Disclaimer: I wish I owned them. But J.K. Rowling does, and thusly, is a lot richer than I am.

A/N: Many thanks to Dreamer, Beta-Extraordinaire, for her wonderful suggestions and corrections. Also, hugs and thanks to SortingHat47, my fabulous friend, for her inspiration and assistance--You are a Good Thing!

Chapter 1: Desperation

Remus Lupin kept his blue eyes fastened on the Daily Prophet as he ate his breakfast, hardly noticing that he had finished three eggs, several rashers of bacon, and two slices of toast—complete with butter and jam. He did notice when Sirius Black, chaos incarnate, dropped onto the bench beside him. He noticed because Sirius reached across his plate for the plate of toast and practically shouted in his ear, "So, what's the news, Moony?"

With an irritated grimace, Remus rubbed his offended ear. "I'll never be able to hear again."

"If you still have your sense of hearing after seven years of James's snoring, you can deal with me talking to you."

"It's the loudness of the talk and the closeness to the eardrum," Remus grumbled. "Extra-sensitive hearing, remember?"

"You'll live," Sirius pronounced, smearing butter on his toast and nodding toward the orange juice. "Make yourself useful, would you?"

The sandy-haired boy glared at him for a moment, then, with a snort of disdain, reached for the pitcher. "Where are James and Peter?"

Sirius shrugged. "Prongs was having some kind of crisis—something to do with socks not matching. Wormtail's helping him—or trying to."

"Oh really?"

Sirius filled his glass almost to the brim and peered at the liquid intently. "You know, Moony, I think there is a sock up in James's trunk that is exactly this shade of orange."

"Imagine that."

There was a quick sidelong glance in Remus's direction. "I think there was another sock that was the exact same shade as Wormtail's fur."

"You don't say."

"And another one that looks rather like the McGonagall clan tartan."

"Fancy that."

"How'd you do it?"

"Do what?"

"You couldn't have charmed each individual sock—you didn't have time. So how'd you do it?"

The left corner of Remus's lips twitched as he pointed to some printing on the newspaper. "Oh look. There's a sale on dress robes at Madame Malkin's. You can replace those robes of James's that you ruined—"

"I didn't ruin them!" Sirius exclaimed, affronted.

"Well, I wasn't the one wearing them while sliding down the banister."

Sirius's face darkened. "Damned newel post anyhow." He took a bite of toast, and while his mouth was still full, grumbled, "Hole wadn't 'at big."

"The 'hole' was a two foot long tear."

"Shut up, Moony. And stop distracting me from what's important."

"I'm not distracting you." Remus turned the page and started scanning the headlines.

"I'm merely reminding you of your debt and responsibility."

"Shut up, Remus."

There was a relative bit of quiet for a moment or two as Sirius collected a plateful of food and started eating. Then: "How did you do it, Moony? Really?"

The other boy's face was calm and composed, and he turned another page of the Prophet. "What? Tear James's robes?"

Sirius punched him in the shoulder—hard—and snapped, "You are the most irritating bastard! How can you just bloody sit there and give me these stupid answers—"

"I can't help that you ask me stupid questions," Remus commented, rubbing his now-sore shoulder.

That earned him another punch.

"Mr. Black, please stop assaulting Mr. Lupin," Professor McGonagall said, sweeping by them at that precise moment.

Both boys looked up with wide eyes.

"Bloody hell," breathed Sirius. "I didn't even see her coming."

"That's obvious," Remus whispered back, still rubbing his abused shoulder.

James and Peter suddenly came running through the door, skidding to a stop inches from crashing into McGonagall. She seemed to castigate them thoroughly before continuing on. James and Peter made their way down to where Sirius and Remus sat—at a walk this time.

"What pixie has got into her knickers?" demanded James. "She gave us hell for running, and made some comment about the students in her House being useless—"

Remus slopped up some runny yolk with a piece of toast. "She just caught Sirius assaulting me."

"What did you do to him?"

Wide, too-innocent blue eyes were raised to meet his. "What makes you think I did anything?"

"Because you seem to be making your way down through the order. First me, now Padfoot—watch out, Wormtail. Moony has it in for you now. And let me add, Mr. Lupin, that you should not be pulling pranks on your own kind. Couldn't you have done the sock thing to someone else, like—oh, I don't know—"

"Lily Evans?" Sirius asked with a simpering smile and batting his eyelashes.

"His kind? What kind?" Peter asked, puzzled.

"The Marauders, you idiot. The prank-pulling kind," Sirius snapped.

"Oh, I haven't even begun to pull a prank on Padfoot." Had Sirius heard that mumble under Remus's breath? Or was he hearing things?

"Anyhow." James took back the conversation. "I'd love to know how you did that so we can do it to someone else."

Sirius's eyes lit up, and a wicked grin spread itself across his face. "What if we did that to McGonagall? Or Dumbledore?"

Before anyone could respond, James, in reaching for the bacon, tipped over his glass of juice. Remus scrambled to collect the newspaper while Sirius jumped to his feet and fumbled for his wand.

"Evanesco!" said a calm, almost bored female voice. "Honestly, James!"

It was James's turn to leap to his feet, his face already brightening at the sight of the auburn-haired goddess that ruled his world. "Lily!"

"Oh, Lord, there he goes," grumbled Sirius. He threw one leg over the bench, preparing to sit back down, when something on the front of the Prophet caught his eye. "Here, Moony, let me see that." He pulled slightly at the paper, ignoring the suspicious look in Remus's eye.

The sandy-haired boy relinquished it, surprised at Sirius's interest. The other boys very rarely read the paper; he read it and then summarized any interesting parts. So the fact that Sirius was actually sitting with the paper inches from his nose, thoroughly engrossed, shocked Remus. It was very nearly frightening.

Lily and James had seated themselves and were whispering to each other things that Remus was glad he couldn't hear. Peter, sitting next to James, apparently could hear because his ears were turning redder by the second.

"So, Peter," Remus began, struggling for something to say that would distract him, or even better, distract James.

"Listen to this!" exclaimed Sirius, slamming the paper down on the table. " 'In an attempt to augment the ranks of the Aurors during these increasingly perilous times, the Ministry of Magic has decided to actively recruit young men and women'…blah blah blah… 'In the past, Auror trainees have been accepted into the Training Program based on the results of their N.E.W.T. scores, as well as a battery of aptitude and character tests'…'An increase in Dark magic users…' and 'a number of Auror casualties has prompted a change in the procedure of acceptance…'" He paused, and added softly, "It says the Aurors are at only three-quarters of their average strength right now."

"So, in other words, they may not care about all your detentions after all if you want to be an Auror," Lily commented, popping a section of orange into James's mouth.

"Would you please not feed him like he's a helpless infant?" Sirius asked with a disgusted look. He immediately returned to the article, however, and didn't comment when James opened his mouth for the morsel of toast the love of his life was now bestowing upon him. "Anyhow—'A new aptitude test, developed by the Aurors, will be administered'…and, listen to this! 'Those who may have not achieved passing scores on the pertinent areas of N.E.W.T.s in the past may be accepted, with the understanding that they will be participating in remedial classes.'" He looked across the table at Peter. "So, don't worry if you get a D in Potions, Wormtail, they may overlook it."

Peter looked scared at the thought. "I don't think I'm—Auror material."

"Don't tease him," Remus muttered to Sirius, who swiveled his head to look at the other boy with an appraising look.

"Maybe they'll actually overlook the werewolf thing, and you'll—"

"Do you mind?" snapped Remus, glancing around to see if anyone were close enough to hear.

"No, really, Moony, listen—"

"No, Sirius, it's so bloody impossible that I'm not even listening to you." He drained his glass and stood up. "Bring that up with you." He motioned to the paper. "I haven't finished it." He hesitated, pocketed an apple and muttered, "See you in Charms."

"You really want to be an Auror?" Lily asked Sirius when Remus had gone.

"Absolutely!" The dark-haired boy began to fold the newspaper, his brow furrowed in consternation as it refused to go back into the proper form.

"I think it's bloody brilliant," James commented, stretching his hand out for the newspaper.

Sirius slapped it into his hand. "Like a bloody Muggle road map, that is."

"How would you know that?" asked Lily, in a slightly challenging way.

"Remus brought one here a couple of years ago when we were working on the—" A loud clearing of the throat interrupted James, who blinked and then went on, "—on a project."

"Something clever but completely illegal, immoral, and reprehensible, no doubt," Lily teased.

"For once, no." Sirius smiled brightly.

James scanned down through the article that his friend had been reading. "It says here that recruitment letters will be sent to at least forty people who 'have previously fallen short of Auror standards.' They must be desperate."

"I'm telling you, Wormtail, there's hope for you yet!" Sirius said with a devilish grin. He picked up his fork and started back in on his eggs.

"You know," mused James, "I might just sit this aptitude test."

Lily froze, staring at him. "You're not serious."

"He's Sirius," James quipped, pointing across the table to his friend, who winked and waved. "But I do mean it."

"James, your scores on the N.E.W.T.s will be high enough to get you a place in the Training Program anyhow," Peter pointed out.

"James Potter, you are not going to be an Auror," Lily stated firmly.

"Why not?" Sirius asked. "He's fast, he's smart, and he wants to see the bad guys put away…"

"Does it tell in that article that something like only one in ten Aurors actually lives above the age of thirty? And did you hear Sirius say that because of those horrible Death Eaters, fully one-quarter of the Auror force has been either killed or wounded?" Lily's eyes filled with tears. "I couldn't bear it, James, if something happened to you."

"Lily." James's voice cracked, and he cleared his throat and tried again. "Lily, I know that being an Auror is a scary thing. I know it's dangerous. But things are getting more scary and dangerous anyway. A man should defend the people he loves, and if he needs to put his life on the front lines to do that, then, well…"

"'A man?'" Lily repeated, with a shaky laugh. "You're just eighteen! You're still a stupid boy!" And with that, she sprang to her feet and ran out of the Hall, sobbing.

Stunned, James watched her go.

"You'd better go after her, mate," Sirius advised.

"Yeah, James," Peter seconded. "You need to talk this one out, I think."

James ran his fingers through his hair, messing it up even more than usual. "Shit. I didn't mean to upset her." As he stood up, he glanced at his watch. "If I don't make it to Charms, tell Flitwick—tell Flitwick—" He paused and stared helplessly at Sirius.

The dark-haired boy shrugged. "I'll think of something."

James fled.

Peter's eyes fell on the Prophet, and he found himself hating the thing that had created so much trouble in such a small amount of time. "I suppose you think I'm a coward because I don't want to be an Auror," he said bitterly.

Sirius blinked. "The thought never crossed my mind." He shrugged. "As you say, Wormtail, you really aren't Auror material. You'll find something else that you're well-suited for."

The two boys finished their breakfast in silence.

"You missed it," Sirius said quietly as he slid onto the bench next to Remus in the Charms classroom. "James and Lily just had a row."

"I'm supposed to be surprised about this?" Remus asked, his eyebrows rising.

"Well, no. But the subject of the fight was interesting."

"And that was…?"

"Whether James should be an Auror or not. Seems Lily is worried the fool is going to get himself killed."

Remus lightly stroked his quill. "Can't say I blame her. Being an Auror isn't the safest job out there."

"But what does it matter to her what James does for a living?" Sirius asked, completely bewildered.

The other boy stared at him as if a horn had sprouted in the middle of his forehead. "Are you daft? Or just that clueless?"

"What?"

Remus sighed. "I would venture to say it's because Lily doesn't really want to be a widow at the age of twenty-four."

"A widow? But they're not…" Sudden comprehension bloomed in the gray eyes. "Well, that was utterly daft of me, wasn't it? Who knew she was as serious about this relationship as he is?"

A roll of blue eyes answered his question.

"All right, besides you."

James came in and sat down at the desk behind them, where Peter was already sitting. "I think we've got things straightened out for now," he told them. "We'll have a longer talk later, but at least she's stopped crying."

"Where is the lady in question?" asked Remus.

"Oh, she's in the bathroom, charming her bloodshot eyes away," James said with a wave of his hand.

Sirius snickered, imagining Lily trying to return to the classroom with no eyes at all. Before he could share this hilarious, yet gruesome vision with Remus, Flitwick came in the room, and the dark-haired boy's attention was pulled away from the Aurors and James's crying girlfriend.

Nothing was said for a few days about the Aurors. In fact, everything was reaching the frenzied pitch that surrounded the last couple of weeks before the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s. Fifth and seventh year students threatened, hexed, and generally irritated everyone else in the school in their desperate need for quiet study time.

James and Sirius seemed to be the only exceptions to that rule. While they were also threatening, hexing, and generally irritating the others, it was just because they could, not out of necessity.

"Don't you care about doing well?" Lily demanded of James one night after a brutal review of jinxes. Peter had just gone to bed. Remus and Sirius were easing their tension by magically flying paper aeroplanes around the room and sending them into imaginary strafing runs against some fifth years studying frantically in the corner.

"I do, but…" He hesitated. Then he squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and took the plunge. "In order to be an Auror, they require five passing marks, including Defense, Transfiguration, Charms, and Potions. I know I can score well enough to at least rate a chance at the aptitude test, if not a straight-out invitation to the Training Program."

She stared at him for a long, long time. He didn't look away from her emerald green eyes. She had to know, for better or for worse, that this was his decision. Finally, Lily blinked and drew a ragged breath. "All right," she whispered.

A howl of anguish from Sirius made them look up. One of the fifth years had sent an Incendio at his plane, and it was spiraling out of control towards the wall.

"Don't let it set the place on fire!" yelled someone.

Remus's calm voice somehow cut through the panic that was beginning. "Aguamenti." Water shot from the tip of his wand, dowsing plane and flames. It crashed into the floor and became a pile of ashy, mushy pulp.

"Nicely done," Lily called.

"That's our Moony—keeps his head in any situation," Sirius crowed.

Remus sent his own plane into the fireplace, where it obligingly burst into flame.

"That's what the Aurors are looking for," the dark-haired boy persisted. "Calm head under fire—or in case of fire—quick, simple problem-solving…"

His friend ignored him and started to stack up his books and parchment.

"Really, you'd be a shoo-in, Moony."

Remus paused and glared at his friend. Everyone in the room felt his tension. "Sirius. Stop it."

Sirius had heard that tone directed at him a year ago, when he had encouraged Snape to go through the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow. He shuddered with the memory of it, and of the terrible, tense days following. He couldn't stand to hear Remus talk to him in that manner again. "Sorry, Moony," he said softly.

His friend regarded him with wary eyes and Sirius cursed inwardly at himself. That look was there because of what he had done—would it ever completely go away?

James abruptly coughed and rose to his feet. "All right, everybody," he said. "It's late. We should all be going to bed."

Lily went over to help the fifth years gather up their papers.

Sirius took advantage of the sudden hustle and bustle to step to his friend's side. "Look, I really am sorry."

"So you said. And so you keep saying. But, Gods, Sirius, do you have to keep pushing?"

"It started out just to tease you, I admit, but, damn it all, Moony, you know you'd be good! I know you'd be great! They're getting desperate for Aurors. Now is the right time for you to do some pushing!"

Remus shook his head and started to walk past the dark-haired boy.

"Why can't you just consider it?" Sirius demanded in a harsh whisper.

The other boy stopped and turned very, very slowly. His jaw was tight with tension to the point that his lips hardly moved when he said, "Because I want it so much, and I'll never be able to have it."

The hopelessness in his words and his voice nearly drove Sirius to his knees.

"Oh, Merlin, Remus…"

Remus bolted up the stairs to their dormitory.

After the N.E.W.T.s were administered, every seventh year student had to meet with the Head of their particular House and have a final tête-à-tête about their career plans. Sirius and James went to see McGonagall together. They took a copy of the letters that they had written to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic, asking to be considered for the Auror training program. They returned to the Gryffindor common room quite triumphant.

"She's going to write a letter of recommendation for each of us," James told Remus, Peter, and Lily. "She says that we could hear something in as soon as two weeks."

"That's great," Remus said unenthusiastically.

Peter offered his more effusive congratulations: "They'll take both of you in a heartbeat!"

"Naturally," Sirius said, sitting back on the couch and pulling his legs up to stretch across Lily's and James's laps.

Remus slowly rose. "My appointment was set right after yours, James, so I suppose I'd better go."

They all wished him luck as he left.

James wrapped his arm around Lily's shoulders and pulled her close. "I know you're not really happy about this, but…"

"No, I'm fine," Lily lied. "I'm very proud of you. And Peter is right: they will take you both right away. They'd be idiots not to." She was surprised that she was able to say all that without throwing up on James's robes. Or on Sirius's legs…

Peter and Lily each went to their respective meetings with McGonagall and both returned before Remus.

Lily was thrilled to hear that the preliminary report that McGonagall had received showed that Lily might have more than enough N.E.W.T.s to be considered a prime apprentice for any apothecary or mediwizard. She brought back applications for several apothecaries, a few clinics, and St. Mungo's.

Peter was happy that he had any job prospects at all. McGonagall had given him a list of Ministry departments that might be looking for someone, even with his less than stellar skills. Sirius and James had a fabulous time reading through the different departments and discussing which one might be the best one for their friend.

"Magical Sports, Wormtail! Brilliant! You could get free Quidditch tickets!" James exclaimed.

"You'd want me to get you in for free," Peter said.

"Well, of course, but—"

"Oh, look!" It was Sirius's turn to get excited. "Obliviator Headquarters! Can you imagine what it'd be like working there? You could go to a club, find a beautiful girl, tap her on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me, you remember that bloke you came here with? Well, poof! Now you don't.'"

The boys laughed while Lily shook her head with an indulgent smile. "I don't think it quite works that way."

"Maybe it should," Sirius said, frowning thoughtfully. Then his grin returned, brighter than ever. "Maybe it will, if Wormtail works there!"

"There's the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, Peter," Lily suggested. "That could be interesting."

"I didn't take Muggle Studies," bemoaned the boy. "Maybe I should have!"

"Nah, there are a lot of options here," Sirius said, ruffling Peter's hair playfully. "And we'll help you pick the right option."

"It'd be easier if Remus was here," mumbled James.

As if his words were a conjuration, the portrait hole opened and Remus stepped into the tower. He was carrying his robes, his shirt was halfway undone, and his tie was stuffed in a pocket of his trousers.

"What happened to you?" Sirius asked, blinking with surprise at their friend's unusually untidy appearance.

"Nothing. Went for a walk."

"Without us?"

"You weren't with me, so yes, it must have been without you."

"Git."

"Prat," Remus snapped.

"Dunderhead."

Peter knew the exchange of insults could go on for some time, and his growling stomach just couldn't take it. He decided to interrupt them. "You've been walking all this time? I mean, it's almost time for dinner."

"I was thinking," Remus replied. "I wasn't watching the time."

James glanced at his watch. "Peter's right. It is almost time for dinner." He stood up and offered his hand to Lily to help her to her feet. "You coming, Moony?"

Remus hesitated before shaking his head. "No, I'll get something later from the kitchens. I just want to take a shower right now."

"Are you sure you weren't with a girl somewhere?" asked James, nodding at Remus's unbuttoned shirt.

There was a snort of contempt. "Positive. What girl would have me?" Remus slowly went up to their room.

The other Marauders exchanged worried glances.

"One of us should stay," James whispered to his two friends, "and find out what's wrong."

Peter's stomach growled.

"Obviously Wormtail can't," Sirius said with a smile. "I'll stay. We'll be down soon, I hope."

Remus was pawing through his trunk when Sirius entered the dorm. The disheveled werewolf glanced up at Sirius and asked gruffly, "Why are you here?"

"I do live here, you know. Don't be rude." He sat down on the edge of Remus's bed. "Meeting with McGonagall didn't go well?"

"Don't want to talk about it."

"You'll have to eventually."

"Yeah, well…" Remus tossed a clean set of clothes on the bed and kicked off his shoes.

"You're not going up to the Prefects' bathroom?"

"Doesn't look like it," Remus replied. "I just—I need—ah, fuck it." He turned and went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

So, Sirius was left in the empty dormitory, listening to the water falling in the shower. He tried to think of what to say to Remus next, but, until he knew exactly what the problem was, it was a little difficult to plan an entire discussion. He then tried to transfigure Peter's slippers into rabbits. His heart obviously wasn't in it, because all he was able to do was change them into pink bunny slippers. They had some kind of green gunkiness on them that revolted Sirius.

Shouldn't Moony be out here by now? The water was still running. How long does it take to drown your sorrows? Or yourself…? The thought terrified him, and he leaped off the bed and headed for the bathroom door. "Remus?" he called. There was no answer.

"Remus!"

He waited a few seconds then slowly turned the doorknob. He squeezed his eyes shut as the door swung open, half afraid of what he'd see. Slowly, he raised one eyelid then the other. No blood—always a good thing.

Remus was standing in the shower, his arms braced against the wall, head hung below his shoulders. Sirius took a couple of steps into the bathroom. "Remus?"

"Go away, Padfoot."

"I can't. Not until I find out what's wrong."

Remus's hands curled into fists. "Damn it, Sirius—"

"Damn it, Remus!" The dark-haired boy went over and perched himself on the marble counter between the two sinks. "You know, it's difficult to talk seriously to someone when they're naked. Would you mind getting out of there and covering up so we can have a proper chat?"

"Would you mind getting your nosy bloody self out of here and let me finish my shower in peace?"

"You're not even showering," Sirius argued. "You're fucking drowning yourself."

"Gods, I wish," muttered the other boy.

"Don't even suggest that!" said Sirius sharply. "Now, get the hell out of there."

Remus let his arms drop and reached for the shampoo. "Fine. Let me do this then I'll be out, all right?"

"You'd better, or I'll be back in, and I'll drag you out of there by your tail."

It was only a few minutes more until the water switched off. Sirius waited, cross-legged and only somewhat patiently, on Remus's bed. The young werewolf finally emerged from the bathroom, rubbing his wet hair with a towel, another wrapped around his bony hips.

"You're on my clothes," he said, flicking the towel at Sirius.

The other boy shifted just enough to let his friend get them. "So what happened at your interview with McGonagall?"

"You're not going to let this go, are you?"

"Doesn't look like it."

Remus pulled on his underwear and a pair of jeans without speaking. Sirius permitted it because he saw the intense look of concentration on his friend's face. Since it didn't normally require such deliberate focus to pull a pair of trousers over those skinny legs, it had to be because Remus was trying to think of where to start explaining.

"When you and James had detention two weeks ago for transfiguring the Slytherins' robes into bikinis, I went to McGonagall and asked what my options really were for a job. That article in the paper about the Aurors and what you said made me wonder what I could and couldn't do. Today she gave me the details." Remus arranged his pillows so he could sit on the bed and lean back against the headboard comfortably. "I can't hold a Ministry job. The Werewolf Code of Conduct doesn't say that in so many words, but the Ministry has so many regulations that it's virtually impossible."

"Explain," Sirius said simply.

Remus sighed. "The first regulation is this: if a Ministry employee misses more than two days in a row without a medical excuse or a pre-approved medical condition, it is cause for some kind of disciplinary action. I'm not sure what kind of discipline, but it doesn't matter, because if someone is disciplined three times in a six month period, it's cause for dismissal. And before you ask," he said, seeing Sirius was about to say something, "lycanthropy is not considered a pre-approved medical condition."

Sirius's brain clipped along at a lightning pace, analyzing and piecing together what Remus had said and what he merely implied. "So if you miss work because you're in St. Mungo's, scratched to bits by your own claws, it's considered…?"

"A pre-existing non-approved condition." Remus started idly tracing the pattern on the sheets. "So, I asked her about working in a library or in a research lab. According to the Werewolf Code, I can apply anywhere, but I am required to reveal my lycanthropy if they ask. Which leads to another regulation: according to the Ministry, any institution which is supported in any part by Ministry funds is required to ask. So, a library is going to ask, and I have to tell. Any research lab that has been established or supported by Ministry funds is going to ask, and I have to tell."

"So? You get a job in a private research firm."

"They're difficult to get into because usually they have their own teams already formed when they establish themselves. They also have a tendency to poach good researchers from Ministry-run or Ministry-established labs. Also, there's another stipulation: any organization can ask if I'm a werewolf. They don't have to, but if they ask…"

"You have to tell."

"Exactly. They can also decide to fire me at any time—without pay—if they were unaware of my condition before I was hired, and then they find out."

"Merlin's balls, Remus! What options do you have then?"

"Not many," Remus admitted. He took a deep breath and drew his knees up to his chest, resting his crossed arms on them. "As far as teaching goes, the same thing applies to schools as it does to libraries."

It was painful for him to say, and it hurt Sirius to hear. He knew how much Remus had dreamed of eventually finding a teaching job. "But, there are public schools," he reminded his friend. "Lots of them have no funding from the Ministry."

"No, but they are funded solely by parents that probably wouldn't want a werewolf on staff. So, more than likely, they ask."

"But with your grades, Moony? And you can get letters of recommendation from the professors. You know McGonagall can write a fabulous letter for you."

"But will it be enough to get past the word 'werewolf' that might be written on the application?" Remus looked up at him beneath the damp strands of hair that were falling in his eyes.

Sirius sighed. "Didn't she tell you anything like this back in fifth year?"

Remus's eyes dropped again. "She sure as hell didn't say all this. I've been thinking about it. She did tell me that I would have to make sure I got as many Os and Es as I could. I knew she meant that I'd have to work hard to overcome whatever prejudice existed because of being a werewolf, but I never thought it was quite so—desperate."

"Choose another word."

Remus shook his head. "Anyhow, she was very encouraging then, and she still is, but, damn it, Sirius, I have this feeling that she had hoped things would be different by now, or that she might have other options to present to me by this point."

"You have so much going for you, Moony. You'll find something."

Remus shook his head again and buried his face in his arms. Sirius looked away, feeling completely useless.

Suddenly, Remus began to speak again, very quietly, as if talking to himself. "I thought coming to Hogwarts was the best thing that could happen to me. I wanted to come here so badly, just to learn things. I never thought about a job. But now, I realize…" He broke off, and Sirius waited with bated breath. "Now I realize that I'm going to be disqualified from the jobs I want, and I'll be overqualified for the jobs that I'll be allowed to have."

There it was—the hopelessness all over again. Sirius closed his eyes against it, but he knew he couldn't shut it out. "What about your parents?" he asked, more for something to say than anything else, because he already had an idea of what Remus was going to tell him. "Or Dumbledore?"

"What about them? Did they know it was going to be like this, you mean? Or do they have any ideas?"

Sirius shrugged. "Either. Both."

"I've never really talked to them about it." Remus was silent for a moment then said, "I think my parents worried about this, because when I've mentioned teaching, or being a researcher, they've been very encouraging, but very—vague. The only specific thing either of them has said was when I mentioned I'd like to be an Auror. My dad told me the Ministry would never hire a werewolf as an Auror. He didn't specifically say the Ministry would never hire me at all."

He thought about it some more. "I can't get a job near either one of them, or near home, because it'll just be a matter of time before my employer realizes there's a problem. And in a small town like ours, or the one where my mother works, word will spread in no time." He slid off the bed and reached for his shirt. "I don't want them to have to move again. Mum really likes her garden, and Dad loves the fishing pond. I'm tired of being the reason they have to move.

"As far as Dumbledore goes—he risked so much having me here in the first place. It wouldn't be fair of me to ask for more."

"But the fact that he took a risk once—"

"And it's gone so well, don't you think?" the werewolf asked, looking pointedly at Sirius and gripping his shirt in white-knuckled fingers. "He certainly can't go to the Ministry and say he'd recommend having others like me here. The whole thing with Snape pretty much ruined that."

"But that wasn't your fault!"

"What's to stop someone else from sending another student down through that tunnel if another lycanthropic student turns up?" He pulled his shirt over his head and then bent over to snatch some socks out of the trunk. Sirius watched, brow furrowed, trying to think of something to say.

"I know you're hungry," Remus said suddenly. "If we hurry, we can at least get some treacle tart."

Sirius really wasn't sure he was hungry anymore. What had started out as a harmless prank seemed, even a year later, to be continually metastasizing, and he was at the root of it all. "Gods, Moony, I really messed things up for you. If it wasn't for me, Dumbledore could go to the Ministry and say that you were a model student, and could use you as the perfect example of—"

"I don't want to be the perfect example of anything!" protested Remus loudly. "I just want—" He huffed. "I just wanted a normal life, or as close to one as I could get."

Sirius winced.

The other boy noticed and leaned against the tall bedpost. "Listen, it's—it's not your fault. Not completely at any rate. Maybe I'm to blame for allowing you lot to become Animagi, and to become, I don't know, desensitized or something, about how dangerous it was. And maybe if McGonagall or Dumbledore had been a little more—honest—about my lack of options, you would have remembered how important it was to keep my secret." He rubbed the back of his neck. "If Dumbledore was using me to be a role-model, and to encourage the Ministry to allow werewolves to go to school here, then maybe I should be glad this is happening. I'd hate to be that—person." He slowly picked up one shoe and started fumbling with a knot in the strings. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "it seems as if everyone kept things from me, and now I'm the one paying for it. I'm bloody sick of the unfairness of it all."

It shocked Sirius to hear him actually say those words. Remus never complained about things being fair or not. He already knew there was bloody little fairness in life. "Surely Dumbledore wouldn't have made a, a puppet out of you in order to prove the point that werewolves could go to Hogwarts!"

"How do you know?" Remus asked with a faint challenging tone. "Someone had to be the example. There had to be a "first werewolf" to go through Hogwarts. That was me. I knew it. So why wouldn't Dumbledore use me to make that point?"

Sirius opened his mouth to answer, but suddenly realized—he didn't know that Dumbledore wouldn't. He watched his friend put on his shoes and lace them tightly. "Moony, if Dumbledore thought for one minute that the rest of your life—and the lives of other werewolves—rested on the fact that you get through Hogwarts safely, don't you think he would have warned you about it? It doesn't make sense that he'd just—leave it to chance."

Remus's jaw tensed. "Padfoot, there's been very little 'chance' about it: the Whomping Willow, the Shrieking Shack—all of it was designed to prove the point that a werewolf could attend Hogwarts, as long as the precautions were in place." He lightly tapped the bedpost with the side of his fist. "I knew I had been given an incredible opportunity, and I—I obviously didn't take it seriously enough. Damn it, Sirius, I was smart enough that I should have known I was here as a guinea pig. How many times did I tell you that I couldn't get involved in certain pranks because I owed Dumbledore? He shouldn't have had to tell me. And he couldn't tell me. How could he know if the experiment was a success if I was always trying to be perfect? It wasn't natural to expect that from me. Hell, it wouldn't be realistic to expect that from you, or James, or Peter, even!" He bent down to pick up the towels he had dropped carelessly on the floor. "No wonder McGonagall didn't tell me anything back in fifth year. Or my parents either. They couldn't, because they didn't know what my options would be. My options were solely based on how successful Dumbledore's experiment was. Obviously, it failed, I failed, and with that, any ambitions that I had."

"But you didn't do anything!"

The blue eyes that met his were colder than he'd ever seen. "Tell that to Severus Snape."

"Shit, Moony." It came out as a moan.

Silence fell thickly and uncomfortably between the two of them.

Finally, Remus broke the awkward silence. "I'd appreciate it if you'd tell James and Peter about this," he surprised Sirius by saying. "I don't know if I really feel like going over it again."

"James might be able to come up with an idea or two," Sirius remarked. "Or Lily might."

Remus tossed the two towels into the corner, knowing the house elves would get them, and commented sarcastically, "Maybe I can get a job as a house elf."

"You're too big," was Sirius's instant retort. "And I've seen your Scourgify. There's no way."

He did get a lopsided smile out of Remus on that, and figured he should count himself thankful.

"Only two days until it's all over," moaned Peter as he plunked himself down on the bench next to Sirius at breakfast.

Remus, sitting on the other side of Sirius, suppressed a shudder. Sirius felt some part of it because he shot a sidelong look at the werewolf, but neither acknowledged it.

"There's no reason to be so glum about it," James said, completely coating his toast with honey. "We'll still see each other."

"Want some toast to go with your honey?" joked Sirius.

"You know how I like honey."

"And I thought Moony had the sweet tooth."

"Nothing sweet about his teeth," James shot a grin at Remus, who ignored the comment.

"You're awfully quiet this morning," Lily said, smiling gently at the boy sitting across from her.

Remus shrugged. "Nothing to say." He fiercely speared a sausage with his fork.

"So what are we going to do on Saturday night?" asked Sirius, reaching across Remus's plate for the jam.

"My parents want to take me out for dinner to celebrate," Lily said, carefully sectioning a grapefruit.

"Is petty, petulant Petunia going too?" A glob of jam landed half on the toast, half on Sirius's thumb. He sucked it off noisily.

Lily wrinkled her nose. "That's disgusting. Actually, I'm not sure if she's going or not. It probably all depends on whether Vernon asks her out."

James made a gagging noise.

Sirius glanced around and saw the plate of sausages on the other side of Remus. Again he stretched his arm across the other boy's plate. "I was think—OW!" He drew his arm back hurriedly and rubbed it. "You fucking stabbed me with a fork!"

"Yes, I did," Remus calmly replied, taking a drink of juice. The others stared at him in shock.

"Bloodthirsty monster," grumbled Sirius. He rolled up his sleeve. "Look! You drew blood!"

Blue eyes bored straight into the gray ones. "Good."

"He did not draw blood. Remus, you did not make him bleed one little bit. Sirius, stop whining. You reach across our plates all the time. You should have guessed that would happen sooner or later," Lily said crossly.

"It's two days before our leaving!" yelped Sirius. "If you wanted to make a point,

Moony, couldn't you have done it in our third year or something? And with something a little less—well, pointed?"

A flurry of owl wings suddenly interrupted his tirade. Letters began dropping in front of students throughout the Great Hall.

"Hey, a letter!" Injury forgotten, Sirius picked up the thick envelope and ripped it open.

"I got one too," James said, obviously puzzled, flipping it over to see who it was from.

"'Department of Magical Law Enforcement—Auror Division'… YES!" Sirius's yell of triumph rang out over the sounds of the owls and excited chattering.

"Wait until you've read it," Lily advised, "in case it's bad news."

"An envelope this thick can't be bad news!" James said excitedly, ripping the thing apart to get to the letter.

Sirius already had his letter unfolded. "'Dear Mr. Black, Only the most talented wizards and witches are accepted into the elite ranks of the Auror Division…"

James, his letter now held in his shaky hands, continued, "…So, based on the following criteria…"

"…One, your performance at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry…"

"…Two, your performance on your Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests…"

Sirius was rising to his feet as he read, "…Three, a preliminary background check, as well as your letter of interest…"

"… We would like to extend to you this invitation to participate in the battery of assessments…"

The two boys finished the sentence together, "…That will determine whether you are qualified for such an exclusive career."

"We made it!" screamed Sirius. He jumped on the table, knocking over plates and bowls and glasses in the process, and held his arms above his head in triumph. "We're going to be Aurors!"

James celebrated by pulling Lily to her feet and giving her a long, deep kiss that had Peter blushing. Sirius was still too busy shouting to notice.

Remus was oblivious to it all. He was staring apprehensively at an envelope held tightly in his hands. Nothing good had ever come to him from the Ministry, and everything that did had his werewolf identification number on it. This very clearly had the Ministry of Magic seal, and was addressed to Mr. Remus J. Lupin, but no werewolf I.D. was in sight.

"What is it?" Peter finally leaned over and asked, desperate to look at anyone else other than James and Lily.

Remus shook his head. "I don't know." He hurriedly tucked the letter into his pocket. "Probably a letter from the Department of Magical Creatures." He noticed McGonagall coming down the aisle towards them. "Uh, Sirius…" He tugged at his leg of his friend's jeans.

"I'm going to be an Auror, Moony!"

"You have to get through the tests first, Padfoot. But you do need to thank her," Remus said, motioning to the approaching professor.

Sirius instantly scrambled off the table.

"Mr. Black, if I am to understand that you've been accepted to take part in the testing for the Auror program, that's wonderful. However, jumping on the table in such a manner is hardly the best way to celebrate—" Her sentence was cut off abruptly when Sirius threw his arms around her and squeezed. "Mr. Black! Unhand me at once!"

"You helped make this possible!" Sirius said. "Thank you!" He let go of her and turned to James. "We did it!" The two boys threw their arms around each other.

McGonagall rolled her eyes. She recognized when it was time to admit defeat. She flicked her wand at the table, muttering spells to clean up spilled food and broken dishes. With a rueful smile at Peter, Lily, and Remus, she then retreated back to the table at the front of the room.

"Remus got a letter today, too," Peter announced later that day, as they lounged on some rocks near the lake, enjoying the bright sunshine.

"Oh really?" Sirius asked without opening his eyes.

"What was it?" James asked inattentively. Lily had said she had things to do, and he was still wondering what kinds of things they were.

"It's nothing," Remus said curtly.

Sirius opened one eye and turned his head so he could see the werewolf. "Who's it from?"

"The Ministry."

That got James's attention. "Really?"

Sirius opened his other eye and sat up. "What did it say?"

"I don't know yet."

"Didn't you read it?" asked James.

"No. I didn't even open it."

"Why ever not?" demanded Sirius.

Remus shrugged. "The only Ministry letters that come to me are about werewolf stuff, and they're never good. I didn't feel like opening it and getting depressed."

"Are they changing the Code again?" James wondered.

"They're always changing the Code," Remus said bitterly. "They probably want to tell me that I can't go to Diagon Alley without a big red 'W' painted on my forehead."

"Do you want me to open it?" Sirius offered.

The sandy-haired boy hesitated then shook his head. "No. I'll open it later."

"Maybe it's a summons from the Wizengamot for assaulting me this morning," Sirius said, lying back down.

"They'll see that was justified," Remus said firmly. "I'll probably get the Order of Merlin for it."

"They'll have to defend me—I'm a future Auror."

Remus and Peter exchanged amused glances.

"You know, we haven't decided what we're going to do on Saturday night," James pointed out suddenly.

That conversation kept them busy until dinner time.

That night, the seventh year boys' dorm was surprisingly quiet. James was writing a note to his parents about his invitation. Peter was already trying to pack. Sirius was thoroughly engrossed in a book filched from the library about famous Aurors. Remus also had a book open in front of him, but he was staring at the front of the envelope that he had received that morning, which he had been using as a bookmark.

Just open the thing, he told himself.

I don't want to, his self whimpered.

Coward.

Yeah. Got a problem with that?

It's not going to go away if you don't read it.

No, but it's going to take away another part of my humanity if I do read it.

Finally, dread weighing in his stomach like a ton of stone, he eased one long finger under the flap and tugged.

The faint sound of ripping paper caused Sirius to glance up. "Are you finally opening that bloody letter?"

Remus sighed and nodded. He should have opened it in the bathroom where he'd have had more privacy.

Sirius sat up, dog-earing the page he was on. James paused, quill in hand, his eyes curious behind his glasses. Peter looked over, but then went back to his packing.

Remus unfolded the letter and scanned it quickly. They saw him blink, and then saw his eyes go back up to the top of the letter and start to reread it.

"Oh, that's not fair, Moony!" cried Sirius. "You can't read it twice before we've heard what it says!"

"How bad is it?" asked James, coming over to Sirius's bed and throwing himself across it on his belly.

"Let's guess what it is!" Sirius said excitedly. "I think that werewolves are now required to wear red leather collars and drink out of those plastic bowls that Muggles get for their dogs."

"Good guess." James patted his friend's knee. "But I think it says that werewolves are going to be required to check in at the Registry every time they want to go to Diagon Alley. Wormtail? What's your guess?"

"I think that werewolves will no longer be able to have a bed. They'll have to sleep in a kennel with straw every night."

"That's surprisingly creative for you, Worm—" Sirius's sentence was cut off by James's jostling arm. "Why'd you—?"

James nodded toward Remus, who was now whiter than the parchment. His jaw was slack, which gave him a rather feckless look that they had never seen before.

"They're going to let you live, aren't they?" Sirius asked.

Remus blinked and shut his jaw with an audible snap. "Uh, yeah. For now."

"What is it?"

The werewolf quickly began to fold the letter back up. "It's… nothing."

"Moony, you're a bloody liar."

He hesitated just a second before answering, "Yes, I am."

"So, what is it?" Sirius persisted.

James suddenly got up and went over to Remus's bed. "Give it," he ordered, arm outstretched.

Remus looked at his friend's hand.

"You heard me," James said sternly. He snapped his fingers. "Now."

"Use Imperius on him, James," suggested Sirius.

Remus slowly handed the letter over. James made a big show of unfolding it and smoothing it out. "Let's see now. Here goes, lads.

'Dear Mr. Lupin,

Only the most talented wizards and witches are accepted into the elite ranks of the Auror Division. So, based on the following criteria:

Your performance at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,

Your performance on your Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests,

A preliminary background check,

We would like to extend to you this invitation...'"

James fell silent.

Three pairs of eyes fastened on the silent fourth.

"They've invited you to take the tests to be an Auror, Moony," Sirius whispered in awe.

"No." Remus shook his head. "It has to be a mistake. It has to be. My dad told me—"

"How could they have screwed up so badly?" Sirius interrupted him. "They couldn't have. It's the Ministry. It has to be a genuine invitation."

"They did change the restrictions and the testing procedures," Peter reminded them.

"See? They've come to their senses!" Sirius said with more excitement. "Moony, this is your chance! This is what you wanted!"

"It doesn't work like that," Remus whispered. "It's not real. It has to be a mistake." He shook his head again. "It's not possible."

Sirius scrambled off the bed and swiped the letter from James's hand. "It's the same thing we got, and it says they did a preliminary background check. Surely it wouldn't take much checking to discover your furry little problem."

"I've got a bloody file down there that's an inch thick," Remus said bitterly. "It's a little hard to miss."

"So it can't be a mistake!"

"Take it to Dumbledore or McGonagall," Peter suggested. "They can check up on it."

"No!" howled Sirius. "Don't!"

They all looked at him in varying degrees of bewilderment.

"Listen." Sirius sat down on Remus's bed and put one arm around his shoulders. "If this is an actual invitation, they're going to wonder why you're questioning it. They may think you have something more to hide."

"Sirius, that's ridic—"

Sirius clapped a hand over Remus's mouth. "Hear me out. If, if, this letter is a mistake, asking about it will give them the chance to take this away from you."

"But Sirius…"

"Would you shut up! We all know you'd make a damned fine Auror. You know it too. I say, treat the letter like it's a real invitation. There are plenty of opportunities for them to tell you it's a mistake, starting with the third of July, when we go for the first round of tests. If you get through the testing, and get into the program, what are they going to say? You'll have proved yourself to them. If you get the sympathy of some of them, maybe they'll fight to keep you."

"That's a lot of bloody ifs."

"Of course it is. But, isn't it worth fighting for?"

Remus slowly took the letter from Sirius's hand and stared at it.

James sat down at the foot of his bed. "What's the worst that could happen?" he asked.

The werewolf gave him a sharp look, wondering if he was being flippant. No, James honestly wanted to know.

"I don't know," he said miserably. "I suppose I could be arrested and thrown into Azkaban for not revealing my lycanthropy."

"But if they did the background check as they said they did, you have every right to assume they know," Sirius insisted.

Remus shook his head. "I can't make that assumption. I haven't made that assumption."

"No, but you can claim it."

"Maybe if I was fully human I could," Remus said. "They won't see it that way."

"So we make sure you have a good lawyer before you go in for the testing."

"Wait. I haven't said I'm going to go."

Sirius stared at him in disbelief. "Of course you're going to go. You want this, Moony You deserve it. I'll drag you there by your furry, pointy ears if I have to."

Remus very carefully folded the letter and slipped it between the pages of his book.

"Just think about it," Sirius pleaded softly.

"It could work," James said in the same quiet tone.

"It could be your only chance," Peter insisted, coming over to stand next to James. "I say go for it."

Remus sighed. "I'll think about it.

"You'll think about it?" Sirius yelped. "Moony, you—"

"I said I'll think about it!" Remus repeated firmly. "Just leave it alone, would you, Padfoot? For once in your bloody life, just—please—leave it alone."

Sirius scowled. "All right. I'll leave it alone. But I want a decision by Saturday night."

James and Peter laughed uneasily. Remus merely sighed and shoved Sirius off the bed and ignominiously onto the floor.