Disclaimer: Same as always.  I own nothing and no one, it's all JK Rowling's.  

Part III: The Birthday Surprise, or Animagi

"Remus, what's the matter?  You haven't said a word to anyone today." 

Remus looked up, shooting James a glare.   "I'm fine!" he snapped, in a tone that belied his words.  "Just don't feel like talking is all.   Can't you all just bloody leave me alone?!"   And with that he left the Great Hall, after a last glare at his three friends who were staring at their usually mild-tempered friend in astonishment.  

After he was gone, an uncomfortable silence fell.   Peter fidgeted in his chair, looking intensely bothered.   James had flinched at Remus's biting tone, even though he knew, inside, that Remus didn't mean it, and now he was staring at his plate, idly pushing food around, having lost his appetite completely.   Sirius, too, was uncharacteristically subdued, continuing to eat distractedly, as he frowned down at his goblet.  

Peter was the first one to speak, hesitantly.  "D'you think he's really mad at us?"

Sirius suppressed the urge to roll his eyes and snort at that question.   Trust Peter to question the obvious.   "The question is not if he's angry, but why he's angry." 

James spoke up at this point.   "I think it's because of his birthday coming up this weekend."  

Sirius and Peter glanced from James to each other.  Nothing further was necessary. 

They all knew without having to say it that the full moon this month was falling on Remus's 16th birthday.   Of necessity, they had all become extremely familiar with lunar cycles.   In fact, it was something of a running joke among them that Remus was the resident Astronomy expert and it was all thanks to Remus that they were all doing well in the class.   They knew, too, that Remus tended to get irritable the week before the full moon, the wolf inside him growing stronger as it was.   He tried, of course, to keep from taking it out on his friends for something that wasn't their fault but there were times, like this last little scene, when he failed to master his irritation and snapped.  

This particular week was worse than usual because of the unlucky circumstances that combined to make this weekend not only Remus's birthday and the full moon, as if that alone wasn't bad enough, but also one of the official visits to Hogsmeade, a trip that Remus would not be able to go on because of the full moon.  

His friends knew all this and sympathized, but they also knew something else, what they had planned for Remus.

James interrupted what they were all thinking.   "I think we should show him tonight," he said decisively. 

Peter hesitated. "But – it's only Tuesday," he finished faintly. 

Sirius was nodding.   "Tonight."   He and James exchanged one of their speaking glances, the kind of look that only best friends who'd known each other for years could exchange, the kind of look that always left Peter with a sense of not belonging and a vague indefinable anger.  

Having finished lunch, the three members of the Marauders stood and left, heading for the Dungeons.   Potions was after lunch today, with the Slytherins, too, which was always a nasty experience.   Sighing and unconsciously squaring their shoulders, they headed down, not surprised to find Remus already there, pretending to find his Potions textbook fascinating. 

They sat down next to him in silence.  

Remus sighed before looking up at his friends to find that they were all looking at him.   "James, I'm sorry.  I'm just not myself this week, you know?"  

James waved a hand airily.   "Think nothing of it, Moony.   Nothing more invigorating than a good spat at lunch, especially a spat with a good friend and all."  

Remus shot James a look and James dropped the flippant air, saying seriously, "We know.  It's ok."  And Remus relaxed.

"Oh, Moony, we've got plans for tonight.  So don't even think of doing work tonight."  Sirius said this lightly enough, but his expression communicated more, especially as both James and Peter were nodding gravely, as if tonight's plans were somehow incredibly important. 

Remus opened his mouth to agree to whatever it was they were planning, but before he could, the Potions Master, Professor Grimsby, swept in.  He only allowed himself a brief nod before turning his attention to Potions.  

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The night was clear, if a bit cold, and Remus shivered as he followed his friends out towards the Quidditch pitch.   Involuntarily he glanced up at the moon, and shivered again, but this time not with the cold.   He detested the moon sometimes.   It only brought physical pain and shame at being such a monster.    He glanced at his three friends who were leading the way, and smiled a little.   He had the best friends in the world, he thought, not for the first time, and unconsciously he straightened his shoulders, allowing himself to stare defiantly at the moon, shining in the sky like some sort of ominous warning.  He pushed the thought away from him.  

They had reached the Quidditch pitch.  

"Now, Remus, turn around, shut your eyes and don't open them or turn around until we tell you to."  

He obeyed, curiously.   His eyes closed, his other senses, enhanced as they were by the wolf in him, alert for any changes.  

He heard his three friends move away and then could hear nothing except for the usual sounds of the night. 

There was a soft noise and then he smelled something new.   Sensed something.  

His friends were gone, he didn't know where, and something had replaced them.   He sniffed again, carefully.   One was a dog, he could tell.   Then there was some other creature, a large one, he could sense, but couldn't identify what it was.  

He was puzzling out what the third creature could be when he heard Sirius's voice.  "You can turn around now, Remus." 

He turned, expecting to see his friends… 

He blinked, his jaw dropping open.   Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small voice was telling him he probably looked like a daft idiot, but he was too surprised to pay attention to it.  

He was looking at a huge black dog who was sitting up and unmistakably grinning at him in doggy fashion, a gray rat who was looking up at him, and -this was what really took his breath away- a fully-grown stag, who nearly glowed in the moonlight.  

"What --  you – I—"   He was stuttering, his mind unable to grasp what he was seeing.   Even as he tried to express a coherent thought, though, all three animals suddenly transformed, providing living proof that he wasn't imagining this.  

His friends, his best friends, were Animagi.  

They were grinning at his shock, looking undeniably self-satisfied at the effect of their surprise.   At any other time, he would have been annoyed at their smug expressions but tonight his surprise left him with no room for any other emotion. 

"You – you're Animagi!" he finally managed to get out.  

Sirius grinned even wider, looking almost manic now.  "Damn right we are!" 

James spoke up, his voice amused.  "Well, we can't stay around you as humans, so we decided to become animals so we can."  

Remus laughed.   "How – what – how'd you manage to pull it off?"  

Sirius smirked.  "Very coherent, there, Moony."  

Peter answered his question, looking pleased with himself for once.   "Well, it was actually James's idea, see."  

James bowed, grinning triumphantly, as Peter continued.   "He read about werewolves and realized that they're only dangers to humans, not to animals."  Remus flinched a little, imperceptibly, at the very mention of werewolves, his kind, he thought with a shudder.   Not noticing, Peter went on, "So he came up with this plan.   He snuck into the Restricted Section and got all the books he could find on becoming Animagi.   We've been working on it ever since." 

James spoke up.  "We didn't tell you in case it didn't work out, since it is so complicated.   And then we decided we wanted it to be a surprise." 

Remus found his voice.   "And what a surprise.   I don't really know what to say…" 

"Thanks, guys.   You are amazing, brilliant, wonderful.   I would never have thought of this on my own and I'm in awe of your talents."

They dissolved into laughter at Sirius's imitation of Remus's voice.

Remus gasped with laughter, his eyes beginning to water.   "Good job sounding like me!  You almost convinced me for a minute there.  Convinced me that my mouth had gone barking mad and was saying things my brain didn't agree with." 

He calmed himself, exerting some of the self-control he'd learned out of necessity over the years.   "Thank you, James, Peter, Sirius," he said completely seriously now, looking at each of his friends in turn as he said their names.   "I really don't know how to express it, except thank you.   You have no idea what this means to me." 

All three boys shifted, suddenly uncomfortable with the emotion.  

"Well, it wasn't just you, Moony, you know.   Think of it, the Marauders whose life goal is to break rules, of course we had to break the law not allowing unlicensed Animagi to be running around!  And just think of the pranks we can pull now…"   Sirius, being Sirius, broke the tension, as always, by a joke.  

Remus laughed, looking up at the moon almost defiantly as he did so.   He wouldn't be alone for his transformations anymore.   And that, he somehow knew, would make all the difference in the world.   He felt a thrill of anticipation run through him.   For the full moon, of all bloody things.   He shook his head, laughing a little.  He must be completely crazy, to be looking forward to the full moon!   Then he shrugged mentally.  Whatever, if this was being barking mad, then he had no complaints.   Loony he might be, but he was a happy loony, for once.