Author's Note: I didn't intend for this fic to get as weird and drunk-sounding and unwieldy and rushed as it did, but… I was sleepy when I wrote it, and the clock snuck up on me.

Rated a bit lightly; beware language and ridicule of Jamesie.

The Dangers of Over-Hearing

There is a difference between overhearing and over-hearing. The first is, according to the dictionaries, to detect speech that the speaker did not intend for the hearer's ears. The second is, according to Remus Lupin, to fail to follow the act of overhearing with the act of flight. It is deliberate eavesdropping, and it is unconscionable.

Unfortunately, it is also nigh on irresistible.

And far too easy.

"Sirius, you've got to be shitting me."

"I'm not even crapping you, Prongsie, let alone shitting you."

Remus had known that it was wrong, but he'd stayed in the shadow of the statue as they walked past. James had stopped, suddenly—just inches away—and Sirius had halted as well, the better to fold his arms and lift an imperious eyebrow. Or so Remus imagined; he hadn't quite been able to see around the festive Christmas garlands draped over the angular elbow of the statue that concealed him.

He'd always kind of wondered why the statues couldn't move, seeing as how photographs and portraits could. And suits of armor, for that matter; one had given him a merrily mortifying chase just a few nights ago.

"Sirius," James had insisted, "I thought I was your best mate."

Sirius probably should have gathered the gravity of the situation simply from the use of his given name, but, then, Sirius wasn't much good with gravity of any sort—though he did have a knack for making falling down the stairs look graceful.

"You are," he replied blithely. "The sex wouldn't be nearly so hot if you weren't."

Remus had been glad he wasn't visible, because he was also now bright red in the face.

James's voice had been tight. "Not funny," he reported.

"Look," Sirius had insisted, earnest now—it wasn't much, but it was better than cavalier. "You are my best mate, James, darling, but he's like—he's like my brother. You know? Sometimes he drives you up the wall, and sometimes he drives you right onto the sodding ceiling, but… you know? You just want to protect him. Keep him from the Valley of the Shadow or something."

"Sirius, don't throw that shit at me."

"You don't know anything about it, James, so shut up. If I threw shit at you, you'd regret it; believe me… But do you know what I mean?"

James had started walking again, and the conversation faded down the hall. "No," he'd said. "Enlighten me."

Sirius had gone bounding off after him, and they'd turned a corner, and Remus had cautiously emerged.

He had honestly believed that they'd been talking about Peter, and, other than the bit of sticky, unpleasant, lingering guilt that clung like a miasma for a week or two, he'd largely forgotten the incident.

Just about two decades later, he heard the same note in Sirius's voice.

"He's in love with you," Sirius insisted.

You're over-hearing, Remus reminded himself desperately. You know what happens when you over-hear, Remus Lupin. Get your pathetic over-hearing ears out of the vicinity before you over-hear—

"He is not!" Nymphadora cried indignantly.

Shit, Remus thought weakly.

Sirius scoffed extravagantly. "Oh, why the hell isn't he, then?"

"You'd think he'd've said a word about it—"

"My dear Tonks," Sirius interrupted, "you are forgetting the crucial detail that the young Mr. Lupin is male. We don't talk about things. We're much subtler than that. And much stupider."

Nymphadora sounded slightly hysterical, and Remus winced heavily.

"I don't have the genetic capacity to understand subtlety!" she howled. "In case the excessive clumsiness and the neon pink hair didn't tip you off!"

Remus banged his forehead against the wall.

Apparently, he did it a bit too loudly, because the talking stopped.

Fuck, Remus thought weakly.

On the upside, he was progressing admirably, at least as far as the mental vituperations went.

Sirius, damn him and his wall-defying voice to a thousand hells, poked his head out the door into the hall before Remus could flee.

"What the crap are you doing here?" he asked eloquently.

"Um," Remus managed. "Loitering suspiciously?"

Nymphadora's head emerged as well. Her eyebrows, blind-you magenta to match her un-subtle hair, rose. Remus hoped he wasn't rapidly turning utter-humiliation red, but that hope was a doomed one from the get-go.

Sirius folded his arms across his chest, grinning broadly. "That's not very subtle," he announced. He shot a meaningful glance at Nymphadora and waggled his own, rather less-exciting eyebrows. She scowled at him.

"I'll be going now," Remus told him meekly, focusing on unruly black hair in order not to look at Nymphadora any more than was strictly necessary.

"Go on, then," Sirius replied dismissively, waving a negligent hand. "Run away, coward that you are."

The words hurt a bit more than their utterer probably realized. "Maybe I will, Sirius," Remus responded. "Maybe I will."

He tripped on the narrow stairs. Sirius snorted, and Nymphadora gasped. He turned to reassure them that he was quite all right and tripped again—better still this time.

'Better still' got him to the foot of the stairwell, where he lay dazed and dizzy, examining the ceiling.

The dangers of over-hearing are, clearly, many and varied. Divers and sundry. Well-deserved, in any case.

As they fussed over him, as Sirius sheepishly apologized, as Nymphadora knelt next to him and asked if he could move his limbs in a manner that indicated extensive experience, all he could think was how lovely her eyes were.

Many, varied, and more than worth it.