Sirius looked at the first test question.

Describe MacLean's law of magical parabolic activity and detail how this would aid in the construction of a shield charm.

Sirius looked up from his parchment and glanced around the room; he saw Remus sitting two desks down, scribbling frantically to complete the questions in the ten minutes allotted. He turned and saw James pushing up his glasses absently as he wrote out his answer. Even Peter was busy writing, chewing on the end of his quill which, if his wrinkled frown of disgust was any evidence, was not of the sugar variety.

Annoyed, Sirius skipped the first question and read the next.

Using one of Eugene's magical sequences, determine whether a planetary alignment will occur on your birthday in the next millennia. Show all work. Hint: Use magical properties only to detail the date, but not exact time, of the alignment under Rowena's Law of Improbable Yet True Numerical Properties.

Sirius reread the question and scowled. What kind of a rubbishy hint was that?

Beginning to feel panicked, Sirius skipped down and read the third, fourth, and fifth questions, none of which made any more sense than the previous two had.

Embarrassed and angry, and beginning to regret that he'd blown off the past week's assignments, Sirius scanned the room to make sure no one had noticed his personal crisis. Professor Vector was sitting at her desk, grading papers absently, taking no notice of Sirius's flushed face. All of the other students were still writing.

Sirius bent down over his parchment, trying to appear busy. He slowly inked his name in the top corner, then the date, then the class period, and finally drew an artistic swirl underneath it, which branched off into ivy that trailed down the margins of his parchment.

"Time's up!" Professor Vector called, flicking her wrist to disengage the students from their quills. Sirius's flew out of his hand and rested on the desk, where it quivered once before falling still.

Simon Southwold, a swotty Ravenclaw with a pinched face, began gathering the papers. Sirius quickly turned his face-down on his desk. He glanced around and saw Remus hand his to Simon, a small, pleased grin on his face. Remus looked up at Sirius and Sirius felt himself return the smile before quickly averting his eyes to his face-down parchment.

Southwold finally picked up his parchment and continued down the row; Sirius didn't want to know if Simon had looked at his test or not.

For the first time in his life, Sirius Black had failed an exam.

"C'mon!" Sirius said, grabbing Remus by the wrist and yanking him down the hallway.

"What is it?" Remus asked, allowing himself to be led down a side corridor. "Padfoot, what's wrong?"

"Ditch class with me," Sirius said, grey eyes glinting mischievously under black fringe. Remus felt his heart skip a beat—how did Sirius do that?

Remus glanced over his shoulder at the passing students in the main hallway. "Pads, I can't. I have a test in Ancient Runes I can't miss."

"Forget Ancient Runes," Sirius said dismissively, tugging on Remus's arm again. "We just had that test in Arithmancy. You deserve a break," he said in his most wheedling voice, blinking up at Remus charmingly.

"I can't Pads. Besides, the Arithmancy test wasn't that hard," Remus said, trying not to dwell on the fact that he was standing in a deserted, dark corridor with Sirius practically holding his hand.

Something in Sirius's eyes changed, but before Remus could examine it too closely Sirius had dropped his hand and was walking away from him, bag haughtily thrown over his shoulder. "Fine, Remus," Sirius called back, "be a bloody responsible prefect, like you always are. I don't even know why I bother with someone so boring."

Remus opened his mouth, to protest or to call Sirius back he didn't know, but Sirius was already gone. Remus was left standing alone and uncertain in the dark, wondering what he'd done to make Sirius so angry.

"Sirius, stop it," Peter said for the fifth time in as many minutes, glaring up from his Charms textbook as Sirius continued to hover an inkwell over his head. "I mean it, I can't concentrate."

Sirius rolled his eyes and continued to levitate the inkwell, making it tip precariously side to side, though never tipping it far enough for the ink to spill.

Remus looked up from his place on the Gryffindor common room couch where he was busy reading up on their Transfiguration homework. "Sirius, do you want to come and do your Transfiguration with me?"

Sirius shook his head, then added a second inkwell to the one dancing above Peter.

"Sirius!" Peter said, a distinct whine audible in his voice. "Enough already!"

"Prongs would have hexed me a long time ago, Pete," Sirius said mockingly. "Guess you wouldn't dare try that with me since you know I'd out-jinx you any day." He laughed.

Peter flushed red to the roots of his hair, and Remus snapped his book shut and stood abruptly. "Sirius, stop that now!"

Sirius shrugged absently, lowering his wand with a smirk. The inkbottles stopped their strange tango over Peter's head and fell, spilling black rivers of ink over Peter's blonde head and dripping all over his Charms paper.

Remus looked at Peter, shocked. Peter's eyes were almost comically wide as he watched the liquid permeate his parchment, swallowing his work in one black puddle.

Remus turned to gape at Sirius, who was laughing mirthlessly. "What?" Sirius asked, rolling his eyes at Remus's aghast expression. "You told me to stop, and I did."

"You clean this up and help Peter write a new essay right now ," Remus growled, angrier than he'd ever been at Sirius. Even the time Sirius had sent Snape to the willow wasn't intentionally malicious like this, though perhaps equally inexplicable.

Sirius stood up and pocketed his wand. "Consider it practice, Wormtail. There's a charm that will take the spilled ink off the parchment in chapter four." And with that Sirius strolled out of the Gryffindor common room, leaving two shocked and angry Marauders in his wake.

"Sirius!" James said, dismounting from his broom. "What're you doing here? Practice is almost over."

"I know," Sirius said, glancing up at the Gryffindor players making a final loop around the pitch. "I was wondering if you fancied flying with me after practice."

"Don't we have that Transfiguration due tomorrow?"

Sirius shrugged his shoulders, a defiant scowl on his face. "Like we need to bother with Transfiguration, Prongs."

James studied his friend. "Is something wrong, Padfoot?"

"No, nothing's wrong!" he snapped, running a hand through his hair and refusing to meet James's gaze. "I just felt like flying, but if you're too tired—"

"No, I'm not," James said quickly. "Look, let me go and talk to the captain. I'll get you a broom."

James and Sirius took to the air as soon as the Gryffindor players left the pitch. The Forbidden Forest seemed to glow in the orange light of the horizon, while Sirius shot straight up toward the dark patch of sky directly above him. He went as far as the protections surrounding the pitch would allow him to, though he strained against the magic holding him there. Below him he could see James, a tiny speck spiraling towards him lazily.

Sirius looked up, tilting his broom back until he was using mostly his arms to stay on, his legs circling the vertical broomstick. Concentrating with all his might, he felt the old magic of the pitch give as though he were pressing his fingers into the skin of an over-ripe peach, knowing once the skin broke he'd be through.

Slowly he felt himself inch upwards, pressing through the magical field until-- i pop/i -- he slid through the barrier, whooping as he soared even higher.

Urging his broom upwards, Sirius felt the air rush past him as he gained altitude, bursting through a small wispy cloud and laughing as he felt the wet droplets tingle on his skin.

He sped upwards still, breathing faster as the air thinned around him. Soon the scattered clouds seemed miles below him, and Hogwarts was merely a grey smudge in the distance. Turning his face towards the sky, Sirius flew his broom in a circle, amazed at how near the crescent moon was. He ignored the pang of guilt the sight brought him as he remembered Remus's face in the common room, instead turning his gaze to the multitudinous stars surrounding him, a cold comfort, as distant and detached as he felt from his own life.

"Sirius!" James exclaimed a minute later, pulling his broom up beside Sirius's. "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing! Madam Hooch will know you've gone past the barrier! We'll get detention and House Points for sure!"

Sirius shrugged, completely unconcerned. "Go back down, then. Tell her it was only me."

James stared at him, blinking owlishly behind his round spectacles. "I don't care about the detention," he said finally, his gaze not leaving Sirius's profile, "but the school broom's aren't trustworthy this high up. You don't want to risk it."

"Maybe I do," Sirius said carelessly, swinging his broom in an abrupt arc above James. "Maybe I want to live dangerously for once!"

Sirius slowed his broom, steadying it next to James's. "You're just as bad as Moony," he mumbled, refusing to look at James's face.

Sirius shivered as the breeze whipped through his hair, the dampness from the cloud turning into ice crystals on his skin.

"C'mon," James said quietly, touching Sirius's arm and turning his broom around. "Let's go back before Madam Hooch comes up after us herself, all right?"

Sirius looked one last time at the night sky before following James down to the pitch.

Sirius breezed out of the dormitory, whistling nonchalantly, though he was a half-hour late for his detention with Professor Slughorn.

Remus watched him go, a growing sense of frustration rising inside him.

"James," Remus said, closing his book and turning toward his friend, "what's got into Sirius lately? Has he said anything to you?"

James sighed quietly, rolling over onto his stomach and putting his pillow beneath his arms. "I can't say."

"Can't, or won't?"

"Both."

Now it was Remus's turn to sigh. He had tried everything to be there for Sirius, yet ever since he came back from Christmas holiday things had gone decidedly wrong. Remus hadn't told either James or Peter, but McGonagall had pulled him aside earlier that day and asked if he knew why her best student was suddenly failing three classes. Remus had been shocked and even ashamed that he hadn't known things had become this bad.

Remus reopened his book and checked James's alarm clock. He'd go and find Sirius after his detention and see if he could get some answers.

"Sirius," Remus said, throwing off the Invisibility Cloak. Sirius jumped, then immediately relaxed once he saw who it was.

"Jesus, Moony. Don't sneak up on a man like that."

"Can we talk?" Remus asked, grabbing Sirius's wrist and dragging him toward an empty classroom.

"I guess," Sirius said sarcastically once Remus had locked the door behind them.

"Look," Remus began, taking in Sirius's questioning gaze. He suddenly wished he'd put more thought into this part before he'd decided to drag Sirius into a dark, empty classroom minutes before curfew.

"I know there's been something bothering you lately," Remus continued, trying to ignore the way his heart fluttered when Sirius licked his lips. "And I want you to know that I want to help you."

Sirius stared at him.

"I mean you're my best friend, for fuck's sake—" Remus said in frustration, "and I hate to see you so unhappy. I know something must have happened over holiday, or else James wouldn't—"

But he didn't have a chance to finish that sentence because Sirius's lips were suddenly on his, forcing his mouth open with his tongue. His hands cupped Remus's face, and he pressed Remus backwards into the dungeon wall.

Remus froze, unable to think when Sirius's tongue was invading his mouth. Even as this thought crossed his mind he felt the familiar clenching of stomach muscles that meant he was about to laugh hysterically if he didn't do something.

So he decided to kiss him back.

Remus tentatively relaxed his mouth, tilting his head back to give the taller boy better access. He lifted his tongue to Sirius's, and felt a pleasant shock go through him as Sirius moaned and began to move his hands down his sides.

Remus was already hard and running out of air when Sirius's hands began to tug his waistband.

"Sirius," Remus whispered, drawing back from the other boy as best he could. "Sirius, I think we should stop—"

But Sirius closed the distance between them with a hungry growl and clamped his lips over Remus's, slipping one hand down the front of Remus's pants.

Remus gave an undignified yelp and pushed Sirius away, panting with both arousal and anger, though at the moment he couldn't say which he felt more.

"Sirius, what are you doing ?"

Sirius stared at him, breathing heavily, grey eyes wide and face impossibly handsome in the low torchlight of the dungeons.

"Sirius," Remus said again, anger ebbing away. "Sirius, what—"

"You're queer," Sirius said, his words effectively silencing Remus.

"Well, yes," Remus admitted after a moment's pause, baffled and worried that his earlier surge of hysterical laughter might decide to make a reappearance.

Sirius beat him to it.

After a puzzled moment Remus joined in, laughing with Sirius until they both fell to the dungeon floor, tears leaking down their cheeks.

"Moony," Sirius moaned, clutching his sides, "I think you've killed me."

"Mmm," Remus replied, laying supine on the floor next to Sirius. "Only because you killed me first."

Their breaths evened out and silence filled the room. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, exactly—an anticipatory one, more like. Remus decided he had the patience to wait it out.

Remus waited so long he began to worry that Sirius had fallen asleep, but right as he was about to get up a quiet hitch in Sirius's breath stilled him.

"My parents," Sirius said softly, swallowing loudly in a way that suggested his throat had suddenly got tight. "I—I left home, for good," he said, stumbling over the words.

"Oh, Padfoot," Remus murmured, sitting up and gathering the shaking Sirius in his arms, suddenly understanding the cause of Sirius's depression the past few weeks.

Sirius wrapped his arms around Remus and crumbled, burying his face into his shoulder. Remus rocked Sirius until his sobs subsided, and a weak and trembling Sirius lay in his arms, fast asleep.

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