"The Marauders' Most Excellent 7 Step Plan"

Chapter One: A Prologue To The Plan

The day that he got to return from summer vacation to school and his friends had become the happiest day of Remus Lupin's year. But fifth year was different. Fifth year, Remus climbed the steps to the dormitory long after his friends had already arrived, with two worries heavy on his mind.

The first was the prefect badge pinned to his chest. It was this that had made Remus the last to reach their room, as he'd had to help out with getting the first years oriented. It had also prevented him from spending the entire train journey with his friends. Peter had reacted with poorly disguised envy when he'd seen the badge. James and Sirius had shown nothing but resignation, but Remus wondered if the school's biggest troublemakers would carry on in front of them the way they used to. He didn't need anything else to set him apart from his friends.

That was his second worry. No one had said it outright, but Remus had gathered from a slip in one of Peter's letters that the three of them had spent at least some part of the summer together, without inviting him. He had no intention of mentioning it, but he couldn't help but be hurt. Perhaps they didn't feel safe inviting a werewolf along.

It was with these glum thoughts that Remus climbed the stairs to his dormitory, opened the door, and promptly forgot everything he had been worried about.

There was a large stag standing between his bed and James'. For just one moment, Remus and the stag stared at each other. The stag appeared perfectly relaxed to find itself in a Gryffindor dormitory; Remus, for his part, felt as if his face had frozen. He couldn't even blink. His reflexes finally kicked in, and he raised his wand.

And dropped it as somewhere, very near, a dog barked. Remus finally tore his gaze from the stag and saw an enormous black dog draped over Sirius' bed like he owned it. The dog, like the stag, showed no sign of aggression. In fact, it was grinning at him, tongue lolling and tail moving ever so slightly left to right.

Could the others have let them in for a joke? It would not be a record for James and Sirius' earliest prank of the year...

A chittering noise drew Remus' attention to Peter's bed, the one nearest to him. It took him a moment to locate the source, but then the rat on Peter's pillow stood up on his hind legs.

The dog barked again, and Remus yelped in surprise. He looked down quickly to see where his wand had fallen, grabbed it-

-And stood back up to find himself the other three suddenly present, laughing their hearts out. Sirius was draped over his bed, pounding the mattress; Peter was leaning against his headboard, emitting the rapid high-pitched laughter that always accompanied his favorite pranks, and James was apparently so overcome that he had fallen to his hands and knees on the floor, tears of laughter rolling down his face.

The animals were nowhere to be seen. Remus stood there with his wand held loosely in his grip, of half a mind to hex them all, but too confused to actually do it.

"Your face!" Sirius hooted happily from the bed, rolling over onto his back and pointing at Remus. "Your face, mate, it was priceless!"

James appeared to be trying to speak, but he wasn't successful; he was clinging to one of his bedposts, glasses askew, gasping for air. The urge to hex him increased, but Remus told himself he was better than that. "How did you do that?" he asked, as calmly as he could.

"We're Animagi, mate!" Beaming, Sirius bounced off his bed. "May I introduce Messrs. Padfoot-" he made a sweeping bow, doffing an imaginary hat-"Wormtail-" Peter waved, "And Prongs," Sirius added with a slight touch of distaste, looking at James, who was still red-faced and struggling with fits of giggles.

Remus frowned. "That's impossible."

"Not for us," Sirius replied, with typical modesty. "Took all summer, though."

"Took three years, you mean." These words heralded James' recovery of the faculty of speech. He had pulled himself up onto his bed and was regarding Remus with a good-natured expression that let Remus know that James, at least, viewed himself as laughing with Remus rather than at him. "To figure it out. We just pulled it off this summer. We weren't planning on it taking the whole bloody vacation, but Pettigrew over there gave himself a permanent set of whiskers and we had to figure out what went wrong." Peter looked sheepish.

Remus frowned. "But-why would you-"

"I told you!" Sirius interrupted with a shout, pointing at James. "Pay up, bitch." James made a face and began hunting through his trunk. "I told you he wouldn't get it right away. All right, Remus, lesson time. What do werewolves attack?"

"Humans," Remus replied automatically, not understanding what Sirius was getting at.

"But not animals, right?"

The other three began to laugh again at the look of dawning comprehension on Remus' face. "You can't-"

"Sure we can," James interrupted him, retrieving his money bag from his trunk and passing some silver to Sirius. "Trust me, mate, we did our research. It's been done before. There's cases of Animagi swooping in to save the day from some werewolf or other and they totally didn't get attacked. And we even found one way old diary of a bloke who was married when he got the bite, and his wife was an Animagi and he wrote all this stuff about how when he transformed and he was around her, he didn't go quite so crazy and he could remember little bits of what had happened and everything. So we know it works."

"Aren't you proud of us?" Sirius demanded. "We kept this secret for three whole years. We started working on it the day you told us. D'you know how hard it is to keep a secret that long?"

Remus thought, I keep secrets every day, from every one, and I will my whole life. "This-I-it's not that-" Torn between fear for his friends and a rush of shock and gratitude that he suspected might make him cry, Remus focused on the fear to keep the tears at bay. "This is insane! You won't even be able to get past the Willow to get to me, and even if you did someone would get hurt, and you couldn't keep someone from noticing-"

"Relax, relax." James stood up. "The Marauders are nothing if not prepared. Observe the plan! Step one: the Willow whomps!" James waved his arms around in imitation of the willow's whipping branches. Sirius chuckled and settled onto his bed, safely out of James' reach. "Step two: enter Peter Pettigrew!" Peter sat up tall, beaming. James continued to talk in an animated tone, as though he were commentating on a heavily anticipated Quidditch match. "Disguised as an ordinary rat, the newly christened Wormtail dashes to and fro, small enough to evade the Willow, and makes his way to the base!"

Peter shrank into the form of a rat. Because he was better prepared for it this time, Remus could see the process happen, although it was incredibly fast. Peter bounded back and forth between the posters of his bed a few times, apparently showing off his speed and agility. Then James continued talking and Peter transformed back into a human, looking overwhelmingly pleased with himself. "Once the branches are frozen, Step Three commences. Underneath the handy-dandy invisibility cloak, Wormtail's fellow conspirators approach the Willow and gain the tunnel with ease. Moony's-that's you, by the way-Moony's companions transform and join him for a rollicking good time in the Shrieking Shack."

James pointed-rather theatrically-at Remus. "But what's that I hear, Moony? You are concerned, perhaps, that intrepid mischief makers such as ourselves might get in over our heads with a werewolf, and someone might come to harm? Never fear!" James looked at Sirius. "Padfoot, narrate."

James transformed into the stag again. "Observe the noble Prongs," Sirius said, matching James' dramatic tone. "His size is greater than the wolf's, and his mighty antlers prevent the wolf from coming near to him. In fact, Prongs can back the wolf right against the wall-hey, don't take his eye out," Sirius added, as James made a few uncoordinated jabs with his antlers, apparently demonstrating how he would contain a werewolf. "Step four: at the first sign of aggression Prongs corrals the wolf, preventing him from harming both self and others. Ah," Sirius said, holding a finger up in an admonitory fashion, "but we know our Moony will not be satisfied yet. Our Moony will insist that it is possible to break free from Prongs, and that all contingencies must be covered. That's where I come in."

Sirius and James transformed simultaneously. "Step five," James announced, gesturing to the large black dog once again occupying Sirius's bed. "The Marauders' secret weapon: Padfoot, a canine that matches the wolf's speed and strength, paw for paw and bite for bite. Yes, I said bite, it can't hurt him if he's a dog." Sirius bared his teeth, his tongue lolling again in what was unmistakably a grin. "Such a large canine with such a brave spirit can overpower the wolf-not forever, but long enough for the stag to get back into position and lower his antlers. Between Prongs and Padfoot, the wolf has zero chance of getting past."

Sirius transformed back into himself, and gave a smile that was reminiscent of the dog baring its teeth. "When the moon sets," James continued, "the Marauders return under the invisibility cloak, Peter once again making the Willow safe. Moony waits patiently for Madame Pomfrey, pretending nothing at all has happened, and the Marauders come down from the dormitory pretending to have slept the night away. Mischief managed."

They all looked at Remus expectantly. Remus couldn't speak. After a moment, Sirius said, "Oh crud, he's going to cry."

"Gimme my money back," James said. Sirius sighed and returned the silver.

Remus wanted to object that they were betting on his tears, but he couldn't find the words. That three underage wizards had managed to become Animagi-that they had managed to keep such a powerful secret for three years-that they wanted to be around him, even in his transformations-

"C'mere." Remus obediently sat down on James' bed. James took him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye, his expression unusually serious. "The four of us are friends. Friends don't let friends go through bad shit by themselves. Our very honor as Gryffindors is impugned when we are unable to find a way to come to your aid. You wouldn't want to impugn our honor, would you?"

"What's left of it," Peter muttered. Sirius threw a pillow at him.

"We've been going out of our minds trying to figure out a way to help you for three years," James went on, sounding annoyed, though it was doubtful whether it was Remus or Peter he was annoyed with. "We've been reading books we didn't have to. And asking suspicious questions of teachers." James studied him. "Well, if you don't like it, at least don't tell the other prefects on us."

"Are you insane?" Remus cried.

James grinned, a mischievous grin that let Remus know his reaction was exactly the one James had intended to provoke."See, now he starts to lock onto the awesomeness of it all."

"This... This is..."

Words failed him completely, but that turned out not to matter, as he was tackled from behind. "Hey, don't start crying again," Sirius said, simultaneously pulling Remus' hair and wrenching his shoulder to prevent himself from sliding off the bed. "Seriously, I lose money to James for every tear. Just be happy!"

"Those are happy tears, you idiot," Remus moaned, elbowing Sirius and seeing another grin from James indicating he was rising to the bait again. He didn't care.

"So smile. Laugh." Sirius started tickling him, apparently to force just that behavior. "Just be-a-kid-and stop-worrying-" The pauses were from effort as he sought to contain Remus. Remus had grabbed hold of James and was trying to get away from Sirius by placing James between them. "No more worrying ever. We've got this."

"Worry about yourself, Padfoot," James snarled, apparently getting tired of being used as a human shield and launching his own attack.

Then Peter couldn't stand to be left out, so he threw himself at the bed with some bizarre sort of war cry, and landed on Remus' stomach. "Oohhhhh" Remus groaned.

"Hey-dogpile!" Sirius landed on top of Peter. "Get it, guys? Dogpile! 'Cause I'm a dog?"

"If you suffocate-ohh!" Remus complained as James became King of Gryffindor Mountain. "If you suffocate me you will never know the pleasures of running wild with a werewolf."

"Now he gets the awesomeness indeed," Sirius said, somehow managing to free a hand enough to ruffle Remus' hair. "Okay, James-James, I said okay, get off-"

"Are you really happy about it?" Peter asked quietly, rolling off Remus as Sirius dragged James to a different bed and a scuffle to see who was going to be sitting on whom commenced. "Or just playing along?"

"I have never been happier about anything in my life."

"I thought so. You're trembling a bit." Peter sized up the battle on the other bed. "Bet you a sickle on James?"

Remus could only shake his head at the utter casualness with which his friends could intersperse casual horse-play with completely revolutionizing his life. Either they had no idea how profoundly they had just changed everything, or they knew and had agreed to make light of it in order to make it easier for him to accept their gift. Remus couldn't quite ascribe that level of emotional maturity to them. They were just so inherently good that they didn't realize how rare goodness like theirs was.

Peter was looking at him with pleading eyes. Remus sighed and said, "All right." Raising his voice, he said, "Sirius, if you need some extra motivation, I'm betting on you."

I'm betting on all of you.

(A/N: End of part one! This may wind up a stand alone for awhile but I am hoping to write another vignette along this tone for each of the steps in the Most Excellent Plan. Thanks for reading!)