Disclaimer: As much as I wish I could say Sirius Black was mine, such a claim would be erroneous. ToT –signal funeral music for dreams- I own nothing at all to do with Harry Potter; it all belongs to J. K. Rowling, total genius she is.

This not-so-little story came to me in the middle of the night, successfully disrupting my sleep, after I finished Prisoner of Azkaban the second time. I had to write this; ignoring it simply was not an option. I always thought everyone's favorite Animagi quartet—with the exception of Wormtail, of course—were the best characters in Harry Potter, and I was always touched by the bond they must have had and what they did for Lupin. So, I decided to write a fanfic about it. I'm proud of how this turned out, honestly, so I decided to share it with my fellow Harry Potter fans. ;)

As you may have surmised, this is about the first full moon night they accompanied Lupin as Animagi. It's rather long, and maybe a tad sappy in places, but I hope you like it! XD

Complete

Remus Lupin emerged slowly into the dark, frigid room and looked around with the same apprehension which always gripped him when he entered here. Perhaps it was the knowledge of what would soon happen, the purpose it served, but even after five years this decrepit house filled him with dread. He simply did not like it here…yet he was immeasurably grateful for the confinement this place offered. It secured the safety of countless others, and if it had not been built, he would have never been able to join Hogwarts.

Yet the protection for the rest of the school it assured gave him little comfort tonight. Tonight he was not alone.

He could hear his three friends, who had accompanied him in spite of his increasingly frantic objections, move about in the tunnel below. Remus stepped away from the opening, arms crossed unconsciously over his chest, attempting to dispel the heavy disquiet that weighed on him as he watched James Potter peek into the room. James peered around, his glasses slightly askew, his incorrigibly unkempt hair even more mangled from their travel. There was a small cut across one cheek; he had had a close encounter with a particularly violent branch of the Whomping Willow on their way down.

"Wow," he commented with a sort of mildly disgusted appreciativeness. "Some place." He lifted himself a little so his elbows rested on the dusty floor. He grimaced at the feel. "Have to say, Remus, I think I liked the idea of your mum's sick-room better. Least that included furnishings."

"Oh, come off it, James." Sirius Black's voice floated up from the shallow depths of the passageway. "You can't honestly say you believed that nonsense about his ill mother." Remus winced a little at this offhand admonishment of the obviously unconvincing lie he had tried to tell them to explain his monthly disappearances. James glanced down with a vague frown, slightly offended.

"Excuse me," he said briskly, "who was the one who kept saying Remus would never lie?" He heaved himself out and onto the floor, brushing the grime off his clothes as he stood and surveyed their new surroundings.

A pair of hands appeared from the darkness and gripped the edge of the floor. Sirius's face, framed by locks of ebony hair which seemed even darker contrasted against his pallid skin, surfaced at the tunnel's mouth. He regarded James with a raised eyebrow. "That would be you, Potter."

James blinked. "Was it?" He shrugged. "Well, whatever. Point is this place is rather unnerving." He shivered and rubbed his arms. "Man, and it's cold in here."

"That would probably be because it's the middle of winter," Sirius pointed out. He glanced at Remus with a smile. "Don't listen to him. He complains if McGonagall's hat is an inch off center."

"Only because it's always off center," James said defensively, casting Sirius a look of mock hurt.

"Not your business."

"Says the boy who never shuts up about Snape's poor showering habits."

"That's different. He's a slimeball." Sirius's gaze wandered curiously around, took in the scattered remnants of ruined furniture, the marred walls, the dried blood stains which cut through the coat of dust on the floor. He slipped lithely out of the passage, his dark eyes on Remus now, thoughtful and knowing. Remus found he could not meet that stare, familiar shame and self-loathing astir in his chest. There was no judgment in Sirius's eyes, but somehow that did nothing to alleviate Remus's unrest. Sirius did not understand. None of them did.

James and Sirius positioned themselves on either side of the tunnel, and reached down to assist the last of their party, Peter Pettigrew. After a moment of strenuous pulling, a high-pitched squeak of "Sirius, don't pull my arms off!" and a grunted reply of "From this day on you are definitely laying off the chocolate frogs, Peter," the mousy-faced boy had joined them in the tenebrous abode. He was the only one of them who was visibly unsettled. His minute eyes darted in every direction, and his face, usually ablaze with nervous, hectic color, had become even paler than Sirius's. He certainly did not appear as if he wanted to be here any more than Remus desired him to. Yet he looked excited, as well. As if this were another adventure the four had embarked on, complete with rule-breaking, deception of unwary teachers, and narrow escapes from discovery which could get them all expelled—galvanizing, but ultimately harmless.

Remus wanted to tell him it was not, to disillusion all three of them to the true danger they had willingly thrown themselves into, but at first he could not say a word. He looked to each of them, their expressions, but even in Peter he saw little real fear, and not a trace of intent to flee. He glanced warily to one of the boarded windows. Through the cracks he could see the darkened sky, bright with stars, but the moon was nowhere in sight. It would be soon, however. He could feel its inexorable approach, ever closer, a complete orb aglow with the cold, deadly radiance that would turn him into a ravenous and mindless monster.

They could not stay. Perhaps he had let this go too far already. The terrible, agonized shrieks which ascended from inside these forsaken walls every month had led the people to think it was haunted by violent spirits, and he did not think their assumption was wholly erroneous. It felt to him as if this place was haunted, forever scarred with the very essence of the beast of the full moon, the beast which lurked within the depths of himself. He had been able to somehow avoid harming anyone all his life, and he could not permit the first victims to be his best and only friends. Perhaps they did not comprehend the threat which now hung over their heads like an unseen guillotine, but he did. He knew all too well. How could he ever live with himself if they were hurt at his hands…or killed?

At last, he found his voice again. "This is your last chance, guys," he said softly, his gaze averted. He still seemed unable to look them in the eye. "You should get out while you still…still have time. This was a bad idea. You should just go." He tried to make his tone stern, rational and unemotional, but he heard his own unsteadiness too clear. He slipped his hands surreptitiously into his pockets to hide how they shook. He did not want them to see how afraid he was. It would only make them more determined to stay.

He should have known it was futile. James and Sirius—even Peter—missed nothing. The two former boys both looked fleetingly toward the window. They exchanged a glance, the kind they appeared to reserve only for each other. In it their brotherly closeness would have been evident to a total stranger; they seemed to hold their own private, wordless conversation in that ephemeral contact, and after a moment to reach mutual assent. Sirius inclined his head once, and James returned the gesture.

James regarded Remus steadily, and for the first time as long as Remus had known him, the young wizard looked truly serious. Not a trace of that perpetual, often inexplicable and sometimes offensive humor James and Sirius both exuded remained. Still, he appeared unafraid. There was no hint of unease, except for the way he continuously pushed his glasses up his nose. Remus recognized the gesture; he saw James act this way before a major exam or Quidditch match. "No way," he said. "We're not leaving you."

"But—"

Sirius stepped up beside him, and Remus fell silent. The air of uncharacteristic grimness that shrouded James also shrouded him, and a far more familiar unyielding determination hardened his eyes. He placed a hand on Remus's shoulder and smiled, but it held none of the usual mirth. "We told you we would stay, didn't we? That we wouldn't abandon you?"

Miserably, Remus nodded.

"Right. And we're men of our word, aren't we, Pete?"

"Y-yes, of course! Unfalteringly!" Peter stepped back a little, an odd mix of fondness and what was almost fear in his expression. Remus had always thought Peter seemed rather intimidated by Sirius, and looked to the other boy with an odd amiable sort of servility. None of them—even Peter himself—could have known it then, but the way he regarded Sirius was very close to how he would come to look at a serpentine Dark Lord who would mire the wizarding world under his burgeoning power for eleven years.

"Men of our word to the end," James asserted. "And that word is: loyalty."

"Valor," Sirius added.

"C-Caring!" Sirius cast Peter a look. The smaller boy shrugged and offered him a sheepish grin.

"Integrity," James continued, and now it was his turn to receive a pointed stare from Sirius.

"You don't even know what that word means, James."

"Yeah, well, it sounds good, so…"

"Sounds like something he'll never have," Sirius whispered to Remus, but made little effort to prevent James from overhearing. Peter snickered, and James fashioned an affronted expression on his face that was far too dramatic to be believable. Still, the aberrant atmosphere of solemnity was unbroken. Remus looked between them, to each of his friends, and understood he had been wrong. They knew what this meant, and they took it very seriously.

James turned back to Remus, calm, resolute, and unsmiling. He pushed up his glasses, his eyes slightly shadowed behind them in the dismal light. He appeared far older than he truly was. Remus appraised him with something like wonder. "Face it, Remus. We're not leaving you. We worked too damn hard to simply abandon you now."

Sirius nodded. "And on that, we hold to our integrity."

"Exactly. What he said."

Remus studied each of his friends, and in that moment he saw the truth of their words. They understood what they faced, the danger they had chosen to stand before without hesitation, and they would not falter. He thought of all they had done for him, the extensive research of werewolves begun immediately after his secret was discovered, how they had risked everything, including their own welfare, to become Animagi so they could be with him these dreaded nights. Such a high level of magic was no simple feat to master, but they had been tireless and adamantine, and after all this time their goal was achieved. For him.

A warm, almost entirely alien feeling came over the youth, eliminated every trace of trepidation. It was a feeling he could not define, not then: a sudden sureness, an understanding these were his friends, friends who had not deserted him when he was certain they would no longer want anything to do with him. That resigned loneliness he had lived with all his life, the isolation, the sense of distance from everyone, had been lifted from him for the first time, the weight of what he was he had not even been fully aware of until now. He felt…safe, confident in them and the plan they had conceived to spare him even a little torment. Most of all, he felt love for them, bonded to them in a way he had never known or believed possible.

His gratitude was so powerful he could find no words to relay it to them, these new, wonderful emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. His throat was closed up. He seemed to have forgotten how to breathe. As he looked into their eyes, however, he could see there was no need to say anything. They knew.

Sirius clapped his shoulder. "So what do you think, my moony friend? Are you going to allow us to stay, or what?"

Slowly, mute, Remus nodded.

He was floating.

He drifted along an endless void, a black cloud without sound, without sensation or thought. He knew only that he was warm. It seemed strange, as if it should be different, although he could not decide why. It did not matter. There had been pain before, he could remember that much. There had been a terrible agony which felt as though it would persist through eternity, but it was no longer. The knowledge of its prior existence was faint and obscure, and he could not recall why he had been afflicted or why it had been so cleanly effaced. He had no sense of his identity or location. He merely was, afloat upon a sea of nothingness.

Slowly, Remus began to come back to himself.

It was difficult, at first, to reemerge from the depths of unconsciousness. The first thing he became aware of was that someone was near. He could feel them, close to his side, but could not open his eyes to ascertain who they were. He thought, however, there was more than one. This awakening seemed familiar, but wherever he was did not. The warmth which enveloped him, the presence of others, was somehow off. It should not be. For a moment the blackness lingered, penetrated only by a dim bemusement, and then the memory of all which had taken place the night before returned with sudden confounding impact.

His eyes opened halfway. His vision was blurred, the world around him no more than a mass of grayed, indistinct shapes. His lids were incredibly heavy, and no matter how he tried he could not lift them any higher. Everything came into gradual focus, and he saw where he was and the three who had kept him company in his transformation under the cruel luminosity of the full moon.

As they always were, the memories of anything which might have transpired during his turn into a full-fledged werewolf were vague and fragmented, not really there, like a half-forgotten dream. A nightmare. All he could recollect with any real clarity and insensate corporeality was the anguish, yet as he arose even this seemed faraway. He believed somehow the pain had not been as bad this time as he had become inured to, the agony of ripping himself apart, unable to contain the violent nature of his twisted being but isolated from anything else to retaliate against. It was as if something had kept it at bay, diminished the monstrosity that possessed him and made it easier to bear, easier to hold on to the essence of himself.

After a moment, the reason became evident. The familiar faces of Sirius, James, and Peter hovered above him. He was lying on the four-poster bed in a room at the top floor of the house. Sirius was next to him. James leaned on one of the posts on the opposite end. Peter stood aside, his plump elbows rested in the soft mattress. He looked shaken, but the satisfaction and the spark in his eyes could not be mistaken. Sirius and James both smiled at him in that easy, unaffected way of theirs, expressions which held such an uncanny resemblance to each other one would have been tempted to entertain the suspicion the two were brothers. Remus thought they were both exhausted, but, like Peter, their triumph was obvious.

"Ah, Sleeping Beast awakes," Sirius said. "We were beginning to wonder if you were going to sleep right through the rest of the year." Something unidentifiable broke through Sirius's calm visage. "We were…starting to worry."

"It'd be better if you slept through the rest of the year," James remarked. "You could have skipped out on exams." He let out a groan of feigned torture. "McGonagall and her crooked hat never gives us a break…"

Sirius fixed him with one of his signature pointed stares. "After all this work learning how to transfigure ourselves, anything McGonagall could possibly dream up should be a breeze." He waved a hand. "Besides, with your Quidditch skills, I wouldn't be surprised if you were her favorite student, James."

"Yeah, on the Quidditch field. In her classroom, it's a different story…all because I might've once dropped a dung-bomb on her desk. I mean, really!" He crossed his arms with an indignant huff. "That was an accident! And anyway, it's not like her hat smelled much better before…" Sirius rolled his eyes at his friend's exaggerated proclamation of unfairness, but he was still smiling. Peter sniggered.

Remus heard little of this exchange. He regarded each of them and dimly wondered if this was real or only a wishful dream. He could remember their words the night before, but he supposed he had not until now realized the extent of his doubt they would stay. He had suspected they would be gone when he awoke. Yet here they were, undeterred…unharmed.

His gaze met with Sirius's again. The other boy's dark eyes, almost enchanting in their perpetual tranquility and that faint glint of mischievousness they always reflected, looked steadily into his own. There was a warm fondness within them that mirrored the strange and wonderful emotions Remus felt for these young wizards. "You stayed," he whispered, barely aware he had spoken aloud. It seemed more to him—although perhaps that was simply due to his half-conscious state—as if his thoughts were delivered to them through some strong, internal connection between the four of them, something which had perhaps been there from the beginning and had been fortified by what had happened.

Sirius's expression softened, and the over-dramatized affront at their transfiguration teacher's alleged bias faded from James's face. They all regarded Remus with an almost grave affection the werewolf had never seen. He searched them for confirmation this was real, and in each of their eyes, in this new, powerful link, he found it. "Of course, Remus," James said. "Didn't you hear anything we said last night?"

"Oh, was that what you were blabbing about?" Remus said with a faint smile. James looked hurt. Sirius laughed and settled down next to Remus, slipping an arm around the other boy's slim shoulders.

"That would be what we were trying to get through your thick skull, wolf-boy, yes." He winked. Remus attempted to return the gesture, but found he was too weak. It was as if he had run every labyrinthine corridor of Hogwarts castle. Yet, surrounded by his friends, the weariness was not so bad. He felt content.

When Sirius spoke again, his voice was softer. "Did you really think we wouldn't keep our word?"

Remus closed his eyes. He did not respond; there seemed to be no words left in him. Slowly, he shook his head, and turned on his side to face Sirius. He felt the older boy squeeze his shoulder, and opened his eyes again. Sirius grinned, and he smiled back.

Comfortable silence descended. For several long moments the quartet did not speak, merely watched new morning light filter in through the cracks in the haphazardly boarded windows and permeate the gloomy abode in a gentle golden glow. The absence of the darkness made the place seem far more benign, and to Remus, the fact he was not alone now made it almost…like home. He looked to Sirius, and found the will to speak again. "I'm glad you stayed," he said, so low it was near inaudible. A poor way to show his gratitude, perhaps, but the certainty they understood was more than enough.

"Aw, well…" Small patches of color flushed James's cheeks, and he shifted a little, pushing his glasses up his nose. For the first time the dark-haired wizard, usually cool and quick-witted, looked flustered. He was evidently pleased. Sirius's grin widened, and Peter offered his characteristic tentative smile.

James seemed momentarily speechless, and then he made a brave attempt at a nonchalant shrug. "Well, we've really got nothing else better to do than hang out with a werewolf, now do we?"

"Not at all," Sirius agreed. "Except, of course, watch James fail miserably in his attempts to get a date, and I think I speak for all of us—and the rest of the school—when I say we have seen that particular sight a million times already."

James released a long, dreamy sigh. "Ah, yes, Lily…so cruel yet so beautiful…I fall more in love with her every time she calls me a worthless imbecile…"

Peter and Sirius both made as if to vomit, and Remus put on a dim pretense of disgust and managed to give James a fair kick in the shin. "Shut up, you're going to give me nightmares," he said reprovingly, and James regarded them with a wounded petulant pout.

"Oh, you're all just jealous," he retorted, and lightly slapped Sirius's foot in place of Remus's. He, like the other three, was careful to be as gentle as possible with their friend. None of them were sure of the immediate aftereffects of the transformation, even as pacified as they had managed to make him through their own transfigurations into animals, and they did not want to inadvertently harm him.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Jealous of an unrequited infatuation for a girl whose dislike of you turns increasingly homicidal each time you ask her out? Not likely."

"Jealous because you couldn't get a date if you tried, dog-boy."

"But you do try, James, and you fail. Every time. For the last—how many years now? Three?" Sirius smirked, companionably enough. A shadow crossed his expression then, however, so fleeting none of them registered it was there before it vanished. "Besides, I don't try. You three give me enough of a headache as it is." He gazed slyly at James. "But I could certainly get a date better than you, Potter."

James prodded him playfully. "Not as long as you smell like wet dog, Black."

"Nah," Sirius said, unruffled. "You must smell Remus."

"Smelling both of you, more like," Peter piped up, and James sniggered. Sirius made to hit him over Remus, and the stout boy instinctively flinched back. Fear flickered in his eyes, all humor displaced by sudden alarm. This time it was James who noticed, although he thought nothing of it; it was there and gone and he barely realized what he had seen.

The floor was damp and slippery; Peter lost his balance and landed on his backside with a muffled thump. There was an instant of silence, and then they were all laughing, Peter included.

Remus shut his eyes again as the sound of their mirth enveloped him, warm and welcome, like the radiance of the sun. Joining in their laughter was easier than it had ever been, better, no longer darkened by haunting secrets.

"It worked," he said abruptly. "The Animagi…it worked. I'm so glad it did." Sirius inclined his head with a trace of the grimness he had evinced the previous night. Remus looked at him, then to James and Peter, and back to him. "What does this mean?"

Sirius's grip on him tightened briefly. "It means we'll be able to keep you company from now on no matter what, even on the full moon." His voice lowered, his eyes sparkling yet solemn. "It means we'll be able to help you."

"You will, won't you?"

This time it was James who responded aloud, but he saw the answer in all of them. "Of course, Remus. Always."

Remus smiled softly. There was no remnant of doubt left in him, only a deep, overpowering relief too great to define. That sensation of a heavy burden he had carried all his life lifted once more, perhaps not entirely, but enough. "Sometimes I wonder where I'd be without you guys," he murmured.

"Sometimes we wonder where you'd be, too," James said, and Remus had heard that tone enough times to know he was smirking. Yet his voice was still mild and affectionate, and not a little embarrassed.

He turned back to Sirius, and reached up to grip the arm that was wrapped around his shoulders. He could say no more, but sensed no more needed to be said. He had begun to drift, consciousness slipping away, and he let it go willingly. Even with this exhaustion, even with what he was, everything was as it should be. He felt happier, warmer, more at home than he ever had.

In no time at all, Remus slept, deeply and dreamlessly.

Silence once more pervaded in the vaguely unpleasant atmosphere as James, Sirius, and Peter observed their friend. James made the unthinking, ingrained motion of pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and then the room was still for a while. All three boys were nearly as drained as Remus, but they had succeeded, and nothing had ever made them feel so good, so triumphant, so together. Looking at Remus's serene visage, marred by a small scar over his left eye—part of the reason they had been suspicious of his explanations why he disappeared one night every month was that he always returned with some ailment, most of which he could not adequately explain away—James thought not even winning the Quidditch House Cup a hundred times in perfect succession could make him feel better.

He glanced up at Sirius, a small, somber smile that was utterly unlike him on his lips. "He looks peaceful, doesn't he?" He stirred a little as he remembered the incredible agony which had twisted Remus's features as the change began, the terrible, blood-curdling screams he had uttered which rose to wolven howls as the glimmering full moon shone coldly in on them. For an instant he had frozen completely, watching his friend morph into a monster right before his eyes, his mind a blank of terror and the black certainty he was about to meet his death. He had snapped out of it barely in time, and in unison with Sirius and Peter assumed his animal-form to subdue the werewolf.

Sirius nodded. "Yeah." He paused, listening to the other boy's slow, even respiration. "He looks…sort of helpless, you know?" He impulsively gripped Remus's shoulder tighter. James and Peter nodded. They all experienced a peculiar, unsettled sensation of protectiveness toward their friend. He looked so young lying there, so vulnerable.

"He seems pretty attached to you, you know that?" James remarked musingly to Sirius.

Sirius grinned. "It's a dog thing. We canines like to stick together. A pack, you know."

"Must be your matching smell." James made a repulsed face and pinched his nose as if to ward off a particularly distasteful odor. Sirius kicked at his leg.

"I'd watch your mouth, deer-boy. This smelly dog could turn your bushy-tailed ass into venison before you could say 'natural selection.'"

Meanwhile, Peter had lifted himself onto his knees beside the bed, elbows rested on the mattress, chin in his hands. He observed Remus with silent pensiveness, replaying last night's events in his mind. He spoke up then, his high, tremulous voice punctuating the musky air for the second time since the dawn. "Must be pretty exhausting to be a werewolf." James and Sirius looked around at him.

"Yeah…must be." Sirius stifled a yawn and lay back on the large pillow, suddenly aware of how tired he himself was. "I know I certainly am." James nodded, and Peter let his upper body sink into the mattress with a low sigh.

Another moment went by in which nothing more was said. James looked around uninterestedly, and his gaze settled on the openings in the boarded window. He could see a sliver of brightening blue sky, and the corner of a roof. Something occurred to him then, a realization so blatantly obvious he could not fathom how he had overlooked it for so long. He started out of his half-doze and turned his friends. A familiar impish smile spread across his visage. "Guys…do you know what this means?"

Peter and Sirius regarded him. "Uh…we'll be able to stay with Remus now?" Peter suggested diffidently.

"Yes, but look beyond that. Think of what this means for all of us." He leaned purposefully toward Sirius, his eyes glinting behind his glasses. "Can't you smell it?"

Sirius's brow furrowed. "The dust?" Bemused and curious, Peter sniffed the air, only to utter a loud sneeze from inhaled dust particles. James and Sirius both cast him a questioning, amused glance.

"No, no," James said impatiently. "Besides the dust."

"Deer-poop? That's pretty pungent, all right." Sirius held his nose, although the unmistakable odor, while present, was faint and almost undetectable.

James regarded Sirius with an expression that relayed quite clearly his unvoiced opinion the other boy was far beyond any shred of hope. "No, not that, either." He crossed his arms. "And just for the record, you can't really talk, considering you spent the entire night marking your territory on every loose plank you could find."

Sirius pretended to be wounded. "Hey, instinctive animal impulses. They're hard to control the first few times you transform, all those books said so. I'll control it better after we do this more often. We both will." He slipped one hand underneath his head, and inquired with what was almost apathy, "Well, Potter, what exactly are we supposed to smell, if not your late-night indiscretions?"

James rolled his eyes, but his face brightened again. "I mean the other smell in the air, guys. The one under all that, in all that." He leaned forward again and looked intensely between Peter and Sirius. "That, my friends, is the fragrance of possibility."

Sirius and Peter both regarded him with blank looks which indicated dim suspicion about the state of James's sanity. Peter, still bewildered, asked, "The deer-poop?"

However, even as James gave Peter an absently irritated glare, Sirius eyes widened as comprehension dawned. That familiar, oddly endearing spark of mischief ignited within their dark depths, and his lips quirked. "Man, I didn't even think of that…" James, seeing the other boy had realized what he had a moment ago, gave an enthusiastic nod. Sirius grinned. "My prong-headed friend, rabbit-tail or not, you are a genius." James winked.

Peter, meanwhile, was totally confounded.

"Um…care to clu-clue me in?"

Without releasing Remus, Sirius hoisted himself onto his elbows.

"Think about it, Peter," he prompted. After a moment's pause in which Peter simply stared at him, he continued, "Now that we're Animagi, with James's invisibility cloak, do you know what we could do without anyone ever knowing? The entirety of the Hogwarts grounds has just been opened to us." His normally pallid cheeks blazed. All tiredness appeared obliterated. Both James and Sirius always seemed to possess ostensibly unending energy, but Peter thought they looked truly alive when they had discovered some new means of adventure or trouble-making.

"Not to mention," James went on, "that this place leads right into Hogsmeade. Now we all can transform into animals, with the way we're able to keep Remus at bay, we could go anywhere we want in the village. Nights of the full moon have officially become nights of unlimited opportunities."

Peter now understood the source of his friend's enthusiasm, but when he shifted his gaze to Remus's still form, a nagging doubt and trepidation arose. "I don't think he'd like that," he said.

Both Sirius and James faltered, but James shook his head, undeterred. "He might be a little doubtful, sure, but even though Remus has the tendancy to be the—"

"—voice of reason," Sirius interjected with a grin.

"—good, rule-abiding member of our little group, in his heart young Remus Lupin is as much as fond of doing no good as the three of us." James smiled fondly down into Remus's peaceful visage. "He'll like it, no doubt."

Peter did not look convinced. "I don't know…it still sounds as if a lot could go wrong."

Sirius nodded. "A lot could, which is why we're going to wait for a while, and make sure we can really keep Remus—not to mention ourselves—in check and harmless before we attempt anything." He squeezed Remus's shoulder briefly. The smaller boy stirred, but did not awaken.

A moment of silence ensued, as Peter considered the proposition and its possible outcomes—the positive as well as the looming shadow of the negative—until he at last inclined his head in assent. A grin broke out on his round, plump face. "All right. I have to admit, it does sound fun…"

"More fun than you could take, mere mouse you are," James replied solemnly, and Peter made as if to hit him. James cringed back in theatric alarm.

"You know…" Sirius's tone was casual, almost indifferent, but a rather malicious smile curved his lips. "We could always set him on Snape."

James once again rolled his eyes, in a not-so-subtle gesture of annoyance. Still, he could not suppress a grin at the thought of the horror which would undoubtedly be etched into the face of their long-time Slytherin rival, Severus Snape, should he find himself suddenly in the path of a ravenous werewolf. "Tempting as that may be…I wouldn't dream of doing that to poor Remus. Can you imagine what that slimeball must taste like?" He and Sirius regarded each other with equal expressions of revulsion as they contemplated this unappealing prospect.

"Besides," James said, leaning back on the bed-post and lacing his hands behind his head with an air of confidence that could not quite be called arrogance, "he'd never get to see me win the Quidditch World Cup. We wouldn't want to deprive him of that, now would we?" Sirius snickered, and Peter laughed.

The room became quiet again, the only sound the soft rhythm of Remus's breathing. Sirius closed his eyes, adrift somewhere between awareness and slumber. Peter rested his head in his arms, dimly uncomfortable in his current position but too tired to make an effort to move. James was the only one still wholly awake; his mind whirled, stimulated by the opportunities which had been so abruptly and unexpectedly opened by his and his friends' abilities. His gaze traveled unseeingly throughout the dirty, almost empty room, until it finally settled on Remus. His thoughts shifted to last night, and the look which had been in Remus's eyes when he confessed the truth of what he was.

They had, the day before they confronted him, at last put together the reason for his disappearance each month; in the end, he supposed, it had been right before their eyes the entire time. All the signs had been present from the start, most notably what Peter had realized: the nights Remus mysteriously vanished were always those of the full moon. That, coupled with the unexplained injuries and exhaustion he always came back with, had ultimately solidified suspicion into certainty. Sirius had been the one who suggested it first. The revelation had shocked all three of them, and perhaps there had been a spark of fear, transient but bright and sharp. By then, however, they had come to see Remus as so much an inherent element in the very function of their world they were more intrigued and concerned than afraid.

Remus had been frightened, however, much more than any of them even in that one striking instant of comprehension. He had looked so terrified, so ashamed, yet so resigned. James understood now the other boy had thought, without the slightest trace of hope, they would abandon and abhor him. Fear him.

Remus had been so utterly shocked when they told him their plan to become Animagi, to help him as much as they could, it was nearly comical. He had acted as if he simply could not believe it, could not accept it. He could not grasp how anyone, knowing what he was, would stand by him.

James had been almost offended. Did Remus not know who they were?

He pushed his spectacles up, a necessity which had been annoying at first and merely became habit over the years. James thought Remus had never seemed so calm, or slept so peacefully. Remus was always on edge, as if anticipating some imminent attack, but now for the first time he appeared really relaxed.

"Must be tough, huh?" he mused. Sirius regarded him inquiringly, and James nodded in Remus's direction. "Being a werewolf. It can't be easy." There was no humor in him now; his expression was pensive, troubled.

"No," Sirius said softly. "I guess it can't be."

"Do you remember when we first met him?"

Sirius smiled. It was a strange sort of smile, one James recognized from after they had made the first endeavor to befriend the quiet, rather timid Remus Lupin, simultaneously solemn and amused and even angry. He felt the same himself, an unfocused sort of reproach, directed at all those faceless people who must have discriminated against Remus for what he was. "Of course," Sirius said. "How could I forget? I thought he was the shyest kid I'd ever come across…wouldn't even speak to us at first, would he? Barely even dared look at us."

"Must have been afraid," James said. "You know? Afraid we'd find out…" He trailed off, his brow creased.

Sirius nodded gravely, and then flashed James a good-natured smirk. "And here I thought it was just your face, Potter," he teased, and James retaliated with a feigned attempt to strike the dark-haired boy.

"Couldn't have been yours, I suppose," he said. "You were the only one he'd look straight in the eye."

Another interval of silence followed as the three considered their unaware companion and reminisced on the day of their first collective encounter. At last it was broken once more by James. "It really isn't fair, you know." Sirius and Peter both turned to him, and he raised his voice a little. "What happened to him. When he became a werewolf. I mean, it wasn't exactly something he chose, was it? He never had a say at all." He shook his head with a sort of helpless sadness and infuriation at the injustice of it.

Sirius cast his eyes downward. "No. He didn't. Rotten luck, I guess." He sighed, and then his tone darkened. "The way he's treated is what gets me. I noticed it before and couldn't make sense of it. Do you see the way some of the teachers act around him? Like he's a malfunctioning wand that could explode any moment. I know werewolves are dangerous, but…it just isn't right."

James nodded. The few teachers who displayed such wariness were furtive, but he had caught the unmistakable signs…and he doubted they would have escaped Remus.

No, it was not right. He shoved his glasses up with unintended force, painfully aware there was nothing they could do to change it. He supposed there were things about the world which could never be altered, forever inculcated into the mysterious fabric of the subconscious of people by time and the unknown experiences of forgotten ancestors. It was a disquieting thought, and he silently renewed the oath he, Sirius, and Peter had made when they discovered the truth about Remus. They would stay by him. They would not be like the others.

His eyes met with Sirius's, and he saw all of this reflected in his oldest friend. He dipped his head once, and Sirius returned the gesture.

For a long while, no more was said. The solemnity which had reinstated its unaccustomed place in the air around the four wizards began to fade into somnolence, and James could feel himself finally slipping into the abyss of slumber. He curled up into a more comfortable position, and Sirius yawned widely. This time, it was Peter who snapped them back into reality. "We should have nicknames."

James started. Sirius's eyes blinked open. They both exchanged a bemused glance, and turned to regard him. Peter flushed, and stammered, "Wuh-well, you know, because we're Ani-Animagi now. Kuh-kind of like, you nuh-know, second identities." His blush deepened, and he withdrew into an almost defensive posture, small orbs flitting nervously from Sirius to James.

At first, the two stared blankly at him. He was starting to feel more and more like a fool when, abruptly, James' mouth fell agape. "Sirius…did what I think just happened just happen?"

Sirius's pallid visage evinced equal astonishment. "I think so, James…"

Peter blinked. "Um…?"

"I think Peter—"

"—just had a good idea!" Identical grins broke out on their faces. Realizing they had been joking, Peter let his hands, which had begun to twist anxiously in front of him, fall back to his sides. He rolled his eyes at their childishness, but he was smiling.

"So does that mean you agree?"

James winked, and then became thoughtful again.

"A nickname to go with our animals. Is that what you had in mind?" Peter nodded, unable to contain the rising enthusiasm now they had accepted his idea. They never directly shot him down, but he was rarely the one to propose anything, and when he did they usually found something better which quickly overrode his suggestions.

James leaned toward Sirius with an impish smirk. "We should call you stink-dog, Black."

Sirius glared. "Remember what I said about the venison." Something occurred to him then, and a slow, puckish yet calm and rather endearing smile touched his lips. "Then again, if we can call you bunny-tail…"

James slapped his knees abruptly. "For the last time, my tail does not look like a rabbit's!" he exclaimed with a hint of exasperation Sirius did not think was entirely humorous pretense.

"Oh yes it does, Potter." Sirius paused, and then added in a more serious tone, "I believe you may need to work on that a little. It looks too much like a fluffy pom-pom." His grin widened. "Maybe we should call you Fluffy."

James shook his head and sighed.

Peter listened vaguely to this discussion but did not truly register their words. He was looking thoughtfully at Sirius in that diffident, dubious way he always appraised the dark-haired boy, a way which seemed to suggest deep within he would rather have had his gaze fixed on anything else yet was utterly unable—and unwilling—to avert his eyes. He recalled Sirius in his massive, obsidian canine form; as a rat barely of equal proportion to Sirius's paw, Peter had been in an ideal position to observe the graceful, soundless way Sirius maneuvered as a dog, a gait which clashed startlingly with his impressive size. He thought any nickname Sirius would adopt should pertain to those feet. Perhaps it was the floor-level viewpoint he had had, but what had stricken him most about Sirius's transfigured form was his paws.

After a moment in which he considered this—and if he dared mention it—he said, "What about something like Pawfeet, Sirius?"

Sirius, who had been smiling sweetly as he held his legs out of reach of James, who had opted to give him a good punch, now turned to regard Peter. He looked mildly surprised, and then contemplative. Peter watched him, only half-aware himself of the way his heartbeat had begun to quicken. Sirius shifted his attention back to James, and idly lifted one foot to the other boy's face. "I dunno, James, what do you think? Does it suit me?"

James leaned back with over-exaggerated disgust. "I think Stinkfeet might suit you better, Sirius," he remarked, holding his nose delicately between two fingers as he pushed his friend's leg away. "Yuck!"

Sirius measured him with an almost apathetic 'you-are-hopeless' look. "I don't think he's going to ever get over this 'smelly' thing, Pete," he said, rolling his eyes meaningfully at Peter.

"Never," Peter agreed. His mouth quirked with an odd mix of amusement and anxiety.

James pretended to be wounded. "Hey, Black, you're the one who never shuts your mouth about how bad Snape smells."

"He does smell!"

"Well, so do you."

Sirius seemed about to retort, then decided it was futile and merely shook his head. He returned his attention to Peter. "Honestly…I think 'Pawfeet' is a little too…redundant, you know?" Peter looked a trifle crestfallen, but after a moment's consideration he nodded. Sirius shifted his gaze to the slightly tattered canvas which stretched over the bed, mentally sorting through a number of potential names. "I like the idea, though. Maybe…Blackfoot? No, no way…"

"Bigfoot!" James said. Sirius glared at him momentarily.

"Definitely not…oh!" His eyes lit up, and in his excitement he sat up halfway before he remembered Remus was still cradled in one arm. "Padfoot!"

There was an instant of silence, and then both James and Peter burst into laughter in near perfect unison, not of derision, but approval. "Well, that works," James conceded. "Though, it's rather lame, don't you think?" He turned to Peter as he said this, and Peter's mirth died abruptly. He was saved the inner struggle whether to risk an answer or not by Sirius himself, however, who smiled serenely at his best friend.

"Like you could come up with anything better, Potter," he said in a would-be sardonic tone. James, undaunted, offered him another confident smirk…but it faltered as he realized he lacked the slightest clue as to what his own appellation should be.

"Well…" He hesitated. He pondered the characteristics of deer, particularly stags, trying to decide exactly what it had been about them which attracted him and made the animal his choice. It struck him suddenly. The antlers. Yes, it had been those antlers, a flawless physical attribute of the male deer that was both beautiful and deadly, the trait which determined and displayed the strength of the creature, a weapon that could either earn him eminence or death. The prospect of the antlers and the purpose they served had captivated him since he was a child; he had through much of his younger years envisioned what it would be like to be a stag, to have such power as an innate part of his very being.

Something Sirius had called him before reoccurred to him, and the idea came with such force he jumped, causing Sirius and Remus to bounce slightly. Sirius flashed James a warning look he did not see, but Remus did not so much as stir. James's eyes were shining.

"Prongs!"

It was a moment before Sirius or Peter replied. At last, they nodded their appreciation. Sirius grinned, a little sheepishly this time. "All right, Potter, I admit it is a tad cooler than mine…" James smirked and leaned against the pole in a manner which implied quite clearly his opinion this was only natural.

"So, rat-man." Sirius regarded Peter. "What about you?"

Peter shrugged. "I dunno…what's a good name for a rodent?" The question was rhetorical, but James, of course, immediately responded.

"Pinky," he suggested in a reasonable tone, nodding as if to confirm his own assertion this was perfectly applicable. Sirius rolled his eyes.

"That has to be the most unoriginal thing you've ever come up with," the young wizard remarked. "And that's saying something." James pointedly ignored him.

"Well, if that doesn't work, what about something about that tail of yours?" He shuddered a little, as if recalling a past horror. "I have to admit it was pretty creepy, having that slimy thing cross over my legs. Never did like the tail of rats. Too much like worms." He shivered again with a soft utterance of repulsion and glanced toward his feet, as though expecting to see the naked pink tendril of a rat's tail slither around his ankles from within the covers.

Sirius regarded him with a slightly cocked eyebrow, amused and a trifle incredulous, but before he could comment upon his friend's apparent phobia Peter's voice echoed, excited and unusually steady. The name which had come to the smaller boy was so incredibly obvious, so somehow natural, he could not believe he had not thought of it at once. "Wormtail!"

James and Sirius merely looked at him, noncommittal. Peter glanced between them, but felt only a trace of apprehension toward their judgment; in some deep way he could not fully explain to himself, he was certain they would likeit. Sure enough, James and Sirius locked stares briefly and nodded together.

"It fits," Sirius said. He seemed to deliberate fleetingly, and then dropped a wink at Peter. "It's actually kind of cool, Pete…or should I say, Wormtail?"

"Much cooler than yours," James piped. This time, it was Sirius's turn to disregard his friend with a display of not-so-subtle indifference at the other boy's proclaimed opinion. Peter, meanwhile, beamed at their approval. From the look on his face one might have thought he had received recognition from the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, himself.

James looked down into Remus's reposed form. "That leaves him," he said. Sirius's smile broadened.

"I've already got that covered," he said. "I've always wanted to call him Moony, ever since we found out the truth."

"Moony," James echoed. He snorted, but like the names the three had chosen for themselves this alias seemed to exude an obscured but unquestionable sense of rightness, not only applicable but natural, as if the word had been created solely for Remus. "Yes, I think that sounds right," he said, thoughtful and almost somber, a tone not heard often in him. Peter agreed. Not one of them had to question whether Remus would like the name, nor would this thought even cross their minds until later, as they explained the accord they had arrived at as he slept quietly in their midst. All three understood he would consent.

"Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs." Sirius's voice was low, musing, full of something like wonder. His gaze met with James's, and in that moment they both felt the same thing. Peter sensed it as well, but only the former two boys were able to define it. It was sensation of a deep connection between the four of them solidified, securing them into one amalgamated whole; the circle of their friendship had closed. The feeling was clear, potent, final.

We're all here, Sirius thought, and looked from James's bright eyes, Peter's nervous face, and Remus's undisturbed visage. Yes, we're all together now. He turned back to James, and the other boy's smile seemed to confirm this once and for all. An all-consuming sense of belonging enveloped Sirius, a feeling of coming home. He rested his head on the pillow, and listened to Remus's soft and even respiration. Yes, this was right; he felt that stronger than he had ever felt anything before. This was how it was meant to be.

The light around him was suddenly much warmer, and even with the dust and unpleasant odors which pervaded the atmosphere, even with the decrepit, looming haunted-house ambience of this shack, its marred and stained walls reminiscent of the torment this place had contained for his friend for three years, this room felt more safe and welcoming than anywhere he had ever been.

"Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs," James repeated. "Soon to be known as the greatest wizards of our time." He attempted to sound serious, but was unable to suppress a wide grin.

"Of all time," Sirius corrected. He was far more adept at the intended note of heavy gravity, but his lips curved helplessly as well.

"Men of honor."

"Men of renown."

"Intelligence." James tapped his brow to accentuate his point. Sirius gave him a look which seemed to suggest he was of the opinion this particular description would not likely apply to James Potter.

"Strength," he put in, and clasped a fist in emphasis.

"Competence!"

James and Sirius both regarded Peter. The small mousy-faced boy shrank back, tentative. Sirius considered this a moment, and then, slowly, he nodded approval.

Peter beamed.

So there you have it, my first—and probably last, truth be told—Harry Potter fanfic.

Keep in mind this is my first time writing for Harry Potter; I attempted to keep the four as much in character as possible, or at least how I imagine they would have been back in their school days. You may have noticed I added a few things to each of them, however, because that's how I envision them. ;)

Anyway, if you liked it, please drop a review before you go! XD