Mister Lupin, we must talk."

Remus said, "Oh, hell."

*

When Remus trudged his way back to the Gryffindor common room later that evening, it was with McGonagall's disapproving voice fresh in his mind. The Gryffindor head of house had never been maudlin or soft-hearted, but she recognized the needs of her students-- far better, Remus reflected glumly, than he had.

The din in the room was at triple its usual murmured chaos, and Remus spotted the source of discord immediately.

In the corner, by the fireplace, James and Peter were barely holding Sirius back from a laughing Gideon, who, despite Sirius' very violent threats and James' very descriptive ones and Peter's rather desperate ones, did not seem at all inclined to stop. They had gathered a crowd of giggling onlookers, girls sprawled out on the sofas and boys leaning against the walls, homework and texts and half-written scrolls for the next day's classes abandoned in favor of better entertainment.

"Mister Lupin," Professor McGonagall had said. "As Mister Black-- Miss Black is one of your closest friends I had assumed you were aware of what has been happening since her accident." There had been a long, disapproving pause before McGonagall had stared down her spectacles at Remus and added, "But I see that I was presuming too much."

A sudden flare of red went up into Remus' vision, beyond the reasonless jealousy of earlier that afternoon or the heightened protectiveness he felt toward Sirius or even the comfortable belonging he longed to have again, before the awkwardness of breasts and skirts and having to wait by the door of the girls' lav so Sirius could figure out the great and terrifying secrets of peeing while seated.

Boys had been bothering Sirius, Remus found, girls had been bothering Sirius, too. Not just with teases or smirks but grabbing and asking horrible questions. "I've heard some," McGonagall had admitted, "very, very inappropriate propositions made toward Miss Black, Mister Lupin." She'd sighed and Remus had gaped, trying to wrap his mind around it.

Sirius? Bullied? It was impossible, downright stupid, Remus resolved. After all, wasn't he near top in the class for DADA? Hadn't he handed out hexes left and right? Wasn't he the utter bane of Remus' life, his sanity, his ability to go through a day without having to listen to one or another teacher remark tartly that with such upstanding, Prefect acquaintances, wasn't it a marvel that young Sirius Black was just as he was without any change?

It had struck him, somewhere amongst protesting to Professor McGonagall that Sirius would never allow himself to be harassed by students, that he remembered what he'd been shouting while not being distracted by how pretty Sirius' hair was. He'd made Sirius promise not to lose them any more House points, he realized with a thud.

And Sirius hadn't. At great expense to himself, apparently.

It suddenly seemed to make a great deal of twisted sense that Sirius had asked Remus to be his boyfriend. After all, if considered otherwise engaged, then it'd be much more difficult for certain ventures to be made; besides which, having a Prefect as a romantic entanglement always proved interesting for those who felt the urge to create mischief. Yes, it was a perfectly sound request and one in which Remus could see logic and cause.

Then he remembered how he'd reacted to the desperation in Sirius' eyes earlier and groaned.

How could he have been so stupid, Remus berated himself. It was so obvious. There had to have been a reason, and if Remus hadn't been so terribly distracted by the fact that he was now Prefecting the only year in Hogwarts where there was an unnatural female with whom he shared a room, then he would have noticed-- he would have thought to ask. He could have done something earlier.

He'd certainly do something about it now.

He took a deep breath, and stalked toward his friends, throwing caution to the wind.

And once he was close enough that he was sure they would all hear him, Remus cleared his throat loudly and said, "I hope you're not harassing my girlfriend, Gideon."

Silence fell in the common room. Gideon stopped laughing with a harsh choke and James and Peter let go, which caused Sirius, in her overbalanced state, to tip over and knock Gideon down, where they landed with a thump.

From behind the couch, Sirius said, "Ow," and "Don't touch that!"

Peter said, "Remus, are you mad?"

James looked grim. "I knew it," he said dolefully. "I always knew I'd taken up with shirtlifters."

Remus reflected that only for Sirius would he ever put the entire rest of his career at Hogwarts so in jeopardy-- he thought that it might be because his friends put themselves in the same position, and Remus felt that it was only fair, only right he return their kindness.

As Sirius scrambled back up to her feet, glancing down at where Gideon was now groaning with pain, Remus said, "Don't be so terribly surprised." He gave a wavering smile to Sirius. "She is, after all, very pretty."

There came grudging, murmured agreement.

Sirius' blue eyes grew very wide.

Lily ran out of the room, very red in the face and looking upset, and several of her friends followed, tossing dirty looks over their shoulders before rushing up the steps after her.

Kingsley Shacklebolt yelled, "Oi! She asked me first!"

*

James, Peter, and Gideon insisted that if they were going to spend any time staring deeply into one another's eyes and declaring that they loved each other beyond gender or magic, then they'd have to do it in the common room. So even though Remus just wanted to apologize for not realizing Sirius' problems and then explain how this arrangement would hopefully alleviate some of those problems until the potion wore off, they were obliged to stay by the fire while Peter looked increasingly pale, and Gideon increasingly amused, leading a still-raving Kingsley up the steps. James took it upon himself to steer the glaring, sneering, giggling, and astonished crowd out of the room, citing that the new couple needed their privacy. Sirius only cursed at him twice, but Remus figured it was a byproduct of shock.

As soon as footsteps faded away, Sirius whirled about and said, "Remus."

Remus smiled ruefully. "I've been an awful friend," he apologized, running his hand through his hair and looking away. "Really poor."

"Damn straight," Sirius said. "I can't believe you'd shoot a chap down like that." She scowled and leaned in closely, narrowing her eyes at Remus. "D'you know that any girl at this school would give their right arm to date me?"

Nodding seriously, Remus replied tartly, "Yes, well aware. After fighting the boys to get at the chance."

Sirius made a choking noise and James voice echoed from the top of the stairs. "Oi, all your clothes had better be on and not disheveled when you two get upstairs to sleep in your separate beds."

Remus glared at the stairwell.

"Sometimes," Sirius said thoughtfully, "I think it might be better if we off him."

"Sometimes I do, too," Remus admitted. He took a deep breath and continued. "So, how do we do this? Just pretend? Hang about together?" He frowned. "We already hang about together."

Sirius laughed nervously. "Makes it all the easier, right?" She sounded even more high-pitched. "But-- but this should be authentic. Right?"

Flushing, Remus stared at the ground, "Yeah. All right."

A thousand reasons why this was a terrible idea and that he'd regret it later were running through Remus' mind when Sirius said, "Oh, sod it," and kissed him, lips awkwardly on lips and not very romantic or sweet at all. When she pulled away, she glared, saying, "It's not as if this is the first time we've done this."

Remus glared and blushed dark red. "Shut up."

Sirius grinned. "Make me."

For no reason that Remus understood, he leaned in closer. "Sirius, shut up."

Her eyelids were drooping and the drowsy, handsome expression was back on her face, so different and yet so much the same as the one that appeared on his boyish features the year before, the same sensual beauty with softer curves, and Remus was near enough to feel the heat off of her skin.

Sirius' mouth looked very pink and soft. "Make me," she whispered.

So Remus did.

By the time they headed upstairs, Sirius looked very thoroughly kissed, and was quiet when Remus took her hand, and navigated them around where James had fallen asleep in the stairwell.

*

In the end, Remus didn't know what bothered him more: how easily everybody accepted that he and Sirius were a couple, or how easily he accepted it himself.

That morning, he'd woken up and said his hellos and pulled on some clothes before Sirius had popped her head out from between her bedcurtains and yawned her good mornings. There'd been a quick double take, James had suffered additional collateral damage after refusing to shut his mouth, and then they'd all gone about their morning routines, with Sirius locking them all out of the lav while she puzzled the mysteries of the female body. She'd stepped out of the loo looking extremely satisfied with herself and a bit red in the cheeks, only to be told by a darkly-blushing Remus that she was rather loud, and could she "discover" herself at a more convenient time? Sirius hadn't even had the time to be properly embarrassed as she was nearly mowed down by James, Gideon, and Peter rushing into the bathroom, presumably to discover themselves in response.

It had all been so terribly ordinary-- situations considered.

As if his whole world hadn't turned upside-down overnight. As if he hadn't spent the night before in front of the fireplace in Gryffindor, fingers knotted in Sirius' already-knotty hair, kissing her soft lips and thinking how he would like to kiss her like that every day. As if he hadn't felt her fingertips, rough from Quidditch, ride up underneath the hem of his jumper so that he felt the pads of her hands against the small of his back, warm points on his skin.

They'd met eyes across the room early that morning and had both flushed dark red.

The eventual explanations for the previous nights' behaviors were made. Peter breathed a sigh of relief and clapped Sirius on the back, saying she'd really had him there for a moment, what with all that moony-eyed waiting for Remus that night in the common room. Remus, on the other hand, studied the floor, feeling James' narrow-eyed gaze burn across his face.

Otherwise, the fourteenth of February brought on a few snickers and crass glares, but in general the populace of Hogwarts seemed to take it in stride; the rumor mill had done its part to inform the entire castle by breakfast and the only people who seemed resentful or disgusted where the Slytherins and Kingsley, who was still smarting from yesterday's events. Mostly, people looked conflicted, astonished, or jealous.

It was difficult to throw the usual jeers directed toward shirtlifters and the like when the boy and boy in question were technically boy and girl; especially since it was boy and attractive girl. Considering half of the fifth year boys had already asked Sirius if he'd be willing to let them do a little friendly experimentation, it was hardly fair of them to throw a tantrum at Lupin, who'd managed to stake claim; besides which, if they tried, they also knew Remus could be ruthless and always distributed information about who and how someone had managed to lose Gryffindor points.

Flowers and candy were distributed in an abnormal fashion: without explosions or impromptu visits to the Infirmary. James had gotten so caught up with Sirius' gender he'd forgotten to write his promised epic poetry about Lily's; it was quiet at the Gryffindor tables that morning, much to everybody's surprise.

"I thought that you said that everybody thought Sirius and I were shagging." James looked superior.

Sirius was still upstairs, fighting some sort of epic battle with a hairbrush and shrieking about how Snape would suffer the pain of a thousand fires of hell for this, and so Remus felt safe commenting, "They probably still do. You are a rather largish type of whore, Potter."

"Slandering the girlfriend already, eh, Lupin?" James said gleefully. "And on Valentine's Day."

"Yes that's it exactly," Remus answered distractedly. He flipped through the Daily Prophet and frowned at the grim headlines. "Meanwhile, how goes your attempts at wooing?"

James snorted. And as Sirius stomped into the Great Hall, barely more groomed than they'd left her earlier that morning, James said, "As if you're one to talk about romantic conquests."

Sirius slumped into the spot next to Remus and said, "Hell, I've got an awful stomachache."

Remus raised one eyebrow. "Touche."

*

James and Peter fielded most of the snickers and leers in the hallway, as Remus was too busy growing increasingly concerned with how Sirius was paling. Nearing the DADA room, Sirius braced one hand against the ancient stone walls of the castle, his face the color of yellowing paper and his mouth a thin line, eyes focused straight ahead.

"Are you all right?" Remus asked, stepping in close.

Sirius didn't answer, just kept walking straight ahead and breathing deeply.

Remus glanced at James, who shrugged and glanced at Peter. Peter stared at Sirius. Remus decided he needed some female friends. Who were, actually, female.

They turned a corner, and walked into DADA, picking through the whispering masses to the back row where disaffected Gryffindors were known to sit. James thumped his books down and slumped into his chair; Peter knocked into the corner of the desk but managed the spot next to him. Remus slipped into the next desk over and started horrified as Sirius lowered herself gently, delicately down onto the seat. She stared straight ahead and her face kept whitening until Remus muttered, "Right," under his breath and grabbed her free hand.

"Sirius!" he hissed.

"Oh my God," she said, eyes still focused front. "I think I'm dying."

Dying? Remus was patently against any dying. McGonagall hadn't said anything about tragic consequences to the potion; could someone die if they stayed out of their own gender too long? He hadn't paid much attention to the section on Animagi during Transfiguration and he was starting to wish he'd followed up on pestering James about why exactly he'd taken so many notes for the section.

"Dying?" Remus said uselessly. He twined his and Sirius' fingers together importantly.

Sirius squeezed back and turned to him, eyes shiny. "Dying. You stupid oaf," she said. "Dying." She moaned, and put her forehead down on the desk, whimpering into the wood, "Oh God, oh God. I can't breathe. I'm going to throw up."

Remus nodded. "Right." He glanced over Sirius' head to see James and Peter peering over in concern. "We're taking her to Madam Pomfrey. There's something wrong."

James pointed at the front of the room, where Professor Medlin was setting out something that didn't look quite dead yet, and said, "Peter." The shorter, blond boy went off without a second word, and James stood up to help carry Sirius' weight as they threw one of her arms over each of their shoulders. She moaned as they did this, and James and Remus looked at one another in alarm.

The whispering in the class went up again like a roll of quiet thunder, and the expressions that had been amused or disgusted earlier were growing concerned. Peter pushed people out of the way and met them at the door, saying, "We're set. Let's go."

"She sounds like she's dying," James hazarded as they inched their way down the hallway.

Sirius had stopped moaning in favor of making noises that sounded entirely too much like she was about to cry for Remus' comfort. Normally, in cases like this, when there were crying girls about, either James had just said something or Sirius had just done something so it was easy to figure out who to punch-- if Lily Evans hadn't already done it.

Remus pulled Sirius a little closer to him, feeling the curves and dips of her side against his hip. She was near enough so they were nearly cheek to cheek, and brushing back the fall of hair in her face with his hand, Remus asked, "Hey? Sirius? Where does it hurt?"

James snorted. "You two are utterly vile."

Peter, who had been trotting worriedly beside them lit off ahead, shouting, "Madam Pomfrey! It's Sirius," and Remus never got an opportunity to tell James just how utterly vile he was before he glanced up in time to see Peter dragging Madam Pomfrey over by the hand. She looked more amused than worried.

They all spoke up in a rush, James' jittery concern finally emerging from a shell of practiced jackassed behavior as Remus allowed himself to lose what little composure he had.

"Madam Pomfrey!"

"It's Sirius!"

"There was something in that Potion, you know!" James insisted. "Time release poisons!"

"She's looking utterly white and do you think this could be some sort side effect of being-- "

"It's Snape! I know it!-- "

Sirius moaned.

"-- Madam Pomfrey's right here, Sirius! Ma'am could you-- ?"

"Oh for goodness sake!" Madam Pomfrey finally said, waving the boys to silence and laughing. "You three are a mess!" She looked tolerantly at Sirius, who was back to whimpering and making under-the-breath sobbing sounds. Remus felt his heart go off on an unhealthy tangent at that, and held on longer than was absolutely necessary to Sirius' loose fingers. "Now," Madam Pomfrey said much more gently, "Sirius, come here."

When Sirius made a move to go toward her, Remus followed a step before the Hogwart's nurse pressed a hand to his shoulder and said, "Mister Lupin, this, I promise you, will not be part of your Prefect's duties." Her eyes were twinkling, and Remus didn't see what was so funny, anyhow. "She'll be in good hands."

Remus swallowed hard, and nodded, unlooping Sirius' arm from around his neck and saying quietly, "We'll be waiting right here."

Sirius took three halting steps, head still bent and eyes shut tightly, teeth gritted, before Madam Pomfrey met her halfway, and made clucking, comforting noises, steering her into the Infirmary while saying, "You know, Mist-- Sirius, if you'd listened to me earlier while-- "

The door shut with a thud, and James, Peter, and Remus were left staring at it.

Remus spoke up first. "What the hell was that?"

Peter said. "He looked just awful." He ran his hands through his bangs, a nervous habit that he could never quite shake. "I hope it's nothing serious-- I mean."

"I'll kill Snape!" James roared. He fisted his hands and turned on one heel just as Remus and Peter's hands landed on his shoulders and held him still. "That bastard will burn for this!"

"I've never seen anybody like that," Remus wondered, straining to hold James back.

Peter shrugged helplessly, and grabbed James by the elbow, dragging the struggling, cursing boy to the hard bench just outside the infirmary. "He said he had a stomachache at breakfast, now that I think about it."

Remus considered this, and shoved James' face into his lap to mute the yelling. It was worrisome to him, on a very distant level, that this had become mundane to him.

Remus opened his mouth to say that maybe Sirius had eaten some bad eggs when a blood-curdling cry echoed throughout the castle.

*

It'd taken the combined efforts of Madam Pomfrey, a barely-straight-faced Professor McGonagall, and Dumbledore to keep James from ramming the door of the Infirmary after Madam Pomfrey had refused to let them enter. Then again, it had been hard to hear, what with Sirius still shrieking like he was being eviscerated just on the other side.

They were being herded from the hallway as a gawking crowd dispersed; Madam Pomfrey had cast a silencing spell, rolled her eyes, and gone back inside. The last words Remus had heard her say before she'd disappeared into the sound-proofed room were, "Sirius, really, this is a very natural process-- "

McGonagall had instructed them to wait in their room, and said that Sirius was not dying, Snape would not be killed, and that Madam Pomfrey was most certainly not using Sirius for her twisted medical experiments, Mister Potter.

James kept breaking Gideon's broom and huffing "Reparo," before doing it all over again.

Peter bit his fingernails and ran his fingers over his bangs so frequently and roughly they were matted to his forehead now.

Remus was having trouble remember what the word "and" meant, so he finally closed James' copy of Quidditch Girls: Robes OFF! and threw it where he'd found it under James' bed and flopped face down on his own.

"What do you think is wrong with him?" he asked the ceiling.

James said, "Maybe it's cancer."

Ever since Remus had explained what cancer was, James had insisted on claiming everything from mosquito bites to the common cold was rooted in it. Despite Remus' subsequent attempts to impress upon him the seriousness of the condition, James persisted, and everybody else ignored him. Except for Lily, who occasionally slapped him across the back of the head and said that if anybody at Hogwarts had a cancerous growth, it was James, who had taught it to talk and wear its hair badly.

"Maybe it's just a stomach virus," Peter said.

Remus nodded distractedly.

A few moments passed before they heard the door to the room open slowly with a characteristic clicking sound, and all three jumped to their feet in time to see Sirius shuffle into the dormitory. Her head was lowered, shoulders slumped. She looked utterly defeated and very tired.

James, Peter, and Remus swarmed around her.

"Sirius, are you all right?" Peter asked. "What did Madam Pomfrey say was wrong?"

"And why were you yowling like a cat?" James demanded. "What did she do? Where there experiments? Did she test things on you?"

Remus said quietly, "Are you feeling any better?"

When Sirius lifted her head, all three boys jumped back, dumbstruck and terrified.

The murderous expression that had met the remaining Marauders only intensified as she glared from James to Peter to Remus, letting her blue eyes settle somewhere in the area of Remus' abdomen, which made Remus very nervous about sleeping in the same room as her that night.

She tore off her cloak, kicked off her shoes, and awkwardly, ever-so-carefully, climbed into her bed, burying herself completely under the covers, still fully-dressed. One arm appeared out of the mountain of blankets, and Sirius yanked her curtains shut. She yelled through the dark fabric, "Wake me up in three hours! Or heads will roll."

James, Remus, and Peter dedicated some quality time to balking in terror before they turned to one another. Nodding in agreement, they slipped out of the dormitory and leaned against the cool stones of the stairwell, bewildered.

"This is the weirdest Valentine's Day yet," Peter mused.

"But not 'ever,'" Remus said dryly.

It was only after ten minutes that James said, "You know, Lupin. Maybe you had the right idea after all."

Remus blinked. "What are you talking about?"

James started inching his way down the stairwell. "You're lucky to have gone and taken up with Sirius. Girls are terrifying." He lit off down the steps, whooping and shouting, "I wish you two every happiness, you nancies!"

It was much, much later, after James was sullen and dripping wet from being shoved into Hogwarts lake and held underwater, that Remus started marching back up the tower steps to wake Sirius, and finally allowed himself to process what James had said.

*

Remus paused at the shut-tight curtains of Sirius' bed, one hand resting on a post, biting his lip.

He remembered that when he'd first arrived at Hogwarts, he'd spent most of his time being serious and mature, the mediator. Later, he'd started to help James and Sirius on the sly, offering them an odd Charm here, an obscure Hex there-- all in the name of intellectual curiosity.

It wasn't until more recently that Remus found himself at a turning point, where all James and Sirius' mischief seemed to have rubbed off on him. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he barely recognized the image anymore: sun-brown with bits of blond in his brown hair, bleached out from afternoons outside running wild. He was a werewolf wearing a Prefect's badge, bossing peers and younger years about, pretending to be an adult, almost. He could barely reconcile the image of himself trying to drown James in the lake with the boy upon whom there rested the responsibility of the horrible monster he turned into once a month.

But the largest change, Remus had admitted to his mother in a letter, was that he was not so very afraid anymore.

At least-- not afraid of himself. Sirius was an entirely different matter.

Remus took a deep breath, and tugged the curtains open gently, seeing a sliver of late-evening light fall on the dark red covers. His eyes softened at Sirius, curled up underneath a mountain of blankets, hair wild about her face, making snuffling noises into her pillow. For all his wakeful wildness, Sirius slept, if not like an angel, then a much-tamed dog, docile and warm.

"Sirius," Remus said gently. "Sirius? It's been three hours. You wanted us to wake you."

Her eyelids tensed, awake and unwilling. She buried herself further into the sheets, burrowing and making whining sounds. "Tired. Very tired," she said between whimpers.

Remus sighed, and reached over, shaking her shoulder gently. "Sirius? Oi, Sirius. Normally, I'd let you sleep, but you asked specifically, and-- "

Suddenly, her blue eyes snapped open, and she rocked up, panicking as she thrust both hands down into the mess of blankets and rustling around until she relaxed, murmuring, "Oh." Brushing her hair out of her face, she turned very red and started toward the other side of the bed, saying, "Wait here for me a bit, all right?"

Remus nodded, and watched her shuffle off to the lavatory after a stop at her rucksack. He surveyed the room, was grateful that it was deserted, and climbed onto Sirius' bed, laying atop the rumpled sheets and feeling more tired than he'd ever felt in his life.

The curtains on the other side of the bed rustled open, and Sirius climbed back into the sheets, white-faced and shaking, looking very small. She smelled like soap and blood and hot water and looked ill. Remus could bear it no more.

"Sirius," he said urgently.

"I'm bleeding," Sirius interrupted, a faint tone of hysteria.

Remus felt this was a point of concern as well. "What? You're what?"

He would kill Snape. With his bare hands. And some sort of sharp, rusted object.

"Bleeding," Sirius went on, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her shins. She rocked back and forth slightly, movement stilted. "A lot."

"I'll kill him," Remus said calmly. He started to get out of the bed. "You wait here."

Sirius grabbed Remus' arm and tugged hard enough so that Remus landed in a diagonal sprawl over Sirius' pillows.

"Don't be stupid, you sod," she barked. "I'm not actually dying, it just feels like it." Her voice gave out on her for a second, and Remus blinked hard as he realized why Sirius' eyes looked so terribly blue: he'd never seen them swimming with tears before. "I'm bleeding out of my crotch."

Remus suddenly found it impossible to breathe. "Oh," he squeaked.

Sirius stared at him for a minute before she took a deep breath, saying, "I'm having a period. Bleeding like some sort of stuck pig. And my entire belly feels like someone stabbed a hot poker in there and they're twisting it about and I want to throw up and cry and my back hurts and-- "

Large, horrible tears started to roll down her cheeks.

"Oh my God," Remus said.

"I hate this!" Sirius sobbed. She rubbed at her face with fisted hands, crying so hard Remus could barely hear her anymore. It made something ugly and desperate twist in his chest. "I hate this. No matter what I did I don't deserve this and I swear I'll never make fun of Evans ever again about anything."

Remus was officially panicking. What did one say to a male friend who started menstruating? It just didn't happen that frequently.

"I hate being a girl. I hate being a girl," Sirius continued, burying her face in her hands. "I'm terrible at it and I keep falling down or doing stupid things or people lift up my skirt and-- " Remus fought the primitive need to shout who had done it and where could he find them "-- the terrible thing is I don't want to turn into a boy again either!"

Sirius looked up at Remus' dumbfounded expression and wailed anew.

"I'm a poof," she cried, voice breaking. "A pansy. A nancy. A shirtlifter. Every one of those stupid names that James calls us sometimes. I like boys. And I think I might fancy you but I know you only like birds and I'm sorry and I know I'm a terrible girl and I hate it but I don't want to go back because then you won't want me anymore and-- "

Sirius' face was red and streaked with tears. It was utterly unattractive and Remus was getting lightheaded. The room was spinning around him.

"-- I'm so sorry. And even if it was just pretend it was wonderful for me and you're a lovely kisser and you can just pretend I never said anything and if you don't want to be my boyfriend-- even for pretend-- anymore I can understand and-- "

Remus needed Sirius to stop talking. Remus was getting a headache and nothing was fitting together correctly except for a memory very similar to this one.

"-- I'm so sorry I'm such a disgusting, horrible-- "

So Remus kissed her, cupped his hands about Sirius' face and pulled her roughly over so that he could seal his mouth over her own, lips against lips. He was not friendly or polite or any of those adjectives he'd used for the other two kisses, or even very soft about it. All Remus knew was that he wanted Sirius to stop talking and let him think, and to open her mouth so that he could run his tongue along the line of her teeth, to bite her lower lip, to suck her tongue into his mouth and to taste her and remember it for other times when he had to make Sirius stop talking.

It was working.

Remus could taste Sirius, chocolate, and something lightly medicinal layered over the flesh-sweet of her tongue. His hands slid back and around until he was cupping her skull, fingers wound in her dark hair and he liked that, too, feeling the warm, delicate curve of her head and the graceful line of neck. It was getting harder to think, but Remus sensed Sirius' fingers shaking, and then forceful, pushing and then grabbing until she forced them apart, where they broke from one another gasping and red-faced.

Sirius was crying harder than ever-- and male again.

Snape's potion had finally worn off; Remus must have felt it, and just not noticed: the widening of the shoulders, the thickening of the fingers and the angles of the face were all different. Sirius was back again, the pretty, boyish features and high cheekbones reappearing as suddenly as they'd melted away just a few days ago. His entire body had lengthened and broadened, flesh remade into a well-loved, familiar memory. And the dark, curling hair, the kissed-red mouth, and those imploring blue eyes were just the same as the other time Remus remembered seeing Sirius like this: unbearably handsome and so very, very close.

Sirius said, "Stop it. I know you don't like boys, and I'm a boy, Remus, even if right now-- "

His mouth was opening and closing like some sort of wonderful, red invitation and Remus darted in only to have Sirius shove him away, crying.

"Don't you get it?" he shrieked. "I'm not a girl anymore, you stupid-- !"

Remus blinked and murmured, "Oh. Oh," and grabbed Sirius' wrists.

Remus couldn't believe it had taken him that long to get around to noticing it. All the signs were there: a predisposition to Romantic poetry and combing his hair, not enjoying Lily Evans' breasts, kissing Sirius-- increasingly frequently; he was gayer than a Christmas tree and everybody at Hogwarts had probably known it before he or Sirius had figured it out.

When he dragged them together, this time, Sirius didn't push him away, just gasped in a wonderful, dizzying way when Remus pulled away a minute later to suck in a breath and whisper against his soft mouth, "I don't care. It doesn't matter. It never has."

And it didn't-- didn't matter at all, when he realized that he was kissing Sirius, handsome, stupid, completely irresponsible Sirius who was too clever and cruel and crusaded for Remus' virtue. When he realized he was feeling Sirius' quick, sweet tongue pressing into his mouth, frantic against his own. When he realized that this was a messy, unskilled kiss and barely cared because he was kissing Sirius, the best friend he'd ever had.

It was tentative fingers, larger, rougher, boys' fingers that found their way underneath the hem of Remus' jumper this time, and as Sirius' broad palms pressed to Remus' skin, he moaned into Sirius' mouth and drew them closer. Remus twisted his fingers into Sirius' hair and tried to envelop him, consume him, taste every inch of him because nothing had ever made so much and so little sense and been so awkward and wonderful at the same time.

Sirius whimpered into Remus' mouth, and whispered, "Are you--?"

"Shut up. You're not allowed to talk anymore," Remus decided, landing small, biting kisses on the corners of Sirius' lips. "I'm making all of the decisions now. You're terrible at it."

Sirius groaned and slumped forward, face in Remus' shoulder as Remus sucked a kiss to the tempting patch of skin just underneath Sirius' left earlobe, leaving a red, rosy bruise there as a place marker-- for later. The thought gave Remus great satisfaction, as did Sirius' gasp of, "Right. I can work with that."

Sirius' wonderful hands were exploring ever lower on Remus' back before dipping down to Remus' narrow waist, fingers gliding over scarred skin and swirling up and over his shoulder blades again. The barely-friction was driving Remus insane and--

"Oh my fucking God!"

They froze.

"Oh my fucking God!"

Sirius made a faint sound of distress into Remus' shoulder. Remus debated spontaneous combustion.

Gideon's voice was completely hysterical as he demanded, "Is this some kind of kinky sex thing? Why are you doing it in our dorm? Other people have to live here! Oh my God, I need holy water."

There was a rumbling of footsteps, and then James' voice as he called out, "Oi! Lupin? Were you killed? Did you-- oh my fucking God!"

Remus turned to look at their captive audience, mostly out of morbid curiosity: James, Peter, and Gideon stood speechless in horrified shock in front of the open bedcurtain. Peter was a shade of red not found in nature; Gideon was completely white; James, on the other hand, was starting to settle into an expression that bordered far to near "smug" for Remus' comfort.

Sirius cleared his throat, and removed his hands from inside the waist of Remus' pants. "Well. The potion's worn off, you see."

Remus nodded, and untangled his hands from Sirius' wild hair. "Yes, good as new, really."

The bed squeaked horribly as they drew themselves awkwardly apart, careful to keep their hands in their laps lest they managed to drive their roommates to an early death.

"Aren't you all happy for me?" Sirius tried.

Remus gave up and hung his head.

James said, "You're still wearing a skirt."

"And knee socks," Peter observed.

Sirius muttered. "Oh shit."

Silence fell until James finally declared, "Well. I can't say I approve, but I had my suspicions. And Remus, I expect you to make Sirius an honest woman at some point."

Later that night, after a triumphant return to Hogwarts as a man and hexing James' hands to stick to his face so he looked perpetually surprised, Sirius crawled into Remus' bed and fell asleep there, curled up into Remus' side after asking him exactly forty-eight times if he was really sure.

Remus woke up to the earliest streams of morning light and turned around to see Sirius staring intently at him, blue eyes darker than usual.

"Morning," Remus said.

Sirius fidgeted. "It's February fifteenth now," he said. "Lupercalia."

Remus blinked lazily and stretched out across his sheets, feeling honey-thick and warm. "So?"

"Is any of that stuff we read about werewolves mating for life and choosing them on Lupercalia true? I'm just asking for interest is all as you are my b-- one of my best friends and sort of my significant other or at least we've sucked face a lot and I think that enquiring minds would like to know. Just for future reference and such," Sirius said, all in one long, long breath.

It took a moment for Remus to understand all of it, but he said, "Werewolves don't mate for life, Sirius. Nothing and no one does."

Sirius looked deflated. "Oh." A pause. "So. I have to make you keep liking me."

"Something like that," Remus yawned. "I've put up with you this long already. There's really nothing for you to worry about."

Except for life and circumstances and everything, but none of those existed in Remus' bed at half past five on February fifteenth.

Sirius curled up beside him under the covers again, and smiling, asked, "Are you sure?"

Remus smacked him, and then kissed him.

"No, not sure at all," he murmured.

Sirius hummed lightly, and they drowsed until eight, when James shrieked that he'd figured it out, and an enormous stag ripped through Remus' bedcurtains, shoving them off the mattress, and wreaking general havoc.

VI.

February fourteenth dawned rosy and James bounced from bed to bed in the sixth year boys' dormitory until Gideon hit him in the head with a very large and dusty copy of Hogwarts, A History and went back to sleep. Peter followed James down to breakfast, and in the interest of keeping the peace, James stopped by and fetched Sirius from where he was sleeping on the common room couch.

Remus listened to all of it happen through his closed bedcurtains, staring at the ceiling.

It was strange, watching morning flood the room without waking to a loud thump or a shout. Stranger still, after fifth year, to wake without hearing Sirius' voice somewhere close to his ear. Near enough to slip out of bed and into another one, to press their bodies together and kiss and touch, to belong, and curl up in familiar warmth.

Remus turned over on his side and closed his eyes.

They staggered meals now. Remus never ate breakfast and Sirius was never seen at lunch. They suffered through dinner together and Peter sat with his girlfriend from Hufflepuff while James sat quietly with Lily, who cast Remus doleful looks over James' shoulder.

The unavoidable truth was that Sirius had made a choice and Remus had reacted as well as he could.

Sometimes, still, Remus would wake up and think that it was December, that there was snow drifting in fat, white flakes outside the window, with Sirius tracing words into the bedroom window with his brown, calloused finger. And later, downstairs, with his parents bustling around with grins so wide Remus could barely remember when they'd been so happy, they'd spoil Sirius and talk of what a good friend he was, how they'd never seen Remus so relaxed.

Sometimes, Remus would remember all of those things, and then feel the blinding white of the snow outside of the house slush into the grey of the piles by the streets, and then the walls of the Infirmary the morning after, with Sirius' blue eyes imploring.

Those mornings, Remus just turned to his side, and kept his hands still, unwilling to grasp for a pillow, seek comfort in anything but the memory of January and white snow underneath his hands when he ran out of the castle and into the winter. He remembers running and needing not to be in that horrible room with Sirius, remembers James and Peter coming after him, and then he remembered very little else.

It was a little past eight thirty, he thought, when he heard Gideon roll out of his bed and start to pull on his clothes. Remus pushed open his curtains and started to do the same just as Gideon was checking his tie in the mirror.

"Morning, Remus," he said, surprisingly docile-- for Gideon.

Remus nodded. "Good morning."

"Sleep well?" he asked.

"Yes," Remus lied, and watched the fluid lines of Gideon's body, leaner and corded with muscle, less substantive than Sirius, thinner in his hands, smoother and less tangible when Remus ran his fingers along the lines of his back. "And you?" he asked distractedly.

Remus never really expected a serious answer from Sirius, which was why he'd delighted in giving them. Gideon on the other hand, was rarely anything but. The drastic change, he supposed, was what he was looking for, or maybe he hadn't been looking for anything at all.

Gideon said, "No, you stupid sod," and left.

Remus stared after him for a beat, put on his shoes and went to class.

*

Over the years, Hogwarts had come to treat Valentine's Day like theater, with one explosion after the other followed by the inevitable romantic crescendo. Failing that, at least Lupin could be caught with his tongue down Black's throat, and at least a third of the female population of Hogwarts could swoon at the very thought.

At ten past eleven the night before, James had rocketed up from his Charms paper yelling, "Oh fuck!" and then barreled upstairs into the dorm shouting about how he hadn't even started Lily's Valentine, what with all the upheaval.

None of the charms he'd wanted worked properly, his hand shook too much for calligraphy, and in the end, James gave up, scribbled something onto a sheet of white paper, and edged it with lace pulled off of one of his ex-girlfriends' knickers, and owled it in at one in the morning.

"That is," Sirius had said that day at dinner, "the worst Valentine ever."

James buried his face in his hands, showing signs of wear, and didn't even bother to reply.

Remus knew, somewhere in his head, knew that he was punishing the rest of the Marauders as much as he was punishing Sirius.

The long silences were heavy in the room, and the castle seemed to have been parceled off into pieces for Remus and Sirius, and never should their paths cross. Library for Remus, a concession in any case, as they'd bumped into one another there at least twice before Sirius had taken to asking James to find books for him. The common room for Sirius and his adoring crowd; the girls had seemed to take it upon themselves to heal him after his brush with homosexuality. From all accounts, Sirius was having none of it. Remus listened to Peter report all of it faithfully, but it never fully settled in; it would have been cruel, however, to deny Peter that small ray of hope.

Gideon slid into the seat next to Remus, close enough to press their thighs together.

Remus let his elbow rest against Gideon's arm, and they ate dinner in relative silence.

Later, after James had drifted into an exhausted sleep and Peter had followed, Gideon crawled into Remus' bed like Sirius had once long ago.

*

Remus watched Gideon sometimes; never after, since Gideon never stayed, but during meals, in the library, in History of Magic. He had fair features, and brown eyes; he was by no means very handsome, or very unattractive. He seemed as innocuous as Sirius had seemed dangerous, dish and whitewater in stark contrast to one another. It did not explain the way that Gideon seemed to be stranger than the Marauders combined, but Remus was reaching for metaphors.

Gideon had surprised him one night after patrols, standing just outside the castle, smirking with half-lidded eyes. He hadn't really asked beyond asking where Remus was going, and Remus never quite said "yes," either. But he'd needed something, then, to distract him from the smell of blood and betrayal still so sharp in his nose, and Gideon smelled like the lemons he squeezed-- three slices per cup-- into his teacup every morning.

"You're not falling in love with me are you?" Gideon had asked the night before.

Remus had tackled him into the sheets, strange and quiet before he'd said, "Yes. Utterly. Madly, Gideon."

There'd been a moment of silence before the taller boy had shoved him off, and stalked to his own bed, throwing himself into the mattress like an argument.

Remus remembered that Sirius used to do that, too, when they fought.

Sirius hadn't slept in his own bed for over a month now.

The silence at their end of the table was broken when Lily walked over and said that if James liked, she could suffer to meet him for butterbeer at Hogsmeade sometime.

And after receiving no response, Lily frowned and asked, "What are you on about, James Potter? Asking a girl with flowery pink disasters and harassing me for five years and now losing interest?" She turned very red, and started to stalk away before James launched himself out of his chair, and fell all over himself reassuring her otherwise.

After five years of failed Valentines, it seemed that James was more surprised by "yes" than he'd ever been shocked by "no," which was an incredible truth given James Potter's ego.

Sirius leaned on one elbow and said, "Git."

Remus hummed in agreement.

Peter looked between the two of them, lips narrowed into a white line.

That night, Gideon met Remus outside of the castle again, lips hot and angry and hard.

He shoved the two of them into a dark corner, near a pillar and a statue of some aging wizard. In between gasping breaths, said, "You two never, did you?"

There'd been almost, and very soon, and just give me a little more time, but never this, as if Sirius hadn't been entirely comfortable with the thought, when he'd been the one to plant it in Remus' head to begin with. Remus remembered being angry with that, to think that they could rub slicked, hot skin to skin and kiss and promise but never cross that last distance.

"Was that why?" Gideon groaned.

It made Remus fierce all of a sudden, that they were talking about this, so Remus slipped two fingers into Gideon's mouth before he turned him to face the wall.

It wasn't so that he could pretend, and he would pretend he believed that, too.

*

And territory marked as clearly as the lines on the Marauders map was very fluid, it seemed, that night. Remus thought about lines of delineation, about cartography and mountains, rivers and streams, and sat slumped in the shadow next to the statue long after Gideon had buttoned his trousers and left.

The cold seeped into Remus' skin through the thin wool of the Hogwarts robes, and he felt it to his fingertips. Once, what seemed like a lifetime ago, Sirius had claimed that Remus was the human furnace, even if Remus never felt warm enough, and Remus reflected that it, like so many other things Sirius had said before, was obviously a lie. One which had been pretty enough for him to indulge.

It was the clicking of dog's claws he heard first on the stone floor.

And then the padding sounds of human hands on stone.

It was very strange, Remus reflected, to see those same blue eyes finally lock in gaze with his own, after so long without so much as a word exchanged.

"You're out after hours," Remus said dully.

"You know me," Sirius said, surprisingly light. "Raising hell, no doubt."

Remus laughed, and he almost meant it. "Who was she?"

Sirius shrugged, and crawled forward until he was leaning against the statue, eyes sliding shut. "No one." There was a long pause. "Why Gideon?"

It was stupid to think that Sirius wouldn't notice, Remus knew logically. Even if he didn't see it, sense it, Padfoot would smell it. Remus strongly suspected that he'd been expecting silence, a lengthy void of conversation that would give him time to come up with reasons and explanations that didn't sound like they came straight out of one of those novels his mum hid in the bottom drawer of her bedside table.

"He's really quite fit," Remus said airily. "And bends very nicely. Very rarely picks fights."

Sirius snorted. "Like sodomizing a twig, then."

Remus barely resisted the urge to cuff Sirius. Touching wasn't allowed anymore. "Perpetual jackass to the end," he said.

"Yes, that would be, actually, what 'perpetual,' implies," Sirius replied.

"I never should have encouraged you to read," Remus said tartly. He slouched against the wall, and felt every centimeter of the aging stone against his back, like worn sandpaper against his hands, biting into the palms of his hands.

"I'm sorry," Sirius said in a rush. He was looking away, and no light fell on him, like enveloping dark was drawn to him in a cloak. "I know it doesn't mean anything to you. But I'm sorry."

Remus stared at the vaulted ceilings, and looked at where the moonlight streamed into the castle, marred by watery shadows when the wind outside brushed tree limbs into the window, when a bird flew past.

It didn't matter what Sirius said, Remus realized.

"I hate you," Remus said lightly. "A lot, actually. Right now."

There was a sharp intake of breath in the silence, and Remus was glad he couldn't see Sirius' face.

"It's like this ball in my stomach," he went on easily. "And every time I think that I might be ready to forgive you, or at least try to forget about it and let James sleep through the night for once-- it all comes roaring back." Remus traced one of the stones that pieced together the floor, feeling the misshapen edges of it with a fingertip. "I wonder if it's petty that I'm doing this. It's so terribly cliché, really, to have a falling out and then find someone else in the meanwhile.

"Then again," Remus said, closing his eyes, "I think about what you did to me, and it doesn't matter very much anymore."

The intake of breath in the dark this time sounded very much like a sob. It twisted in Remus' chest, something dark and ugly he remembered from fifth year, but much more satisfying now, with a cruel comfort in knowing that Sirius was miserable. He could instruct himself to be good, to stop being horrible, but it didn't matter then, because Sirius was sitting on the ground, knees dirty and crying and Remus could think of nothing else in the world he wanted more.

He breathed in, out, and then said, "It's easier to hate you than to think about how much it hurt to wake up the next morning, Sirius. You can sit there and sob into your filthy robe as much as you'd like but it's-- " Remus choked on the words, so angry and lightheaded he could barely string together a sentence "-- it's different. And I-- and I don't care."

It suddenly became imperative that he leave, and he struggled to his feet and was halfway out of the hall before he paused and rocked back on one heel.

He stared straight ahead and said, "Sirius, you're out after hours."

The sobbing, thick sounds behind him drew closer, and he felt Sirius fall into step behind him, and they made their way silently through the winding hallways of Hogwarts. Past the portrait hole, in the Gryffindor common room, Remus seized his wrist, and dragged him up the steps back to the sixth year boys' room before shoving him toward Sirius' perfectly-made and dusty bed.

And in the morning, when James woke up with Sirius in the room and Lily agreeing on a date, he shouted loudly enough to wake the whole tower before stubbing his toe on his bedpost and calling everything in the room a "rotten fucking arse pirate," which was closer to the truth than James was entirely comfortable allowing himself to come to terms with.

Remus' eyes snapped open at the noise.

He took a deep breath, opened his bedcurtains, and said, "What the hell is going on?"

VII.

"This is not a good idea," Peter said.

"Pixies are highly unpredictable," Remus added.

"They'll bite the living sod out of you," Sirius finished.

James frowned. "None of you have any sense of adventure."

Peter, Remus, and Sirius leveled a very similar glare at James, who did not wilt under pressure.

"This has to be stellar, you berks," he declared, vehement, slamming his left fist into his right palm, and stalking about like a General to his troops. "It's taken me seven years to get to this point, and if Lily's going to put out-- "

"And she really won't, if you put it like that," Sirius interrupted.

"-- sod you, Black!-- then this evening has to be perfect."

Remus crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. "Pixies," he said flatly, "are not perfect. They are nasty, biting creatures who do not take kindly to being caged for display."

James waved his hand offhandedly. "They'll be freed in the morning."

Peter sighed, throwing up his hands. Remus cocked one brow and leaned against a bedpost.

Sirius, who was due for a glorious fit of temper, waved his hands about and shouted, "James, are you out of your mind? Have you no sense of mood? Of occasion? There's no chance you're going to get into her skirt if she's too busy fighting off Pixies or whatever the hell else you let loose to add atmosphere!" He scowled. "How the name of God did you ever get laid before?"

James looked very superior and said, "What is that? The tinny whining of poor, virgin Sirius Black I hear in the distance? Lecturing me about shagging?"

Remus and Peter suddenly became fascinated with other things in the room.

Later, after James had stopped shouting about how utterly not on it was that everybody kept trying to drown him in the lake and where the hell had his Head Boy badge gone and how many points Sirius was losing for Gryffindor, Peter, Remus, and Sirius sat back, and watched him attempting to catch Pixies from the edge of the Forbidden Forest.

*

Despite the encouragement and offers of a large population of Hogwarts, at eighteen, Sirius seemed content-- or at least determined-- to remain chaste.

It drove James, who had a tendency to live up to his reputation for acting "like a Turkish whore," insane. As such, he devoted a large part of his free time to trying to cajole Sirius into bed-- someone's bed. "This is unhealthy," he'd lecture. "Go shag Marion Wiley right now. She's mad about you." And Sirius would roll his eyes and remind James he didn't quite swing that way, at which point James would shout weren't there plenty of poofs and didn't Sirius know how to find them on his own?

The tableau never lasted long, as Remus was generally found intervening on behalf of his own sanity, and also to annoy James, which was always a benefit.

Nobody ever asked why Sirius had never taken anybody to bed. It was the only thing more obvious than James Potter's lunacy.

*

"What the sod does she see in him?" Sirius mused aloud.

Remus shrugged. "He's rich," he attempted. "Oh, and Quidditch."

Peter snorted. "There're lots of rich boys at this school."

"Who have better hair," Sirius chimed in.

They were sitting around the perimeter of a rose garden that James had blackmailed Peter into cultivating earlier that week. The flowers were astonishing, cream and pink and delicate -- both colors melting languidly into one another, and edged with dark green leaves. The fairylights which were glowing softly among the flowers and floating overhead were part of a large and very complex amalgamation of Charms and Arithmancy, which Remus charged James ten galleons for, and then ten galleons more, when he realized how much trigonometry he'd have to do by hand to manage it. The privacy charm, however, was the crowning achievement: totally selective and highly complex, with a more convoluted magical dichotomy than Remus had ever imagined-- arguments leading off into tangent points and indecipherable runes-- a degree of cleverness that had to be attributed to Sirius Black and the scratching of his quill into the late hours of night.

"Right, and who have better hair," Remus agreed. "Maybe she actually likes him."

It was a very strange thought, considering very few people actually liked James, much less after he'd spent near six years stalking them. Sirius, Peter, and Remus, who were his best friends, didn't even like him very well, given the sheer number of pranks and humiliations that James had rained down on their heads. The thought that Lily Evans would change her mind about James Potter was too foreign for comprehension.

Peter sighed, and pushed himself up, saying, "It's time."

Sirius and Remus nodded gravely at him. "Good luck, mate," Sirius said.

Peter rolled his eyes. "Let's just pray it's McGonagall that catches me, and not Filch." He moaned. "Why am I doing this?"

"Twenty-five galleons," Remus said.

Peter shuffled off, and five minutes later, just as James and Lily stepped into the rose garden, there was an explosion in the castle.

*

"Right," Sirius said. "How about I just give you money, as this whole middle-man-Sirius-sucks-arse-at-cards bit is getting tiresome."

Remus cocked his brow and set his hand on the grass. "I'm assuming you fold."

Sirius scowled. "No, you bloody cow I raise-- of course I fold." He threw his cards at Remus' head: a seven, a four, a three, one Queen, and one stuck in Remus' hair. "I have the worst sodding luck at this game. I have half a mind to think that you're making up the rules as you go along, just to make me lose."

Gathering up the cards, Remus plucked the last one-- a six-- out of his hair. "Think what makes you feel better, Sirius."

It would never quite be the same as before, Remus knew. There were scars that ran deeper than the dull ache and occasional flare of hateful anger that still emerged; Sirius had carved some sort of indelible image into Remus' mind. But Sirius had, as long as Remus remembered, always been leaving marks all over Remus: bruises from roughhousing, faint blushes with his concern, and later, dark, kiss-fashioned bruises on his collarbone, on the rise of one hip, behind his ear.

No, never exactly the same, but better now than before. The fact that Peter and James felt confident about leaving them alone together was a good sign; in the intervening months, Remus had taken to using their friends as a barometer.

Sirius snatched the newly shuffled cards out of Remus' hand and set them aside.

"We're not playing anymore," Sirius said determinedly.

Remus blinked innocently. "Why not?"

"I can't bloody afford it," Sirius retorted, slightly red in the cheeks. "Even I'm not rich enough to keep losing to you."

It seemed to have two meanings, but Remus let it pass.

The stars were appearing in the sky and Sirius flopped back on the grass, staring into the dark and stuck his hands deep into his pockets.

The night swirled around them, and Remus watched Sirius watch the sky.

There was a part of Remus that was growing ever more insistent by day, and it said that he was being petty and cruel, mean and senseless. It insisted that Remus needed to grow up, to accept the less-than-comfortable reality that regardless what Sirius did, or would do in the future, those indelible marks that Sirius had made by mouth and hand and heart were just that: indelible.

It was very easy, sitting in the quiet darkness, to see Sirius and think what they might be like had that horrible day in January never occurred, very easy indeed to think that Remus might lean over him and press a kiss to Sirius' full mouth. To think that Sirius might roll them over, and press his weight against Remus' body, warm and solid on that night, which seemed to swim in the silver-stream of the Milky Way and behave more like a wavering fairytale than anything out of reality.

And Sirius was still so very handsome, with his elegant features and long lashes, blue eyes and winsome smile, even when Sirius was not very winsome at all. No, Sirius was unabashed, unashamed, unrepressed, irreproachably himself-- unfailingly.

Remus realized a long time had passed when he heard the croak in Sirius' voice.

"Is it pointless?" Sirius paused. "To wait?"

Remus blinked. "What?"

Sirius sighed, and seemed to melt into the grass. "For you. For-- whatever." A pause. "Or should I give up the ghost, go find Gideon and we can form our own little Holding A Torch For Remus Lupin, The Stupid Sod, Society."

"That," Remus said after a moment's consideration, "is very annoying alliteration."

"Answer the fucking question," Sirius demanded.

Remus flopped out on the grass and stared up. Hogwarts was a sprawling estate, against all odds, nestled in a sparsely-inhabited corner of the Wizarding world, and there were no artificial lights out. The night was dark and wide, open like the expansive arms of Selene with a sparkling of stars and the moon, half-full, hanging luminous in the sky. Remus saw stars and constellations he'd never known before at Hogwarts, laying back on the grass and gazing upward: Hydra, Gemini, Lepus, Orion, and-- Sirius.

When Sirius spoke again, his voice wasn't quite so insistent anymore.

"Is there?" he asked again.

"Why do you keep waiting for me?" Remus asked, in a rush.

Sirius was quiet for a long time before Remus sensed the movement, the sound of a body crawling over grass, the sound of the dried blades snapping beneath hands. Closer and closer still until he was barely breathing and the sky was obscured with Sirius' face, as handsome and tragic as any Greek hero, with all the angles and shadows of his face made more brilliant by the stars, swaying over Remus like the moon did, looming and inescapable.

Suddenly brave, like he hadn't been for months, Sirius ran one hand over Remus' brow, tender and softly, like he wasn't sure, as if he could sense it in Remus, the skittish nervousness of a young horse or-- a young wolf.

"I can't hate you anymore," Remus finally whispered, and it was a long time later he barely whispered, "I don't want to anymore."

When had Sirius' eyes gone so utterly blue? Had it been in the intervening months? Or had they always been that color, and Remus just never noticed; it seemed very likely that Remus had never spent enough time studying Sirius.

"I love you," Sirius said, hoarse. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. But I do-- love you."

Remus blinked. "I see."

And then it only seemed natural to reach up and cup Sirius' handsome face in his hands, to stroke thumbs over Sirius' high cheekbones and to create memories of him anew, with blue, blue eyes against a background studded of stars, and Canis Major winking over Sirius' shoulder.

Remus hoped that Sirius crying on Valentine's Day wasn't going to turn into a tradition, and he stroked away the tears as Sirius gasped for breath: a wet, fighting sound that made Remus' stomach twist and hurt, that made him draw Sirius down, to press their mouths together and to try and say all that he hadn't been able to in the year since that he'd wanted to yell at the top of his lungs.

It was after, long after, after the kiss softened that Remus murmured, "I know. I've always known. I'm sorry it's taken so long," into Sirius' mouth.

*

Sirius told Remus in the early hours of morning that it was both nothing and everything that he'd imagined, and they lounged against one another, lazy with sleep and closeness.

It had been, just as before, not quite, almost there, and maybe later, and they'd kissed and comforted and forgiven one another until they were drowsy with it, too tired to worry about doing more than throwing their clothes to the foot of Remus' bed and sleeping pressed together, fingers intertwined.

But watching Sirius sleep, eyes closed and lashes throwing long shadows over his face, Remus thought that tomorrow, and maybe the day after, was wide like the sky with possibility.

They slept until noon, and when they woke, golden and honeyed with dreams, they went to the Great Hall to find James and Lily sitting sullenly at opposite ends of the Gryffindor table, covered in tiny red bites that looked nothing like kiss marks.

"You were supposed to be keeping watch!" James howled. "Why did I buy that Pixie-repellant if you weren't going to stick around to sodding use it?"

Sirius stared at him. "So my spraying down poisons would have added to the atmosphere."

Remus chocked on his pumpkin juice, but wisely stayed silent.

James threw himself back into his chair, sulking. "Where's Peter, anyhow?"

Sirius and Remus pointed at one of the far tables, where Peter could be seen wearing a kerchief and clearing off tables by hand, scowling and muttering to himself all the while.

*

"They're impossible," Sirius reflected. Night had fallen and they were curled up in Remus' bed with Remus running his hands through Sirius' hair, as if to memorize him all over again.

Remus hummed in agreement. "Very impossible." Pause. "But not as impossible as you."

Sirius shouted and tried to muffle Remus with a pillow, telling him what a miserable sod he was.

"Much more impossible than me," Sirius demanded, and with his voice softening, added, "Or you. Or us."

It was a serious moment, but Remus learned long ago that "serious," was very much just a state of mind.

So Remus kissed Sirius, saying, "Believe what'll make you feel better."

And they did.