Disclaimer: Christmas may be the time for miracles, but I'm still not JK Rowling. Ergo, anything you've seen before is hers, and not mine.
A/N: For Bratty Jedi. Merry Christmas ;).
Remus flopped down onto his bed with a groan. His feet were killing him.
What was it, he wondered, about impending Christmas that made people completely take leave of their senses and give in to their hormones in public places, under the cover of 'being traditional'?
He groaned again. He'd put at least twenty couples in detention that evening, seen a couple of things against corridor walls that made him want to find a Scourgify charm for his own brain, and there was still over a week until the Christmas holidays. It was bound to get worse before it got better.
"What's up?" Peter said, tossing the comic he had been reading onto his bedside cabinet.
"People. Everywhere. Snogging," Remus replied. His feet were throbbing too hard for him to manage a full sentence.
Peter's bed springs creaked as he rolled to look at Remus, and Remus rubbed his hands over his face and yawned. "Suppose it's tradit – "
"Oh don't you start," Remus said, rolling his eyes. "I had enough of that from Claudia Sanders when I had to physically prize her off Gerald McKean."
Peter sniggered. "Suppose it doesn't help that you're – you know – " Peter started. Remus met his eye, and Peter stopped, and flushed, as if realising a little too late that what he was about to say was unlikely to curry favour. Remus raised an eyebrow at Peter in question and Peter swallowed. "Because you're – you know – you don't have anybody to – be traditional with."
Remus was about to reply and say that his objections were – of course – to the principle of the thing, and not because Olivia Crosby – who he'd been lusting after for the best part of six months – was unlikely to be joining him under the mistletoe any time soon – when the door opened, and James came in, looking every bit as sullen as Remus felt. He kicked the corner of his trunk and then climbed into bed, pulling the duvet up over himself even though he hadn't changed into his pyjamas, and closing the curtains with an angry flick of his wand.
For a moment, Peter and Remus exchanged worried glances, listening to James utter the odd annoyed huff of obvious disapproval about something. "James?" Peter said tentatively.
"What?" James replied tersely.
"Are you – are you all right?"
"Do I seem all right?"
"Well – no," Peter said, meeting Remus' eye warily and clearly beckoning for help.
Remus rolled his eyes. All he'd wanted was to crawl into bed and lie there quietly until his feet stopped throbbing….
"There's two ways this can go, James," Remus said. "Either we leave you alone to sulk for a bit and then you get bored of sulking and tell us what's up, or you just tell us now and save us all a lot of hassle."
James sighed heavily, and then, after a moment, the curtains drew back and he stepped round them, toeing the trunk he'd kicked earlier. He stood, sheepishly fuming, in the middle of the room. "Bloody mistletoe," he muttered, his hands fisting at his sides. "Irresponsible, that's what it is, to have the stuff everywhere, so people can see other people they might have certain feelings for doing things they don't want to see them doing with people other than themselves – "
"Ah," Remus said, realisation about what had caused James' bad mood dawning.
When he and Lily had parted company after their last sweep of the castle, she'd indicated that she was off to see Jeffrey, the Ravenclaw prefect she'd been going out with. " 'Ah' indeed," James said. "Right outside the portrait hole! Stupid place to put mistletoe – I mean anyone could have seen them."
"Sorry mate," Peter said, and James shrugged with rather half-hearted and wholly unconvincing bravado. "If it's any consolation, Remus was just saying there's people at it everywhere."
"I know," James said. "It was like that in the library, too. I could barely sneak into the Restricted Section for all the seventh years snogging against the bookcases. It's like the stuff's been bloody charmed so that whoever walks under it can't help but feel their lips pulled towards another pers – " James trailed off and met Remus' eye questioningly. "You don't suppose somebody did charm the mistletoe, and that's why she was – I mean why people – were doing it?"
Remus raised an eyebrow, and much as he would have liked to have told James that Lily was only kissing Jeffrey Palmer because of enchanted plant matter, he knew that they'd kissed on a number of occasions since autumn when the only plant matter available was the grass beneath their feet.
He frowned at the thought. James really didn't need to hear that.
"Well," he said, trying to look sympathetic, "the only people I can think of who would charm the mistletoe are me, you, Peter and Sirius. And it wasn't me, and it wasn't you, and it wasn't Peter, so…." James' face crumpled. "I mean it might have been Padfoot."
"He'd have said though, wouldn't he?" Peter said, and Remus shot him a glance to let him know that that hadn't exactly been helpful.
"Not necess – "
"Peter's right," James said, shaking his head. "He would have said so, so we could all be in on the joke."
"It's just high spirits," Remus said.
"Tradition," Peter added.
James scowled. "Yeah, well, the problem with tradition," he said, "is that it gets dead annoying after a while."
The door took that moment to bang open, and Sirius practically danced into the room. His face was split with a large grin, and his eyes darted merrily from face to face, and then his forehead creased with concern. "What's up?" he said. " 'Tis the season to be jolly, not maudlin. It's as lively as a funeral in here."
Remus raised an eyebrow by way of a reply – he didn't really feel up to explaining his seasonal malaise, or anyone else's – and Sirius sighed and then rolled his eyes. "What happened, then?" he said, and James shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
"Nothing," Remus said. "We're just lamenting the mistletoe tradition and the fact that none of us has anyone to indulge with."
"Oh," Sirius said, and his face fell a little. "No wonder it's like a funeral in here, then."
"Care to join in?" James said.
"Why would I need to join in?"
"I thought Sandra Hathaway spurned your advances?"
"She didn't spurn my advances," Sirius said, leaning on the wall next to the window and crossing his arms.
"You told me she said she'd rather dig out her own eyes with a trowel than go out with you."
"And she did," Sirius said, ignoring the puzzled glances the others shot each other. "But she said it with a twinkle in her eye." James hummed in consideration, looking entirely unconvinced that that was a recipe for romantic success. "She's warming to me."
"I don't think so. Girls don't really use the word 'trowel' at all when they're actually interested in someone."
"Yeah well, plenty more giant squid in the lake and all that."
"You're not depressed about it?"
"Why would I be?" Sirius said, looking deeply mystified at the very suggestion. "Christmas isn't just a time for girls and filling your stockings up."
"No?" Remus said, biting back a snigger that Sirius – of all people – would suggest that.
"No," Sirius said indignantly. "It's a time for friends, and fun, and food, and not doing any real work in lessons. Plenty to occupy the maudlin mind, if you'll stop obsessing over the girls you can't have and only look around for a moment and sniff the pine needles."
Remus hid his snigger as a cough rather ineptly, and Sirius glared at him, while James eyed Sirius appraisingly. "Are you drunk?" he said.
Sirius cleared his throat and looked away. "I might have had a couple of glasses of mulled wine," he said.
"Oh well that explains it," James muttered, rolling his eyes and shuffling back towards his four poster. "I think I might go to bed."
Remus hummed his agreement, flicking his wand in the direction of the curtains around his bed to draw them, and ignoring Sirius' protests that they should all take the opportunity to share a little seasonal cheer in favour of trying to lie down quietly until his feet stopped throbbing.
He got undressed and into his pyjamas slowly on the bed, not wanting to have to stand up and put his weight on his protesting feet, and beyond the curtains, Sirius hummed a Christmas carol to himself while Peter shuffled about getting ready for bed. "We'll come up with a prank," Sirius said, as the curtain hook jangled against his rail. "Something to take your mind off it. You'll see. Think of it as an early Christmas present."
"You're only saying that because you hate Christmas shopping," James muttered, his bed springs creaking as he turned.
"Oh well bah humbug to you all, then," Sirius said. "I don't know. You try and bring a bit of festive cheer into people's lives an – "
Sirius stopped and broke off into a large snore, and Peter sniggered.
Soon enough, the room was quiet, but for Sirius' muffled snoring, and Remus turned into his pillow and closed his eyes, thinking of mistletoe, and Olivia Crosby cornering him under it, and insisting that he kiss her because it was traditional –
"I've got it!" James said, and Remus started, clutching at his chest. His lips had been inches from hers –
And now his heart was pounding like he'd had too many Chocolate Frogs.
The curtains of each bed whipped back dramatically, revealing James in the middle of the room, bathed in starlight, looking like he'd just had a very bright idea. "What?" Sirius muttered sleepily. Remus sat up, blinking a little as James lit the lamp on the desk.
"I've got it," James said, "how we can get our own back on everyone who's under the mistletoe."
"Can't this wait 'til morning, Prongs?" Sirius said, rolling over and pulling his pillow over his head.
James Conjured a glass of water and threw it at Sirius. "Gah!" Sirius said, sitting bolt upright, shaking his head violently. "What did you – that was – " He shivered dramatically, but didn't look hugely unperturbed. "You could at least have made the water tepid."
"This was too important – and you always sleep through tepid," James said, and Sirius rubbed his face sleepily and yawned widely, drying himself off with his wand.
"Go on, then."
James drew himself up to his full height and took a deep breath, barely holding back his grin. "We'll tell them it's infested."
"What?" Sirius said, his forehead creasing in confusion. "Tell who what's infested?"
James rolled his eyes. "Everyone making our lives a misery by snogging under the mistletoe."
"No-one's making my life a misery by – "
"Infested?" Remus said, perking up at the thought that if Olivia Crosby didn't want to kiss him under the mistletoe, at least if she thought the mistletoe as infested she wouldn't do it with anyone else. "With what?"
James' brow furrowed in intense thought. "Nargles," he said eventually.
Remus racked his brain for any mention of the things from Defence Against The Dark Arts, from Care of Magical Creatures, from Herbology, and, finding none, he looked up, perplexed. "What are they, then?" he said, and James shrugged.
"Dunno," he said. "I just made them up. They sound sinister though, don't they?"
"Can't we just put a cold shower charm on the sprigs or something?" Peter said.
"Nah," James said. "I thought of that, but the stuff's bloody everywhere – " Remus' throbbing feet tended to agree. " – it'd take us ages to get to them all, and the chances of charming every bit without being seen – even with the cloak – are well, not good, and I don't want to start the new year in detention."
"So you just want to start a rumour?" Sirius said.
"You know what I always say – "
"Why does Evans hate me?" Sirius offered, and James glowered.
"No," he said, tersely. "Keep it simple. We start the rumour, then watch it fly – before you know it, it'll take on a life of its own and our work's done. We can just sit back and watch the chaos unfold."
Remus thought about it for a moment, and he thought that James, actually, had a very good point. And apart from anything else, it wasn't like they'd get into trouble for it – if anyone could prove they started the rumour in the first place.
And that was when he spotted the problem. He raised his hand tentatively. "Erm," he said, and James turned to him, one hand on his hip.
"Won't people be suspicious of you and Sirius telling them something like that?"
James pressed his lips together in thought, while Sirius nodded. "Moony's got a point," he said. "After that whole 'don't paddle in the lake 'cos the rocks are charmed to bite your toes off' thing, I'm not sure anyone'd believe us."
James thought about it for a moment, and then his eyes fixed on Remus.
Remus swallowed. He wasn't sure he was going to like this one bit. "Well you do it, then," he said.
"Me?" Remus replied.
"Yeah," James said, suddenly looking rather pleased with himself. "That's the genius of the thing. You're so trustworthy, everyone'll believe you."
"So you want me to use the fact that people trust me to play a trick on them?"
"Exactly," James said. Remus couldn't help thinking James had missed the thrust of his argument. "We'll start tomorrow. We'll need proof, so you hide somewhere, wait for someone to come along and start 'getting traditional' and then you leap out, tell them that they don't want to be doing that because the whole lot's infested with nargles, and I'll – twitch the branches, or something. It's perfect."
"I tend to agreee," Sirius said, grinning. "What did I tell you? You take a moment to stop and sniff the pine needles, and the next thing you know it's fun for all the family."
Remus rolled his eyes and flopped back on his bed, groaning quietly to himself.
When would he learn to keep his mouth shut?
Remus crouched behind the statue of Brian The Baffled.
This was never going to work.
He'd been crouched there for most of lunchtime, but the first floor corridor was deserted, and he was beginning to suspect that their lack of success was down to the fact that everyone else was far too busy tucking into lunch to be interested in snogging. Remus' stomach growled at the thought, and James shushed him from underneath his Invisibility Cloak. Remus rolled his eyes.
Twenty minutes later, the corridor started to feel less deserted, with a slow trickle of people filtering past on their way to various classrooms, laughing and chatting, and eventually, one of the Ravenclaw beaters, Jimmy Trask, cornered a fourth year girl, who was always first in line to cheer him on, underneath the sprig, asking for a kiss in the name of pre-match good luck early for next year, and tradition.
James kicked him to spur him into action, and Remus sighed, and then stood up and cleared his throat to attract their attention. "Ah, I wouldn't do that if I were you," he said, trying not to look in too much detail at what they were doing.
Jimmy still had his hands in the girl's hair, and Remus rolled his eyes. "Mistletoe's infested with nargles," he said, feeling ridiculous.
Two Gryffindor fourth years stopped to listen, and Remus swallowed. "Hmm," he replied, in a rather strangled way as James stood on his foot to elicit the rest of the speech they'd got up early to write. A couple of Hufflepuffs stopped too, attracted, he suspected, by the intrigued looks on the two Gryffindor's faces. "They're small, pixie-like creatures who nest in the bark of the mistletoe bush, and if the mistletoe's not carefully extracted, they can infect the sprigs."
Jimmy and the girl both looked up, eyeing the green foliage and white berries above their heads with concern and disdain. "Frightfully angry things," Remus continued, trying not to notice the small crowd he was drawing. "And they bite. I sent a third year who was out of bed last night to Madam Pomfrey just this morning with welts all over her face."
The girl's eyes widened in horror, and she clutched at her cheeks – at the same moment, James muttered a spell and the leaves above twitched and shook ominously. The small crowd gasped – and there was a murmur of 'did you see that?' and 'I thought I read about them somewhere – they're from Mongolia originally, I think,', before the girl who had been so happily under the mistletoe with Jimmy Trask shrieked and ran away down the corridor, leaving Jimmy looking none too pleased. "Sorry," Remus said, shrugging, "but I wouldn't have wanted you to get bitten."
"You reckon it's all infected?" Jimmy said.
"Hmm," Remus replied. "Castle-wide, I heard."
The crowd started to disperse, muttering to themselves and each other about who'd been under the mistletoe with whom and therefore might be infected, and James threw off his cloak and clapped Remus soundly on the back. "Worked like a charm," he said. "Let's go and see how Wormtail and Padfoot got on outside the library."
Throughout the afternoon, the rumour spread, and spread, and spread, taking on ever more detail, with the nargles pixie-like creatures one minute, and terrifying boggart like shape-shifters the next.
Someone claimed to have almost captured one on the third floor, and Remus heard whispers of someone asking Professor McGonagall about them, and being told the rumour was nonsense, which of course only lead to more rumours that the teachers were trying to keep things quiet because the infestation was out of hand and they didn't know what to do about it. Nearly everyone claimed to know someone who'd had to go to the Infirmary for a calamine lotion spell, and everyone gave the mistletoe a wide berth, sticking to the walls and refusing to walk directly underneath it because nargles could jump a good two feet.
By dinner time, there was scarcely a conversation in the Great Hall that didn't have the word 'nargles' in it somewhere, and by the time Remus headed out on his nightly Prefect rounds, the corridors – which had, twenty-four hours earlier, been littered with couples and people who wanted to be couples indulging in a spot of tradition – were utterly deserted.
He made a quick pass down the fourth floor corridor anyway, sniggering quietly to himself about how effective James' plan had been, and wondering how long the effects of the rumour would last. Perhaps even long enough for him to pluck up the courage to ask Olivia Crosby to go to Hogsmeade with him….
He was just thinking about turning in for the night, when he rounded a corner and saw Lily and Jeffrey holding hands and stopping under a sprig of mistletoe that dangled precariously close to the tops of their heads. They both looked up at it, and Remus flattened himself against the wall, hoping that they hadn't seen him.
"Oh we'd better not do that here," Lily said, her voice hushed, but drifting down the corridor towards him anyway.
"No?" Jeffrey replied. "You think we should be setting a good example?"
Lily sniggered. "No," she said. "Haven't you heard about all the mistletoe being infected with nargles?"
"Nargles?" he said.
"Hmm. Crawl down your throat and feast on your tonsils, apparently," she said. "Very unpleasant. So I think we'd better – "
Remus heard a noise that could only be the sound of a broom cupboard door opening, and two prefects giggling as they headed inside. "Just a precaution," Lily said.
As the door closed behind them, Remus bit back a laugh. All of a sudden, all those deserted corridors made perfect sense.
Of course people hadn't given up on the tradition, because the problem with traditions was that they existed because people, generally, liked to carry them on. Everyone had just switched locations.
James hadn't thought of that, and, as an early Christmas present, Remus decided not to tell him.
A/N: As it's Christmas, reviewers get the chance at a snog with a Marauder of their choosing. Whether you risk the nargles and do it under the mistletoe or head for the nearest broom cupboard is entirely up to you ;).