Remus Lupin grimaced at the recipe. The direction, "Stir swiftly until the mixture turns from a pale green to a vibrant orange," mocked him. "Bother and blast," he swore softly to himself.
Remus knew what green was; orange, too. Trouble was, he couldn't tell one from the other. They were the same color as yellow; different from red, and not at all like the various blues ad purples. White and blue-green were interchangeable as well.
Normally, having the canine vision which had come with his lycanthropy didn't bother him in the slightest. He could hardly remember any other way of seeing things, and being able to tell what was orange and what was green didn't really matter, unless, of course, you were trying to make a banner for a Quidditch game. He'd spared many a thankful thought for the fact that Hogwarts had uniforms – he could remember the horrified faces of his family the few times he'd tried to dress himself.
Unfortunately, it was absolutely vital to the magical skill of Potion brewing to be able to differentiate the tiniest gradations of a myriad colors. Normally, Remus could rely on Black to pay attention to things, pretending he preferred preparing ingredients to adding and stirring. For the practical brewing test, however, Slughorn required individual brewing, and would be dividing the room with Obscurus Charms to prevent cheating.
It would have been easier, of course, if the others knew he was colorblind, but, as his mother constantly reminded him, nobody could have the slightest hint about his "unfortunate condition."
He read the recipe again. Why could none on his sources provide a length of time each step took? Even the Muggles did that, he'd read it himself – "bake biscuits fifteen minutes, or until slightly browned." At least they'd been told in advance what they'd be asked to brew, he thought to himself, not that it helped much. Bebother the Deflating Draught for being one with greens and yellows in it.
The door to the common room squeaked open, and bare feet could be heard pattering down the stairs. "Somebody in here?" asked a voice.
Remus sighed. "It's Lupin. That you, Black?"
Sirius Black stepped into the room, blinking sleepily. "You ever coming to bed?"
"Need to study," said Remus, "Potions tomorrow."
The other boy came over to the fireplace and sat on the floor with his back to it, the family crest on the pocket of his pajamas glittering in the light. "Come off it, Lupin. Stirring on your own really isn't that bad. Think of me, having to chop my own beetles! I'll never have anything prepared on time…"
Remus never could say precisely why he asked Black. Maybe he was simply desperate enough to take a chance. Or maybe he didn't think the other boy would ever find out why he asked what he did. It might even just have been that it was midnight, a magic hour, and a time to embark on strange adventures.
"Black," he asked, "can I borrow your Potions notes?"
"Nobody takes better ones than you," said Black. "What do you want to look at mine for? Doesn't contain any stirring secrets. – Get it? Stirring?"
"Har har," said Remus. "No – I wanted to see if you'd kept a record of how long everything took."
"What for?" asked the other boy with a shrug. "Not like it matters."
"I'm such an ass," said Remus ruefully, "I should have known I'd need it."
"He's not testing it, is he?" asked Black in a sudden panic. "Oh Merlin, Circe and Morgana!"
"No, he's not testing it," Remus assured him quickly. "It's just … damnit all! I can't remember."
"Well, if he isn't going to ask, why beat yourself around the ears about it?" asked Black. "As long as you can brew the stuff, you'll pass. And you're a decent hand at remembering the order of things. Besides, if your so splinching worried about how long it takes cast a Tempus Charm."
Remus dropped his head into his crossed arms on the table. "I'm going to fail," he said into his sleeves, "I'm going to fail."
"Merlin's Staff!" Black got to his feet and crossed to the couch. Unceremoniously, he pulled the enormous copy of De Bibum Magicum from under Remus' arms, causing him to thump to the desk.
"Oy!" Remus retaliated with a swift elbow into his roommate's ribs.
"If your this upset about it, let's brew it now."
Remus stared. "Now?" he repeated.
"Yes." The other boy had a wild look in his eyes. "We can sneak into the classroom, I have the password – then we can both give it a go, practice, like."
"It's midnight, Black," protested Remus, though he was tempted. "You're out of your tree."
"No, I'm not," said Sirius. "And I do have the password – overheard it from one of the Slugs. They've all had extra practice, I know they have - its just evening the field a bit."
"If we're caught –" began Remus, already knowing he'd agree.
"Then we'll say we can't remember anything since going to sleep and we must have been somnabrewing," laughed Black. "Come on, Lupin, don't be a prat. I need somebody to help move the cauldrons."
It was midnight. A magic hour, one for adventure and one for luck. "Right," said Remus, getting to his feet, and stuffing his notes in one sleeve. "Let's go."
"I'll be right back," said Black.
"I've got my notes," protested Remus, "the faster the better – I don't want to get caught by Filch."
"You haven't got an Invisibility Cloak," said Black with an devilish twitch of an eyebrow. "And I saw Potter hiding one yesterday. I'm going to knick it from his trunk."
"Potter has an Invisibility Cloak?" asked Remus. "A real, diricrawl-hair, Invisibility Cloak? You're having me on."
"Am not," protested Black. "And since he's not shared it with us, we're obligated to knick it. It's simply indecent of him to be hiding it."
"I don't think," started Remus, but Black was already halfway up the stairs.
With a sigh, Remus checked through his notes, making sure he had everything he needed. If he was going to be caught or expelled, he was going to make sure it was worth it. A moment later, he shrieked in outrage and surprise as an unseen hand yanked the hood of his robe over his head.
"Black you minger!" he shouted, pushing it back, "I'll get you!"
And there was Black's head, floating in the air. "Told you he had a Cloak," he said. "Come on – the Gods of Mischief defend us!"
The walk to the Potions Classroom seemed interminable to Remus. He felt sure Filch or a Professor was lurking behind every corner, that somebody would hear them, that perhaps the Cloak didn't work after all, or even that Black had arranged this all as some incredibly complicated prank.
At last they were there, and it seemed Black did have the password after all. "Periculum."
Between the two of them they set up a pair of Cauldrons and a set of ingredients. Remus cast a Tempus Charm, and they both began.
Remus watched Sirius carefully, noting the exact timing for each addition, and following suit closely. At the end of an hour, they both had something with the correct smell, and, so Sirius said, the proper color.
Carefully, Remus folded his precious notes and tucked them into his sleeve. "We'd best clean up," he whispered, although there wasn't really any need to, "and get back."
Black laughed. "Don't be a prat," he said, "if they didn't hear us clunking and burbling they'll hardly hear you talk – and you won't be able to watch me during the exam, Obscurus, remember?"
"I won't need to watch, now that I know when what goes in," said Remus. "
"Circe's Hat," said Black. "Can't you remember how it goes? You could remember that whole long string of dates for Bins' class, but not a recipe?"
"It's different," protested Remus. "It's –"
"A list of things in a proper order," teased the other boy. "You're a right prat, Lupin, you just don't want to admit you haven't been studying up to now."
"I have been studying," said Remus, "You know I have."
"Letters from your mum, maybe," laughed Black, tipping his Cauldron into the basin. "Bet you you read them in class, too. Why you don't remember how it goes – you'll have that paper hidden during the exam, won't you? Little cheater."
"You've a nerve!" snapped Remus. "Just because I don't know what yellow is, doesn't mean –" He stopped abruptly in horror – he'd let himself get wound up and angry, let something slip, and it wasn't even halfway through the first term.
"You don't know what yellow is? What are you, colorblind?" Black snorted. "You're really searching for excuses, mate."
Remus said nothing but shoved his emptied cauldron back to the wall where it belonged and began placing the ingredients on a tray to take back to the storeroom.
"Wait – you are?" The other boy was just behind him, didn't seem to understand that Remus didn't want to talk anymore, was upset, wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. "Ice hot!"
Remus stopped dead. "What?"
"Ice hot," repeated Black. "Colorblind! That's brilliant. Did you know – Vladmir Malkov's colorblind, Russian chaser, have to charm the Snitch so he can see it against the sky. Was a dead interesting debate about whether to let him play at all, you know, and at the World Cup they sabotaged him, someone removed the Charm halfway through. I was there, top box, you know, and you should have seen his face when Jean Raff caught it…"
Remus slammed the tray onto the nearest shelf. "It's not funny!" he shouted. "It's not brilliant, it's not – it's not Ice Hot."
The other boy lost his grin. "Sorry, mate… didn't mean to upset you, it's just … interesting, you know, that I know someone whose special like that."
"S'all right," said Remus, slightly mollified. "Just, I never can tell when the Potion changes, is all. Never thought Slughorn would make us brew solo."
"Doesn't he know?" asked Black, gathering the cloak from where they'd draped it over the chair. "
Remus gave a conspiratorial half-smile. "I'm… I'm not supposed to tell."
"S'brilliant!" said Black. "Won't tell a soul, and you'll not tell about my stealing old Slugface's passwords."
"Stealing – but you said you overheard –"
"Shh! I'm not supposed to tell!"
"You know what this means, right?" said Black chattily, slipping the Cloak over both of them. "We've had a midnight adventure together and we've got secrets."
"Makes us mates, I suppose," said Remus.
"Inseparable," agreed Black. "You must call me by my given, and you'll have to remind me what yours is because I've forgotten it."
"Ice Hot," said Sirius.
On the way back, Remus wondered why he'd ever worried on the way down. Everything was perfectly aligned, the staircases right where they needed them, not a sign of another soul awake in the castle.
He and Sirius struggled awkwardly through the portrait-hole on account of the cloak, and removed it.
"Ah HA!" sang a triumphant voice.
Remus and Sirius stopped dead.
James Potter was standing in the middle of the room, and would have looked menacing with his wand in his fist, if the effect hadn't been ruined by his striped nightshirt. Behind him on the couch sat the mousy faced boy who also slept in their room; Remus couldn't remember his name.
"Ah, Potter," said Sirius, tossing the Cloak to its owner, "borrowed your rag for a bit. Guess what, Remus and I have just had the most brilliant adventure!"
"We just brewed a Deflating Draught," said Remus, "… sorry for taking your Cloak, we…"
"S'all right," said Potter, dropping into the chair with a cheery grin. "I'll forgive if you help me an Peter here finish that Transfiguration work. He's pants at it, and my owl stole my notes – probably mailed them to my fourth cousin or something."
"We'll do that," said Sirius, pulling Remus to sit with the others, "Remus is ace at Transies."
"Mates, then?" asked James.
"Mates," agreed Remus and Sirius.
The clock on the mantle chimed – one o'clock.
"Mates," agreed Peter, belatedly.