Twilight Plans

Night after night, the quest for change,

To aid through features rearranged.

"You're sure this'll work?" Sirius asks, watching as Remus scrawls a perfect facsimile of their Head of House's signature onto one of the permission slips they "borrowed" from Vablatsky, the oblivious Divination teacher, whose constant exposure to the overpowering incense fumes permeating the North Tower renders her more than slightly batty. "Madam Pince isn't going to believe McGonagall really let a second-year have access to the Restricted Section."

Remus grins with satisfaction as he compares the falsified signature to the one on a crumpled start-of-term notice left over from the summer. "Sirius, trust me—I'm not yet nearly as widely known as a troublemaker as you and James are—"

"Only because you have the best innocent look," Sirius interjects, scowling good-naturedly.

His friend continues as though he hasn't heard. "And anyway, she knows I'm a bit bookish. It won't be too hard to convince her I managed to get McGonagall to let me have supplementary reading, or an extra credit essay or something."

Well, he has to admit that Remus misses more than enough class to make that plausible. He just wonders whether the ill-tempered librarian will find the story credible enough not to bother with a Forgery-Finding Charm. "And if you can't find anything on the transformation in there?"

"We'll come up with something," Remus says, almost dismissively. "If worse comes to worse, we can always sneak into Hogsmeade through one of the passages and check the bookshop."

It's not a bad idea, he has to admit. No shopkeeper will object to selling a book of extremely advanced magic to a child, provided that child pays enough. He and James can split the cost of an expensive book without raising questions. "That'll be the backup plan, then," he agrees. "Somehow, I doubt there's much to go on in the library."

James looks up from the Transfiguration text he's been skimming through, borrowed from Arthur Weasley, one of the seventh-years. "Why? Merlin knows there's nothing in the textbook about the Animagus transformation but theoretical gibberish, a couple of footnotes, and allusions to grievous bodily harm if the thing's botched, but the Restricted Section's full of dangerous stuff."

"There's not likely to be a guide on how to do it, because it's supposed to be nearly impossible," Remus points out. "There wouldn't be much point in wasting shelf space on a book no one can use." Still, he turns towards the portrait-hole with an optimistic, "Worth a look, though, before we go to more trouble than we have to."

"Good luck," Peter says, the quill in his hand pausing in its feverish journey over the parchment that is meant to contain an essay for Herbology within the next half-hour. "And if Madam Pince starts giving you that squinty, suspicious look, pretend you're going to be sick and run."

Remus has regained only a little color during his day's stay in the infirmary; it will be another day or two before the excuse Peter has proposed will stop being fully convincing. The timing for it is optimal.

"I'll keep that in mind," he says lightly, pushing the portrait aside. Sirius can hear the wry grin in his tone. "Any rate, I can run faster than she can, if it comes to that."

The Fat Lady swings back into place, and Peter's quill resumes scratching against the parchment. Sirius looks over his shoulder at what he's written. "Mandrake seedlings can only knock you out, remember?" he says helpfully. "Scratch out the bit where you said they can kill you and change it. It's the adults that have the fatal cries."

Peter does so, then asks, "Anything else?"

"Their other name is mandragora, not mandragon," he answers. "Other than that, you're fine. You just need about two more inches, anyway." He turns his attention back to James. "Anything else useful in that?"

James makes a scornful noise, adopting a mocking tone. "'Notify the Ministry before beginning study with a Transfiguration Master or Mistress, and be sure to obtain the appropriate forms upon completion'." He heaves a sigh and Banishes the heavy text across the room, back into the arms of its owner. "Other than that…naught."

"That's what we expected, anyway," Peter says, waving the completed essay back and forth to dry the ink before rolling it into a neat scroll. "McGonagall doesn't teach the transformation; why would it be in the textbook?" He shrugs. "You're sure she wouldn't help us, if we told her why we want to do it? You know she can go a little soft about this kind of thing sometimes."

That's true, but Sirius can only imagine the look on her face if they stopped her in the hall and asked if she'd teach them to become illegal Animagi, so they could run around on the grounds with a werewolf. The mental image makes him laugh, and Peter begins to ask what he finds so funny as Remus steps through the portrait-hole, a bit of parchment wadded up in his hand.

"I couldn't get any books to help us do it," he says matter-of-factly, "but I checked the bibliographies in some that talk about it and copied titles of books that will."

James grins and exchanges glances with him and Peter before turning his attention to Remus. "Looks like Plan B is a go," he says. "Next Hogsmeade weekend, we sneak out after the third-years—they should schedule one just a week or two before Christmas."

By the end of that year, the book they finally settled on (The Enigmatic Animagical Arts Unveiled) is dog-eared, the margins full of notes scrawled in four different hands. Smudgy fingerprints mar the edges of the pages, and the binding has had to be repaired twice where it cracked when the volume was left lying splayed open too long.

And by now, Sirius appreciates just what is so difficult about what they are trying to do. He hadn't expected it to be something he really had to work at, because Transfiguration is his best subject and he is clever enough to complete the coursework without any real effort.

But this requires effort—more effort, in fact, than he ever remembers putting into anything. It isn't about spell-casting and wand-waving and incantations; it isn't something to be accomplished with a few whispered words and a thought. The change, says the book, sounding ridiculously spiritualistic, has to come from within.

At any rate, it will be a long time before any of them are ready to try it. For now, they are working on honing varied levels of magical control by performing transfiguration without a wand, with their will as the catalyst and their own bodies as conduits. It is tiring, and it is often tedious. Most irritatingly, it is difficult.

It takes two days at an hour's session each to manage the first-year introductory lesson, matches into needles, without wands, and Sirius despairs of ever changing his entire body wandlessly when so much exertion changes only a tiny match.

But they soldier on—through beetles into buttons, rabbits into slippers, and mice into snuffboxes. Then ahead, to hedgehogs into pincushions, guinea fowl into guinea pigs, Switching Spells, and tortoises into teapots. And with practice, it does grow very slowly easier.

And so the months pass as they move through the curriculum, the thought of their goal sustaining them through nights of stolen practice in abandoned classrooms lit by a handful of Remus' conjured flames—but it seems awfully far away.

By the beginning of fourth year, they have completed the human transfiguration spells that they will not learn formally until their sixth. And then they skip ahead in the book to the next step, knowing this one has been carried to its end, and Sirius stares down, wide-eyed at the page in perfect incredulity.

"Oneiromancy?" he demands of the others, who look similarly skeptical. "Dream magic? That ridiculous waffle Vablatsky goes on about in Divination? That's supposed to help us figure out what our forms are?" He had hoped for something concrete, an incantation and a spell with definitive results. This certainly doesn't fit the criteria.

"Be glad we're through with all those wandless transfigurations," James says to him, deadpan, taking the volume from his unresisting hands and paging through it. "At least this doesn't look difficult. We burn some incense, say a spell as we're falling asleep, and presto—we eventually dream of the animal we are and why. We don't have to really look; it's just supposed to come along with some mystic feeling of 'rightness' and whack us round the head with it."

Remus takes the book from James and reads a few pages, then drops down onto one of the dusty chairs in the empty classroom, causing it to protest with a creaky groan. "That's not the immediate result," he says with a sigh. "According to this, we could be at it for months or longer." He shoves the book across their little cluster of desks to Peter. "Now it sounds like we're supposed to practice something like meditation. You know, concentrating, shutting out distractions—and then work up to inducing something like a trance, in which we finally get the dream, assuming we have the capacity to transform at all—not everyone does."

It sounds ludicrous—why go from logic and perfectly valid (if complicated) magic to…this?

But he has not spent two years to give up just because their book suddenly sounds a little mental. After all, there's supposed to be a fine line between genius and insanity, right? And this isn't about using dreams to tell the future; this is about using dreams to look inside themselves, which actually does make sense, now that he thinks about it—aren't dreams supposed to reflect the unconscious mind? Maybe even the soul?

And they're doing this for Remus, so he won't have to spend the full moon nights alone and in pain and the mornings after confined to bed and half-mummified in bandages. That's reason enough.

Peter turns the last page of the small section Remus indicated, then lets the covers of the book drop together and nods. "Yeah, we can do this. It sounds a bit dodgy, but it can't be half so hard as all that wandless stuff."

Almost as soon as they begin it, Sirius realizes that this stage of the transformation is much more complex than simply dropping off to sleep, and that Remus may well have been correct in saying that it could take them months. Soon, even that begins to look wildly optimistic.

He is not one to lie still and concentrate fixedly on the elusive hazy line that separates sleep and waking; he is not one to be easily able to ignore the myriad of stimuli that pervade even the quietest rooms.

He is endlessly distracted by the sound of his breathing, and James' and Remus' and Peter's; he cannot help but hear the rustle of the cloth of their robes against the small, low mattresses he's transfigured as they squirm, just slightly, restless from being still too long. Even the faint, sweet scent of the lavender and chamomile incense that wafts from the censer (transfigured from the blackboard eraser) in the corner, though meant to be relaxing, is just one more thing he has to work to ignore.

He opens his eyes and glances around the room. James is like him, restless, frustrated by several days without the slightest promise of results. Their gazes lock, and his friend mouths a vulgar opinion of the last hour's fruitless labor that Sirius finds it difficult to disagree with.

Peter is actually asleep, but not dreaming anything having to do with his alter-form, since he seems to be mumbling something about Christmas pudding, which isn't the point of the exercise.

Remus is completely still, eyes shut and face blank, his breathing even. It isn't slow or deep enough for sleep, but apparently he is better than the rest of them at lying quietly and shutting out distractions, which makes sense, considering he spends at least a day in the infirmary each month with nothing else to do.

With a long-suffering sigh, Sirius rolls over and shuts his eyes again.

It takes very little time after those first few attempts to figure out that Silencing Charms are very helpful. Apparently, Remus has been shutting out noise thus from the start, which explains why, although he is preternaturally sensitive to the countless little sounds they can't help making, they didn't disturb him.

One month passes, then two, then three and four, with an hour or two daily delegated to their project. And then, finally, in the wee hours of a December night, Sirius hears James murmur the incantation that sends him from meditative trance into dream.

The rest of them immediately shift their attention to him, rising from their beds and clustering around his, careful not to make the least sound lest they wake him. There is nothing to see except James asleep, a view that is familiar after years sharing a dorm, but they have been waiting for results for months, so even unimpressive-looking results are something.

It is nearly half an hour before he wakes again. He takes his glasses from the foot of the bed where he has left them and puts them back on, then looks surprised to see them all gathered around him.

He also looks vastly pleased with himself—it is not an unfamiliar look to see on James Potter's face. But this is not self-satisfaction; it is the look of validation after two years of work that until this moment have given very little return.

"What are you?" Sirius asks eagerly, moving nearer James to get his attention. "Something land-going, I hope." That is a gamble they take in this: aquatic or even avian forms are not suited to the task of keeping a werewolf company at close range, and of course, they cannot choose the shapes they take.

"I'm a stag," James says with a radiant smile, as though he can hardly believe it himself. "Somehow it just fit, you know? The noble bearing, the alertness, the swiftness, the—"

"The big head," Sirius teases, then dodges a playful blow that would have caught his own head if he'd been slower. Honestly, he is very glad for James, and has to admit that he can imagine his friend as a stag. "Really, though—what was it like? For all the work we've been putting into chasing these dreams, they'd better be bloody incredible."

Remus, who has long since given up trying to control his use of swearwords, favors him with a wry grin as he picks up the book. "They should be. Personal revelations usually are."

"It was," James confirms. "It was—wow. I mean, I had no idea when I used the spell that it'd actually work, I was mostly just going on a hunch—and then there I was in this forest or something, just walking through it and looking at all the different animals, you know, like you find in the woods, but none of them fit. Don't ask me how I knew; I guess it's kind of like with a wand, where you just know when you touch it that it's right. And then there was this stag, and we looked at each other and something kind of clicked. And then it actually spoke to me."

Sirius gives his best friend a funny look—last time he checked, stags don't speak, and anyone that thinks they do is absolutely barmy. "Okay…and it said what, exactly?" he asks carefully.

"You think I'm mad, don't you?" James asks him, looking slightly disappointed.

Remus shakes his head and looks up, having spent the last moment or two reading. "You haven't gone mental, James; that's just what's supposed to happen. Once the form 'clicks', as you said, essentially you learn why it's right for you because your own subconscious speaks through it and tells you. If this thing isn't wrong"—he indicates the volume—"it used your voice?"

"Yes," James replies, looking rather glad to have confirmation that everything went as it should have. "And let me tell you, that was more than a bit unsettling. But what it said made sense."

Peter, who has been watching James with something like awe, speaks up. "It shouldn't take you much longer now, should it? Now that you know which form's yours and why?"

"Do I want to know?" James asks Remus, who is suddenly giving him a very sympathetic look. "Or am I going to have to have a fit about how long and complicated this whole damn process is?"

"Well," Remus says reluctantly, with the air of one who clearly doesn't want to be the bearer of bad news, "it doesn't say straight out, because every Animagus so far has taken a different amount of time. It just gives a range—it could be as little as another month to six months—or as long as another year, just to be on the safe—"

James makes an inarticulate noise that sounds like he has something large and unpleasant in his throat, rather like a scream of indignation crossed with a choke. Finally, he turns to Remus. "Want to bet they come up with a cure for lycanthropy before we're all ready to do this?"

"If only," Remus says in a tone that is meant to be light but has an unbidden note of longing in it nonetheless. "Don't worry; even if it takes us years, I sincerely doubt a miracle will be produced first." He manages a smile, but the shadow of sorrow still lingers another instant in his eyes before fading away. "And if one is, chances are whatever form I'll take is fit to run in."

Somehow, the desire to continue is gone for tonight, in spite of James' success. He hates to be reminded that as much of a help as this will be to his friend when it is finally finished, it is not a cure—is not an end to the pain.

But they are doing the only thing that they can do.

Another month passes before he knows one night that he will dream. While James is busy with something Sirius assumes involves researching stags and Remus and Peter continue doing what they have been doing every night for the last five months, he murmurs the incantation he's waited so long to use ("Quaere Verum!") and slips over the line from waking into sleep.

"All right," he mutters to himself, looking around the vast, desolate moor with some dismay. "James got a forest, because his stag belongs in a forest. I get this wasteland…why? What actually lives here?"

"I don't live here, per se," his own voice answers from behind him with a laugh. "I'm domesticated, after all—but I like the space. It makes for an excellent run. Besides," it adds, "you wouldn't be nearly as happy to see me if I showed up in the Ancient, Inbred, and Immoral House of Black, would you?"

He turns quickly to face the speaker and draws a sharp breath, somewhat shocked but still knowing, the same way he knew when the warm glow of his wand's choice first rushed through him on contact.

It is a dog—large, very large, almost able to look him in the eye, tall as he is, despite being on all fours. At this size, surely it can hold its own against a werewolf if need be. It has no markings; its glossy fur is entirely black, and its eyes are gray. His coloring.

"Disappointed?" it asks, jocularity plain in its tone.

"No," he answers honestly. He can imagine himself in this shape, is proud of it, looks forward to being able to take it. "You're—me, aren't you?"

It favors him with a canine smile, but the eyes that mirror his are solemn now. "I am the essence of your character," it says. "Your loyalty, your protectiveness, your cleverness, your daring and impulsivity." Then, as though as an afterthought, "And yes, your sense of fun as well—your capacity for joy."

This is what it means to be an Animagus—an extension of self.

And with that realization, he wakes.

"So, what are you?" James asks, repeating the same question Sirius had posed to him. He looks up from the zoology book he's reading and leans across the professor's desk in the abandoned room, plainly very interested in the answer.

"Canine," Sirius says briefly. "Sort of like a Grim, only not. No idea about the breed, and I don't care, anyway; I don't want any more of a pedigree than I've already got. It's very, very large, like almost as tall as I am. Dunno how big werewolves are, but I think it won't matter."

From his place kneeling on the floor as he pages through the book, Remus mutters something that sounds very much like "Famous last words" before falling silent again. In a moment, though, he looks up with a genuine smile. "It suits you," he says.

"Yeah," he agrees. "It does."

They don't need to ask him why. They know him well enough to guess the answer.

Remus shuts the book and hands it up to him. "Here. You know which chapter to check. Read through the overview, and then you'll want to find a book or something on dogs. Not like breed characteristics—something more general. I guess a book on large dogs would be good, and then something on the sensory capabilities and basic anatomy."

"Anatomy?" He makes a face. "Don't tell me I have to sit and memorize which bone connects to which."

"No, not like that," Remus laughs, shaking his head. "That'd be ridiculous. But you can't change if you don't have any idea what becomes what. You just want to get an idea of the process and the end result." He motions toward James. "Ask James. He's been working on it for the last couple of weeks; I'm still a half-step back and quoting the text."

He glances over at James, who is once again engrossed in his reading. Though unable to see the illustrations on the page, he knows which subsection the book is open to. "Now what?" he asks his friend.

James flinches at the sudden direct address—they have become adept enough at ignoring outside stimuli that he would have been able to ignore Sirius' conversation with Remus. "Find books," he says shortly, taking the wadded-up Invisibility Cloak from his pocket and thrusting it into Sirius' hands. "Canine anatomy and human anatomy. Bring them back here and start reading."

"And then?"

"Get to know both, really, really well," James says darkly. "The last step after this is actually beginning to do it, and we cannot afford to mess up."

Now that he and James are both doing nothing but reading, Remus and Peter have time to catch up. A week later, Remus has his dream; Peter takes another month. Respectively, they will take the forms of a true wolf and a rat.

Surprisingly enough, in his own, quiet way, Remus seems pleased. Sirius would have thought that he wouldn't be, but he tells them about the dream, what he learnt and felt, and then Sirius has to admit that the true wolf shape fits Remus in a way that has nothing to do with lycanthropy. It is as much his own form as the enormous dog is Sirius'.

Peter will not repeat the revelations of his dream, and they know better than to pry into something so personal. But Peter seems unsettled, and Sirius can't help but wonder. Yes, of course the rat isn't so glorious a creature as James' stag or Remus' wolf or his own dog, but there's nothing to be gained or changed by sulking about it.

It takes a week to convince Peter that a small form is very useful after all: he alone will be small enough to slip between the Whomping Willow's violently thrashing branches and touch the knot that will paralyze them. Without Peter, none of them will be able to reach the Shrieking Shack at the other end of the tunnel the Willow hides.

Finally, he seems mollified and takes his place beside James, and they hold the zoology text open in two places, each studying the anatomy, behavior, and physiological capabilities of his own animal.

Remus has declined to join them, preferring to find a separate book and seat himself across from them, at the opposite end of the small cluster of desks. Personally, Sirius thinks he did this because James and Peter are crowded enough studying two sections of the same book; attempting to keep one book open in three sections simultaneously would have been irritating. As it is, the two of them are forever accidentally banging their elbows together.

For his part, it is simple enough to find something on large domestic canines in the library. He sits beside Remus and studies quietly, and before long, he knows more about dogs than he ever knew there was to know.

He is impatient. They've spent nearly two years on this, and it looks as though they'll have to begin a third next term. But they're so close now, and Sirius wants to be finished.

He knows better than to try the change, though. Something deep down still warns, not yet, and he hasn't spent all this time studying the Animagus transformation as to be ignorant of what will happen if he disobeys. Their book has told them the stories of hapless individuals caught forever between forms, unable to complete the change and helpless to reverse it, or those who had entered animal form permanently, unable to return to human shape.

And these, by comparison, were the fortunate ones. There were also cases of animal minds coming to the fore, trapped in bodies unable to accommodate them as human sentience died agonizingly away, and still more of those who had died outright in forcing the first attempt too early.

Sirius is impulsive. At times, he knows he can be reckless. But he is not stupid. And only an abysmally stupid person would take chances with irrevocable magic.

He will wait as long as it takes.

The summer is no more or less than he expects. He is made, on pain of various curses, to attend family functions, unpleasant, extremely monotonous gatherings of the pureblood elite, none of whom have anything to say that he feels is worth listening to—mostly boasting and gossip. Usually, he is able to find Andromeda, and the two of them are able to have a reasonably enjoyable time chatting, considering the company.

At home, his parents and brother are content to ignore him, stain on the family honor that he is, and he spends the time in his room, poring over a book on large dogs. Madam Pince would never have let him bring the book he'd been using home over the summer for fear it would be damaged. As a result, he was obliged to change a few Galleons to Muggle money at Gringotts and purchase another at one of the many bookshops on Charing Cross Road, sneaking away from his family during a compulsory outing to Diagon Alley.

It gives him great pleasure to have a Muggle book in the house (though the pictures, being stationary, are very dull), mostly because he knows his mother would have a shrieking fit if she found out.

Of course, she would also burn the book, so he decides not to antagonize her by bringing it to her attention.

He writes letters to James and Remus and Peter every few days, and he studies, waiting as patiently as he ever does for anything for the moment when he will finally know that the time is right.

At last, it is time to board the Hogwarts Express and return to school. He and Regulus are made to get on the train together, but that lasts only as long as their mother and father are in eyeshot. He "accidentally" elbows his brother in the ribs by way of farewell, and they find their respective friends in compartments at opposite ends of the train.

Once the compartment door is shut and a Silencing Charm cast to guard against eavesdropping, they all have many things to discuss, not least of all, their great project. "I think this year will be it," Sirius says with a grin. "Maybe a month or two longer, and then we'll be finished?"

Remus shrugs, intent on opening a package of Chocolate Frogs he was given by his parents to eat on the train. "I've got no idea how long it'll end up taking. And there's the possibility we could finish a few months apart, you know." He undoes the wrapping with a triumphant look and offers a Frog to each of them.

"We probably will, come to that," James admits, sounding rather muffled around a mouthful of chocolate. "We've never managed"—he swallows, and then his voice is clearer—"to do any of it exactly together."

"Maybe we could at least start this together," Peter says optimistically, wiping his fingers on his handkerchief and leaving brown smudges. "We ought to have had plenty of time to read up on our animals during the summer. I learnt loads about mine."

One by one, they nod agreement. They have all done a very great deal of research. "It won't be much longer," James says with quiet confidence. "Soon we'll know everything we need to know. And then…"

They all know what comes next—the culmination of months and months of effort, the change itself. "What's it like, do you think?" Sirius asks.

"We've seen McGonagall do it," Peter reminds him reasonably. "We know it's fast. There's not even an in-between stage; she just goes from human to animal in an instant."

"It probably comes with experience," Remus says, in a carefully even tone that reminds them he is still not wholly comfortable with the idea making any sort of transformation at will. "I doubt the first time is like that."

He meets Remus' eyes in silent understanding. "Probably not," he says calmly. "But it's not going to hurt us unless we make mistakes." A significant pause. "We won't make mistakes," he says seriously. "We haven't come this far to trip up at the finish."

The school year begins, and for a while, all the professors are so zealous in assigning early practice essays for the O.W.L.s that there is no time to steal away late at night for a very different sort of practice of their own. But after several weeks of acclimating themselves to the new schedule and increased coursework, it becomes second nature, and they learn the most convenient times to slip away.

Nighttime is no good any longer, because Lily Evans and Remus have both become Gryffindor Prefects and have to patrol the corridors for students out of bed and breaking rules.

In any case, early evening, when most students are either studying or studiously avoiding study, just after dinner and before the beginning of Remus' shift in the corridor patrols, becomes the new time. This affords them an hour, which isn't as long as last year, but has to do.

Evening after evening, they crowd around the small cluster of desks and busy themselves reading their respective books. The silent, unasked question—When?—seems to hang in the air, an almost palpable tension.

Another week goes by like that—then two, then three. September fades into October, bringing a crisp chill into the air that erases the last of the lingering summer warmth. November's strong breezes take the last of the leaves from the forest trees, and with December's arrival, autumn chill deepens into winter's bitter cold.

Then, one night, comes the quiet, but unmistakable, sound of a book being shut.

He looks up immediately, across the desks at James and Peter. They stare back at him, their own book abandoned and fallen open to a subsection useful to neither.

One by one, they look to Remus. He has set his book aside, and is rising from his chair, his expression a mix of certainty and some other emotion, this one unreadable.

"Now?" Sirius asks, breaking the awkward silence.

"Yes," Remus replies, so quietly that they have to strain to hear. "Now feels right."

They don't need to ask him to explain, knowing now what it is to be absolutely certain of something based on intuition rather than logic. The warning voices within them still whisper, not yet—Remus' has told him now.

And it makes sense, Sirius realizes, watching as Remus moves to the opposite end of the room and kneels on the floor, that he would be the first of them to be able to make the change. Of the four of them, he alone has taken another form, and the difference between the true wolf and the werewolf is not so much in physiology as in mentality. He has learnt lupine anatomy not only from books, but also in the fracture of bone and wrench of sinew. He knows the mechanics of the change from excruciating experience.

Sirius and James and Peter wait with bated breath, completely silent and still, attention fixed on him.

Remus doesn't seem aware of their stares. His eyes are shut, his attention turned inward; his expression one of intent focus.

For this, they have learnt concentration. For this, they have learnt to shut out all distractions. For this, they have learnt to be aware of and channel the magic within themselves without the aid of a wand.

Moments pass, and then…

Slowly, Remus begins to change, tawny fur rippling in a wave over skin and hands curling into paws and nose and mouth beginning to protrude into a muzzle, the contours of his slight frame altering themselves to suit the new form he is taking.

And distantly, with the fragment of attention not on his friend's shifting features, Sirius remembers that Remus hadn't thought the first transformation would be instantaneous. Apparently, he was right—this time, at least, they can see the stage between human and animal, but not quite either.

It seems appropriate that there should be time to savor the moment of hard-earned triumph.

The metamorphosis is nearly complete now, the last vestigial traces of humanity quickly vanishing. Another instant, and then, fully wolf, Remus gets to his paws, opening amber-bright eyes that mirror his human ones and looking to them.

"Remus?" Sirius asks at last, finding his voice. "Are you all right, or have you gone completely moony on us?"

To everyone's profound relief, the wolf—no, Remus, because it truly is Remus within the lupine body—nods, baring his teeth in what they all recognize as a smile.

"Change back?" James requests with deliberate calm.

Sirius knows he is thinking—that they may all be thinking—of the terrible 'what-if', but Remus nods again, not the least bit hesitant, and at the first signs of his proper form reasserting itself, they calm. He is able to comply; there has been no disaster.

The transformation back into human form is still slow, but it comes more quickly than the initial change, owing not so much to experience, but rather to the familiarity of the shape. Remus rises from his hands and knees to stand, a small, deeply satisfied smile still evident in his face, along with something like awe.

"Brilliant!" James says to Remus with a bright grin, giving him a congratulatory clap on the shoulder. "We should have guessed you'd manage it first—what was it like?"

Remus pauses a moment, considering. "Fluid," he says finally. "It doesn't sum it up altogether, but that's the only way I can describe it. Like I just…flowed from one form into another. It felt—I don't know—rather pleasant, sort of like that weightless feeling you get when you float in water."

"It wasn't hard to do?" Peter asks curiously. "After everything we had to learn beforehand, I'd have thought it would take a lot more effort."

"No," Remus answers. "It took almost none. I willed it and it came; that was all." He still looks somewhat amazed at that, at the wonder of a painless change without loss of self. Absently, he looks up at the dusty timepiece on the wall, which is aware enough of their presence to read, 'You'll be Late if you Don't Get Moving'. "Merlin!" he exclaims with a start. "The corridor patrol!"

Sirius shakes his head. "Don't ask for Merlin's mercy. It's Evans that's going to kill you." He indicates the door. "Take the stairs at a run, watch the trick step, make a couple of quick turns, and blame the whole thing on us when you get there if there's trouble."

"You can count on it," Remus says with a good-natured scowl. "Of course, Lily'll probably blame you even if I don't say a word."

"Easy, Moony," Sirius says, feeling the sobriquet somehow fitting. "Just don't listen if she goes into Howler-mode. You really accomplished something tonight; you shouldn't let anything get you down."

Halfway to the door, Remus pauses and turns to face him. "Moony," he says musingly, grinning. "A nickname, I suppose?" Then, wryly, "Well, I can't say it doesn't fit. All right. We'll all have names for our other forms, then."

Then he looks at the clock, now displaying the message, 'You're Late', and bolts.

They are all encouraged by Remus' successful completion of the process, and while the wait still seems long, the end has been placed far more clearly in sight. Even so, when December's full moon comes, Sirius cannot help but feel disheartened. Over twenty-four moons have come and gone since they began, and they are still unable to do Remus any good.

As he can't manage to fall asleep for the distress of the thought, he reads the now well-worn book by wand-light kept carefully dim, so it won't be seen through the scarlet velvet hangings drawn round his bed. He is, after all, not supposed to be awake at this hour.

After an hour, he slips out of bed and tiptoes to its foot, returning the book to his trunk. He knows he will not achieve the change tonight; he feels as though something more than research is necessary—what, he doesn't know.

But perhaps, comes the thought as he hovers on the edge of sleep, Remus does.

Sirius, James, and Peter make their customary visit to the infirmary the next morning, stealing in huddled under the Invisibility Cloak. It is a much tighter fit now than it was three years ago; they have all grown considerably, and Sirius is obliged to endure the discomfort of James' sharp elbow in his side, his arms trapped against his body in the confined space, and Peter's tendency to tread on his toes. But they manage to escape Madam Pomfrey's notice by the combined virtues of luck and long practice.

Remus is lying in one of the beds, what little color there usually is in his face entirely absent. Sirius is somewhat used to the look of deathly pallor by now, knowing that while his friend is most likely in a good deal of pain, he is not so terribly ill as he appears. Whatever wounds he has suffered have been healed, now only faint scars, and he always recovers completely in only a day or two.

Still, it is difficult to see him this way; it always brings a feeling of helplessness. Sirius knows he has suffered, even though the wounds sustained during the night have healed. And it is bad enough to know that.

It is worse still to know that there is, as yet, nothing he or anyone else can do. "Remus?" He keeps his voice a low whisper, almost inaudible, so the matron will not hear. His friend's preternaturally acute ear, however, will have no difficulty catching the sound.

The reply comes in the slight curve of a half-smile. "Good morning," Remus says hoarsely, just loudly enough for them to hear. Then he quips wryly, "I hope your night was better than mine."

A night of detention with Filch, spent hanging from his ankles by the manacles he keeps hanging from the ceiling in his office (where, he is sure, the bitter caretaker often wishes he could place him) would be preferable to the kind of night Remus has spent.

"Just slightly," James whispers, which is, of course, a colossal understatement. "But I thought it might be easier, this time. You couldn't go from your Animagus form straight to…?" He trails off, seeing Remus shake his head.

"I'd hoped I could," he answers with a sigh. "It would have been so much gentler. I made the change as soon as Madam Pomfrey left, but when the moon began to rise I simply became human again—not by my own will, but because I had no choice. It was painless, at least, but no less forced. And at the lunar apex, I transformed as I always have."

Beside him, Sirius feels Peter fidgeting anxiously. "What, you've lost—?"

"No," Remus says ruefully, cutting him off. "It wasn't that something had gone wrong; it's just—well, both forms are mine by rights, but when the moon is full I can no more take my true wolf shape than I can keep my human one."

As disappointing as that is, Sirius has to admit it makes sense. Lycanthropy is a curse, malevolent by nature and definition. It would have been designed to guard against anything with the capacity to mitigate its agony, even something so rare as an Animagus transformation.

"We'll be able to keep you company soon," he says, knowing Remus will find the words much more consoling than the I'm sorry he feels, as they aren't suggestive of hated pity. "Then at least you won't be alone."

"I know," he replies, managing a genuine smile this time, one that reaches his eyes. "And it means a very great deal."

Sirius hears, rather than sees, James' grin. "Don't be sentimental, Moony; it doesn't suit you. Besides, we're not doing it for gratitude."

"You're getting it anyway, like it or not," Remus retorts with mock severity. "Now get out and leave me to sleep, or you're going to be late for class again and get a detention." He makes a shooing motion. "I'll see you tonight in the usual place if I can get Pomfrey to let me out of here."

Somehow, Remus does manage to do that, no doubt pleading enhanced regenerative abilities and reminding the matron that he can sleep just as well in Gryffindor Tower as in the infirmary. In any case, he meets them in the abandoned classroom, taking his customary place beside Sirius.

"Things coming along well?" he asks.

"At a snail's pace, yeah," Peter mutters, not looking up from the book he is still sharing with James. "Any month now."

Sirius shuts his own book and looks up at Remus. "How did you manage it?" he asks curiously. "Because you knew the animal form so well?"

"I don't think that had much, if anything, to do with it," Remus answers dryly. "I guess you'd think I knew the physiology best, but I learnt it from research, not during the transformations. I never register anything then but the pain."

He manages not to wince. "Then how?"

"I don't know how," Remus says evenly. "I told you—I just knew all of a sudden that I could do it."

That's all well and good, but entirely too vague to be of any help to the rest of them. He decides to try for a more specific answer, or at least to elicit a bit more information. "What were you doing? Reading as usual?"

Remus pauses, contemplative, silent for a moment before speaking. "No, not really. By then I knew all the necessary facts by heart; I wasn't reading them over again. I was looking at the page, sure, but not really seeing it. I guess I was just thinking."

"Of?" James prompts, all pretense of study abandoned. Sirius supposes that he, too, feels that they are missing something, and that they have come to much the same conclusion.

Remus shrugs. "A lot of different things. Of the animal's basic nature, more than all the bits of information I'd been memorizing about it. About the dream, and why what I was told was true—how both forms reflected each other, which traits I had that made it fit."

"You were thinking of yourself the way Animagi are," Peter surmises, shutting the zoology text and joining the conversation. "Sort of—the same in both forms, if that makes sense."

It does, and Sirius nods acknowledgement and gives Peter a look of respect. On occasion, he can be very perceptive, even shrewd.

"That's what we've been missing, isn't it?" James says excitedly, the light of epiphany coming into his eyes. "All this time we've been thinking of our animals as just animals, and not really parts of ourselves." He turns to Remus, meeting his gaze steadily. "I think maybe that's why you got it first—because you're used to seeing yourself—"

"In parts united to form a whole," Remus finishes for him, understanding. "You're right, Sirius; the lycanthropy did have something to do with it, just not the way you thought."

Now they have the missing piece of the puzzle, but it will still take some time to make sense of the picture. How can they learn to do in any length of time what Remus has been doing naturally almost all his life? "More Oneiromancy," he answers himself, hardly aware that he's speaking aloud.

James, as he usually can, realizes what he means without having to ask. "The early stages, at least. Not so much to dream," he said, "but more just to concentrate on getting the right mindset."

"So what was the research for, anyway?" Peter asks, sounding rather irritated. "So we could waste all this time only to figure out we were going about it all wrong?"

Remus shakes his head. "No, we did need the information about our animals. It's just that we didn't realize how to use it until now."

"You realized," Sirius reminds him as he conjures several sleeping bags for them to lie on, which is a quicker (and far easier) business than transfiguring desks into mattresses. "You've finished."

"I didn't realize consciously, then," Remus amends, shifting to a more comfortable position in his chair and propping his chin on an upraised hand. "Should I find the censer? I think we left it under the desk in the far corner." He murmurs a Summoning Charm, and the desired object flies into his hands.

James, who is trying and failing to find a way to lie comfortably atop the sleeping bag, looks up. "Summoning a thing isn't the same as finding it," he points out. "That's cheating."

Busy lighting the incense with a handful of conjured flames, Remus doesn't bother turning toward James, but Sirius hears the laughter in his tone when he answers. "You've been using the Summoning Charm to find your books, homework, clothes, and Merlin knows what else in the mornings for years, you hypocrite."

"Point taken," James concedes, lying back down.

Sirius takes his own place to James' right and shuts his eyes, breathing deeply and evenly, willing the tension to ebb from his frame, and remembers the dream—the open moor and the great black dog that spoke to him using his voice.

"I am the essence of your character. Your loyalty, your protectiveness, your cleverness, your daring and impulsivity. And yes, your sense of fun as well—your capacity for joy."

All along, that had been the answer—he'd been told the right way to see from the beginning, but he'd been so caught up in the details that somewhere along the line, he'd lost sight of the bigger picture.

Form may change, but essence never does.

And with that realization, quite suddenly, the puzzle piece drops into place, completing the picture. It is clear and so simple that he cannot help but wonder how in either world he could have found it difficult to decipher before.

The words whispered within suddenly change. Now.

He sits up and opens his eyes—sees Remus watching him with interest and Peter with awe, and James…

James is mirroring the look of perfect certainty he knows is in his own face.

"I don't think you'd better do it at once," Remus suggests, breaking the silence. "Your animals aren't very—well, compatible, for lack of a better word. And you'd probably find one another an awful distraction while you're doing it."

He doesn't like to think of the consequences of losing focus between forms, having a feeling he knows the outcome. Turning to James, he asks, "Do you want to go first, or should I?"

"You go ahead," James says generously, then glances at the clock and starts. "Remus, don't you have that Prefect thing with Evans in about two minutes?" He tries not to sound jealous and fails spectacularly.

Remus, at least, has the good grace to look sympathetic. "I have," he says, already on his way to the door. "Maybe you'd better do this tomorrow, when we can all be here. I'd feel much better knowing you're not off doing something potentially fatal while I'm busy checking the corridors for students out of bed."

Something about the way Remus has worded that doesn't make Sirius feel particularly optimistic. Nonetheless, he falls into step behind his friend, James and Peter beside him.

He is restless all that night, eagerly anticipating the next evening. Finally, success is tangibly near; he can feel it, can almost hear it humming in the air like a swift and elusive Golden Snitch he has spent the better part of three years chasing.

And although he is a Beater, not a Seeker, he knows his fingers are only an inch from closing around it.

Sirius joins his friends in their habitual meeting place after a seemingly endless day of lessons he scarcely remembers, then kneels down on the cold stone floor in preparation for the change, as Remus did, and tries to listen to what he is saying.

"Essentially, all you do is concentrate and will it, then let it happen. It doesn't hurt, but it does feel rather strange—almost like you're not entirely solid while you're in between."

"Fluidity," he says, nodding as he remembers. "Yeah, you told us about that. And after?"

"You'll know when it's over," Remus assures him. "All the odd sensations stop, and you feel properly flesh and blood again, instead of something halfway liquid."

"Anything else I should know?" he asks.

"Yes," Remus says heavily. "Stay calm; don't panic and stop it. Whatever you do, once you start, you've got to finish."

Everyone falls silent, and he shuts his eyes, focusing all his will on the mental image of his animal form, on the intent to change. I am ready, he answers the voice. Come.

He does not hear the reply, but rather feels it—the sudden absence of solidity, as though he has turned to liquid pouring into a vessel, flowing from human into canine.

It was expected, so he is not frightened, but it is still slightly unsettling. He can feel the rough stones of the floor beneath his hands—or paws, whichever he has now—so he knows that the fluid sensation is deceptive, that he hasn't lost form altogether. Distantly, he is aware of the slow transformation, his body altering itself to suit a new shape, but he cannot differentiate one sensation from another.

Another instant, and then, as suddenly as it began, it is over. It is reassuring to feel solid again, but that is eclipsed by the realization: he has done it! After three years of unceasing effort, finally, he has achieved the ultimate result.

"Sirius! Sirius, is something the matter?"

James' voice, somehow much louder than it is ordinarily, and anxious. Frightened.

Caught up in his own success, he's ignored James and failed to acknowledge immediately that he has come through the change without mishap.

He grins reassuringly in the canine fashion and opens his eyes, then takes a startled step backward. Of course, he should have realized that his sensory perception, too, would be altered; he has certainly spent enough time studying— but it is one thing to read about in a book, and quite another to experience.

His vision is not much less clear than it ought to be, but his sense of color is distorted—in fact, he is nearly colorblind, seeing almost everything in a range of shades of gray.

The Gryffindor crests on his friends' robes are scarlet and gold—he can see the gold as a yellow of sorts, so he hasn't lost the ability to perceive color entirely, but if he didn't know that there was also red there, he would not have been able to distinguish red from green. If the research he's done is correct, he should be able to see blue-green as well.

"Sirius!" Remus' voice now, authoritative, almost sharp. "If you don't start responding, we're going to assume the worst. Are you sane in there?"

He nods, and he can hear their collective sigh of relief, is keenly aware of the slight motion of their bodies as they take less tense postures. He, too, heaves a sigh—perhaps now they'll give him a moment to get used to things.

His hearing in this form is much more acute than his human hearing, and his sense of smell, which he seldom uses at all, is so sharp now that it compensates for the comparative lack of visual acuity twice over.

The room is pervaded with a dizzying variety of scents—musty stone, the woodsy smell of the desks, a hint of ink and parchment. There are human scents, too, and something vaguely not-human that is similar, but mixed with something Sirius recognizes, by the combined virtues of instinct and human reason, as wolf.

The usual classroom smells, and his friends, James and Peter and Remus.

"Okay, that's long enough," James tells him. "You'd better be able to change back."

He concentrates on his own, familiar body, and feels the transformation sweep over him again, flowing, liquid, effortless. It is faster now; he is confident, the edge of uncertainty gone.

He watches the change this time, unable to see it fully but still fascinated by the strangeness of watching canine paws become human hands. The thick black fur recedes into his skin and the vestigial digits extend into his own dexterous fingers; callused pads pale and smooth out and vanish into his palms, the dewclaws retract, disappearing into the heels of his hands; forelegs shift to arms.

At last it ends, and he rises from his hands and knees to stand, fully human.

"What the bloody sodding hell did you mean, scaring us like that?" James demands hotly, narrowed hazel eyes flashing behind his glasses. "Don't you know what we thought, when you just sat there?"

Yes, he does know. "I'm sorry, James," he apologizes in an attempt to placate his friend. "It was just—I got caught up in the moment. The senses alone were just so different from what I'm used to; it was almost too much to even process all at once."

Remus half-smiles, understanding. "It would be. I should have realized what was going on—by comparison, humans are half-deaf, and have no real olfactory capabilities at all."

He'd forgotten that Remus doesn't perceive the world in the way humans do, but rather with lupine senses. "Can you see colors?" he asks curiously.

"In human form? Yes, of course I can," Remus says, sounding as though he feels that the answer to the question is perfectly obvious. "I have the best of both worlds as I am: all of the strengths of both and none of the weaknesses of either." Another smile, rueful this time. "It's one of the reasons we're feared so much."

Sirius can understand that, though he doesn't like it. His research on large canines has taught him a good deal about wolves. They are stronger than humans, faster, more agile, with incredible stamina and an acute eye for motion that any Auror would find advantageous in combat. Lycanthropes, being part-wolf, are possessed of those same traits. And while Remus would never raise a hand against another, save in self-defense, the same cannot be said for all.

"In my Animagus form," Remus finishes, "I certainly have no more sense of color than any true wolf, and in werewolf form, I have no idea. I don't remember at all what goes on those nights."

"Maybe you'll remember better when we're with you," Peter offers cheerfully. "James will be done tonight, and I shouldn't be much longer. Then you'll have company, and something worth remembering." When Remus still looks dubious, he adds, "And if you still don't remember anything, we can tell you."

James grins, obviously eager to proceed. "Best get on with it, then," he says. "It doesn't look difficult."

"It's more difficult than it looks," Remus cautions, giving James a very grave sort of look. "And it may not be painful, but it's a bit disconcerting—it probably won't be what you expect; it's one of those things you have to experience to really understand."

"That's what I was just about to do," James says peevishly, "before you interrupted." Then, more calmly, with a note of contrition, "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you. But you don't need to worry so much, Moony; I'll be fine." He scowled good-naturedly. "You know, sometimes I think that Prefect badge really has gone to your head. Too much good behavior's rubbing off."

And with that, he settles to the floor on hands and knees, seeming to feel this a sensible sort of position, and shut his eyes. Sirius sits down beside him to watch.

As it had been with both of them before, it is a moment before anything happens. Then, suddenly—

"Ahh!" Sirius yelps in surprise as a huge rack of antlers extends with shocking speed from his friend's skull, up and out and only inches from his head. "James! Get your stupid prongs out of my face!"

Remus takes his arm and pulls him back several steps. "It's your own fault, you know," he says mildly, looking rather amused nonetheless. "You oughtn't to have been sitting so close."

"You might have warned me," Sirius says dryly, trying not to sound cross as he nurses his injured dignity. "He could have put my eye out with those!"

James is nearly all stag now, limbs thin and spindly, looking like scarcely more than skin and hair over bone and ending in almost delicate cloven hooves; where his glasses had been are circular markings around large, gentle brown eyes. Sirius can see muscle rippling beneath his pelt as the last signs of humanity vanish and he stands. His flanks rise and fall with his breathing; his haunches are huge and powerful-looking.

He looks very noble, and very impressive. If he were a real stag, Sirius would venture to say magnificent, but it is James, and James' ego is inflated quite enough for any three people.

"James?" he asks. "Are you in there?" He realizes as soon as he says it that it is a gormless sort of question, but it is the first one he thought of.

James nods, and Sirius wonders idly how he can with all that extra weight atop his head.

After a few moments, he begins to reassume his own shape. Once he is human again, an exhilarated smile spreads over his face. "I did it," he says jubilantly.

"Congratulations, Prongs," Sirius says to him, deciding easily on a name. "That makes three down, and one to go. With any luck, Peter will finish by the next full moon."

Peter manages his first change in January, a week after the full moon, after all the encouragement and coaching Sirius and James and Remus can give him. Unlike theirs, however, it comes almost haltingly, as though with great difficulty, and when it is over, he squeaks with what sounds like terror and scampers across the floor to cower beneath a desk, his long, wormlike tail curled round his body.

"Peter!" Remus' voice is loud and firm. "Get a grip on yourself!"

A moment passes, and when there isn't any response, Remus draws his wand and quickly incants the forcible reversal spell they have all taken pains to learn, just in case of an emergency. It isn't the gentlest way of changing back, but it serves its purpose—Peter grows and shifts and sheds fur and whiskers in a bright flash of blue-white light.

They all release an audible sigh of relief, even Peter, who is breathing hard and still looking rather nervous. "Thanks, Moony," he says. "I don't think I had it exactly right—I started too soon."

Remus pales, and when his speaks, his tone is uncharacteristically sharp. "Peter! We told you to take as long as you needed—how could you do such a stupid thing as lie and say you were ready when you weren't? You could have trapped yourself, or lost your mind, or died! Even using that spell was a risk; you should count yourself lucky it worked and you're still intact!"

Peter tries to stammer out some kind of excuse, but Remus is having none of it. "I don't want to hear it," he says flatly. "Whatever you say, I know you're all doing this for my sake. If anything happens to you, it will be on my conscience." His gaze is hard, and holds Peter as though frozen. "You will not try this again until you are ready. One more episode like that and I forbid this whole business."

"You'd stop us from helping you?" Sirius demands. "Why? You can't possibly enjoy ripping yourself to shreds every month, can you?"

"I'd sooner turn on myself then be the cause of a friend's death," Remus says evenly. "What damage I sustain is temporary and easily treated. But death, last I checked, is as irreversible as lycanthropy."

With that, he turns on his heel and stalks out.

And for nearly a week after Peter's near-calamity, Remus doesn't join them in the evenings, leaving Sirius and James to work with Peter alone.

Finally, with only a week to go until February and the moon once again on the wax, all the hours of patient (or not-so-patient, if Sirius is honest) instruction seem to click for Peter. "I'm ready now," he says.

"You're absolutely certain this time, right?" Remus asks, meeting Peter's eyes and holding his gaze steadily. "Because I think one mistake is all we can reasonably expect to get away with."

Peter nods, and Sirius sees this time that he isn't lying. The certainty that was lacking before is now readily evident in his face. "Go ahead, then," he says. "Good luck."

Remus gives him a disapproving look. "Let's hope he won't need it."

Already, Peter is changing, this time with ease that his first attempt never showed, shrinking rapidly as gray fur spreads to cover his skin.

Soon it is over, and he shows no visible trace of humanity. For a moment that feels like a small eternity, he remains still, looking up at them, tiny nose twitching as he sniffs the air. And then he nods.

Very quietly, so they will not be discovered, they all cheer with triumph as Peter begins the return transformation.

"You and Peter still need nicknames," Remus says to him the next evening as, for the first time in a long while, they gather around the glowing fire in the Gryffindor common room, watching the flames flicker merrily, casting dancing shadows over the walls. "James and I already have; it'll sound odd if you don't."

"You're right," he agrees with a nod and a wry grin. "Moony, Peter, Sirius and Prongs doesn't exactly have the best ring to it. Any suggestions?"

Remus thinks a moment, looking contemplative. "Ci du means 'black dog' in Welsh," he offers.

"It sounds sort of okay, but my human name means practically the same thing in English," Sirius counters. "Let's go for a little variety, please." He pauses, then asks, "How do you know Welsh, anyway? You're from Yorkshire."

"My mum grew up in Wales before she went to university in England and met my dad," Remus explains. "She's fluent, so I picked up twenty or thirty words—I wouldn't venture to say I know the language."

James looks impatient, fidgeting a bit in his seat. "Remus, any other suggestions?" he asks. "I don't think 'ci du' is going to do it, so something in English, if you don't mind."

"What do you think of Padfoot?" Remus asks him.

"Padfoot?" he asks skeptically. "What does that have to do with anything?"

Remus grins with some satisfaction. "Muggles in the village near my house tell folktales about this huge black dog that supposedly haunts the moors at night," he says. "Sort of like our stories of the Grim, only their version isn't a death omen. Any rate, that's the name they gave it."

"Padfoot," he repeats thoughtfully, testing the word. It's unique, and does have a certain charm. "All right," he says at last. "I like it." He turns to Peter. "Now you're the only one who needs a name."

Peter shrugs half-heartedly. "What do you say about a rat?" he asks. "It's not like I've got any particularly special features to be named after. And the only story that really involves rats is that one about the Pied Piper."

"That's true," James says ruefully. "And we hardly want to name you after a fiend like that, who put a Suggestibility Jinx on all those rats to lure them out and then was mad enough to cast the Imperius Curse on children to abduct them just because he wasn't paid."

"The Muggle version is nicer," Remus mutters absently.

Being pureblood and (unfortunately) the primary heir of his bigoted family, Sirius has never heard anything about Muggles that isn't biased against them, never mind their fairytales. He'll take Remus' word for it, as he has a Muggle mother and knows the most of any of them about the Muggle world.

"You have distinguishing features," James says bracingly, obviously thinking quickly to come up with some. "Er…your fur, whiskers, tail—"

"It looks like a worm," Peter mumbles.

"Wormtail!" James says brightly, overhearing. "Excellent! Is that all right?" he asks, as though as an afterthought.

With a resigned sort of half-smile, Peter nods. "It's fine," he says.

"Presenting the Marauders." James pulls the name from the air and speaks it grandly with a wide grin, sweeping his arm in a gesture that includes them all. "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs."

"Marauders?" Remus asks dubiously, raising an eyebrow. "We're wizards, not pirates or prowlers."

"Pirates, no," Sirius agrees, "but prowlers—if you take it a bit more literally, it works."

Remus smiles, understanding. "Ah. Prowlers of the four-legged kind, roving the grounds by moonlight in search of mischief and mayhem?"

"That's the spirit!" James says loudly, clapping him on the shoulder. Then, in a more subdued tone, he says, "And next time the moon's full, we'll be there for you, watching your back."

Somehow that says everything. And seeing the gratitude shining in his friend's eyes, Sirius feels satisfied. He has fulfilled the promise he made to himself three years ago during a sleepless night spent watching the full moon set. From now on, no matter what the lunar phase, Remus will not be alone.

And for now, that is enough.

Finite Incantantem.