Chapter Two

            Professor Shaughnessy was looming over him and he didn't understand why.  She held a huge leather book in her hands, raising it above her as if to bring it down on Sirius's head with a sickening crack.  Her smile was horrible, everything about her seemed horrible.  She had a glint in her eye like she wanted nothing more than to see Sirius Black dead at her feet.

            He trembled.  He was absolutely terrified of her.  He wanted to run, but his feet wouldn't obey his brain, so he just stood there and waited for the moment when the world would go black.

            "Don't," a soft voice said.

            Shaughnessy stiffened, then turned to look at the door of the classroom.  Sirius followed her gaze and found Remus advancing on them.  He had that same smile on that he had worn in the astronomy tower, only this time it didn't frighten Sirius like it had before.

            "Don't hurt him," Remus said, his voice still soft.

            Shaghnessy grinned again and raised the book.

            "Don't hurt him," Remus repeated. 

            He stepped between them seconds later and his hand wrapped around her wrist.  Sirius wondered briefly why he hadn't done that earlier, but his arms seemed to suddenly be filled with lead.

            The book fell to the side and hit the edge of a desk before toppling to the floor.  As the book fell, Shaughnessy simply disappeared, her body drifting away into nothingness.

            "You're safe now," Remus said, finally turning to Sirius.  The dim light of the classroom was reflected in his golden eyes.  "She can't hurt you."

            "Why did she . . ." Sirius trailed off, unsure of what he wanted to ask.

            "She's jealous," Remus replied.

            "Jealous of what?"

            "Us."  That smile was back, spreading across his mouth. 

            "Moony," Sirius began, but the mouth on his was the answer to his unspoken question.

            With an assuredness that certainly wasn't like Remus, Sirius's shirt fell off his shoulders and he glanced down at it questioningly.  This was weird, this was wrong, this wasn't what he wanted.

            And yet, it was everything he wanted.

            Everything seemed so wrong and reversed.  He was the confident one, not Remus.  He was the one with steady hands and calm breaths, while Remus would surely be trembling and drawing in ragged, petrified breaths of air.

            The only agitated breathing in the room was his own and the only shaking fingers were his as well.  Remus seemed too confident to be real, smooth, steady hands gliding over Sirius's shoulders to lock around his waist and pull him closer.  The heat from his friend's body cascaded over him like water and he gasped weakly, closing his eyes tightly.

            By the time he felt strong enough to open his eyes once more, the classroom had been replaced by the dormitory and Sirius knew by the unmoving form across the room that Remus had been asleep for hours.

            His dreams were getting worse.

*   

            As Sirius found out over the next week, creating a mask with a costume to go along with it wasn't exactly easy, especially when he couldn't let his friends see what he was doing.  James and Lily had taken to sneaking off after dinner, but Sirius was more than certain that they weren't spending their free time on anything but the costumes.  Peter had already accidentally revealed his to everyone when he had tried to sneak a dark green robe through the common room, then tripped on the hem and fell to the floor with a crash that attracted everyone's attention.  Remus was stealing away to the library every chance he had, so Sirius was stuck working alone in the Astronomy tower.

            It was easy to justify his choice to anyone else; the Astronomy tower wasn't exactly buzzing with people during the day, but he knew he had picked it with another reason in mind.  A reason that he preferred to pretend didn't exist at all.  Not that life was simple without these subconscious fantasies, but it was easier.

            With a deep breath, he unwrapped the mask he had begun and stared at it.  To his eyes it was boring; a full face mask, plain black, that was it.  It was just . . . black.

              The simplicity is what's amazing.

            "Get outta my head, Moony," he growled softly.

            He had conjured up the shape a few nights ago, soft lines and curves that really fit his face perfectly.  The next night he had painted it black (by hand, no less) and had spent the next few nights trying to decide what he could possibly add to it and what in the world his costume was going to be. 

            "You're causing a lot more stress than you're worth," he scolded the mask, leaning against a stone wall and staring at it.  "When I think about it, you're really quite annoying."

            The mask blinked.  "I really do resent that implication, sir."

            If Sirius hadn't spent the last seven years in a school with talking pictures, he might have very well dropped the mask and watched it shatter on the floor.

            "You can speak?" he asked the mask.

            He supposed that if the mask had shoulders, it probably would have shrugged right around that time.

            "I'm a magical creation, aren't I?" the mask asked.

            Sirius looked sideways at it.  "Are you going to do this while you're on my face?"

            The mask laughed heartily.  "Oh no, sir.  We masks lose our ability to speak when our eyes are covered or we're being worn.  Could you imagine the chaos if we were to all be speaking over your voices at a ball?"  The mask blinked and Sirius thought it looked downward.  "Speaking of the ball, aren't I only supposed to be a half mask?  You'll have to charm the bottom half of my face off, you know."

            "Will you still be able to speak?"

            "I'm afraid not, sir.  If I have no mouth, how would I speak?"

            Sirius shrugged.  "I guess I should do that then, should I?"

            "Before you do, may I please ask you a question?" the mask inquired.

            Sirius shrugged.  "Sure, why not?"

            "Do you have a date for this ball? A girl in your year who will accompany you?"

            Sirius frowned.  "Why?  What does it matter?"

            "I only ask in order to help you, sir," the mask said.  "If you were to tell me about her costume, I could offer pointers on how to decorate me to best compliment her."

            Sirius shook his head.  "There's no date."

            "No date."  The mask smiled at him.  "Proceed then, sir.  Charm off the bottom half of my face and silence me forever.  I'll never speak again, but I suppose that doesn't matter to you, does it?  You just concentrate on the ball and never worry about having to hear from me again."

            Sirius grinned.  "Sounds good."  With a muttered charm, the mask was silenced and he lay it flat on the floor to study it once again.

            "Are you working up here all alone?"  The voice startled him and Sirius tried to cover his mask quickly before realizing it wasn't one of his friends.

            No, it was much worse than one of his friends.  It was the cute blonde Ravenclaw.

            "Uh, yeah," he stammered.  "My friends and I are sort of keeping our costumes secret from each other."

            Her big blue eyes widened even further.  "Oh, that's such a good idea."

            Sirius smiled.  "I'm Sirius Black, by the way."

            The blonde laughed at this like it was the funniest joke she had ever heard.  "Oh, that's great.  Do you honestly think that I don't know who you are?"

            "Well . . ." he trailed off, looking guilty.  "I don't . . . exactly know your name."

            She shrugged.  "You can't know everyone, can you?"

            He swallowed.  "Nope.  Guess not."

            "I'm Allison," she said.

            He smiled tightly.  "Hi."

            She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and he narrowed his eyes.  Weren't Ravenclaws supposed to be smart?  Why was she acting like an idiot?

            "Do you . . . well, do you have a date for the ball?" Allison asked, her eyes going wide again.

            Sirius arched an eyebrow.  She was acting like an idiot in hopes to get him to go to the ball with him?     "Nope," he answered carefully.  He really didn't want her to ask him to be her date.  It was silly because only three days earlier he had been creating regular fantasies based around this girl and now . . . now all he wanted was for her to leave him alone.      

            "No?" she repeated in mock surprise.

            "Did you expect me to have one?" he asked.

            The girl smiled.  "Well, you're Sirius Black, aren't you?"

            He eyed her carefully.  "Thought we'd already established who I was."

            The girl - no, Allison looked slightly taken aback with his abrupt response.  Her eyelashes fluttered prettily, though he was certain that she wasn't doing it on purpose this time.  She brushed her hands nervously down the front of her robes and Sirius noticed for the first time the badge pinned to her robes that clearly stated she was a prefect.  He rolled his eyes and groaned inwardly.  It would be just his luck to upset a fifteen year old prefect.

            "I'm sorry," he said immediately.  "It's just that I'm a little nervous that one of my friends will see my costume."

            Her face brightened immediately.  "That's fine.  I shouldn't be up here right now anyway.  I have OWLs this year and I really ought to be studying for them."

            Sirius smiled stiffly.  "That's an idea, isn't it?"

            Allison stared at him for a long moment, then smiled flirtily and bounced away from the tower door.  Sirius stared at the place she had been for a moment longer, then turned back to his mask.  It was still just black.

            "This is hopeless," he groaned, leaning against the wall.  His costume itself had turned out to be nothing more than a black Muggle tuxedo.  He thought it looked rather dashing, but the mask couldn't just be black if the rest of his costume was that boring. 

            "I hate you," he growled, standing up finally and stuffing the mask into his bag.  "Good for nothing pain in the ass," he muttered.

            He was going to go back the common room and actually study for once, rather than wasting his time on the blasted mask.  Nothing was happening anyway and he wasn't about to waste away his entire night waiting for inspiration to hit. 

*

            "Do mine eyes deceive me?"

            Sirius rolled his eyes and attempted to look back at the Potions textbook he had actually begun to study.  The last thing he needed this late at night was another bout of harassment from his friends.   He had no doubt that they'd actually spent their night doing something productive, whereas he had stared at a mask for hours, then pretended to study for another few hours before actually getting around to doing it.

            Remus dropped down to sit on the couch next to Sirius.  "You actually studying there, mate?"

            "Don't call me mate," Sirius growled, half playfully.

            Remus grinned.  "Don't like that, eh, mate?"

            "Sod off," Sirius replied.

            James sat down in a chair across from them and glared at Remus in mock disapproval.  "Moony, can't you see that young Sirius here is trying to study?  This is a rare and momentous occasion that must be remembered forever."

            Peter snickered.  "A moment of silence?"

            James nodded very gravely.  "I think that a moment of silence is most definitely called for.  Let's bow our heads and pray for the safety of Padfoot's previously unopened Potions book."

            Sirius scowled at his friends as they all bowed their heads and folded their hands, while looking completely relaxed and, of course, quite sacrilegious. 

            "You guys just don't know a good idea when you see one," Sirius retorted.

            "The moment of silence . . ." Remus looked up, his eyes wide.  "He destroyed the moment of silence."

            "Shut up," Sirius snapped, then stuck his tongue on at his friends and pretended to go back to studying.

            "Ouch, Padfoot," James said.  "Just . . . ouch."

            "Oh, sod off," Sirius said, smiling at him.  "Nothing hurts James Potter, the great and wonderful ruler of Hogwarts."

            Remus shook his head.  "You're getting my title mixed up with Prongs'.  I'm the great and wonderful ruler of Hogwarts and he's the great and wonderful ruler of Quidditch."

            "And what am I?" Sirius asked.

            Remus seemed to consider this for a very long moment before he said, "The great and wonderful ruler of all things female."

            "And me?" Peter asked in excitement.

            James arched an eyebrow.  "The great and wonderful Rat King?"

            Sirius and Remus broke into laughter as Peter frowned, wondering if being the great and wonderful Rat King was nearly as good as the other three titles.

            "How are everyone's costumes coming along?" Sirius asked, trying to sound casual.

            Remus just smiled and shrugged.  "I thought we weren't supposed to talk about them."

            "I just want to know if anyone is having as much trouble as I am," Sirius said defensively.

            James shrugged as well.  "Lily made me promise that I wouldn't say a word about it."

            "So you two have costumes?" Sirius asked.

            James shrugged a second time.

            "You just have to wait for inspiration to hit," Remus said.  "If you're having trouble you're probably trying too hard."

            Sirius arched an eyebrow.  "There's less than a week to the ball and you're suggesting that I wait for inspiration to hit?  What if inspiration never hits?"

            James grinned.  "Guess you'll just have to go naked."

            Remus laughed.  "The rest of the school might enjoy that a little too much."  His laugh turned into a wicked laugh.  "Especially Shaughnessy."

            Sirius rolled his eyes.  As soon as his friend got started on Shaughnessy he knew that he was in for a night or two of ridicule and laughs at his expense.  It wasn't that they thought the professor had any special interests in Sirius, but she did joke around with him more than with any other student.  Perhaps it was just that Sirius was easy to talk about, but his friends loved to pick up on anything they could with Sirius.  He was the most popular at Hogwarts, especially with the girls, and they'd take any ammo they could when it came to teasing their friend.

            "Wonder if she'll have a costume for the ball," James said thoughtfully.  "Maybe she'll use that as a cover and seduce Padfoot."  He winked at Remus, then stood and crossed over to Sirius while throwing his robes over his head.

            "Sirius," he purred in a ridiculously feminine voice.  "May I . . . have this dance?"

            "Sod. Off." Sirius snapped.

            James giggled uncontrollably and batted his eyelashes from behind the robes that covered half his face.  "Oh, Sirius, you're so FUNNY!"

            Sirius rolled his eyes and looked back at the book.

            James dropped his robes a second later and plunked down on the other side of Sirius.  He glanced across his friend to catch Remus's eye and James shrugged.  Remus nodded sideways at the dormitory door and James nodded a second later.

            "Hey, Wormtail, let's get upstairs and work on your costume."

            Peter blinked.  "I'm done my-"

            "Let's go," James snapped, grabbing Peter by the arm and pulling him toward the dorm.

            "You okay, Padfoot?" Remus asked once they were gone.

            Sirius looked up at him.  "You keep asking me that."

            "Well, you keep acting weird, so I keep asking."

            Sirius shook his head.  "Look, I'm fine, alright?  Am I the only one that notices that the year is ending?"

            Remus glanced skeptically at the potions book.  "You're not studying.  I know you're not studying."

            Sirius smiled.  "Fine, I'm not studying."

            "Then what is it, Padfoot?"

            Sirius looked at Remus and sighed.  He wondered if Remus knew more than he was letting on.  He wondered if Remus had noticed that Sirius couldn't even look him in the eye anymore, or wouldn't, one of the two.  He wondered if Remus had noticed how hard it was for Sirius to carry on a conversation with him.  He was always worried that something would get in the way, that he would say something stupid, or something would reveal to Remus all the dreams Sirius had been having. 

            "It's nothing," he said finally, smiling again.  "It's really nothing.  I guess I'm just stressed over the costume."

            "If you want my help I won't tell the others," Remus offered.

            Sirius shook his head.  "Nah, I'll manage on my own.  And when you see this costume, Moony, it's going to blow you away."

*