"Now are you sure you boys will be alright? I don't mind coming with you." Hope Lupin fussed, standing on her tiptoes to brush stray bits of lint from her son's shoulders. He had grown so much over the Summer, her quiet, sensitive little boy had flown full pelt into puberty and was now beginning to look like the man he would one day become. Remus' faded pink scars which crossed his face caught the sunlight and leered at her.
"Mum, we'll be fine," Remus assured her, picking up his satchel and giving Hope a quick peck on the cheek, "Quick stop at Diagon Alley and then over to James' for the rest of the day. I'll be home for ten."
"You just see that you are young man, and don't let that Sirius Black lead you astray! The last thing i want is you coming home merry on Firewhiskey or whatever the blasted drink is." Hope reminded him, the memory of her cream carpet in the foyer splattered with thick brown vomit as her fourteen-year-old son giggled uncontrollably sprang to the front of her mind. Lyall had grounded him for a week. Hope ungrounded him two days later. Remus' friends were nice, polite but troublesome to a fault. They had the good manners never ever to cause trouble in her home, but that never stopped them from causing trouble outside of it.
"I promise no Firewhiskey. Sirius said he couldn't nick anymore, anyway." Remus half smiled at his mother, a light blush rising in his cheeks as she continued to fuss.
"Are you sure you're ok? I'm still not convinced your father healed your ribs correctly." Hope gently touched the side of her son's chest.
"My ribs are fine Mum. The full moon was nearly a week ago. I'm as good as I'll ever be."
"Have you got your school list? Enough money? And remember to thank Mrs Potter for having you over for the day."
"Mia loves having us over. It stops James from being bored and harassing her." Remus laughed, finally edging towards the fireplace.
"That's Mrs Potter, Remus. Manners cost nothing." Hope scolded, stepping clear of the fireplace. Her mind reached back to the first time Remus had ever travelled by Floo Powder. Lyall had bundled the small boy into his arms. Remus' blanket stained a vulgar claret as the blood poured from every open wound. The screams from her son before he passed out still pierced deep within Hope's soul and invaded most of her dreams. A flash of green flames and they were in St Mungo's, smuggled into a private room to await the news that every parent would dread to hear. That news never came. Remus had survived. Hope Lupin was convinced that Floo Powder had probably saved her son's life. Even if it had condemned to spend it as an outsider.
"Fine, fine it's Mrs Potter. Look I'm going to be late. Do you want to check anything else? Is my hair ok? How about checking if my underwear and socks are clean?" Remus mused, briefly bending over in front of his mother before stepping into the fireplace and grabbing a handful the glittery powder.
"No need to be cheeky. I could always change my mind about letting you go, you know."
"Well, I best get moving then! THE LEAKY CAULDRON!" Remus threw the powder at his feet, his eyes glowing as the magical flames bloomed into existence before consuming him, leaving an empty smoking fireplace.
"Moony! Over here!" Sirius' voice broke through the din of the tightly packed pub, Remus stooped to exit the fireplace, finally becoming accustomed to his new height. The number of times he had smacked his head into things since his growth spurt had become a running joke within the Lupin household. Remus hated his height. Tall, gangly and scarred. His mother often spoke of a God that worked in mysterious ways. A 6ft 4" werewolf covered in scars did not seem very mysterious to Remus. It seemed to Remus that God was just taking the piss at this point.
A shy smile crossed Remus' lips as he saw Sirius waving from a corner table. The Black Rebel sat with his arms slung over the back of his chair, his feet crossed and resting on the table next to Peter's plate of bangers and mash. Although Sirius' clothes were decidedly muggle, consisting of ripped black jeans and a t-shirt, his straight smooth nose still seemed to find itself slightly aloft from his surroundings. A thoroughbred prince surveying his kingdom. Sirius tried to put up a good effort to be just like everyone else but certain behaviours and mannerisms seemed to be carved within his subconscious. They had been worn and weathered with time and socialisation of course, but still they persisted. Remus wondered how often those behaviours had saved Sirius' arse at home, probably a fair few judging by what he had been told about Walburga and Orion Black.
"So I think we should hit Flourish and Blotts first, this early on it won't be too busy." James explained to the group, his quill scratching furiously at his parchment, "Then we can hit the apothecary before finishing up at Quality Quidditch."
"Must we plan everything like a MI5 operation?" Remus asked, helping himself to a cold butterbeer and the only vacant seat.
"Like a what?" Peter asked, spraying bits of onion gravy and mashed potato across the table.
"Muggle Auror Department," Sirius answered, "isn't that Right, Moony?"
"Top marks. There may be hope for you yet." Remus laughed, before downing his butterbeer in one.
"Thirsty, mate?" James asked, eyeing Remus.
"It's bloody boiling here, do they have to have fires going when its 26 degrees outside?" The summer had been a shock to the entire country, a record-breaking spate of sunshine and dry heat. Remus hated it with a passion.
"Of course, what would the Leaky Cauldron be without the smell of boiling cabbage and bollock sweat?" Sirius yawned, rubbing his eyes.
"I wouldn't mind a trip to Florean's, you know because of the heat." Peter suggested, before burping loudly.
"Yeah, and it would have nothing to do with the fact his niece is helping him out before she starts at the ministry. Mind you when she leans over that counter you can see all the wa-"
"Sirius!" Remus slapped his friend on the arm as Peter turned a rapidly deepening shade of red.
"I think it's cute our little Wormtail has his first crush. Mind you I don't envy his mother cleaning his crusty sheets after tonight!" Sirius laughed, poking Peter in the side of the ribs.
"And with that disgusting image burned into my brain, let's get moving." James stood, shoving his things into his bag. Remus noted that the summer had been kind to James. A light tan graced his skin, marred only by a few pimples here and there. His t-shirt clung tightly to his broad and toned body. James had spent most of the summer training, push ups, sit ups, broom pull ups, you name the exercise, chances are he was already an expert. Indeed, the Marauders had all been treated to a copy of his training schedule via owl, amid the usual suggestions for pranks and the occasional dirty joke.
Sirius had written that he might try to exercise as well if he felt so inclined. The results on Sirius were as obvious as the haughty nose on his face. He had taken James' training timetable as a challenge, a dare to see who could win. So far it seemed to be neck and neck. Sirius was shorter than James and himself but seemed to have gained more muscle. Good for a beater. James had slimmed, toned and gained a few inches in height. Peter had written that he might join in, but obviously had spent most of the summer gorging himself silly, as per usual. Remus had not bothered. His father explained that one of the few perks of his furry little problem would be preternatural athleticism. He would never be a bodybuilder. The werewolf genes, when deprived of fresh prey, devoured as much protein as they could within the host without causing it death. Mrs Lomax down the lane had compared Remus to a whippet when he saved her cocker-spaniel, Desmond from being run over near the church. An emaciated werewolf who saved cocker-spaniels for little old ladies. Remus supposed it was better than being a vicious killer with a body like an Adonis. Sometimes.
The usual hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley was blessedly absent, partly due to the fact the shops had just begun to open but mainly because the oppressive heat of the uncovered street had sent witches and wizards flocking to more appropriate summer actives. The magical community had flocked to the seaside to sunbath with the muggles and there was a daily report in the Daily Prophet by Junior Writer Rita Skeeter about how many of them had been fined or arrested for erecting deck chairs which hovered a few inches from the sand or were throwing snow spells at each other.
"Right, everyone got their book lists?" James asked, pushing the peeling green door of Flourish and Blotts open, the bell tinkling above them as a rush of cool air covered the group.
"Prongs, we are all in the same classes. We only need one." Sirius drawled, plucking a book about defensive magic from a shelf and thumbing through it.
"Hogwarts? What Year?" The assistant behind the counter enquired before James had a chance to answer back.
"Fifth, please. Four sets with Care of Magical Creatures and Ancient Runes." Remus explained, smiling politely at the portly man, who was already rifling in the back.
"Any extra reading?"
"Not that I'm aware of. Have we forgotten about something?"
"No, it just the young man upstairs seems hellbent on buying every book in the shop." The man chortled to himself.
"Oi! Potter! Learned how to catch a Quaffle yet?" A voice laughed from one of the stacks, quickly followed by Douglas McLaggen, his dirty blonde hair swept to the side.
"A damn sight better than you can stop the other teams from scoring," James laughed as he and Sirius sauntered over to the books about Quidditch and Flying and shook the fellow Gryffindor's hand enthusiastically, "You think you're actually in with a chance to make the team again?"
"Been training all summer Potter, ready for anything. Even Nick over here is thinking of trying out!" Douglas laughed, grabbing his friend by the arm and dragging him into the front of the shop. Nick stood about half a foot taller than Mclaggen, and twice as broad. His dark brown hair had been slung into a ponytail, held with a thin leather strap, revealing a chiselled jaw line and strong cheekbones.
"About time you joined Beaumont! I need some good backup." Sirius shoved Nick in the shoulder, before offering his own hand, "Good firm grip you've got there, perfect for a beater."
"I doubt I'll be able to join if McGonagall has her way. If I don't pick up my Charms results in a hurry, I can kiss Quidditch goodbye." Nick explained, his muscular arms crossed over his chest.
"How are you Douglas? Nick?" Remus joined the group, setting the book list on the counter for the shop keeper to double check. He felt his eyes raking over Nick's muscles and toned waist, probably another success story from James' workout routine.
"Better than you by the looks of things Lupin! Don't they feed you at home? Mind you you'd be tall enough to give me a run for my money!"
"You never know McLaggen, I just might!" Remus joined in the laugh; it was easier to laugh with the jokes then to challenge them. If Remus challenged them, that could lead to awkward questions, which would lead to awkward explanations, which would probably result in a mob of wizarding parents with torches and pitchforks ready to crucify him outside of Hogwarts. It did not matter if he felt angry or offended, the only thing that mattered was that he was in control of himself. The Marauders took their lead from Remus and laughed as well.
"Is that everything Mr. Lancaster?" An exasperated female shop assistant slowly walked down the spiral staircase from the upper floor, levitating a stack of about 30 books in front of her.
"Oh Christ, he comes the Gryffindor shirt-lifter." McLaggen groaned as a boy reached the bottom step. Ryan Lancaster peered over the top of his round glasses which were perched precariously on the edge of his nose, his concentration broken from the parchment in front of him.
"Morning, Remus, boys." Ryan smiled politely, his spine straightening to an almost unnatural stiffness as he nodded to them all. His slim frame was bound tightly in dark trousers and a waistcoat. Remus had no idea how on earth Ryan could wear those kinds of clothes in that kind of heat.
"Alright, Lancaster? Ready to save the Gryffindor house from the Marauders' pranks again?" Sirius smirked, ruffling Ryan's coiffed black hair.
"Don't I always?" Ryan laughed, touching his hair softly to put it back into place. It was a well-known secret among the Gryffindor's that whatever points the Marauders usually lost for the house due to their antics were won again during class by Ryan Lancaster. He had been top of the year since his first year. Flitwick, the head of Ravenclaw house had conducted no less than three independent magical investigations into the Sorting Hat, convinced that the wizened Hat had made an error and Ryan should rightly belong to Ravenclaw. That Hat had time and time again defended its original decision. Ryan was a Gryffindor. His fellow housemates took it as a matter of personal house pride they had scored some odd kind of magical savant who kept himself out of trouble and dragged up the class average. That was until the end of fourth year.
"'Course you do! That's why you'll always be on our good side." Sirius slapped Ryan on the back, smiling at him broadly.
"I wouldn't Sirius, god knows what you'll catch from the likes of him." McLaggen warned, eyeing Ryan dangerously. Out of the corner of his eye, Remus noticed Peter smiling in a way that was not kind at all.
"I haven't the faintest idea what you mean." Ryan sighed, rolling his eyes.
"We all know why you and Terry Clark were nearly kicked out at the end of last year. Filch caught you both kissing in the library after the exams. Bloody disgusting." McLaggen, had cleared the space between himself and Ryan, directly staring down at him. Ryan was quicker and has his wand pointed directly at him.
"Now hang on McLaggen no one knows anything of the sort. It was a just a rumour. Its none of your business, anyway." James quickly put himself between the two as Sirius pulled Ryan's arm down to his side. Peter looked terrified. Remus beamed at his two friends, brave Gryffindors to the core, while silently cursing himself for his inaction.
"Bollocks Potter! You said so yourself. You wouldn't let him in the Gryffindor changing rooms even if he were the best Seeker on the planet."
Remus noticed a flash of hurt in Ryan's eyes before it quickly vanished beneath his calm veneer. James ears turned slightly pink, as his shoulders deflated. Remus knew it was true, James had said that, as loudly as he could in the Gryffindor common room. Everyone had whispered behind their books and made comments in the corridors. They kept making comments until Adam Stebbins made one comment too far, and Ryan transfigured him into a teapot.
"Look fellas, let's not start the year off like this. Bygones and all that. Besides, McLaggen I don't fancy you on the Quidditch Pitch after Lancaster jinxes you." Sirius suggested, while keeping his hand firmly around Ryan's wand arm.
"As long as the swotty little puff keeps out of my way and doesn't try and cop a feel." McLaggen declared, before leaving the shop.
"Sorry about him, he's really alright once you get to know him." Nick smiled at Ryan, his cheeks showing his obvious embarrassment.
"I'd rather get to know a Blast-Ended Skrewt going through menopause, god knows it would make better conversation." Ryan replied icily, before handing some money to the shopkeeper.
"Probably," Nick laughed, "Honestly mate, don't listen to him. He is a prat and not everyone thinks like he does. If it is any consolation, I definitely think you could take him in a duel."
"Not really a consolation when you're stating the obvious," James said, picking his own books up from the counter, "Lancaster, about what he said, I didn—"
"James its fine. Believe me I have heard worse. Besides, I would not be caught dead in a Quidditch changing room, not a fan of the sport. If you and Sirius fancy giving me a private show however…" Ryan smirked as James' mouth formed a perfect O and Sirius burst into laughter.
"Anytime Lancaster, anytime," Sirius' eyes streamed with laughter, "Long as you do my homework for me, you can call me yours." Sirius began working his way through the back of Ryan's hair playfully, winking at him in a way that made Remus smile as his stomach knotted.
As if realising that for a change he was not part of the joke, James quickly sprang into action and began gyrating against Ryan's other side. Ryan's pale cheeks turned the colour of strawberry milkshake as he extricated himself from the pair of marauders.
"Are you wanting to take all these books now, love?" The shop assistant asked, scowling slightly at James and Sirius who were know exaggeratedly gyrating against each other, making mock kiss noises and declaring everlasting love.
"No thank you, if you can please send them to my home it would be most appreciated." Ryan suggested.
"Consider it done Master Lancaster, and please say 'hello' to Madame Lancaster."
"I'll be sure to. Anyways I must get on, I'm meeting my mother at the Savoy." Ryan nodded to each of them before quickly leaving the shop, his composure completely neutral and his back ramrod straight.
"Say all you want about his mind, he's a strange one." Peter offered, as his little finger dug into his ear, trying his hardest to clean it. Remus hated to admit it, but Peter had a point. Ryan was intellectually gifted beyond his understanding, but Remus could not fathom why he had so brazenly been open about the fact he was gay. Why on earth would Ryan choose to make life harder for himself? Tall, gangly and scarred Remus wanted nothing more than to vanish into obscurity.
"Well, we better get off to Florean's before Peter forgets what a decent pair of tits looks like, fancy joining us Nick?" Sirius asked, pulling Remus from his thoughts.
"Nah, I better go and find Douglas before he causes more bother. See you all at King's Cross and be sure to bring your A game for try-outs, Black." Nick waved as he headed off back towards the Leaky Cauldron.
"Well looks like its just us Marauders, ice creams on me?" Remus smiled as he led the way to Florean's to enjoy one of life's small pleasures in the company of his friends.