Since crossing over into the world of wizardry, Remus John Lupin has gone through many doors, both metaphorical and quite literal. The places he has entered into have all come to hold their own special meanings: Hogwarts, where he was taken in after being turned away everywhere else, by teachers and students alike. Hogsmeade, with many long and brilliant hours spent in Zonko's hatching schemes, and the occasional escape to a back corner of Honeydukes for the finest chocolate he has ever tasted. An amazing excursion to a Quidditch pitch in the middle of nowhere for the World Cup between Portugal and England, which had been represented that year by Peter's favorite team, and though he'd not quite followed it all he knows he will never forget it. Gringotts, a place he sadly does not see very often.
But somehow, to Remus, the most magical edifice that the wizarding world has brought him into contact with has been the plain, unenchanted, stuffy little cottage the Pettigrew family has by the lake.
"Hope none of you lot packed any swimming trunks, because I sure as hell didn't and you're going to have to put up with my brilliant manhood whether you're covering up your own bits or not!" cries James as he tears down toward the moonlit water. They're staying for two weeks, as they have every summer since the one after second year - the year in which, to Remus, they officially solidified as that infallible brotherhood the Marauders. And ever since then, it seemed as though their time at the lakehouse was the time in which the greatest, most earth-shaking revelations would be made and conclusions would be reached.
For example, that first summer, after second year, was when Remus told them all he was a werewolf.
About a week before term let out, they were all sitting around at lunch, trying to gird themselves for their remaining three exams. Peter was eating a rather large sandwich with contents so numerous that some were almost unidentifiable (though a lot of it looked to be cheese) when the post had all arrived, and a letter from his family's fussy screech owl dropped right into the smear of condiments that it had left on his plate.
James groaned. "Honestly, Pete, they write you every bloody week as it is! Their empty nest syndrome can't hold out for a couple more days until you hop the Express back?"
Peter, his mouth still full of mystery sandwich, merely shrugged in bewildered apology, picking up the letter and tugging it open. He scanned the parchment, and with blessedly good timing he'd just managed to swallow thickly when he read the words that made his eyes bulge a little in excitement and his mouth whisper, "No way!"
"What is it?" Sirius asked. Remus could see the struggle in his frantic face - should he be excited or upset for his friend?
"Mum says that when we go out to our lakehouse in July, you lot are all invited!" Peter crowed, brandishing the parchment. Excitement won out in Sirius's expression, and with a wide white grin he all but leaned across the table to snatch the letter away and read it for himself, James hunched over his shoulder to get a glimpse as well.
"This is brilliant!" James said. "I've never been on holiday with anyone but my folks before. And we usually just go and visit my great-aunt Isadora."
"I'll take any escape from my household I can get," Sirius agreed. "Especially one that's going to last for two whole weeks!"
"S'you two are in, then?" asked Peter.
"Wouldn't miss it."
"What about you, Remus?" he asked, turning in his seat.
"Er," said Remus. "What...when in July, exactly?"
Sirius, still holding Peter's mail, glanced down at it again to get the dates right. "Says from the tenth on through to the twenty-first," he read. "You've not got anything going on, have you?"
"Yeah, we'd hate to miss you, R.J.," James said, smiling at Remus. Remus smiled back, and though it was earnest (he knew he was a bit quiet and a bit more reserved than being a Marauder might indicate, and that they tried hardest of all to include him, and that James only called him R.J. when he was being quite serious about things) it was strained and weak. That sounded like precisely the wrong time of the month.
"I...I'll need to ask my parents," he said finally. "Just to make sure."
James kept smiling at him, hopeful, but Remus raised his glass of juice to his mouth for another sip and broke their eye contact.
Two days later, after a Transfiguration exam had left him feeling fairly confident and a Potions exam had left him feeling considerably less so, Remus was sitting in Gryffindor tower's common room, waiting for dinner and trying to ignore the conversation that James and Sirius were already having about all their lakehouse plans over a game of chess. Peter, studying frantically for the test in Herbology the next day, put in a stray comment or two here and there or else just laughed as James's pieces smashed Sirius's to bits move after move. Remus, outwardly, appeared to be studying too, but the papers he was looking over were not Herbology notes. Remus was poring over the sloppy lunar calendar he and his father had scribbled out together over Christmas break, which told him the approximate dates of the full moons for the rest of 1973, and which was telling him right now that just as he had feared, the July full moon would fall precisely on the Sunday of Peter's lake trip.
He'd been staring at it off and on since the letter with the invitation had arrived. His initial reaction, the one that all the logical facets of his mind were swearing was the right one, was to turn down all of his friends' pleading and insist upon staying home. The Shrieking Shack here at school was miserable enough, and he was able to hole up there with lots of help from Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey and even Rubeus Hagrid. There was no way he could find a place all on his own out in the middle of some innocent countryside, where he could be confident that he'd bite no one but himself and keep the curse contained. He'd need help - and the only people who'd be able to do so would be the Pettigrews, Sirius, and James, none of whom knew his secret and none of whom needed to know. It wasn't even a reasonable option, to consider going on this holiday.
Yet a little niggling part of him, the part Remus thought was probably the most Marauderish, had been longing to tell them all for a year and a half, hadn't it? It was hard, struggling through and keeping such an integral part of yourself all hidden up from the people that meant the most to you. And all three of them wanted very badly for him to come along. Sirius had even mentioned once that he probably wouldn't go if Remus couldn't, though Remus knew that was a lie and that without him there Sirius and James would just spend the whole two weeks mercilessly teasing Peter (a fine payment for the use of his lakehouse, indeed). If he were to tell them...well, then they would be there to help him out, not only on the lake trip but during future school years as well. He'd have less to worry about, and all four of them could enjoy the holiday together. Marauders.
Unless, once they found out, they wouldn't want to help him with anything or enjoy anything with him ever again.
At what kind of dangerous price would this confession come?
"Have you got your head round this whole bit with the difference between poisonous plants and venomous plants?" Peter called to him from the opposite armchair, startling him out of his reverie. Remus quickly stuffed his calendar back down inside his scrolls of Astronomy notes and tried to shift gears to his friend's plant problem.
"Er... it's poisonous if it hurts when you bite it, and it's venomous if it hurts when it bites you," he explained, trying to put it in terms he thought Peter would understand.
"This is hopeless," he groaned, and dove back into his notes.
"Checkmate!" cried James, and his little white knight appeared to be performing some kind of victory dance - something James had no doubt charmed it to do himself.
"Oi, Lupin," called Sirius, determined to ignore James's gloating. "Did you owl your folks yet about the lake trip? Come on, you've just got to come along!"
"Yeah, we can't be without the fourth leg of the spectacular throne of mischief that is the Marauders!" James said with a flourish, scooping Sirius's crumpled chess pieces back into a pile so they could set about reassembling themselves. "We'd wobble funny," he added.
"Come on, Remus, the letter said to invite all three of you," Peter pointed out. "We're more than happy to have you along."
Remus bit his lip. His grip tightened a little around the clump of Astronomy notes in his hand, and the secret charts that lay inside. Out the window the sun hadn't quite set yet - he couldn't see the moon at all. What he could see were the three smiling, pleading faces of his three best friends in the world, the three people he loved most and the three people he least liked to disappoint.
"Yeah," he told them finally, sealing his fate. "I think it's going to be all right."
"Sweet Merlin!" Peter cried.
"Oh, you're barely in up to your ankles," scoffed Sirius, who was already waist-deep in the frigid water and pushing deeper, maneuvering out to the floating dock. James was further still, swimming powerfully like the athlete he was.
"It's freezing!" Peter insisted. He edged forward a little, but the cold drove him back almost as far.
"Come on, Pete," Remus said, putting an arm around his shoulders. "You're not going to let those troll droppings beat us all the way out there, are you?"
"Remus, are you even in this water? Can't you feel it giving you frostbite?"
"Absolutely," he said with a smile. "That's why you're not going to get in it."
Peter looked at him, confused. "Then how are we ever going to get out there?"
Remus pulled his short, slightly curved wand from the pocket of his swim trunks. Sirius, just barely close enough to the shore to notice, gasped a little.
"Illegal underage magic from our dear upstanding Mr. Lupin?" he said, fake scandal in his voice. "Perhaps he is a Marauder after all."
"Corporeagua," Remus muttered in retaliation, and swished his wand in a circular motion, which he continued making, round and round and round, with his right hand while shoving at Peter's shoulder with his left. "Go on, I can't keep this up forever!"
Peter gingerly stuck one foot out in front of him, and was amazed when his toes sank into the water only half an inch or so, rather than all the way to the lakebed. "Brilliant, Remus!" he murmured. His next step was surer, and within moments he was sprinting as fast as his stubby legs could carry him across the water's surface, racing a good ways past Sirius and even getting close to James before Remus's wand arm gave out and the water was soft once more. Peter plunged in and sank like a stone, and when he finally popped back to the surface he was cursing Remus and all his potential progeny with one gasping breath and laughing his arse off alongside James and Sirius with the next. They were all in a brilliant mood, red-faced from their laughter and the water's chill, by the time Remus had managed to swim out and join them. Everything was going spectacularly.
Which meant that this had to be the moment that he told them.
"You have to teach me that spell, Remus," James said.
"Yeah, what with all the wanking he does he'll probably be able to hold out at least twice as long as you did," Sirius put in, grinning. James kicked half-heartedly at him, nearly knocking him back into the water.
"I will, I swear," Remus said, but his smile was already waning, and James spotted it.
"Oi, what's wrong?"
"Can I...can I tell you all something?" he managed, sitting crosslegged with his hands in his lap, huddling against the chill and the impending revelation.
"What can't you tell us?" said Sirius. "I can't imagine who else you'd go spilling all your secrets to."
"Call off the jokes for a bit, will you?"
"Yeah, be serious, Sirius," snarked Peter.
"Oi, didn't he just say?"
"I haven't...told this to many people," Remus continued. "To anyone, really. Anyone who knows about it sort of found out on their own. It's...it's a big deal."
"You can tell us, R.J.," said James.
"No, it's a bloody big deal," he repeated. "I just...I want to say that you all have to promise that you won't hate me once I tell you, but I can't even ask that of you."
"We're your best friends," said Sirius, but his face was grave. James's looked similar, and Peter seemed positively frightened. He knew exactly what they were thinking, since he was practically thinking it himself - what did Remus possibly have to share with his fellow Marauders that might put even them off from him?
He took a deep breath and confessed. "Ever since - ever since I was four years old, I've been a...a werewolf." There, he'd said it. Eyes squinted shut, Remus braced himself for all of it - shock and disbelief, abject fear, utter revulsion, betrayal.
He did not brace himself for Sirius leaping to his feet and nearly slipping on the wet wood of the floating dock with a sharp cry of "I knew it!"
One eye popped open to see James and Peter looking only mildly confused and surprised and Sirius looking positively victorious. "Wh...what?"
"I knew that had to be it. It's a bit hard to cover up, innit?"
"How did you - "
"Off in the hospital wing about once every month, that wicked scar on your shoulder, always trying to avoid having too many Sickles in your change when we shop around in Diagon Alley - 'cause of the silver - and that funny calendar you've got."
"My calendar...?" he said faintly. Sirius had seen it?
"It's really true then, is it?" said Peter. "You and Sirius aren't just pulling our legs with all of this, trying to get us all scared, or what?"
"No, Pete, I'm afraid it's true," Remus said, finally starting to process what was going on. "It's...not something I think should ever be joked about."
James was just kind of smiling knowingly. Amazing, to think after all that that any of them were smiling. "So on Sunday..." he started.
"I'll have to transform, somewhere," said Remus. "I...I knew I shouldn't have come along, you all won't have anything to do with me - "
"Rubbish!" cried Sirius. "Peter, isn't your mum quite good with locks and things?"
"Quite good!" Peter confirmed. "The little cellar on the house should be a good enough size, and Mum can charm the living daylights out of rooms that need to be inescapable."
"It'll be a bit smaller than the Shrieking Shack, of course, but not too bad, eh?" said Sirius, who had sat back down next to him and was grinning. The Shack. He really had figured it all out, hadn't he? Never let it be said that Sirius Black didn't have quite the brain under that abrasive goof-off demeanor and all that shaggy hair.
"No," Remus said, grinning back at him with the deepest sincerity. "Not too bad at all."
"You look to be thinking awfully too hard over there, Moony dearest," says Sirius, kicking some of the water they're knee-deep in onto Remus's bare side and making him shiver. "Best watch it before your eyebrows catch fire, again."
"If I recall correctly, it was you who did that the first time," says Remus, "and Pete the second. Even if I were to do it myself, I don't think again would be accurate at all."
"Oi, tossers!" calls James, from where he's already standing atop the dock. "If Wormtail's made it out here faster than you, what's this world coming to?"
"Yeah, stop your snogging and get on with it!" Peter shouts, making a face of only half-joking disgust.
"You heard the man," Sirius says to him.
"Go on ahead," Remus says. "I'll be along fast enough."
"You know if you want to ogle my arse you can just ask," Sirius says with a wink, before darting forward in the water and beginning his swim out to the others. For a moment or two Remus does just that, but his brain's still working elsewhere, thinking on the lakehouse, and his friends, and werewolves, and Animagi.
A smile crosses Remus's face, and he starts out into the water. That had been the next summer.
"Corporeagua," Remus and Peter hissed at once. At the edge of the lake in front of them, Sirius and James geared up for a run, and as soon as the water appeared to be solid enough they bolted off, racing for the floating dock. Sirius was on Remus's side; James had been paired with Peter to maybe even the odds, and use his athletic prowess to compensate for Peter's lack thereof. The past year he'd finally earned the spot he deserved as a Chaser for Gryffindor house, having lost out in previous years due to seniority only. Now Simon Wood had graduated and left James free to coast around the pitch looking smarmy and victorious, something he'd perfected quite quickly. For the most part it was bearable, unless a certain redheaded Potions whiz happened to stop by during practice. Her proximity seemed to increase the level of showoff James felt he had to reach. As far as Remus could tell it was getting him absolutely nowhere.
"My arm's going to give," Peter whined, and Remus could see it doing so, whipping round at a slower and slower pace.
"Don't quit now, you rat, I'm going to win!"
Remus looked at James, though James couldn't see it. He'd done it again - you rat. Remus had barely noticed it at first, but for the last month or so of school James and Sirius had been using the word rat more and more when talking about Peter. It puzzled Remus, as it obviously had something to do with things he knew nothing about. He didn't like knowing nothing about it. Ever since last summer, they'd promised to have no more secrets.
"S'all right, both of you, I'm getting tired too," he assured them.
"No, no, Moony, keep cranking!" cried Sirius. But Remus's elbow buckled a split second after Peter's, and both of the sprinting black-haired boys crashed down into the icy water of the lake, taking the last few feet of their race at a steady swim instead.
Moony wasn't new at all, but it still made Remus's face light up a little every time any of the other three said it.
James hoisted himself out of the water first, voicing the incantation as soon as his arm was ready. "Corporeagua!"
"Oh, bollocks!" hissed Peter, still not quite recovered from the reverse, but he splashed out onto the lake's surface as quickly as he could, eager to gain on Remus, who would surely outrun him once Sirius had cast the spell. A few seconds later Remus was running off as well, and as he darted ahead he looked to be the sure winner until Sirius's arm gave and he got dunked. James, ever the jock, managed to keep the spell rolling through Peter's entire leg of the race, and as Sirius was hauling Remus up onto the dock the other two were exchanging high-fives and victorious dances (James really only had the one move, didn't he?).
"We'll get 'em next time," Sirius swore, eyes sparkling in the light of the gibbous moon above.
"Absolutely," said Remus, out of breath.
"We've got to learn to do this wandless," Peter complained. "Water's no good for the wood in mine, it's a pretty old one."
"Wandless magic's not for another couple of years yet," said Sirius.
James grinned."Reckon we could figure it out anyway, though, couldn't we?"
"Bet we could," said Peter eagerly. "Been doing quite well for ourselves lately."
"Chomping at the bit, aren't you two," said Sirius, almost as if he was scolding. "You said I could be the one to tell him!"
"We haven't told anything, Padfoot - " said Peter, immediately clamping his hand to his mouth.
It was too late - Remus's curiosity was well beyond piqued. "Padfoot?"
"Damnit, Pete - "
"Sorry, sorry, you know I'm rubbish at keeping secrets!" he said. "I'm quite amazed I made it this long."
"Whatever it is you're dying to tell me, Sirius Black, I suggest you do it right now." Remus was actually a bit relieved to discover they'd been keeping something from him - perhaps now it would all get explained, and he could stop trying to work it all over himself. They were all just too conspiratory for his tastes. "We said no more secrets."
"I know we did," Sirius said. "I'm truly sorry, Moony. But I just figured this was a place where we could...talk about these things...after last year, you know? I was sort'f saving it."
"And don't think of it as a secret anyway!" said Peter. "Think of it more as a surprise!"
"A surprise for you," James added, a bit more darkly. "For the rest of the world it's got to stay a secret, that's for sure. Just as secret as your furry little problem there, R.J."
Now Remus was practically dying to know. "What have you lot done now?" he wondered. "How many rules are you breaking?"
"Quite a few," Sirius admitted. "As well as, er, some laws. Like, actual laws, Moony."
Remus stared at him, agog, and Peter just couldn't take it any more. "We've become Animagi!"
Sirius rounded on him. "Sweet fucking Merlin, Peter, you said I could tell him!" He shoved the chubbier boy clear off the side of the dock and into the lake, jumping in after him and dunking him under repeatedly. Remus was left sitting alone with James, trying to take it all in.
"Animagi," James repeated. "All three of us."
"But that's not - "
"Possible? We didn't think so either, at first. Took a lot of crazy, secretive work and stuff. Actually learning from books, if you can believe it."
"But why - "
"For you, of course," said Sirius, hanging at armpit-height from the side of the dock so he could look Remus in the eye.
"I don't understand," Remus said feebly, and he meant it.
"Why on Earth - " said Sirius, as he hoisted himself back out - "should you have to be a great honking animal once a month all by yourself?"
Their eyes locked onto one another, both boys staring for a few moments. There was no mistaking it - Sirius was being completely, well, serious. There went that brain again. Remus knew in that instant it had been Sirius's idea from the start, that he'd probably figured the whole thing out first, with James getting through on his convenient raw talent (much like he did everything else) and Peter sticking it out through sheer tenacity. It was incredibly tricky, high-level magic, and not something that many could do. Remus knew exactly one Animagus, and Professor McGonagall certainly struck him as more determined and disciplined a wizard than the two - three, as Peter crawled out of the water too - who sat in front of him.
Remus swallowed. "Right, let's see it then."
Sirius grinned - and his teeth froze there, bared broadly for the world to see as his pale moonlit skin and baggy Gryffindor-red swim trunks all began to melt and blend in with his thick, dark hair. He fell swiftly onto all fours as the change overtook him, and before Remus knew it he was staring not at one of his best mates but at a massive, thick-boned black dog, tongue lolling out excitedly and huge padded feet - Padfoot - carrying him bounding across the dock to Remus's side.
"Well, hullo," he murmured, scratching the dog between the ears - a gesture that came awfully naturally to him, somehow, as if he'd been doing it for years. "Padfoot, is it?"
"And Wormtail," said Peter, and Remus's attention was drawn to his smaller friend; the boy shuddered, and shifted, and in mere moments was a small, naked-tailed rat, who skittered up the corner-post of the dock and sat a few inches above Remus's eye level, making the occasional little rodent noise. There was that, then.
"And Prongs," added James. His transformation undertook him as well, and soon Remus was left sitting out in the lake with a great dog, a tiny rat, and a tall, proud stag, whose rack of antlers seemed a bit smaller (in accordance with James's youth, Remus figured) but definitely seemed quite pronged indeed.
They couldn't talk to him like this, a fact for which Remus was very grateful, for it meant that the only reaction he got was Padfoot licking softly at his face when the tears started rolling down it. He couldn't quite remember how long he sat there, wondering what great deeds he possibly could have done to land him with such incredible friends, but three days later, the wolf was not trapped up in the Pettigrews' stuffy dirt cellar. It ran free, and it did not run alone.
In his small cot on the floor of the one room they were all sharing, Remus lay awake, staring at the ceiling a bit. The full moon had been two days ago, and it had been truly tolerable - almost enjoyable - for the first time in his ten years of lycanthropy. A moment didn't go by without Remus just boggling over what the three of them had done, and running it through his head like a litany: Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot -
"Oi, Moony, you awake?" Sirius hissed from the cot across from his. James and Peter were sharing the one bed.
"Yeah," he said. "Been up since three or so, can't sleep. Dunno why."
"Maybe you can help me with something, then," Sirius whispered. "I've been layin' awake the past couple of nights - 'cept for the one, you know - and I keep...hearing something."
"Something like what?" asked Remus.
"Something like...well, almost like Pete's mum and dad are getting up and doing things."
"At three or four in the morning?"
"See, that's just what I was thinking. Come on then."
Remus frowned. "Come on? Come where?"
"Well we've got to go and have a look, don't we?" said Sirius. "James has his cloak with him, we'll just pop under it and check things out. It's probably nothing, we can just have a quick look and then go back to bed. Might help me sleep better."
"All right, if I've got to."
"You've got to, Moony," said Sirius with a sharp grin.
They sneaked out of their bedcots and over to James's luggage, where Sirius drew out the silvery, finely-spun Invisibility Cloak and slipped it on over first himself, and then Remus when he'd crossed the room again. As silently as they could muster, they opened the door to their room and tiptoed down the hallway to the room at the front of the house, where they could see down to the Pettigrews' bedroom as well as into the small kitchen and out the front window. After a few moments Sirius motioned to the sofa, where they sat, huddled closer together than was quite comfortable to stay concealed by the cloak. It took a while for anything to happen.
"Padfoot," Remus said, still using the nickname every chance he got, "are you sure - "
"Shhh," Sirius insisted. "Just a few minutes more."
And he turned out to be right after all - when the clock in the kitchen read half past four, first Benjamin and then Prudence Pettigrew emerged from the master bedroom. They hurried out the door, going around behind the house so that Remus and Sirius couldn't see them any more.
"Y'think they're headed into the forests back there?" Sirius whispered.
"Dunno," said Remus, with a yawn. Sleep was finally starting to return to him, and since the strange things Sirius had been hearing had proven so unspectacular, he found himself longing for the tiny cot again. "It's obviously no big thing, come on, let's just go back to bed."
"If it were no big thing, surely they wouldn't have to do it in secrecy in the middle of the night!"
But Remus stood, squirming out from under the cloak and heading in the direction of their bedroom. "You, Mr. Black, are not one to talk about secret nighttime excursions. They've probably got their reasons just as we have ours. Now let's just go, we ought to get some rest if James is making us go flying with him tomorrow."
The last bit made Sirius duck out from under the cloak so he could flash Remus a smile. "Oi, are you ever right. Ever since he made that team he's gone a bit daft in the head, hasn't he?"
"I wouldn't blame the team so much as...the spectators," Remus said with a smirk.
"Evans!" barked Sirius. "Lily sodding Evans. James sure can pick 'em."
"Too bad they never pick him back."
Sirius just shook his head. "Only my best mate would be stupid enough to set his sights as high as the bloody moon."
With a few chuckles, they shuffled back into the bedroom, careful not to wake Peter (quite possible) or James (not bloody likely) as they lay back down in their cots. Eventually sleep overtook Remus, his dreams milling with Wormtail, Padfoot, Prongs, and secret nighttime excursions.
They've all made it to the dock now, with James flouncing about retelling some spectacular Quidditch story and Sirius shooting holes in his tale every time something gets too embellished (which is quite a lot). Remus just shakes his head at them, his eyes catching on the moonlight in the curve of Sirius's throat. Only Sirius could make me like moonlight, he thinks to himself.
Peter, sitting on the edge of the dock rather curled in on himself - he's the one least comfortable without pants on, Remus knows - suddenly interrupts them. "Oi, Prongs, all of you."
"What is it now, Wormtail?"
"Well..." He seems to rethink. "Not much really. I don't even know what it's all about, it's just my mum asked me to ask you and - "
"Out with it, tosser," says James. "Tosser" has been his favorite insult of late. It's probably the last thing Lily Evans called him before leaving King's Cross at the end of last term.
"Well, she's just taking me out to do something, in the wee hours of the morning," Peter finally says. "Something she won't let me skip. And she said you lot ought to come with us, that her friends would really appreciate it."
"We're here for the lake, Wormy, not to go gallivanting about with your mum," James says almost instantly.
"Yeah, come off it," says Sirius. "Isn't your mum chums with Professor Slughorn? He's probably trying to 'collect' all four of us in one fell swoop."
"Wouldn't that just show up everyone else?" James crows. "Nabbing all four of the Marauders! Not bloody likely."
"I've got no idea what it is," insists Peter. "Mum just wants you to come."
"If it's all the same, Pete, I think not," Remus tells him. "I don't like to go out at night much any more, if I can help it."
They all fall silent, and Remus knows he shouldn't have said it. But it's so hard not to think about those things any more, even when they're escaping on summer holiday and trying to forget the rest of the world. Peter of all people, with his poor widowed mother, should know better by now, shouldn't he?
"She just told me to ask," says Peter. "Nothing by it."
"Nope," says Sirius, wet form squishing up next to Remus in the dark, "I think tonight Moony and I have got other plans." He grins dangerously, baiting James with almost embarrassing vigor.
James takes it, to no one's surprise. "Not with me in the same room you certainly don't!" he cries, and before anyone can even start laughing at him he's knocked Sirius back into the water, their pale boyish bodies roiling through the dark lake.
Remus stares at Sirius's throat again. That was probably what had done him in in the first place.
Annaliese Pearl Hodgins was a wisp of a girl. Thin, pale brown hair, dark and slightly sunken eyes, not much meat on her bones at all. The only things about her that made her stand out, really, was that she played Seeker for Hufflepuff house - one of the only girls to hold that position in quite some time - and that she had an enormous raging crush on Gryffindor house Chaser James Cornelius Potter. Naturally, however, James's attention was focused solely on another girl altogether, and he had no time for wispy third-year Quidditch players. As a result, Annaliese had shifted gears to James's less traditionally good-looking but infinitely more open-minded best friend, Sirius Orion Black.
For what it was worth, Remus John Lupin could not stand her.
Sirius had never been too skilled at dividing his attention between multiple subjects at once. Sometimes his single-mindedness was an asset; no doubt it was what had allowed him to master the Animagus transformation magic, and it was definitely going to carry all four of them through this next ridiculous experiment that he was calling the Marauders' Map. But when it came to people - unless those people were James, Peter and himself, who all seemed to count as one unit - Remus could see the cogs in Sirius's brain shifting from one to the next. And the more time he spent with Annaliese, the less focus he'd been giving the three people who were supposed to be his best friends.
"Is it going to be like this every time one of us gets a girlfriend, then," he muttered darkly to Peter.
"I swear to you, Moony, if I ever get a girlfriend, I won't be such a git," Peter said. This should have been comforting, but Remus was almost as sick of Peter's self-maligning as he was of Sirius's disgusting romances, and it just served to annoy him even further. He dove back into his Potions notes instead, determined to get good marks this time around. Without a passable O.W.L. next year, his employment opportunities would be even more restricted than they already were. But it was incredibly hard to focus with the lovebirds laughing to each other on the other side of the common room.
Sirius and Annaliese were huddled together in two adjacent armchairs, a small object fluttering between them. If Remus peered more closely, he could see that it was a Golden Snitch - or rather, it was a Snitch, but it wasn't necessarily Golden. Sirius had obviously charmed it to turn all sorts of colors as it swooped around Annaliese, flickering brilliant orange and deep, midnight blue and Gryffindor crimson. Only when Annaliese snatched it expertly from the air did it revert to gold - or perhaps a slightly more Hufflepuffish shade of yellow, with the way it so closely matched her charmed fingernails. She'd stare at it with awe every time it happened - but Sirius would just poke her in the side and she'd squeal with laughter, and release the Snitch back into the air, only to send it rainbowing again.
Her laugh, sweet Merlin. There was no way all girls giggled like that. It was so bloody obnoxious, all high-pitched and fluttery, positively penetrating. How could he be expected to study in any room that contained that horrible sound?
"After that Charms exam I bet I could Silence them and they wouldn't even notice," Remus grumbled.
"Looks like Sirius is about to Silence her himself," sniggered Peter. This was enough to draw Remus's nose out of his studies, and sure enough, it would probably be hard for Annaliese to keep laughing with Sirius's tongue down her throat. He had his hand on her shoulder, and hers, narrow and bony and with her stupid yellow nails, curved softly around the side of Sirius's neck, half-disappearing under his thick hair.
She looked altogether too small for it, thought Remus. Seekers were supposed to be small, but next to Sirius, Annaliese looked like a little breakable doll. It was making both of them appear incredibly silly: Sirius, this dark fiery roguish creature of a boy, whom anyone could tell on sight was overflowing with charm and mischief and all sorts of other fascinatingly dangerous things, looked like he could practically swallow up skinny, simpering Annaliese, who never spoke much to people she wasn't friends with and hadn't even been winning Hufflepuff very many Quidditch points (they'd lost one match against Gryffindor and both matches against Ravenclaw). He could certainly see what she saw in Sirius, but he had no idea what Sirius possibly saw in her. If Remus had any say in it - which he didn't, he realized, but if he did - any girl Sirius dated would have just as much spark as Sirius himself, probably a Gryffindor, and be a bit taller and more solid and not have such a bloody obnoxious laugh because there she was doing it again now that they'd stopped snogging for England.
Remus didn't Silence them, as tempting as it was. He just bundled up his Potions textbook and all his notes and strode right on past them into his dormitory, and even if James were in there wanking to Lily Evans it'd be more tolerable than Sirius having some stupid girlfriend, and if Sirius gave him a strange look as he passed by then bully for him.
"Oi, Wormtail. What say you about bringing a girl on our lake trip?"
Peter pouted. "Who says you all're even invited this year, eh?"
"Oh, come on, Wormy, it's practically tradition now," said James, but he turned to Sirius with a sterner face. "And part of that tradition is that we go just as the four of us Marauders."
"Bet you wouldn't be saying that if you thought you could get Evans to tag along," Sirius shot back. In retaliation James stole a huge spoonful of mashed potatoes off Sirius's plate, pulling it back and flinging it across the table at him.
"Impedimenta," Remus said quickly, and the wad of potatoes froze in the air less than an inch from Sirius's nose. They landed back on the edge of his plate with a soft plop, and Remus rolled his eyes and returned to his vegetables.
"Thanks, Moony," said Sirius with a smile.
"Oh, so you're on his side?" James accused in the same instant.
Remus said nothing, trying as hard as he could to keep out of this foolish conversation. But he really wasn't on Sirius's side at all, was he?
"Look, my mum extends the invitation to you three and you three alone," Peter said, still frowning at Sirius. "I dunno if my folks'd be quite comfortable with the thought that you had a girl in there with you."
"Oh, I just can't fathom how we'll go all summer without each other," Sirius whined melodramatically. "And she's a half-blood, you know! There's no way I'll get away with seeing her while my folks are around! It's taken all the blackmail I've got in me to keep Regulus from ratting me out - no offense, Wormtail."
"I'm a half-blood," Remus grumbled to himself.
"She quite fancies me, you know," Sirius went on. "I know she was all but sold on you, Prongs, but I think I've quite brought her around, you know?"
"Oh for Merlin's bloody sake, Sirius, can't you think for two seconds of someone other than yourself?" Remus finally snapped. "Congratulations on finding someone that's willing to snog you! If you'd stop and look around a bit, you'd probably have noticed there are quite a few people like that, and you could certainly do a lot better than slimy Annaliese Hodgins!" He took a deep breath, the realization of what he was doing finally sinking in, and turned back to his dinner plate. "No girls, no Hufflepuffs," he said more softly. "No one but Marauders."
Sirius blinked a few times, trying to take all of it in as well. "Yeah, all right," he said finally. "Whatever you blokes say."
It was their second night at the lakehouse, and for the first year since they'd started coming together, there was to be no full moon whatsoever over the course of their holiday. It had put Remus in a considerable good mood, even after he'd discovered upon arriving that he'd brought no swim trunks.
"Just go in your pants," James had said, "no worries."
"Have you seen his pants?" Sirius teased. "Old white things, the lot of them. Might as well just go in nothing."
James had thought on this for all of two seconds. "So go in nothing, then. We're all blokes here."
"Easy for you to say," Remus had said, "you're not the one doing it."
"Well, what if we all do it?" Sirius had suggested, and that - despite copious protests from Peter - had been that. Remus had been a little self-conscious at first, too, but he figured it wasn't nearly as embarrassing or revealing as having turned into a werewolf in front of the three of them time after time. Sort of lost your modesty after that. The four of them had made it out to the floating dock as always - the water was really nice, since the summer was so blazing hot, and they hadn't even needed Corporeagua (though they'd done it anyway, because James and Sirius could never pass up a race or competition of any kind, and this time Sirius and Remus had won). It seemed as though everything was going splendidly right, something it certainly couldn't have done if Sirius had been daft enough to bring along Annaliese Hodgins.
From where Remus sat, facing into shore, the summer's other oddity caught his eye once more. "What's up with the forest, anyway?"
The other strange thing they'd noticed upon arriving was that the forests behind the lakehouse were now oddly sparser, as if quite a lot of the trees had simply vanished.
"Oh, that," Peter explained. "Mum and Dad were testing out some new magical weed-killer or deer-repellent or something - sorry, Prongs - since their garden at home is getting so big, they need to protect it somehow. You know how Dad is with his sodding vegetables. I think some of their early tests from last summer sort'f...went awry, back there."
Turning over his shoulder, Remus shared a puzzled look with Sirius. Testing weed-killer...at half-four in the morning? If it didn't sound precisely like the sort of strange thing that Benjamin Pettigrew would do when it came to his radishes, it'd be awfully suspicious.
"My prick is freezing," complained James from the water. "Whose bloody idea was this in the first place?"
"Yours," the other three informed him at once, and Remus smiled.
"Just think of Evans, that ought to warm it right up," Sirius added, kicking his feet where they dangled off the side of the dock so the dark lakewater splashed up into James's face.
"Is she really just your perfect girl, Prongsy?" Peter asked, almost wistfully.
"Everything about her," said James. "You don't really know it until you see it, when a bird is just exactly what you've always wanted. Dunno if I could describe it to you if I tried."
"And do you get all misty-eyed on Snivelliese Hodgins, Padfoot?" Remus grumbled, a bit frustrated that they'd started talking about girls yet again.
"I don't...reckon I do," said Sirius after a pause. "To tell you the truth I've been thinking about ditching her, ever since term let out."
"No joke?" asked Peter, turning to talk to him better. "What for?"
"Dunno, I just...without her around all the time I'm starting to think about all the things that drive me bonkers about her, or something. I like her hair and her tits and the way she snogs and that's about it."
"Her tits?" James remarked. "What tits are those, then? I don't recall her having any."
Sirius kicked water up into his face again.
"Her hair," Peter echoed softly. "You like brunettes then?"
"Suppose I do," Sirius said. "That kind of soft in-between color, brown but still light, like that, you know?"
"I like redheads," James quipped.
"I definitely like blondes best," said Peter. "'Specially when it's all shiny. And big breasts. More than Annaliese has got at any rate."
"And girls that are taller," said James. "Since I'm so bloody tall. Can you picture me with someone short like Longbottom's girl?"
"You would look pretty ridiculous," Sirius agreed. "What about you, Moony?"
Remus had only been half-listening to their discussion, trying to picture in his head what his answer would ultimately be. What did he like in girls, anyway? Certainly nothing that any of the soon-to-be-fifth year Gryffindor girls had to offer. None of the images he tried to conjure in his head of his "perfect girl" would solidify into something he could describe.
"Dark hair," he said finally - the one trait that had stuck solidly in his fantasies. "And someone...not quite so thin as Annaliese. And with..." Remus paused, for fear of sounding foolish. "With really gorgeous eyes."
The others thought on this for a moment.
"Yeah," James said after a bit. "Lily's eyes are quite nice."
"Not a bad idea," Peter agreed.
Sirius said nothing, just fixed Remus with an interesting stare, as if he were trying to look inside his head and see Remus's dream woman for himself. Remus looked back, curious, deep into the dark grey of Sirius's eyes. The sliver of moonlight was reflected in them, making them shine ever-so-slightly, just like the softly lapping surface of the lake.
They were pretty gorgeous, weren't they.
A slow, abhorrent realization crept up Remus's spine and into the back of his brain, and he tried vainly to push it away. He hated Annaliese because she was a simpering wisp with a godawful laugh. He himself hadn't had a girlfriend because he just wasn't interested in what Gryffindor house had to offer. The people he loved most were the three boys sitting around him, because they were his best mates in the world, and not for any reason beyond that. If Sirius had always held a little more of that, well, it was because all the werewolf and Animagus business had been his doing, and because he shared Remus's love of chocolate even in the face of his canine alter ego, and because together the two of them could complain about the rest of the world's asinine fascination with Quidditch.
But the shifting, abstract images of perfect girls in his head had finally settled on a true form - one that wasn't really a perfect girl, so much - and Remus couldn't force them back into swirls of nothingness if he tried.
And unlike other secret business that had taken place on this floating dock, this wasn't a bit of knowledge Remus could confess to his fellow Marauders.
No, Remus amends to himself. Not the throat at all. Though it certainly became one of his favorite bits of Sirius quite quickly. In fact, as James and Sirius continue to splash about conspicuously, Remus darts under the water and yanks Sirius down with him, planting blind fumbling kisses first on his lips and then in the dip of his collarbone, where Sirius often has little purple-red marks any more.
They pop back up with Sirius gasp-laughing and no one else the wiser. "Watch it, there," he whispers to Remus. "Remember that we've not got anything to cover ourselves up."
"Best control yourself, then," Remus hisses back. Apparently Sirius's idea of "control" is an underwater grope at Remus's arse, though.
"You as well," Sirius says.
"It must be beyond late," Peter says suddenly. "Thinking of heading in, what about you lot?"
"I told Lily I'd owl her by tomorrow, let her know we're doing okay," says James. Remus knows Lily is worried about them being off at the lakehouse with no one but Peter's mum around in case of...those things. As much as she calls James a tosser, he's really starting to bring her around. "Guess I should come in and do that. Since it sort'f is 'tomorrow,' by now."
"Moony?" Peter pushes. "You've not been sleeping well since the last one, I can tell."
"Yeah, all right," Remus agrees. He knows half the reason Peter suggested it in the first place is to put a stop to his and Sirius's fooling around - it's never quite sat right with him, even with how close they all are. "Come on, Padfoot."
But Sirius doesn't move. "If it's all the same to you, chaps, I'm going to stay out here a bit longer," he says. "I...I like to watch the sky, nowadays."
No one's going to argue with that, not even Remus. While the three of them swim back into dry land and cross up to the lakehouse, Sirius floats out there, treading water, back to the shore so that his dark hair blends in with the dark lake and he almost can't be seen. But as Remus turns back to look at him, he turns too, to catch Remus's eye, and smile a little invitation. Remus smiles softly back.
They'll indulge Peter. For now.
Remus didn't think he was going to make it through fifth year.
It seemed as though every month had brought some new atrocity. In September, for example, the start of the school year was miserable enough. Remus was a prefect, a duty he hadn't really asked for - and one that had only been bestowed upon himself and James out of the four of them, making for alternating animosity and abuse of power throughout almost the entire year. On top of that, he'd been stressing from day one about his O.W.L.s, especially in Potions, where he'd always been sub-par. Slughorn didn't hate Remus, but he didn't care very much for him either, and there was no telling what kind of marks he was going to be able to make.
In October they'd finally solidified their first attempt at Sirius's map. Between Peter's rodent escapades charting around the castle, James and Sirius's unmatched skill for magical mischief, and Remus's (if he did say so himself) impressive cartography, it should have been brilliant. What it did instead was explode in their faces, waking the two other fifth-year Gryffindors in the middle of the night and leading them to asking far too many questions that Remus had been forced to lie about. Peter was ready to give up on it entirely, but Sirius assured them that he was going to work out all the kinks and they could try again in as little as two weeks.
Of course, that was before the day in November when Sirius started dating Livia Ludlow. The girl who'd been just ahead of Remus at their Sorting (she'd ended up in Ravenclaw) was quite the opposite of Annaliese in almost every regard but two: she had the same color hair and Remus hated her. Livia was tall, pureblooded and extraordinarily talkative, and you were just as likely to find Sirius and Livia arguing the merits of this group over that one on the wireless as you were to find them snogging quite indecently in the corner by the fireplace. Remus was amazed that they could actually call what they were doing dating. He resolved himself to spending most evenings holed up in his bedroom and hating every girl that Sirius was ever with. The shriveled remains of the Map lay forgotten in a pile at the bottom of Sirius's trunk.
At the beginning of December, just before the winter holidays, the Death Eaters made their first attack. Rafe Spinnet, a Ravenclaw seventh-year, lost a Muggle uncle and both his parents to the forces of You-Know-Who. It sent the entire school into a panic, even after the informative speech Dumbledore made at the Christmas feast. Peter's parents demanded he go home for the holidays, and James - whose family lived quite near the Spinnets - left too, wanting to make sure nothing happened to his aging mother and father. Sirius, Remus, and Roxanna Johnson were among the few Gryffindors that remained. Remus thought it was rather counterintuitive: if horrible things were happening to innocent wizards, he'd much rather be as close to Albus Dumbledore as possible. It was even worth enduring the strained relations between Sirius and himself.
Until Sirius made it decidedly worse.
"Why do you hate my girlfriend?" he asked Remus point-blank into the darkness of their dormitory on Christmas Eve.
"I don't hate Livia," Remus said instantly, already defensive.
"I didn't say Livia," Sirius pointed out. "I said my girlfriend. You hate her whoever she is. You hated Annaliese just as well. You even lowered her to Snape's level, and that's saying a lot."
"When did I do that?"
"Snivelliese?" Sirius quoted. Oh. Had Remus said that? He felt awfully bad about it now.
"Well you have to admit she was pretty snivelly," he said, but his argument was weak.
"I just want to know what kind of problem you have with me having a girl," Sirius said, rolling over in his bed. "You've never had a problem with James fancying Evans."
"Dating and fancying are different," said Remus.
"So it's the dating part, I see. Christ, Moony, are you just all sorts of jealous, or what?"
Remus almost screamed yes, yes, I'm extraordinarily jealous, but not of you, Sirius Black, of your stupid girlfriend! Out loud he said, "I'm not jealous," and it sounded just as petulant as everything else he'd said. "I just didn't really care for Annaliese. And I suppose I'm not too fond of Livia either."
"Well, I'm sorry we don't have the same taste in birds, Moony, but she's sticking around." Sirius rolled back over, presumably to go to sleep, and Remus attempted to do the same - but he was torn between wanting to punch Sirius in the face and wanting to take that same soft, pale-skinned, dark-eyed face and kiss it senseless.
But the next day Sirius had given him a spectacular gift of a Lunagram - "it phases just like the moon does and you can skip ahead a month, look, and you just hang it from your bedpost like this" - and by January, Livia was out of the picture.
February it had been Valentine's Day.
"Remus Lupin!" called a girl's voice from the Potions classroom, at the other end of the dungeon corridor (Remus had been quick to put as much distance between Slughorn's class and himself once the bell had rung).
He turned over his shoulder and saw slim-figured, redheaded Lily Evans chasing after him, as if to get his attention. "Pardon?" he said faintly.
"Oh thank goodness, do I ever need your help," she said, catching her breath. "You're the only one of them I trust to say this to. I need some help for...for Saturday."
"Saturd - oh," Remus realized. Saturday was the fourteenth. "Is this to do with James?"
"Unfortunately," said Lily, fidgeting at the hem of her skirt. "Look, I just know he has something ludicrous planned out to bombard me with, and I would give anything for you to talk him out of it. Anything, Remus. After last year, with those bloody roses...."
Remus remembered those. James had charmed exactly five roses - three in deep red and two in yellow, Gryffindorian through and through - to follow Lily about all day and occasionally remind her that James was in love with her. In her immediate irritation, Lily had tried to hex them away, but James had also enchanted them to triple in quantity every time any sort of spell was used in an attempt to remove them. By the end of the day Lily's fiery hair had been indistinguishable from the mass of roses that had been consuming her, as everyone from her Hufflepuff best friend Alice to Professor McGonagall had tried to call them off. Dumbledore had been impressed with the level of magic required but unimpressed with the matter in which it was used and had taken forty points from Gryffindor - forty points that otherwise would have put them just past Slytherin to win the House Cup at the end of the year.
His price came to him almost immediately. "Tutor me at Potions, at least until the end of the year," he said. "You're brilliant and I am extraordinarily rubbish at it. If I don't get at least an E on my O.W.L. I don't know how I'm ever going to make it beyond Hogwarts."
"Is that all? Oh, Remus, you're a saint," she swore. "Tuesdays and Thursdays we've got that free period while the rest of them all take Care of Magical Creatures, haven't we? We can do it then. And I know James will listen to you, oh, you're just a saint! Thank you so much!"
She hurried off down the hall past him, supposedly to meet Alice and discuss their plans for Hogsmeade, and Remus just smiled as she went. Finally, something was going right for him. He just had to talk James out of that swarm of doves....
March the first brought another Death Eater attack, and it was in this one that Benjamin Pettigrew was killed. It was much worse than the first one - partly because of the number of people who'd died, and partly because of the strange, inexplicable circumstances. Rumor had it that the area where the attack had occurred had been covered with an amazingly well-formed blanket Memory Charm, so that anyone who'd been there when it happened or anyone who tried to approach the scene afterward lost all memory of what had transpired there. It had lasted for weeks, and by then the evidence was all gone. Absolutely no one knew what had killed Peter's father. He was shaken up about it all through the rest of the month, and Remus had his work cut out for him trying to bring him back to a reasonable level - no help from James with Quidditch season gearing up so hard at the end, and no help from Sirius because he was now fooling around with Fiona Zeller, another sandy-haired Hufflepuff who had a reputation for being quite easy to fool around with. Sirius insisted that they weren't dating - he'd glared at Remus, as if to challenge him to hate this one too - and they usually spent their time together in the Hufflepuff common room instead. This was good in that it meant Remus never had to see them at it, but bad because he instead pictured them at it - Sirius's broad, solid hands holding soft at her curvaceous hips, his deep grey eyes peering down at her, his lips falling out of that handsome smirk to press against hers, his tongue slipping in between them.... What would it be like, Remus wondered, to have that tongue in his mouth instead? Or to reverse the situation and just kiss the fuck out of Sirius - his grinning mouth, behind his ear, the pale flawless dip of his throat, all the official property of -
"Remus?" said Lily, prodding him with the end of her favorite lime green Fwooper-feather quill. Okay, so those two weren't snogging right now. Right now Sirius had Care of Magical Creatures, the Hufflepuffs had Charms, and Remus had Potions tutoring. But sometimes he ended up thinking about snogging Sirius anyway. It was hard not to think about.
"Sorry," he said. "Stirring - counterclockwise, right?"
"Yes," she said, "that's it."
April Fool's Day had almost put it right.
"Good morning, Moony!" Sirius cried at about five in the morning, bouncing on his bed and startling him out of an embarrassingly good dream. "Are you ready for this?"
"For what?" Remus groaned, trying to wipe his eyes clear.
"The bloody Map, of course!" Sirius told him, as if he were an idiot. "Spent all of last night trying to get the parchment ready, was quite a bit difficult without James's help, but now you've got to get your magic hands on a quill and - "
"Last night?" Remus boggled, still a few steps behind. "I thought you were with - "
"Fiona? Yeah, for a bit. Long enough to tell her I was through with her, at any rate. She's been snogging at least two other blokes, and I think maybe a girl too, if you can believe it. Just ask Regulus, I'm bad at sharing. Now come on!"
Remus slowly emerged from his bed and changed out of his pajamas, following the over-excited Sirius down the stairs to the common room and taking the violently scarlet enchanted quill that he shoved into his hands.
"Where's Wormtail's stuff?" he asked faintly still not sure he knew what was going on.
"Here, here," said Sirius, digging around under the table they were sitting at for the place where Peter had pinned all of his notes. "Now come on, do it quick! We've still got to charm the curtains on James's bed shut before sunrise!"
Unfortunately, the rest of April had happened.
James burst into the common room looking more furious than Remus had seen him in a while, right in the middle of when he should have been having Care of Magical Creatures. Naturally, Remus and Lily were sitting over a tiny portable cauldron, as Remus tried desperately to get the Strengthening Solution to thicken correctly at half-recipe.
"I can't believe you!" James shouted.
Lily knew something was up. "I'll just be going now, shall I?" she said, and before Remus even answered she'd nabbed her things and was scurrying up to the girls' dormitories, glancing backward at James in bewilderment but clearly not interested in getting caught up in an argument between two Marauders.
"What's wrong, Prongs?"
"This is exactly what's wrong!" he said as soon as Lily had disappeared. "I thought you were my friend, and here you are sneaking around behind my back - "
"James, you're not making any sense!"
"How could you carry on something with Lily when you know how much she means to me?" James demanded, brandishing the Marauder's Map at him. He must have seen the little dots labeled Remus Lupin and Lily Evans hovering in the common room together. Remus tried to analyze the situation. What a huge misunderstanding! Was James really interpreting his Potions tutoring with Lily as the two of them having some kind of secret affair?
"Look, you've got it all wrong - "
"How have I? You wait until we've got lessons and you don't, and you sit around up here without telling anyone - "
"I was embarrassed, okay? My Potions marks are even worse than Peter's, Lily's just been helping me - "
"That's not what Snape said!"
Remus balked. "And you're going to believe him over me?"
"You know he and Lily have that funny friendship, I think he'd know!"
"Snape would say anything just to get you off of Lily!" said Remus.
"Then why did Alice back him up?"
"Alice is probably just as twisted around about this as you are!"
"Then prove it! Tell me something that will prove you're not seeing the girl of your best friend's dreams behind his back!"
"How's this for proof, then?" cried Remus: "I don't fancy girls!"
James abruptly shut up. "What?"
"There, I've said it," Remus groaned. "I know it's not the lakehouse, where we usually do these big sorts of confessions, but it's out in the open now. I don't like girls, not even Lily, nice as she is. I'm afraid I've been more attracted to - " Sirius - "to blokes...for about a year now."
"Merlin, Moony, are you having a laugh on me?"
"J.C., do I look as though I'm joking?" Remus said, reversing James's old nickname back upon its creator. "Hard enough with my other problem. Now I've got this too."
They were silent, sort of just looking at each other for quite some time. Lily didn't resurface from upstairs, and the minutes ticked away at the lesson James was skiving off. Finally James spoke.
"It's gone all purple," he said of the Strengthening Solution. "You've got too much essence of murtlap."
There was a full moon at the lakehouse that summer.
It was the first time Remus had been there without Peter's dad smiling around at them and cooking them dinner with the few of his vegetables that were ripe yet. The absence was an ever-present reminder of the third Death Eater attack, which hadn't been nearly as messy but which had still left Annaliese Hodgins with only one parent. That had shaken Sirius a bit, to be certain.
They dove into the swathe of woods that the Pettigrews' weed-killing potion hadn't destroyed still as boys, running and cackling and chasing each other in the dark, wind whipping round them as they wove in and out of the great trees and waited for the moon to rise. It wasn't quite as magnificent as the Hogwarts grounds - this was certainly no Forbidden Forest - but when the change wracked through Remus, sending him tumbling to the ground in pain, Padfoot and Prongs stood vigil just like always, and Wormtail darted back and forth in small circles, giving him something to hone in his wolf senses and attention on that wasn't the sharp burn of his human skin flaking away. It emerged ravenous, but these were its friends, and it could probably withstand the hunger if playtime was offered as a substitute.
After frenzied chases in and out of hollow trees and down into great ditches, however, the wolf's appetite hadn't left him - it had merely morphed into something else, another kind of hunger, roiling not quite in the wolf's gut but in places just a bit lower. The rat was too small. And the stag's form was hard, brittle-boned, not built for this. Only the great dog could handle this. The wolf dove on it, wrestling in a way they had before, but with a greater desperation, digging playful teeth into his belly, his ear, the scruff around his neck. The stag and the rat sort of backed off, letting the tussle run its course. The dog, for all his worth, fought back. And then the wolf started howling.
"Aooohh-ooooohhh," it cried, from deep within itself, screaming at the wide white moon that was slowly approaching the horizon after a short July night.
"Aoohhhwwwwwwh!" echoed the black dog, a higher, more nasal imitation but with no lack of the same passion behind it.
To the wolf, the stag and the rat were gone. The moon and the dog were the only things in its world. The call and response howl sounded twice more, thrice more, and then the wolf took off running and the dog knew - the wolf knew the dog knew - to chase it down. The wolf ran as hard and fast as it had ever run, or even harder and faster, but it was not running away. It was almost as though the wolf guided the dog to something, making a strange wide ceaseless arc around the very edge of the forests, until the full moon was setting and a rough-and-tumbling Remus Lupin and Sirius Black had landed right back behind the Pettigrew family lake house, the dog having caught the wolf and tackled it to the ground.
They were alone for a few precious moments as Peter and James struggled frantically to catch up. Remus lay naked, sprawled under Sirius who wore only his pajama pants. Both were breathing heavily, struggling to build back the energy that their animal forms had so carelessly expended.
Sirius caught his breath first. "So ah," he panted. "James - James says he reckons you fancy blokes?"
Remus, staring into Sirius's eyes, forgot to panic, and just said, "Yeah, suppose I do."
"What's it like, then?"
"Not so bad, really. Much like fancying girls I assume."
"Yeah," said Sirius. "Okay then."
Remus can't remember James and Peter finding them, because at that point, Sirius's blessedly warm and mischievous mouth was pressed firmly against his own, and he didn't really feel like thinking about anything else.
Now, as Remus stands staring out the window of the room he is sharing with his three best friends in the world, it is the summer before their seventh and final year of Hogwarts. He has confessed to being a werewolf, and to being a poofter, and he can't really think of anything else he could possibly admit about himself. These three boys know absolutely everything about him.
Sixth year was strange, with his brilliant times with Sirius on one side of things and the ever-increasing threat of You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters on the other side. Nearly everyone Remus knows has lost someone by this point - Peter's dad, James's Squib second-cousin, Lily's friend Alice's mum and sister. Rumor has it that the Ministry has been trying to close the school, citing it as an enormous target, but that Dumbledore has deterred every single one of their efforts. Remus likes to know that there are people like Dumbledore around. He'd have nowhere to go without Hogwarts, especially with those other rumors - that You-Know-Who is trying to persuade werewolves to join his cause, and may have already recruited the demented man who'd bitten Remus all those years ago, Fenris Greyback.
It is up to James and his four-year-running lovesickness to be cheery enough for all of them. "Oi, Moony, what's another word for 'git' that doesn't sound quite so unkind?"
Remus answers without thinking, "James Potter."
"Har har, quite funny. I don't think so."
"Severus Snape then."
"It's him I'm writing about in the first place!"
"Why does a letter you're writing to Lily really need to be talking about Snivellus anyway?" says Remus, tearing his eyes away from the black speck of swimming Sirius to turn to James.
"I'm just...apologizing, again," he says faintly. "For what happened this past term."
Remus knows what he means, and certainly wants to talk about it just as little. "You more than anyone shouldn't have to be the one to apologize for that," he says. "Should be Padfoot." Remus turns back to the window, squinting out at Sirius in the lake, his voice growing faint. "Or me."
"None of that, none of that!" James insists. "That's not you. It's something else entirely. And if Snivellus weren't such a great...git nothing ever would have happened in the first place!"
Remus laughs a little. "Suppose you're right."
"I guess I'll just write git, then, and call it done," says James. "If I don't get this out soon Appleby will get tetchy with me. He hates flying all night. Don't you, you great nuisance," he scolds his little tawny owl, who's taken up residence in the corner of the room along with the Pettigrew family's, a fluffy mottled thing called Perpetua. "Come on, I've got a letter for you. Take it to Miss Lily, will you? Thing likes her more than it likes me."
"As is the case with most animals," Remus points out, "myself included."
"It's not you," James repeats.
"Who says I meant the wolf?"
"Oh, you great tosser." The owl flutters out the window past him, and James slings his arm over Remus's shoulders, his eyes following first the path of the owl and then the path of Remus's gaze, studying on the lone figure in the water.
"You've really fallen for him, haven't you," James says softly.
Remus sighs. "You said it yourself," he tells him. "You don't really know it until you see it, when a bloke is the perfect one for you."
"Hang on, I know I didn't say bloke."
"I should hope not, since you were talking about Evans. Or is there something you two aren't telling us?"
James laughs, shaking all the way through Remus, and then pulls away. "Then I suppose I've just got one thing to ask you, Mr. Moony," he says matter-of-factly.
Remus turns, to see James standing jauntily at the foot of the bed, like a mockery of someone's scolding father. "And what is that, Mr. Prongs?"
"What, pray tell, are your intentions with my best mate?"
James's face is so brilliantly serious that Remus cracks up laughing, clutching his stomach a bit. James sets in as well, and soon they're sprawled on their backs next to one another on the bed, laughing at the ceiling.
"You're...not really joking, are you," Remus finally says, as he gets up to resume his position by the window.
"'Fraid not, R.J.," says James, proving his point, but shattering it a bit a moment later by quipping "I'm always serious about Sirius."
"Well, J.C., I can't exactly tell you that my intentions are pure," he says with a grin.
James cackles. "That's what I like to hear! If I have to listen to him mope one more time about not getting to shag you every waking moment of his life, I'm probably going to hex his mouth shut. And I can't imagine that'd be good for either of you."
Out the window, Sirius has turned to look back at the house, and Remus knows that he sees the light on in the bedroom. He smiles broad enough to be seen even at the distance, and Remus knows exactly what he's thinking. The time is now.
"Suppose I'll have to go and shut him up for you," Remus tells James, and he walks out of the bedroom and into the front room, just in time to see Peter and his mum about to head out the door. Prudence gives Remus a funny look and leaves, but Peter lingers behind a moment.
"Y'know, Mum still wants you all to come with us to this thing tonight," he says. "Especially you, Moony. Dunno why, but she seemed all excited when I mentioned your name in particular. Just come along with me. I'm a bit scared to go by myself."
Remus can see it in his face, that he's scared, but Remus is a little scared too. "No thanks, Wormtail," he says. "I think tonight, I want to spend a little time with...with my best mate."
Peter frowns a little. "I used to be your best mate."
Remus smiles apologetically. "Sirius is different. You know that."
"Yeah," Peter says funnily. "Sure. Right, well, I'm off, then," he says, following his mum out the door. Remus does the same, but instead of trailing back off into the woods like they do, he heads out to the lake, making a beeline for the swimming form of Sirius Black.
"Must be getting all pruny," he jeers to him, as he begins to take his first wading steps into the lake, but Sirius shouts back at him.
"No, no!" Remus stops walking, puzzled, but all is revealed when Sirius murmurs, almost too faintly for Remus to hear, "Corporeagua."
He has done it without his wand, but it still takes the spinning motion, arm whirling faster and faster at the elbow to keep the water firm. Without the wand in his hand it almost looks as though Sirius is beckoning Remus toward him, begging for him to come closer, closer. Remus takes a few slow steps on the lake's surface to test before sprinting to Sirius, who stops the motion just in time for Remus to fall straight into his arms. Remus feels as though he's dreamt of this moment before, and that nothing - curses, jinxes, iron bars or angry mates - could keep his dream from being fulfilled. James and Wormtail and werewolves and death and those who claim to eat it fall away, and the world is Sirius, and Remus, and this hidden little green-grey lake.
"Confession," he whispers, in between desperate kisses and gasps provoked by wandering hands. "Since we're here in the lake and all."
"Yeah?" wonders Sirius, his eyes gleaming.
"I think I'm - rather in love with you," Remus stutters.
Sirius's face lights up, as it had in response to Remus's first ever lakeside confession, the one he supposes started it all. His lips against Remus's neck slide into a victorious grin.
"I knew it."