Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.

A/N: I've been told the second paragraph might scare a few people off. Thus I assure you, dialogue quotes shall be formatted properly. After that paragraph, at least.

Left Behind

When in the process of plotting the latest bit of 'fun', James Potter and Sirius Black resembled nothing more than two generals going into war. There was even a roll call and secret password - who knew what sort of mysterious mixer Snape could whip up? And that would be a nightmare of the worst sort.

They could also resemble two parties in a severe argument, sometimes several times in the same session. 'No, moron, that passageway is on Hufflepuff ground, if that git Hensley sniffs us out he won't let us off!' 'I say go with the porcupine quills - ' 'Yeah, well, last time you said anything concerning potions we wound up in detention on the full moon, and that was even before we pulled it off, remember?' 'You just can't substitute ingredients like that and get the same effect!' 'Then let's just use some of your hair, it's almost exactly the same thing!' 'And what's that supposed to mean?'

But, anyway, that's the wrong prank.

This prank's argument was much more serious. One person would actually cast the spell they had spent several weeks developing, and the other person would be the lowly lookout.

'You'll wind up screwing up the spell, Pads.'

'I will not!'

'Yeah, you will. And I wear glasses. I can't be a lookout.'

'Correction - if you needed glasses and didn't wear them, then you couldn't be a lookout.'

'Anyway, I'm better at Charms.'

'Excuse me? I think you're confusing yourself with your girlfriend. You, Prongs, can hardly cast a proper Levitation Spell. I think I'm second in that class. You're third.'

'And you would be first, but you always screw up the theory. I developed this spell.'

'I did the research!'

'Remus did the research. You just took the credit for getting him to do it without him knowing what he was showing us.'

'You might do better in Charms, but you always get angry halfway through and start hexing people, so Flitwick takes points off!'

'See?' James felt that this proved some point. 'If I didn't lose my temper every so often, I'd do better than you in Charms. Maybe even better than Lily.'

'Dream on, Potter. I mean, really dream on.'

'All right, maybe not better than Lily.'

'Right… hey!'

'If you two are going to be doing sixteen classrooms, you could just alternate,' spoke up a drowsy voice.

The two boys glanced at each other. Neither would be the first to okay that: it would be giving in. After a moment, Sirius shrugged and retorted in an annoying singsong voice: 'Go back to sleep, Moony, you need your rest.'

'I get to do the spell first,' claimed James, who was practical in snatching what he wanted.

Sirius considered this, and then seemed to realise that this meant he would apply the spell last. 'All right,' he consented, sounding much more put out than he actually was, in case James figured out why he agreed to this.

Meanwhile, the third of the four of the dormitory's inhabitants had rolled out of bed, rubbing his eyes with his fists, for a moment looking ten years younger than he actually was. Then he made his way over to his two devious roommates, who were standing by Sirius's bed, stances toward each other still somewhat aggressive from their debate.

'Here, take a look,' offered James, rather generously, handing two sheets of parchment to Remus. Often James and Sirius preferred not to take their plans to a third party, but since Remus was up, at least it was a third party they could trust, and who had caught some glaring, gaping hole for them more than once before. 'What d'you think? Kind of third-year, isn't it?' James added, rather self-consciously.

'Now, now, Prongs,' Sirius said. 'We agreed after that debacle in the North Tower last year that simpler is better. Much more effective, funnier, and better for our reputation, seeing as it's harder to get caught.'

'Cyrillic?' queried Remus. 'Which language?'

'None,' replied Sirius, leaning casually against one of the bedposts. 'It's English, just in the Cyrillic alphabet.'

Remus frowned. 'It's not a bad idea, really - and the timing's pretty clever, not until the board is tapped during class - but - '

'But what?' James asked, mock-threateningly.

'The Cyrillic alphabet?'

'We thought you of all people would appreciate it!' cried James.

'It's more like you're showing off.'

Sirius huffed, feigning indignant sniffs. 'Like we'd ever do that.'

'Yeah,' agreed James. 'C'mon…'

'Well, it'll frustrate the teachers, but it really won't amuse anyone.' Remus caught and corrected himself: 'Except yourselves. It's too - academic. Let's face it, most of the school's rather dim.'

'Moony! I can't believe you!'

'Are you even allowed to say that?' asked Sirius interestedly, flicking Remus's prefect badge. (Remus had fallen asleep early that evening fully dressed.)

'Sure I am,' replied Remus, whose conscience wasn't troubling him at this hour of the night. 'Really, their sense of humour is highly underdeveloped. Besides, no one will recognise it except Orthodox Christians - and we know this place is just peppered with them - and a few Ravenclaws, maybe. And they just won't laugh at it. They'll have scholarly debates about it.' (Sirius shuddered theatrically: 'Merlin forbid!') 'Simplify it. The Cyrillic bit is just too sophisticated.'

James's eyes were glinting and he was barely hiding a smirk. 'Wait a moment. Remus Lupin, are you telling us to be immature?'

'Yes,' Remus nodded solemnly. 'Mature is just not amusing. Scramble it up all you like, but make it English. Pig Latin, I don't really care.'

'I can't believe you're suggesting this,' said Sirius, who was dissolving in laughter.

'Actually, neither can I… besides, that way, we get a joke and we can take the notes, with a bit of ciphering. If we waste a day's worth of class, that means twice the workload next time.'

That caught their attention. Sirius stopped chuckling. It was an argument that would have held no weight with them even a mere few months ago, but even he and James were having slight troubles with their schoolwork. If they thought the teachers were being fanatical for the O.W.L.s, then they were being plain impossible with the material for their upcoming N.E.W.T.s.

James checked his watch. 'We want to go out at two.' They had discerned that two o'clock - a.m. - was the best time for nocturnal pranking. Filch might be out, Mrs Norris almost certainly would be, but no one else was. Even the latest of night owls and the earliest of morning birds were asleep at that hour at least. 'It's half-past midnight right now. Padfoot, didn't we have a spell that did vocal pig Latin? I don't think we ever used it… maybe we can adapt that to the written word and substitute it.'

'That's a cinch,' said Sirius, 'but I left it in the Honeydukes passage.'

'Why there?' Remus asked amusedly, through a yawn.

Sirius cocked his head slightly to one side, thinking about it. 'I forget… wait a second, no, we put a bunch of old papers there in fifth year to start a fire.'

'You what?'

'Heh.' Sirius smirked at Remus. 'See why you didn't know about it till now?'

Remus sighed wearily. 'Did you really start a fire?'

'No, you prat! If we did, then we wouldn't have the spell still written down. Prongs, we better get a move on. We can work on it down in there, Filch doesn't know about that one at all. Moony, wish us luck.'

'I've a better idea,' James growled darkly. 'Start wishing that we could find the Map again.'

Sirius scowled and Remus frowned. They'd all been very upset when the Marauder's Map had vanished. It was far and away their greatest work. A real magnum opus. They'd also spent two years developing it, their pride and joy. It must be said now that they had rather treated it like their own child, and it was still a sore point.

'It has to turn up at some point,' said Remus, not very confidently. These words had been said by all of them at one time or another. Two times each, at the very least. And, to put it lightly, it was beginning to wear thin. 'We know the thing is indestructible…'

'Yeah, but finding it'll be impossible,' Sirius retorted gloomily. 'What kind of idiots were we? Just a regular piece of parchment! Could never tell what it was! No one will suspect! - even us,' he finished, vehement with fury. 'Anyone could have come across it, buried it, wrinkled, under a pile of books and Chocolate Frog cards and owl droppings…'

'But it still should have come when we Summoned it,' said James, who had paled at this horrific mental image of Sirius's. 'I don't think it's in the castle anymore. Maybe someone owled it away when they found something funny about it, I don't know… anyway,' he said firmly, shaking his head as if to physically brush the subject off, 'we have more important things to concentrate on. We are more than the Map. See you in the morning, Moony - get some rest.'

Remus rolled his eyes. 'Sure, Madam Pomfrey.'

'Ouch,' grinned Sirius, diving for James's pocket, taking the Invisibility Cloak in one hand, and walking backward until it emerged fully in all of its glory. 'Anyway, we've still got this baby.' The two of them got underneath it with a minimum of growling, snapping, and kicking of the other's limbs out of their way. 'See us?'

'No, not at all,' Remus assured them, opening the door and checking both ways. 'Pretty quiet,' he added in a whisper, sardonically bowing them out. He rummaged around in the dimness, which would have been darkness but for the one candle Sirius and James had been planning by. He found a nightshirt and tore off his now rumpled school uniform, tossing it on the nearest chair rather messily. He was no tidier than the average teenage boy at the best of times, and he always felt even lazier after the full moon.

By this time, however, he was rather awake and decided to employ the time wisely. He had missed two days' worth of classes - unfortunately, moonrise had been very early this month, and they'd had to take the necessary precautions. In addition, the two days before thathad been the weekend. His assignments were all set for tomorrow morning - mainly due to having worked ahead before the full moon - but, having not been in class for four days, he'd likely be lost tomorrow if he didn't refresh himself with the material.

So, in spite of the fact that classwork wasn't very appealing, especially at one o'clock in the morning, he took the candle to his own nightstand and pulled out three textbooks. He'd just opened to Chapter Twenty-Two ('For When You've Really, Really Screwed Up Everything in Chapter Twenty-One') and decided that he probably needed to see what it was to screw up in Chapter Twenty-One when -

'Figures.' Peter's whisper was vehement.

Remus jumped slightly. 'Peter? What figures?'

'I was listening to them the whole time and I knew, I just knew they weren't going to invite us.' Peter was taking out his frustration on his bedcurtains, and when he had finally batted them open, he sat on the edge of his bed, on the side facing Remus.

'To be fair, they thought you were asleep, and we usually need it, from Monday night.'

'Like they haven't woken us up before,' said Peter, for all the world as if he hadn't grumbled during those times about being up at all odd hours of the night.

'Mm,' was Remus's non-committal reply as he scanned the chapter, which might as well have been written in Cyrillic for how much of it he remembered from last Friday.

'And then they didn't invite you - you were up! You suggested that change for them!'

Remus began to get the vaguest inkling that he might not get much studying done. Peter was usually harping on something; he was a nervous and cautious sort of person. But right now he was acting rather strangely, and Remus was simply too tired to give his attention to two things at once. And in his mind, there was no question about whether his schoolwork or his friend came first.

He closed his book (although he held his spot with his finger).

'Wormtail,' he said patiently. 'For one thing, I'd probably wind up dozing off. Besides, what's the big deal, anyway? So they went off on their own.'

'I knew this would happen,' Peter said mutinously. 'I used to be the lookout, and when we started on the Map I just knew it would replace me someday.'

He sounded so miserably bitter that for a moment Remus was visited by a strange, brief suspicion. Then he shook his head and berated himself for thinking such a thing.

'You're being ridiculous,' he said lightly. 'Replaced. You've gotten this way out of proportion.'

Peter sighed. 'Doesn't it ever bother you?' he asked, in a hesitant yet trusting voice that somehow demanded Remus's honesty.

So he thought about it, made sure he understood the question, and replied truthfully: 'Sometimes? Well, yes, a little. But they're best friends, Wormtail, that's what they do. They spend time together. I mean, alone, without us.'

'And that doesn't bother you?' asked Peter, who seemed even more disheartened by this rationale.

'What, that they go off without us?'

'Of course.'

'Well, not really. They also spend time with us, without the Quidditch team and the other seventh-years and Sirius's girlfriends and the rest of that circle.'

'Why d'you think they're best friends, though?' persisted Peter. (Why, thought Remus tiredly, must be grow philosophical on nights like these? Can't we do it in the daytime? Around new moon?) 'They fight all of the time. I never fight with James. And back in first year, James shunned Sirius, remember? 'Cause everyone thought he ought to be in Slytherin. You were the one that made friends with him first.'

'It's not fighting. It's bickering. There's nothing wrong with it. As for the first-year thing - well,' said Remus, slowly, trying to recollect what things had been like then and realising that they had been drastically different, 'James got over that once he saw that Sirius wasn't going to curse or kill him in the middle of the night. Actually, Sirius forgave James, at least, really quickly. After all, Sirius always had a lot of energy. I was pretty timid in first year. And James's mind just… matches him better. They can keep up with each other… It's nothing to worry over.'

'So you really, honestly don't mind?' Peter was obviously willing to agree to disagree, but apparently he wanted to be very certain on this point first.

'No. Absolutely not. I'd go insane if I didn't get an occasional break from those two, actually.' Remus was smiling slightly, fondly. 'So, it bothers you?'

'Yes,' Peter said, evidently at the end of his tether. 'It drives me nuts!'

'Maybe you should sleep on all of this,' suggested Remus, a definite cool tone to his voice that threatened to turn downright frigid if provoked. He had opened the book again, although he wasn't reading.

'You just put up with it, not questioning anything - just because of the Animagus thing.'

'That's not so,' Remus said, rather too quickly.

'Yes, it is! I notice things, Remus.' Peter's voice was growing hard as well. 'Don't think I didn't notice in fifth year when you tried to stop them from that one prank with the cat on Snape. You shut up really quickly when they started talking about how they put three years into that project for you, and were you really sure you wanted to thank them that way?'

Remus's breathing was growing shallower.

'Strange,' he said. 'I seem to recall that, yes, a few other details, as well… you were snickering… the main reason I "shut up" was because Sirius was yelling louder than I could… oh yes, and you again, you agreed with them.'

'And I seem to remember that you never much tried to do anything to curb them again,' Peter finished victoriously, without bothering to point out the other weak spots in Remus's rationalisation.

'What exactly are you trying to say, Peter?' asked Remus, with forced calm.

That they were calling each other by birth names, however, said a lot. The four boys had rarely done that in years, and as of late, it began to mean that tempers were rising in regard to the addressee.

Peter suddenly softened. 'I mean, I understand, Remus, really I do.' He sighed in a resigned sort of way that somehow managed to be superior. 'But that means you overlook a lot of what they do. You think they can't do anything wrong - '

'Hardly! They have no regard for anyone else, Sirius's temper flies off the handle in a matter of seconds, and James's ego is the size of Scotland itself.'

'Remus,' Peter said patiently, 'everyone already knows all of that.'

'I think you were the last to figure it out,' replied Remus, turning an unread page.

There was a short pause and a few candle flickers, and then - 'Moony, are we fighting?'

'I hope not,' Remus responded, more gently.

'So do I.'

'All right.'

'Because there's something I want to tell you.' Peter was rocking back and forth on the edge of his bed, teetering.

'All ears.'

'But, I mean, do you understand what I'm saying? What I was saying?'

Remus hesitated. 'Yes. I still think you're overthinking everything, but yes, I at least understand where you're coming from. Why?'

For a moment, Peter stared at some point above both of them, possibly on the ceiling. Remus was strongly reminded of when, in second year, he had keyed up the nerve to tell the three of him The Secret. Which had been rather anticlimactic. James had given a huge, false yawn, and Sirius had demanded him to tell them something they didn't know, moon-boy. 'You - know?' Remus had asked, eyes and mouth wide, and Peter had replied with a grin, 'Remus, you do know you're in check, right?' Which, of course, had spawned an argument, absolutely wonderful in its familiarity, about whether or not Remus had merely been distracting him at that critical moment for unscrupulous and cowardly reasons.

It came out in a rush. 'RemusIgotridoftheMarauder'sMap.'

'I knew it,' Remus said sharply. 'How?'

'I destroyed it.'

'You wouldn't be able to. Tell me another one.'

'Well, I - I gave to someone who c-could.' Peter stifled a growl at the end of this, which came out as a sort of whimper. Remus knew that Peter hated his stutter, which had a nasty habit of showing up at all the worse moments, but at the moment, empathy was the last thing on his mind.

'And told them what it was?'

'N-n-no! I sw-swear I didn't!'

'And all because you were afraid that this little piece of enchanted paper would replace you?' continued Remus, voice growing colder with every word.

'Remus… I knew you wouldn't understand…' ('Understand?') '… I don't do anything. When they're working together like that, they don't show their pranks to anyone except you… you can help them with that and everything… I can't! The only time I was let in on something was for lookout duty… I didn't want to be left behind…'

'Well, Wormtail, that worked marvelously well, didn't it?' Remus asked agreeably. 'Got rid of the Map and you're still here. Left behind.' He knew he was being cruel, but he couldn't stop it. Seventeen-year-olds are vengeful, and they had all worked so hard on that thing… 'So what does this teach you, Wormtail?'

'That - that - ' Peter swallowed. 'That we're just convenient for them.'

'Speak for yourself, my friend, I'm not the one wallowing in self-pity right now over supposed slights. And I beg to differ. I think the real lesson here is that they're perfectly capable of looking out for themselves.'


'See? See that they brought you along because - ready for this one? - they liked to have you around.'

It was very quiet for a moment. Remus tried to examine Peter's expression, which was difficult, in all the dark and shadow. Eventually, however, he found that Peter was scowling at him.

'Are you going to tell them?' Peter demanded.

Loaded question. Remus didn't entirely know the answer to that one. 'Depends,' he said airily, 'but I assure you I'm not about to lie to them.'

Incited by this reply, Peter unleashed the last trick up his sleeve.

'Actually, Remus, I think I speak for both of us,' said Peter, voice going up half an octave. 'You're pretty convenient for them too. You don't think James gets a real thrill with his whole danger complex over sharing a dormitory with a Dark Creature? You don't think Sirius hasn't told us billions of times that he loved going home every summer and living under his parents' noses knowing that he had made friends with a werewolf and was an illegal Animagus?'

'Sirius was allowed to do pretty much anything if it meant that he survived the holidays over there,' Remus muttered, hating that Peter was giving form to secret hidden fears that had almost been banished.

'Oh, really? I don't think you know the half of it.'

'I don't think you're arguing the point with anything more than smoke.'

Peter had wanted that opening. 'Want specifics?'

'Feel free,' said Remus challengingly.

'All right. Do you remember when Snape got into the tunnel and you almost killed him?'

How could he ever forget? Remus'd had some pretty bad memories, but that one had immediately topped the list. It had been months before he stopped waking up in a cold sweat as, in his sleep, he'd tapped into his alterform's subconscious and relieved that night in strange and warped ways. That was also what had bothered him enough to be disturbed into a lighter slumber just beforehand, light enough that James and Sirius's fight had woken him.

'Y - ' Remus swallowed, cursing his throat for going dry. 'Yes, I remember.'

'How do you think Snape got down there?' Peter continued forcefully.

Denial. Denial, denial, denial. Peter could not be saying - 'Contrary to what the three of you seem to think,' said Remus composedly, but with an edge in his voice, 'Snape's anything but stupid, and I'm not surprised that he - '

'He got into a fight with Sirius during their detention. The one they served together in the pumpkin patch. Your precious Sirius got angry and told him how to freeze the Whomping Willow. James had to go and pull Snape back because Sirius told us that he wanted you to kill him.'

Another silence. Peter had attempted to go for Remus's jugular and had succeeded. Both of them knew it.

Remus felt faint, an unforgivably childish state that he thought he'd left behind at the tender age of fifteen, and that had only been because of Sirius and James's accusation and veiled threat concerning the prank on Snape that Remus had attempted to intervene on.

'So, what d'you think?' demanded Peter impatiently.

Somehow, Remus's voice was there: he didn't even have to find it.

'I think Sirius is the most hotheaded and thoughtless and unreasonable fool in the world,' replied Remus in wintry tones, 'but you, Peter, you're a sneak, and I couldn't trust you any more than I could him.'

'Excuse me? I told you, Sirius never did, neither did James - '

'I'm sure there was a reason,' said Remus, who was certain of no such thing.

'Oh, yeah, there was a reason, all right,' Peter agreed darkly. 'Sirius was afraid to own up to you. James wouldn't force him.'

'And you're just telling me now? Altruistic of you, I'm certain!'

'I think you're missing the point,' Peter said, somewhat loftily.

Remus stood, found his schoolbag, and shoved his textbooks back in. Then he straightened, found Peter's eyes, and locked on them. 'I have no idea what's gotten into you, but it had better stop. And you'd also better stop doing anything to get me upset with James and Sirius. I don't know why you're doing this, I don't want to know, but I absolutely do not want to hear this.'

'A-after what I t-t-told you about S-Sirius - and they say I'm the one that should have been in Hufflepuff!' Peter exploded.

'That's all nonsense, too. We're all exactly where we're supposed to be. Anyway, I think you like backstabbing just a little too much to have been in Hufflepuff.' Remus's voice was growing quieter and quieter, and steady all the while. It was keeping Peter's attention rather well. 'They're not perfect, and frankly I'd hit Sirius right now. Cheerfully. For the record, though, neither are we. I don't know whether you're their friend or not, but you'd better decide right now. If you are, then I don't hear any more of this nonsense. If you aren't, then I hex you all the way back into the Dark Ages for everything you've said about them tonight. Understood?'

Peter chose the former option. Remus sat down on his bed again, shaking from exhaustion and the most complete, pure fury he'd ever felt.

'Did you just threaten me?' asked Peter after a long, shaky moment.

'Sort of, I suppose,' replied Remus, who could not get half so angry when that tone was used toward himself. However, he had been dead serious, even if not particularly prudent. If Peter did use that tone against Sirius (that bloody bastard!) and James tonight, Remus was pretty sure it was going to be a hexes free-for-all until daybreak. 'You have to admit, you deserve it.'

Peter sighed, and it was sincere. 'I don't know, Remus. I'm not even sure about what I just said. I'm confused.' He sighed again. 'I usually am.'

'Let's just get some sleep, Peter. I might apologise in the morning, but I'm sorry, I can't tonight.'

A half-shrug. 'I might too. I don't know. G'night, Moony.'

''Night, Peter.' Remus's skipping of the word good was not unintentional.

Neither of them apologised in the morning, although both acted rather overly good-natured toward the other. Remus's talk with Sirius in broad daylight made the talk in the groggy night rather hazy in his memory. Eventually things smoothed over; they usually do, with friends. Concerning minor altercations like this, at least.

When left behind again, both Peter and Remus pretended to sleep.