In Late May

If ever there has been a hotter summer, I don't know when it was. It's not even June yet, and already the sky is that soupy pale blue that marks humid summer days. I have not seen a clear blue sky in what feels like ages, and the way my shirt sticks to my back under my robes is miserable, to say the least.

The Gryffindor common room is pretty cool, but the windows in our bedroom let in hot sunlight all day. The classrooms all have charms on them to keep them comfortable, but at midday, even the most skilfully charmed rooms get stuffy and hot. The only classroom that maintains a tolerable temperature is the Potions dungeon, but, really, who wants to be down there in the first place? Care of Magical Creatures is like a slow death in an oven, and I can't be arsed to go watch James' Quidditch practices anymore. Gregory Stubble, the Hufflepuff Seeker, passed out from dehydration at practice last week.

Everybody leaves their robes open with their coolest clothes on underneath. Monday, some Ravenclaw I don't know was wearing only a slip under her robes. All the boys were wild about it, but Professor Marceau gave her detention. I'm not wearing any slips yet, but I've been spending the last few days in a vest and a pair of cutoff denims. James, too, is wearing shorts and T-shirts. Pete and Remus have got it worse than we do. Pete's very shy about his body, though he's not above wearing shorts or knickerbockers. He looks like he's wearing a public school uniform most days, which we all rib him about, but he says it's better than melting in the heat. As for Remus, well, he's shy about his body, too. It's not hard to understand why, once you've seen his skin. So Remus sweats it out in the lightest long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants he can find. He wears his robes off his shoulders half the time, so that they hang around his elbows while he sits in class.

At lunch, everybody has taken to pulling off their robes. It's just long enough for most of the sweat to evaporate before we have to put the robes back on and go to class again. I haven't had a hot meal in at least a week, and even the thought of something warm to eat makes me sweat even more.

The house elves have been working overtime to keep everything comfortable, too. I've seen them more than I ever have in six years. They're all over the castle, opening windows and drawing curtains and closing shutters all day. I've seen them more than once in our dorm room, putting cooling charms on our sheets. Remus says he's surprised they haven't all dropped dead of heat exhaustion by now.

Meanwhile, Pete's dreading his beach vacation this summer, and Regulus is trying to convince our parents to spend the holiday somewhere way up north -- like Iceland. I couldn't care less. As long as we go somewhere I can get away from them, I'll be happy.

There has been heat lightning most every night since this weather started. It lights up the sky and makes evening Quidditch practices dangerous. It's been canceled to often James says he's tempted to just quit the team. He wouldn't, of course, because he's all talk. We all know he's sick of the weather, though, along with all the complications it's caused -- But, then, who isn't?

The only real respite -- and it's a pretty pitiful one at that -- is the weekend. We don't have to wear our school robes, and so everyone spends weekends sitting in the shade or swimming in the shallower parts of the lake.

It's too hot to do much of anything else, in my opinion. There's no point in sneaking down to Hogsmeade, since it's not any cooler down there. No point in tormenting the Slytherins -- it's not worth the sweat I'd work up. And I't's much too early to start revising. We've two weeks yet until exams.

It's early Saturday morning. It was too hot to sleep any longer, even after I'd thrown off all my sheets, so James and I are sitting on his bed, cross-legged and half-dressed, making our plans for the day. Pete is still sleeping, snoring thickly. Osgood is sleeping, too, although he doesn't snore nearly as much. Remus, like every other morning, has taken his clothes into the bathroom with him. He hates for us to see him naked, even though we've all seen him on full moon nights. He's says that's different and dresses in the shower anyway.

Well, my vote's for having a swim after breakfast, I tell James for the second time.

Pete'll never go for it, he replies.

So? He doesn't have to go if he doesn't want to.

He can wear a shirt, or sit with Remus. He shouldn't be dragging down our plans just cause he's a great ninny about wearing swim shorts.

James sighs. Fine. Let's go swimming, then.

Remus comes out of the bathroom fully dressed, his pants rolled up just to his ankles, sleeves pulled way down to his wrists. There is a long, white scar on the top of his left foot. It might not be noticeable to anyone else, but I remember that scar. That one's not from the werewolf; it happened one night when Filch almost caught us skinny-dipping in the lake last spring. It'd taken so much convincing to get him to come with me. I'd begged him to come, telling him nobody else would do it, even though James would've done it in a heartbeat. When Filch appeared on the other side of the lake, we leaped out of the water and ran, our clothes clutched in front of our privates, like men possessed until he tripped and fell. He cut open his foot, and had to wrap it in his shirt to keep from tracking blood on the floor. When we got back to our dorm, we tumbled onto his bed and laughed about it until we couldn't breathe anymore. We fell asleep right there, wet, tangled up in each other, clothes off, curtains open, and all. James and Pete had quite a good laugh at our expense the next morning, and Remus was limping for a week.

What about swimming? he asks, dropping his pajamas on top of his trunk. He moves up and makes his bed. Like me, he kicked all his sheets off the bed in the night.

We wanted to go for a swim after breakfast, I say quickly. How about it?

All right, he replies. He is so easy. Uptight as he can be about his body and being a stupid Prefect, he's completely laid back when it comes to James and me. I personally think it's because I'm so charming, but as for James, well, it's really a mystery.

James says. Now Pete'll have someone to sit with.

I suppose he will, Remus says, and tucks in the edges of his sheets.

Now that's settled, James says, let's go have breakfast.

Oy! Pete! I shout. Get up!

mutters Osgood from the fifth bed.

I roll my eyes at James, who rolls his own back and says, You shut up.

Osgood says and turns over on his stomach, putting his pillow on top of his head.

Get up, Pete! Up and at I throw my pillow at Pete's head.

Two more pickles, he says before turning over and going back to sleep.

We decide to let him sleep through breakfast.

Remus seems to think we may have hurt Pete's feeling by leaving him. I say, he can take it. And I'm right. When he comes down to breakfast, just as we're finishing up, he seems perfectly fine. I don't ask Remus what he thinks, because I hate it when he gives me that disapproving look of his.

Thought we'd go swimming a bit later on, James says once he's poured himself a glass of juice.

Oh, great! Pete says, putting steaming sausages on his plate. It makes me a little sick to see him eat hot food, and I look away. Remus is looking away, too, casting his disapproving look across the Great Hall at no one in particular.

At James' insistence, and to Pete's great joy, we wait for him to finish his breakfast. Then we all trudge back up through the muggy castle to Gryffindor Tower. James whistles, in a good mood since Evans asked him to pass the pumpkin juice at breakfast.

Back in our dormitory, we find our swim trunks and our towels. Pete twists his towel between his hands and cautions us that we should wait an hour until we've all digested our breakfasts. Personally, I think that's bunk, but Remus agrees that there couldn't be any harm in waiting a little while.

An hour later, when the sun is even higher and hotter in the sky than it was at breakfast, with a picnic lunch wrapped in a large, rather ugly spare tablecloth and our swim trunks on under our clothes, we go down to the lake, only to find that at least fifty other students have had the same idea as us. They are spread out all over the shore in little groups, blankets and piles of clothes strewn across the grass. The dark water is blinding in places, illuminated by the hot morning sun, and the whole of the lake's surface seems to waver in the heat.

We find a good spot in the shade of a tall oak tree, and spread out our things. James strips off his clothes and runs into the water as fast as he can, whooping. Some girls in the water laugh. I follow him, tackling him from behind and pulling him down, into the cool, murky water.

I am vaguely aware that Pete and Remus have stayed behind to set up out blanket. One time when I come up for air, I think I see Remus folding my clothes and putting them in a pile to one side of the tree. But when I think to look back at him again, he is comfortably settled against the tree trunk, a book open in his lap. Pete lies nearby, looking up at the pale cirrus clouds barely moving in the first bright blue sky in ages.

I forget about Remus and Pete and the sky for a while. All there is for me is the cool water and James roughhousing, laughing as he tries to drown me. When Pete splashes in to join us some time later, James and I try to drown him together. He laughs and sputters and flails and chokes on lake water, but he knows we'd never let him go down.

The sun is already past its zenith when Pete begins to complain of hunger. My arms are beginning to get tired, and I wouldn't mind a bit of lunch, myself. James seems to be in agreement, so we climb back up onto the shore. Blades of grass stick to our wet feet and I can feel sunburn on my shoulders.

Having a good time? Remus asks quietly as we approach.

I stand tall as I dry off, feeling him watching me. The very best, I reply. He smiles.

If you don't count the eighty times I nearly strangled him, James says, flopping down on the blanket.

It wasn't that often, I say, indignant. It was more like sixty, and I got him back at least as many times.

You're a really brilliant swimmer, James, Pete says. Truth is, James didn't swim that much, except to race me a couple of times. And he beat me by a narrow margin, anyway. His breast stroke is good, and his freestyle's all right, but his butterfly is really sloppy. In any case, I don't suppose it matters much to Peter. He'd like James no matter how shoddy his butterfly stroke was.

Thanks, Pete, James says, his eyes on the food. What's for lunch?

Remus opens up the bundle the house elves gave us, and we all eat lunch. We have roast turkey sandwiches and crisps and salad, raw vegetable and oranges, soda, cold pumpkin juice, and miniature shepherd's pies that are still hot. There's chocolate cake and cold milk for dessert. I don't know how everything stayed the right temperature all this time -- house elf magic, maybe. Despite our best efforts, there's food left over, which Remus packs back up after we've all finished.

After lunch, James and Pete lie down on the grass and doze, tired and well-fed. Before I can lie down, too, Remus says, Come here, and I go to sit by him.

You got some sun on your shoulders, he tells me.

Yeah, I know.

He touches one of my shoulders, which is already red. He presses two fingers against my hot skin and watches how quickly the white mark disappears once his fingers are gone. That's really going to hurt later.

I guess, I say. He's close to me now, leaning in. I like it when he touches me, although he definitely doesn't know that.

He takes a little jar out of his bag and opens it. The gel in the container smells minty and smooth, and Remus takes some on his first two fingers and spreads it over my shoulders. There is a fresh feeling on my skin, like sucking on a peppermint. Before I can comment on it, the pain of my sunburn is gone.

What is that? I ask.

Something for burns. My mum got it for me after I told her about burning my fingers on my cauldron that day in Potions.

Oh, yeah.

Anyway, I thought it might come in handy. Is your back at all burned?

Something in me jumps at this opportunity. It does feel a little hot, I tell him, trying my best to sound needy.

Turn around, he says. Once I have, he touches the back of his hand to the pink parts of my back. I could never be a mediwizard, he says idly as he spread the gel over my skin. I'm really rotten at this.

It feels just fine to me, but I do not tell him this.

Presently, the pressure of his hands disappears and I hear him screwing the lid back on the jar. he says. He puts the stuff back in his bag.

I turn around and look at him. His cheeks are flushed, and his shirt is damp. Despite the fact that he's sweating like there's nothing for it, he looks good. You must be hot, I say.

he says, and pauses, looking back at me. Well, of course I am.

I look away from his face, embarrassed. I notice that he's barefoot, and I'm gripped with the stupid urge to run my index finger over the scar on the top of his foot. He's rolled up his pants a bit more and I like the look of the soft, brown hair on his legs.

Why don't you come in the water? I ask. I keep my eyes on James and Pete, who seem to be talking quietly on their patch of grass.

I'm nearly done my book. I want to finish it.

But it's so hot out here! Is it really so good that you can't leave it for a while?

It's very good, he says. Incredibly interesting.

More interesting that your friends? I ask, making big, pleading eyes at him. They never work on Remus, but I like to think that one day, he'll crack under the pressure of my charm.

He smiles, wholly unaffected. Most certainly.

Well, you're quite a--

Shut up, Sirius, he says, still smiling.

You shut up, I say.

No, you both shut up, James says without lifting his head, and Pete laughs. Want a rematch on that last race, Black? he asks presently.

Yeah, all right, Potter, I say, and we get up. Sure you won't come? I ask Remus.

Last chapter, he says, and so we leave him, Pete following us back down to the water, too. I look back at him just once, but he's already got his book open on his lap again, and he seems completely immersed in whatever it is he's reading.

I beat James once, and then he beats me three times in succession. After that, I admit defeat, and we all float on our backs, silent and lazy.

I close my eyes and enjoy the comfort of the lake. The sun is still hot like some unholy fire, but my back is immersed in chilly water. I can hear Pete on my left, splashing around a little to keep afloat. The space behind my eyelids is bright pink and shimmery and it makes me want to sleep.

I know I can't have fallen asleep, really. I remember hearing James say, I'm heading in, and I know I heard Pete follow him. But now here I am, alone in the water here, without any idea how much time has passed. It doesn't much bother me. I keep my eyes closed and take a few strokes in some direction or another. For all I know, I could be pushing myself towards the giant squid, but the water is still and cool and I could not care less.

It is only a few minutes later that I hear the quiet sound of a good swimmer approaching. Decided to have one more race? I ask, thinking James has changed his mind.

No . . . says a voice that is not James'.

I open my eyes and turn myself vertical, treading water. There is Remus in front of me. There is Remus' bare chest, his bony shoulders, and there is the thick scar over his left shoulder and clavicle. His arms are long and lean, not muscular like James', but wiry and certain. Somewhere under the inky water is the big, half-circle of scar tissue that marks the bite that gave him his disease. He doesn't seem sick now, just naked.

he says.

You haven't got any clothes on, I say. What a stupid thing to say.

I have so, he replies.

I didn't see you put and swim trunks on. I keep treading water, though, more and more, I wish I could sink down to the bottom.

I'm just wearing my shorts, he says.

Is that a problem?

. . . No.

There is a silence between us. It is not late yet, but the sun is beginning its descent and it is marginally cooler than it was earlier. I'm not really interested in the sun, though.

So you decided to come out, after all, I say, feeling slow in the head, almost dizzy. He's very close.

His arms move through the water with every grace in the world. The hollows of his shoulders appear and disappear beautifully. He is the sort of person who's mean to be weightless. I did.

In front of all these people.

In front of all these people.

I say.

He looks at me, and I think his brown eyes are very pretty. he says.

You look good.

He smiles.