Author's Note: Game. Set. Match.

Some of this seems a little frivolous after last chapter, but I think that's almost the point, you know?

In any case, lots of love to swiftlystarlit, sirval, Eltea, Luthien and Tari Oronar, Aequalitas, vampassassin, and bookworm914 for the support. You guys pwn.

Eltea's Formidable Beta Powers ™ are at work here again.

I'm really sad this is over. I am also extremely relieved.

Happy Halloween!!!



Days passed. No words were spoken of the incident; none of the participants received notice of their imminent expulsion; no sixth-year Gryffindors were killed in their sleep. The bruises on Remus's face faded, and the cuts on the soles of his feet closed. He really only had to walk gingerly for a day or two. And, by some miracle, or perhaps because they didn't want to imagine differently, no one questioned his explanation that he'd forgotten to jump a trick step and fallen down the stairs.

He made the mistake of mentioning the tacit acceptance of his injuries to Sirius, who said that everyone probably assumed he was in an abusive relationship with some spitfire Ravenclaw feminist. When Remus had managed to stop laughing and recommence breathing, Sirius noted, significantly more solemnly, that given the usual evidence of his transformations, people were probably somewhat accustomed to seeing him hurt.

A Friday came, as Fridays tend to do, and upon this particular Friday, Sirius looked remarkably smug—more so, even, than usual. He swaggered to his classes and sat complacently through them, a contented little smile fiddling constantly with his lips as if it couldn't decide just how wide and satisfied it wanted to be.

It was clear to Remus that Sirius had done something. What wasn't evident was what he'd done, i.e. the important part.

Trying and failing to contain his effulgent glee, Sirius excused himself early from dinner and dashed off, citing something vague that involved "dire" and what sounded like "kittens." Remus had an immediate mental image of Sirius amassing an army of attack kittens. He attempted to shake his head and clear the picture from his mind, but it didn't want to go. He could see Sirius pacing back and forth, jabbing occasionally at a detailed map of a battleground. General Fluffy, you will take the western flank; Lieutenant Princess, your men will reinforce Captain Tiger. Is that understood? Excellent. Turn them into minced salmon, men!

James frowned, tracing curly designs in his mashed potatoes with his fork. "I don't like this," he announced.

"Neither do I," Remus replied mildly, working very hard to bar the kitten troops from reentry into his brain.

"Nothing for it," Peter noted through a mouthful of meatloaf, "but to wait and see."

"Ominous," James remarked.

"Very ominous," Remus agreed.

Their concern was not groundless. When they reached the common room, they saw, plastered over the fireplace, a very large poster. In lavish, prominent script at the top, it read:

A Sonnet
by Poet Laureate James Potter
regarding femme fatale Lily Evans

Beneath were fourteen lines of struggling poetry.

Remus dared to look at James. A combination of disbelief and mortified anguish roiled on his face, the emotions' grapple for dominance leaving his cheeks a rather unattractive splotchy pinkish color.

"He," James pronounced unsteadily, "is going to die in as slow and painful a way as I can ar—"

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, mice and men!" Sirius boomed, appearing from the stairwell before the crowd that had stopped to gauge—and derive great amusement from—James's reaction. Sirius leapt up onto the table, tucked a rose behind his ear, and, with a flourish, produced a scroll from within his robes. "Might I regale you with the latest opus from our very own James Potter, Gryffindor, a man of staggering lyrical genius too profoundly beautiful to be expressed in words?"

Darkly, apparently forgetting that if one ignored Sirius, he did not go away (and instead became increasingly difficult to get rid of), James stumped over to the fireplace and attempted to prise the poster off. It wouldn't come.

"You, of all people, should know how I've perfected Sticking Charms at home, Jamesy," Sirius told him indulgently. He turned to his audience again as James applied fists, fingernails, and teeth to the poster, all in vain. "Now. A heartbreakingly poignant, heart-wrenchingly lovely, untitled sonnet." He cleared his throat. "I didn't know that rubies could be drawn," he intoned, "To manufacture most exquisite wire; / And should have thought their luster would be gone; / But in her hair they blaze with deepest fire."

Someone whistled. Sirius grinned slightly madly and went on.

"I didn't know that emeralds could sing;
Apparently they are a vocal gem.
Her gaze upon me tells me I'm a king,
And those who laugh—I'll pay no heed to them."

Sirius paused and raised an eyebrow at someone who was crowing with laughter. "That means you, gentle listener," he noted.

Abruptly, James abandoned the quest to tear down the poster and launched himself at the table, likely with the intent of tearing Sirius instead—tearing him limb from limb, that was. Kingsley Shacklebolt put a hand on his shoulder and immediately foiled that effort. Kingsley could have subdued a Great White with one hand, let alone a squirming James Potter. There was a flickering, faint trace of amusement on Kingsley's face. Either the older boy very much enjoyed poetry, or he very much enjoyed James's pain.

Remus was betting on the pain.

Sirius gave Kingsley a wide, shining, appreciative smile before returning to his rendition, his voice teeming with emotion.

"I didn't know that pearl skin could conceal
A radiance that measure does defy,
And it's that light that truly makes me feel
I can't describe her; I'm unfit to try.
And can it be that all these things are true?
Can she be yet more precious than I knew?"

He took a deep breath, sighed blissfully, and then swept an elaborate bow, to riotous applause.

James had turned a very unflattering—but intriguingly vibrant—shade of purple. A broad grin was spreading across Kingsley's face, and as the cheering died down, he released his grip on James's shoulder.

James was halfway to rocketing at Sirius with the force of a vengeful freight train when Lily stepped between the two of them, blushing prettily.

"That's really sweet," she said.

James stared at her. The purple gave way to white, which then gave way in turn to tomato red. "You think so?" he asked.

Lily nodded, bit her lip, and darted forward to kiss James on one extremely colorful cheek. Then, blushing harder, she fled up the stairs and vanished into the girls' dorm.

There was flabbergasted silence for a moment.

"Copies will be sold for seven Sickles each," Sirius announced loudly, "for a limited time only."

Fully half the assembled boys reached for their wallets.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"…Thirty-four, and thirty-five." The last coin clinked as James placed it on the pile. "I think there's a viable, fairly lucrative business in my humiliation, Sirius."

"Of course there is," Sirius responded, eyeing Peter's queen mistrustfully. "Otherwise I wouldn't have sought it." He paused and considered. "Well… No, I would anyway." Swiftly he took Peter's bishop. "Oh, yes," he murmured, the spark of murderous delight in his eyes. "First blood. The game is on."

The game continued to be on for another thirty minutes, at which point Peter's king, stranded and lonely at his end of the board, succumbed to the sweeping assault waged by Sirius's men.

Sirius stared at the pieces on the board for a few seconds. Then he flew to his feet and ran whooping around the room, making four full circuits before he stopped running long enough to jump on the couch.

"I'm the king!" he shouted. "The king of Britain, of Europe, of the universe!"

Peter sighed. "Almost had him," he said sadly.

Sirius buried his hands in the small mountain of Sickles on the table and hurled coins into the air. "Free drinks for everyone!"

Remus glanced at his watch. "Speaking of drinks," he recalled, "I'd better head off. I'm closing tonight."

Sirius, who had almost bounced James right off the couch by now, hopped down. "I'll walk you there," he volunteered. "Rosmerta prob'ly will give me a free drink."

"What you need is a free lobotomy," James commented.

"I love you, too, Sugar-Lumps," Sirius replied, batting his eyelashes. "Call me tomorrow, won't you?"

"If by 'call,' you mean 'mangle beyond all hope of recognition,'" James rejoined, "I think I just might."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sirius whistled as they trooped down the path towards Hogsmeade. Once again, Remus found himself forcing thoughts out of his mind and barricading the entrance against them, because Sirius didn't whistle as well as someone else he knew.

"Did you come because you expected me to get hurt out here?" Remus inquired after Sirius had mutilated the refrain of "Candy-O" for the third time.

"More like, because I expected you to go all vigilante power-trip on us again," Sirius replied, the lightness to his tone extraordinarily transparent.

Remus smiled, partly just because it was what Sirius wanted. He let another minute amble away before posing his next question. "Do you think this is over?"

"Over?" Sirius's fingers were momentarily lost in the inky expanses of his hair as he scratched his head. "No. No, I don't think it's over. But our part in it? Maybe that's done."

"Maybe that was the worst?" Remus hazarded, trying not to seem too hopeful.

"Maybe," Sirius replied, sounding unconvincing and unconvinced.

Remus put his hands in his pockets and watched his breath mist in the air and then slowly dissipate away. "Is there a point to all this?" he asked.

"To what?"


Sirius smirked. "Now, now, Remus. Having read Wuthering Heights, I can assure you that Gothic themes are highly overrated."

"I didn't like that book. Everyone was so… inconsiderate."

"They were assholes, you mean."

"Yes. Except for Nelly and Hareton."

"Right." Sirius paused. "Why in the blazing hell are we having this conversation?" he asked.

"You brought it up," Remus pointed out calmly.

"I did," Sirius confirmed. "And next time I try to do something like that, it is your moral obligation to shoot me. Lethally."

They had reached Hogsmeade; there were still enough lights on in the windows to paint the cobblestone streets butter yellow in patches. Through the new glass at the Three Broomsticks, Remus could see Rosmerta laughing with a few lingering customers. He and Sirius stood just outside the door for a few moments, letting the silence settle. That, Remus thought, was when you knew you had a real friend—when you didn't need words and sometimes didn't really want them.

"Well," Sirius remarked after a while, his gaze on the dark storefront across the street, "I guess I ought to be heading back before Rosmerta catches me and tries to entice me into her bed of sin—"

"Sirius!" a jovial voice cried happily.

"Too late," Remus remarked.

Sirius smirked. "Rather much," he acceded.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sirius Black was damn lucky he hadn't done any permanent damage. If he had, Severus would have sought him out and paid him back tenfold, and it would have taken a spatula and a spade to collect the shredded remains.

As morbidly shameful as it had been to wake up on the damp ground in the Forest, however, Severus certainly hadn't been the only one brushing wet leaves off of his back and trying to avoid everyone's eyes.

It was almost all worth it to see Lucius Malfoy picking himself up out of the dirt, his venomousness matched only by his utter impotence. Everyone had seen Lupin take him to the curb, and everyone had chuckled darkly within his head at it. There was something glorious about knowing that Malfoy, who had argued in support of this night more vehemently than anyone, had paid for it in pure dignity.

And if something like that could happen, it almost made you think that maybe—just maybe—everything else might work out all right, too.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It was nearing ten o'clock as Noelle Cook made one last circuit of the sixth floor. Even as she considered whether or not she wanted to start on that Transfiguration essay tonight, Sirius turned the corner and started up the staircase she was descending. A luminous flush lit his cheeks, his hair was in beautiful disarray, and his eyes sparked like steel in the sun. They found her, and their owner grinned.

"Noelle!" he hailed her happily. "How are you this fine evening? Wouldn't be considering turning me in for violating that damnable curfew, now, would you?" Mischief danced fervently, fervidly, in his eyes, and Noelle couldn't tear herself away. She had hesitated on the stairs, but he took them two at a time to come level with her, moving in close.

Really close. Close enough for her to count his thick, luscious eyelashes.

"Are you sober?" she asked cautiously, afraid of the answer.

"You know," Sirius mused, "I honestly can't remember." He shrugged and smiled again, blithely. "You're not going to tattle on me for that, though, are you? Because, really, it's not like I want to be standing here talking, unable to shut my fat mouth. You know how there are vomiting drunks, mean drunks, and voluble drunks? I'm a voluble drunk. I was telling Remus, I said, 'We can talk about Shakespeare now, if you want, because first off, I'll actually be able to follow the conversation, and second, I won't remember it tomorrow, so that'll be nice.'" He stopped to think. "Wait, does that mean I am drunk?"

He was close enough for Noelle to examine the individual hairs of his eyebrows. They were very nice eyebrows, really—just heavy enough to be distinctive without looking untidy. "Well, did you drink anything?"

"You know," Sirius reflected, "I honestly can't remember." He paused. "That sounds kind of familiar." He glanced at her again. "You're not going to bust me, right?"

Slowly, Noelle shook her head. She didn't want to make any sudden movements.

"Wonderful!" Sirius decided cheerfully. Delightedly, he smiled at her, and her heart quite swiftly turned itself inside out, after which it took on a very mushy consistency. "You know, Noelle," Sirius remarked, "you're just a wonderful person."

Heat rose to her cheeks, and she couldn't help but smile. Sirius was like a disease. A really, really gorgeous disease. "Thank y—"

He kissed her then, heartily, headily, and a little sloppily. She would gladly have done something, had she had any idea what in the name of all that was holy she was supposed to do.

After a few long seconds, Sirius pulled back, grinning giddily. His hair was tickling her face, and he pressed a cold glass bottle into her hands. "I'd marry you," he told her, his breath on her face faintly sweet, "but I'm afraid I'm promised to Rosmerta."

With that, he galloped up the remaining stairs and went skipping down the corridor.

"Oh, oh, it's magic," he sang, largely off-key, "when I'm with you! Oh, oh, it's magic, just a little bit of magic, pulls me through!"

Noelle stared after him. Then she stared at the bottle of butterbeer in her hand. She pulled the top off and took a very, very long drink.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

If there had been someone on the silver streets of Hogsmeade that night, and if that someone had looked and listened closely, that individual might well have noticed a sixteen-year-old boy sweeping in the Three Broomsticks. And had that individual waited a while, the boy would have started to sing, and the keen listener would have heard a few words riding on the brisk air.

"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog… cryin' all the time… You ain't nothin' but a hound dog… cryin' all the time… You ain't never caught a rabbit, and you ain't no friend of mine…"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -