What's this? Another update? THAT'S RIGHT, SIRUPIN LOVERS, I AM UPDATING TWICE IN TWO FREAKIN' DAYS. You want some more? YOU WANT SOME MORE?! ARRGHWARRDGDGGH TOO MUCH SUGAR PLS ENJOY THIS CHAPTER.

Read and review! Alas, if you don't review, I still love you. I can't help myself.

One last thing: apologies for mistakes so far, like the wrong colour eyes for Remus and Sirius (which are now correct in these newer chapters) and the fact that although they're in their fifth year – when Lily still hates James in the books – the pair of them are dating in this fic. Pure idiocy on my part. Still, hope you enjoy it regardless.

Chapter Eight – Christmas Eve: Part One

Christmas seemed to be approaching the Marauders with a fierce determination, and it was only as it hit December 16th that Remus realised he hadn't bought any presents for his friends – not a single one. Full of pre-Yuletide panic, he had instantly signed up for the next visit to Hogsmeade and sent an owl to his parents, begging for money.

Luckily for him, in the very early hours of the morning of the Hogsmeade visit, Oswald (the family owl) had woken him from the window with a baleful hoot and a reproachful gaze, snow covering his feathers enough to make him seem almost double his size. He leapt out of bed, quietly padding to unlatch the window whilst taking care not to wake the others; carefully he let the owl hop into the dormitory, his leg already outstretched in impatience as Remus took his sweet time to close the window in order to keep the constant flurry of snow from flying in. Attached to Oswald's leg was a little velvet pouch which, as Remus hurried to untie it, was filled with an assortment of Knuts, Sickles and – though there weren't many – Galleons. He smiled down gratefully at the pouch, pulling a little handwritten note from within and reading it quickly:

Dear Remus,

Find enclosed an added total of five Galleons. I hope that this money finds you well and that you and your friends are having a good year so far. Your mother says to stay out of trouble, but as you and I both know, no fun is to be had without a little trouble at the heart of it. Just be sure that no matter what you get up to you always remember the safety of others, as well as yourself. (Not that I need to tell you this, but now that your mother has seen what I'm writing she insists I put it in.)

Everything is fine here and we're all ready for having your grandparents over for Christmas dinner. I am sure that you are absolutely heartbroken that you plan to stay at Hogwarts this year, as I know how much joy you get from the judging gaze of your mother's parents. I am also now told to write that I am sure you miss them dearly and that they would, your mother is sure, appreciate a Christmas note from you. My advice, of course, is not to bother. You would only hear that you are probably too thin and need to eat more potatoes.

As usual, don't worry about sending us gifts. This is all we can spare to you this year, as things have been – as they usually are – quite tight. Just spend the money on whatever you want. Though I know you to be as kind as your mother, so I expect you'll spend it all on your friends. I hope they know how lucky they are to have you.

Got a girlfriend yet?

Your mother now tells me that I'm too nosey, so I'll leave you to your Hogsmeade trip and simply say that I hope you enjoy the lead up to Christmas and that you should look out for our owl on the 24th for your gift.

Stay safe, son, and have a good weekend. Speak to you soon.

Dad ((and Mum, who sends lots of hugs and love, which would explain where my hugs and love are going to!)

Remus put the letter aside, grinning to himself as he imagined his mum batting his dad over the head at his last comment; if there was one thing he had learned from his parents, it was – and he was aware of how corny it seemed – that no matter how difficult things were, it made all the difference to have someone who loved you by your side. His parents were constantly worrying about money, breaking into mini-arguments at the slightest mention of bills, but in the moments when they thought that Remus was distracted elsewhere he would catch them holding hands in the kitchen or sharing a quick but tender kiss as they passed each other in the hallway. He supposed it wasn't so far from his group of friends here, when he thought about it; even when things were crap, they were still stronger as a unit and happy to be so.

His father may well say that he hoped his friends were aware of their luck in a friendship with Remus, but Remus knew that he was probably the luckier one to have friends like them.

Rolling his eyes at his own sentimentality (which was something that Christmas always seemed to inspire from within him), he rolled up the note and pushed it under his pillow before leaning over and grabbing a spare bit of parchment from in-between the pages of one of his textbooks and quickly scribbling a reply:

Dear Dad (and Mum, to which the love and hugs are dutifully returned),

Thanks so much for the money; I'll try and spend a little on myself, but all I can panic about right now is the fact that it's only a few days until Christmas and I haven't spent a single Knut on presents. As usual I'll ignore your request for no gifts and you can also expect my present to you on the 24th. You have only yourselves to blame – you raised me this way! Equally I extend my request that you spend whatever money you had planned to spend on me on yourselves instead, but no doubt I'll be giving my usual exasperated but (of course) grateful sigh when Oswald arrives on Christmas Eve.

I'll write to Grandmother and Grandfather just as soon as I can, don't worry. I rather like being told I look too thin around Christmas, especially after the amount of food I've already eaten and still intend to eat!

No girlfriend as of yet, but still causing plenty of trouble – or, more accurately, I'm stuck in the middle of it whilst my friends do all the causing. Not good when I have a Prefect badge to protect. Still, reassure Mum that I'm behaving well enough for Professor Dumbledore and that I'm doing quite well in my classes so far. I expect I'll manage to scrape Acceptable's in everything, if not higher.

Have a good holiday and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Remus

He tied the letter to Oswald's leg and pulled the window open once more to let the owl leave. As soon as he closed the window, a voice spoke sleepily into the darkness.

"Whass happenin'? S'cold!"

Remus barely suppressed a grin as Sirius sat up in bed and pulled his blankets tighter around him; though he couldn't see his friend, he could hear the gentle rustling noise and the creaking of wood. "Don't worry, Padfoot. Go back to sleep."

"Ugh," his friend groaned, not whispering as Moony had done but talking as if the rest of the room was awake. "What time is it?"

"Shh, you'll wake the others." He hazarded a guess. "Half past four, maybe?"

Sirius threw himself back down on the bed with a loud 'thwump'. "What are you doing awake? Didn't interrupt something, did I?"

Remus's grin turned into a scowl that Sirius could not see. "Don't be a prat, I just got a owl from my parents is all."

"A likely story," Sirius mumbled sleepily, the smile on his face evident from his tone. "I'll just go back to sleep and you can get back to your wank, Reemy, don't you worry yourself."

"I'm not wanking!" Remus protested loudly, earning himself a loud snorting snore from Peter's bed and a similar snort of laughter from Sirius's huddle of blankets; he half-smiled despite himself, shaking his head. He lowered his voice to almost a whisper. "I'm not wanking, Sirius, I'm just going back to sleep. You should do the same." He thought for a moment. "And stop thinking about me doing myself. It's disturbing how much you seem to consider it."

"Well imagine how awkward it'd be if we were both wanking at the same time, Moony! I had to check!"

The meaning of Sirius's words hit him full force, a mixture of disgust and amusement welling up in him as the idea of it. "Fucking hell, Sirius, I don't want to know that! I don't want to know! Keep your wank-diary to yourself, and at least wait until I've fallen back asleep before you carry on!"

"I wasn't doing anything," Sirius said, his voice still full of laughter (though at least his voice had quietened), "but I might now. You know how persistent morning wood is."

"Ugh! Sirius!"

"You can join in if you want, I don't really care so long as you don't call out my na-"

Remus half-covered his ears. "What is wrong with you? I'm not going to whack one off whilst you do yourself, Sirius, that's just... no! Ugh, ugh, I'm going back to sleep, into a really deep sleep, okay? Give it ten minutes and then you can bash one just as much as you like, just please let me fall asleep first!"

Another snort. "Fine, if that's what you really want."

Slamming himself down onto his pillow and pulling the duvet up and over his face, Remus forced his eyes closed and willed himself to fall asleep; naturally, no matter how hard he tried, he was suddenly more awake than he usually was at nine in the morning and horribly aware of the gentle rustling noises coming from Sirius's bed. After a few minutes of this, he could bear no more.

"I thought you were going to wait ten minutes!"

Sirius's voice was muffled. "I'm not doing it, mate, I'm just trying to get comfortable."

"Hmm." Remus let the room fall silent once more. For a few more minutes they both lay in silence, both obviously now wide awake, Sirius still shuffling and Remus lying as still as he possibly could so as not to give his best friend the wrong idea. After a while, Sirius spoke out in a hushed murmur.

"Are you asleep yet?"

"No."

A moment of hesitation. "Sorry for kidding around earlier. About morning-wood and wanking and stuff. I know it's different for you than it is for me."

Remus shrugged, though he knew his friend couldn't see it. "It's all right. Full moon approaching and everything, so I'm probably just as horny as you are."

Silence met this comment and Moony was instantly embarrassed for having said something so odd, particularly after the not-so-distant arguments of before. He instantly apologised.

"That was a weird thing to say, sorry."

Silence once again filled his ears; had Sirius fallen asleep? He hoped that perhaps he had, and that he hadn't heard what Remus had said – but no, a small cough and laugh carried across the quiet room as Sirius seemed to shift once more underneath his bedclothes.

Finally the boy spoke. "I think it's because it's dark."

"What?" Remus's confusion was evident. "What do you mean?"

"You said it because it's dark. Like, when it's dark it's always a lot easier to say what you want to say, don't you think? When we're all in the common room together, just the fire lit, the stuff we talk about... we wouldn't be able to say half that stuff if it were daytime."

Oddly, it made sense. "Hmm. I suppose so."

A few more moments of silence, though this time it felt far more comfortable than before.

Remus spoke again, keeping his voice low. "Did you really mean what you said before?"

"I say a lot of things, mate, most of them painfully true... but what bit are you talking about?"

He hesitated. "The bit... no, don't worry. Oh, okay, the bit where you said about not caring if I... y'know."

Sirius's voice was frustratingly innocent. "What on earth are you talking about, Moony?"

"You know..." Remus growled lightly under his breath at Sirius's obvious intent to force him to say it, his cheeks burning hot in the cold air of the room. "About before. How you wouldn't care about me joining in so long as I didn't... call out your name."

The room was so still and hushed that for a moment he wondered if he'd even spoken aloud; he started to count his breaths in and out, trying to calm the sudden fast beating of his heart against his ribcage. He'd never asked such a question before in his life, and it mortified him that he'd even wondered – he quickly spoke, changing his mind about wanting to hear an answer, but as he did Sirius replied quietly at exactly the same time -

"Forget it, forget I asked -"

"I don't think it would bother me."

Remus's mouth went dry, and he was suddenly painfully aware of his pre-moon Mr. Happy nestling deep under the covers. "I... okay."

When Sirius spoke, he sounded oddly far away. "I mean, when you've got to do it... sometimes it doesn't matter who's around, does it? You just have to do it, get it out of your system. If that means we end up on the same wank-schedule, well... I guess that's just how it'll have to be. I'm not going to judge you for doing it, it's not like you're going to be thinking of me whilst you do it."

"You've got that right," Remus muttered; Sirius laughed softly.

"Not that I'd blame you if you did. I am the hottest bloke you know."

"True as that may be, Sirius, the fact that you're a bloke at all is enough to discourage me." Remus grinned into the darkness. "Let's face it, if either one of us is thinking of the other during 'private time' it's going to be you thinking of me."

"What?" Sirius cried, earning the same snorting snore from Peter as Remus had during his outburst earlier. "How'd you work that out?!"

Remus popped his head out from underneath his covers and glanced over at the direction of Sirius's bed, still grinning. "Well, you've mentioned me wanking a fair few times now, Padfoot, enough that it's given me the impression that you think about it far more than I do -"

"I don't imagine you doing it or anything -"

"Oh really?" It was payback time. "Remember when you first told me that Peter had heard me doing it? How you tackled me on the bed and held me down as you groaned and moaned into my ear?"

"Mate," Sirius whispered weakly, seeming flummoxed, "mate, that was just -"

"Oh... oh fuck... oh god, yes..." Remus was enjoying tormenting his friend far too much. "Tell me, how often do you think of me wanking, Padfoot? How often do you think of me writhing and twisting between the sheets -"

"Moony, what the fuck?" his friend said in a strangled voice, shifting again beneath his blankets. "What's gotten into you?"

"Payback, mate," Remus whispered, victorious to the last syllable, "for when you did it to me. Taste bitter, does it?"

"You're a bastard," Sirius said, laughter catching in his throat. "I can honestly swear that I have never in all my life thought of you – what was it, writhing? - between the sheets whilst beating one off. And that is a solemn promise."

The silence this time was a genuinely amiable one, and Remus was sure that if he were able to see his friend he would see the same grin plastered on his face that he currently had on his own. What Sirius had said before was truer now than he had ever known it to be before: darkness was a blanket of security, making even the most ridiculous and probably inappropriate conversations seem like they were nothing more than a comment to one another on the state of the weather. He let both the quiet and dark envelop him, the warmth of his blankets and the gentle patter of snow on the window soothing him until he finally, finally, felt ready to sleep.

A voice came out of the darkness.

"Can I wank yet?"

Remus allowed one last sleepy grin.

"Fuck off, Sirius."

Meanwhile, poor Peter lay frozen in the dark, hoping against all odds that his snores had been believable and wishing he hadn't just heard every word spoken between his two friends. Clearly the sexual tension was reaching its peak.

X X X

Hogsmeade ended up being their best visit yet. Remus had managed to sneak off to Zonko's in order to pick up a few presents for the Marauders whilst the others were distracted in Honeydukes, and when he had returned they had all ambled off to The Three Broomsticks for a nice, warm Butterbeer and genial conversation. After a rowdy and highly competitive snowball fight with five fourth-year Ravenclaw's, they had walked slowly back up to the castle filled with excitement about the coming holidays as, for the first time ever, all of them were to be staying for Christmas day.

Neither Remus nor Sirius mentioned their conversation from early that morning, and the atmosphere surrounding them had thankfully not changed a bit. They laughed and joked as they always did, joining in with the other Marauders as if nothing had happened – and, to be fair, nothing had happened. As far as Remus was concerned, their friendship had probably been completely healed after their teasing through the darkness and he was grateful of that more than anything else. Life was frustratingly empty without Sirius on and at his side, and he had no doubt that at Christmas it would have been even more painful to endure without his best friend.

Eventually Christmas Eve snuck up on them all, and soon they were the only ones left in the Gryffindor common room; it seemed that everyone else was headed home for the holiday, and they were finally reigning Kings of Gryffindor Tower. This, unfortunately, also included Lily. Remus tried not to watch as James planted tiny little kisses on her lips throughout the evening, his friend seemingly unable to stop himself, but it was difficult when they were on the sofa opposite him – he had set up a little nest for himself on the floor with cushions and blankets aplenty – and therefore directly in his eyeline. Though he had done a good job of squashing his confusing feelings down since the other night, the approaching full moon made it infinitely more difficult to not think of her when she was always so close to him.

At least, he mused, they were managing to maintain a steady(ish) sort of friendship, which he knew was mostly for the sake of appearances. They had even spent some time alone together the day before, wrapping presents (with a good distance between them) whilst the others snuck down to the kitchens for supplies. He knew without a doubt, though, that with the full moon being only three days away it would be prudent to maintain as much of a distance from her when they were alone as possible.

She looked up at him now, flashing a small smile in his direction as James's fingers twirled through her hair. "You all right, Moony?" She had come to address him as such now, which sort of helped. It made her seem more like one of the gang rather than a separate entity who he very much wanted to do unspeakable things to.

He returned the smile. "Doing great thanks, Lily. Are you missing your family yet?"

She shook her head, her long hair falling over her shoulders. "Not really. I mean, Petunia usually just avoids me, and Mum and Dad spend the whole time trying to push us together so usually it just gets really awkward. It's better here."

"So much better with you here," James said with a smile, tucking her hair behind her ear for her. The movement filled Remus with frustration, so much that he threw himself down onto the cushions and stared up at the ceiling.

Sirius's face suddenly loomed over him.

"Whatcha doing?"

Remus frowned up at him. "Lying down. What are you doing?"

The grin that spread across Sirius's face was the same devastating one that melted girl's hearts everywhere. "Looking at your pretty face."

A squeak sounded from the chair where Peter sat. Remus ignored it.

"D'you mind looking at it from somewhere else? Your breath smells like Butterbeer and Butterscotch Banshee's."

Sirius leaned closer, purposefully breathing deeper and heavier so that the heat and scent drifted irrepressibly across Remus's face. "What, don't you like it?" He grinned. "But it's so sweet!"

"Whilst I agree that it's better than your usual odour, I still don't appreciate it in my face. Move or I'll hex you." His lips betrayed him as they twitched into a small smile; quickly he smoothed his expression back into a frown, but a rapid glance at Sirius revealed that he had not smothered it fast enough. Egged on, Sirius leaned down and whispered into Remus's ear:

"Is that a wand in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?"

Whether it was the impending full moon, the room lit by nothing more than the fire or his determination not to let Sirius win this time around, he pushed himself up slightly until his own lips were millimetres from his best friend's ear. "Just thought I'd give you some extra material to wank to tonight."

Rearing back and letting out a giant bark of laughter, Sirius punched his friend on the arm and leaned forward, mussing his hair up until it looked very similar to James's usual mop. The frown now completely gone from Remus's face, the lighter-haired boy pushed himself up onto his elbows and punched Sirius right back on the leg, quickly ducking to avoid another hair-mussing and grabbing Sirius's right arm with his right hand and desperately digging with his left hand into the pocket of his jeans so that he could retrieve his wand; Sirius saw through his plan and, laughing, leaned all of his weight onto the arm currently holding him away and used the hand that had been supporting him to reach down past his friend's waist and go for the pocketed wand first -

"STOP!"

Peter's yell cut across them, his face the very picture of horror; the two boys on the floor turned their attention to the rest of the room's inhabitants, seemingly surprised to find that all three of them were staring at them as if they were quite insane – Sirius's eyes darted from their spectators down to Remus beneath him and back again as if suddenly realising something, his face flushing bright red as he rapidly rolled away from Moony and pushed himself up from the floor, a slightly odd grin on his face.

"Sorry, Peter, was that too exciting for you?" Ah, there was that scorn that had been missing for the last few weeks. Sirius's voice was dripping with it as he narrowed his eyes at Peter, who was now flushed an even brighter red than his friend. "I forgot that you like watching this sort of thing -"

"Sirius," Remus cut across him, sitting up and straightening up his clothes, "don't be cruel. Peter probably thought we were actually fighting. Right, Wormtail?"

Relief flooded Peter's face, his eyes flicking between them all. "Y-yes, that... I thought you were fighting... didn't realise..."

James suddenly sat up, his attention diverted elsewhere. "Hey Moony, isn't that your owl at the window?"

All five pairs of eyes now focused on the window in question, every person in the room seemingly grateful for the distraction; sure enough, Oswald was glaring at Remus from outside, yet again completely covered in snow. Remus leapt up from the floor and pushed open the window, letting Oswald fly in and settle on the table nearest to the fire where he would inevitably allow the melted snow to drip everywhere. Everyone but Sirius moved closer to the sodden creature, Remus quickly untying two packages, one rather heavy, so much so that he was surprised the owl had managed to ferry it. The larger of the two was hastily wrapped, both of them with a note attached. With the eyes of everyone on him as he carried the presents back to his little nest (Sirius moving away and sitting moodily on the edge of a chair), he sat down and set down the larger on. He opened the note of the smaller one first, reading it aloud:

Dear Remus,

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful day and that you manage to stay safe and warm. Wishing you were home with us (but glad you get to spend it with your friends!) and joining us for a sing-song of some late-night carols like we used to.

Find attached a little something to brighten the rest of your year at Hogwarts!

Lots of love,

Mum and Dad

Flushing with slight embarrassment at his mother's nostalgia, he carefully opened the beautifully-wrapped package and found within it, to his surprise and awe, a tiny silver object that looked much like a Muggle lighter. Peter was the first to speak.

"That's a mini Deluminator!"

Remus nodded, slightly dazed. These were expensive, he knew, and couldn't think of how they could have afforded such a thing. "Usually they just send me chocolates..."

"It's beautiful," Lily said quietly, leaning over James's shoulder to get a better look. "I didn't know they did little ones."

"Neither did I." Remus stared down at the little thing, wondering how on earth his parents had found the money for such a thing. "I wonder how -"

"Wait, there's another note in the wrappings – look!" Peter plucked the small white piece of parchment from amidst the rubbish, handing it to Remus. "What does it say?"

Light-brown eyes scanning the writing, he felt unwelcome tears welling up in his eyes.

Remus,

This was given to your father by his father before he passed away to give to you when you were old enough to appreciate it. Your father felt it was time to pass it down to you, in the hopes that it can show you a light in even the deepest of darknesses. We hope so much that you like it and don't mind that we didn't buy you anything. It just seemed the right time to give it to you.

Merry Christmas.

Lots of love,

Mum and Dad.

He waited until the tears were manageable enough to blink away before he cleared his throat. "It used to be my grandfather's. He... he was always very supportive of me despite my... condition."

Though he did not yet feel brave enough to look anyone in the eye, he felt a hand grasp his shoulder.

"It's a great gift, Remus," James said quietly, shaking him slightly. "A great gift."

"Yeah," Remus replied with a quick sniff, forcing a smile as he gently set the Deluminator aside. "But now I feel bad, I got to open a present and you all have nothing 'til tomorrow!"

Peter piped up from behind James. "What about the big one?"

"The big – oh!" He had forgotten about the other one in the shock of his first gift; what else had his parents given him? He reached for the note on top of it first, tearing it open and taking his time before reading it aloud, a huge grin erupting on his previously serious face:

Remus,

Your mother doesn't know about this one. Don't, under pain of my death should she find out, tell her. Sorry about the terrible wrapping, I'm no good at this sort of thing.

Have fun with your friends and enjoy maintaining our secret Christmas Eve tradition.

Dad

Finally having the slightest inkling of what it might be, Remus tore into the badly wrapped present and, to his delight, was greeted with exactly what he had hoped:

"Firewhiskey! Brilliant!"

Sirius finally stood up from his chair, his moodiness apparently forgotten. "You're kidding me? Your Dad sent you this?!"

Remus grinned up at them all, almost beside himself with joy. "Me and Dad sneak off on Christmas Eve whilst Mum's washing up and have a couple of Firewhiskey's, have done for the last two years. Makes the carol singing so much easier to bear!"

James's mouth dropped open. "He let you drink Firewhiskey when you were thirteen?"

"He's pretty brilliant," Moony admitted, a huge welling up of love erupting in his chest for both his mother and father. "Can't believe he sent me a whole bottle, though!"

"Looks like we've got a fun evening planned, lads and ladette," Sirius said with a cheeky grin, reaching over and pulling the bottle from Remus's hands – on the table next to him there were already five goblets magicked up and ready to go. "Let's get this party started! Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas!" They all cheered.